Neon Festival 2011 Highlights

I spent the past few days taking in as much of the neon festival as I could. The neon festival is an annual digital arts festival that takes place in dundee. I am not sure why it is called a digital arts festival, as a bunch of the highlights for me were decidedly analog, but I am going to chalk that up to a combination of a lack of understanding of the specifics of electronics, and a push to fund anything that seems remotely computer related. I am excited to see how the festival develops for next year, it had some rough edges that could have been smoothed out, but on the whole, it was a super vibrant display of the interesting venues and people that dundee had to offer, and I was glad to meet a ton of people involved in it.

The first thing that I saw was the pecha kucha. I found that the majority of the presentations were really hurried sales pitches, but a few of them stood out.

Gary Penn of Denki’s presentation was quite quick and confusing, and it gave me a bit to think about as a game designer. What I gathered from the core of his presentation is that Orbital for iPhone is a better game than gimme friction baby. The comparison felt a bit off, comparing something that is both a highly abstract and minimalist game, to another game which had a budget, and eschewed minimalism using the flavor of the month glowy vector graphics. For players, yes, I would agree that orbital is a better game. For game developers, I would say that gimme friction baby is a far more important game to study, and that the games we should be looking for are more like that one. While I was initially frustrated by this presentation, it has absolutely left me with a few things to think about in the realm of game design.

Rohan Gunatillake’s buddify app presentation was nice and measured, didn’t feel rushed, and ended on an uplifting note, and I am not just saying that because I am friends with him. He managed to bring quite a bit of personal history into his presentation, and only mentioned the app in the minority of the slides, which was nice.

Andy Milligan’s presentation I wanted to call out for seeming to overlook a really important prior art. Andy Milligan was suggesting an alternate conference format that would center around the dining table, as a method of democratization of the conference format. I was struck by the fact that this would possibly increase the likelihood for the loudest voices in the room to continue that trend, and I think that well curated speakers can work just as well for creating an interesting discourse around a topic. One thing that it did make me think of is the micro funding system based around communal dinners that has popped up recently. Called Sunday Soup, it is a dinner that charges every one at the dinner a cover, the proceeds of which are then awarded to one of the artists that has presented that evening. I think that it may be more of a phenomena in places that don’t have the arts funding that the UK has, but I still think that it is an interesting concept.

While I have organized more than one rip off pecha kucha in the past, I have never been to an official one, and going to this one fulfilled my expectations of the format.

I took the next night off from the presentations, and came out to the skull etching workshop performance. I was happy to see a nice turnout for what was essentially an academic noise show. The conductor and workshop leader kept it moving along, and for a group of people that had not only built all the synths that afternoon, but had learned how to play them, and the performance as well, it was really great. Full disclosure, my partner was part of the group, so take that into consideration. Even so, it was great to see a bunch of people, some of whom had never touched a soldering iron, put together a synth was really awesome. I made me wish that more modern and electronic art techniques could be picked up so fast. I guess that is why there is so much synth noise music and animated gif art, and relatively few art games though.

The presentations the next day had two great standouts. Alex Tobin’s presentation on his homemade 3d animated music videos was short and sweet. It was great to see something that was within the reach of the audience members being presented. The fact that I really loved his aesthetic didn’t hurt either.

N55’s presentation was mind boggling. They are a couple of amazing engineers that take on crazy projects and succeed. It was Buckminster Fuller, by the way of hippy utopianism, looped back though modernism, and then with some aggressive anti copyright stuff as well. I spoke to them later at the art exhibit about there engineering, and they claimed that it was all relatively easy. I want to try out some of it to see just how easy it is. The other thing that I am wondering about is how low the prices on their stuff can get. A house that costs the same as a car and lasts for 500 years is amazing no matter the details.

The finale day had a few highlights as well. Rachel Maclean’s videos being shown over lunch was really great, as well as the performance in the basement. This was by NOMA (John Cromar) who doesn’t seem to have much of a web presence unfortunately. It was one of the droniest, easy listening’ist power electronics shows I have ever heard. Super great, to the point, and with a bunch of peaks and valleys in the music. Plus it was in the dusty basement of a youth center.

The planetarium show, with both a presentation by the hilarious visitors guide, and a ambient electronic show in the observatory top was super great. The visuals of old nasa footage, as well as the fact that we were listening in the same room as a 1.5 meter telescope helped out the atmosphere a bunch. I would go to more shows there. From there we went up to the Dundee law and saw a performance detailing all the of things that we were not allowed to do in Dundee public spaces, during which the performers proceeded to do them dressed up in florescent costumes. Solid.

Interested to see if Dundee can sustain the kind of energy that it did for this week.

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