Nathen Street is an emerging new media artist. He works to explore and make the invisible visible, turn the virtual into reality and explore immersive physical environments using custom software and hardware. Aside from his time as a Resident during The Edge’s 2012 DIY Tech programming period, Nathen has worked on projects such as The Waterwheel by media artist, choreographer and Australia Council fellow Suzon Fuks.
Residencies are project based and Nathen’s key project while at The Edge was the development of Social Fragments, an interactive installation that became fondly known as the tweet phone.The foundation for this work was Nathen’s consideration of ways people could announce to others their arrival in a space. The result was an installation that learns how to put together tweets from the words people use when having a conversation with it.
The installation was part software, part physical object. The physical representation was a wall mounted, pixelated circle, with strip LED lights illuminating through clear resin and a red retro telephone handset hung in the centre. Embedded inside was a Google Android Nexus S handset running custom software written in Java. Nathan wrote software for the installation using Nuance Mobile Developer SDK, the same software used on the iPhone that makes Siri. With this he was able to convert speech to text, so that when you talk through the handset a transcript was generated. Likewise he was able to produce a script and questions that were converted to speech and spoken by a synthesised voice.
Nathen analysed the transcripts of answered questions using a Markov process, which allowed him to guess potential word structures based on the way a person answers the question. For example, it collects information such as starting words, ending words, words that go before and after certain words. With this information Social Fragments then plays a game of chance, essentially rolling for the next word until it reaches 140 characters, then tweets the results.
Nathen ran a series of three workshops, taking a group of imaginative makers through the steps to build interactive LED chandeliers from found objects. Building materials included plastic flowers, beads, plastic toys, cake coolking racks, chains and other sparkly, shiny things. Along the way participants learned basic electronics principles and soldering.
For the workshop Nathen designed a programmable circuit board that drives the LEDs in the chandeliers. Each board contained an ATTiny85 microprocessor, which can be reprogrammed using the Arduino programming interface, inspired by the work by the High-Low Tech Research Group at MIT Media Lab.