On this past Saturday, I ran a workshop at ArtLab+, which is a very impressive teen design center affiliated with the Hirshhorn Museum at Smithsonian. It’s located right next to the Hirshhorn’s sculpture garden and is a place I would have died to have access to when I was a teen. It’s a big bright space and is equipped with just about every type of digital equipment one might need to experiment with audio, video, and other visual types of art and design. Mac Books, iPhones, iMacs, sound studio with much of what I use at home in my studio, huge flat screens with every gaming console imaginable plugged in. And it’s free to teens.
They contacted me a while ago about doing a workshop related to the ‘soundscapes’ I create with my work and I thought it sounded like fun to put something together where teens could create their own soundscape collectively with music and voices over the course of an afternoon. Roundware is perfectly capable of allowing this to happen, but this workshop was a challenge for me because it forced me to make some tweaks to the system and think more about how RW can be more easily deployed by people who have no prior exposure to the technology.
The workshop was a success for the participants for sure and they created a cool soundscape in the garden, but it also gave me added impetus to build out the accessibility aspects of Roundware. There is a big difference between a software platform that can be used effectively by its developers vs. a software platform that can be easily learned and used by people who know nothing about it ahead of time. Things like better web interfaces, more exposure of design parameters and visual methods of setting up and configuring RW for a particular soundscape installation are all desperately needed, but I can’t really make a huge dent in this without funding.
I’m hoping that because we have made Roundware open source and are starting to use it for more projects beyond my own audio installations that support to build it out further will continue to come in. Smithsonian is already making a large investment in supporting my team in building iOS and Android libraries, and I have been getting interest from a bunch of other groups at SI who want to use RW, so I have high hopes that collectively, these interested parties can fund developments that will benefit them all, me, and everyone else. It sounds a bit ridiculously utopian, but this is the amazing aspect of open-source, community developed software.
The workshop was a really exciting way to get more of a glimpse of how RW could be used as an educational tool. The teens we had participating really enjoyed themselves and I think we even tricked them into learning some stuff without them realizing! They got experience with GarageBand to create some music and then spent a lot of time outside in the sculpture garden looking at and talking about the sculptures. Sure, there was limited informed intellectual discussion about the works of art, but to me that type of looking and thinking is over-rated. They used their imaginations to make the sculptures relevant to them personally and really opened their eyes in ways that I don’t think they normally do. I may be making lots of assumptions about what they actually experienced, but the picture looks like they were having fun, so I’m going with it.
Here’s a short video the folks at ArtLab+ put together:
Being here at SI and talking to so many interesting museum/education people about their goals has solidified my beliefs that Roundware will primarily be an educational tool, not an artistic tool. Of course, it can and will do both, but the ‘market’ for educational purposes is vastly larger and that is likely where development funding will originate, so the platform will probably become a bit more streamlined for these sorts of uses. This actually makes me really excited. Education is so important to the survival of this planet and if there is something I can do – however initially inadvertent – to help those who have devoted their lives to this, I will feel proud.