Computational Rube Goldberg Transcoder

The Computational Rube Goldberg Transcoder is a workshop exploring the fluidity of digital information, it looks at the transformation between different forms of data and how that affects its nature. It also invites participants to interfere with the process, highlighting the importance of human involvement with and perception of digital tools in giving meaning to the data.


The workshop was run for the first time at the RCA School of Communication Work in Progress show, 2014. We had a suitably convoluted loop of data translation and transcoding beginning, nominally (interventions could happen at any stage), with a microphone connected to a processing sketch visualising the sound. This could then be photographed, with the image being automatically sent to a printer.


The importance of photographing this was that it left a space between the camera and the screen – an opportunity for intervention.


Once the image was printed, we provided some tools to manipulate the image before scanning it back in to the system where it would be read as a ‘score’ to control light levels in the next section.


Light was sent through a tube, from the custom software reading the image, via an Arduino with an LED to another Arduino with a light sensor attached. This again offered opportunities for intervention in the data by allowing participants to shine lights of their own and adjust the distance the light needed to travel.

This multiply-translated data then ended up at a computer running a NodeBox program converting the light levels into an abstract musical score, offering interpretable, non prescriptive instructions for someone to input more sound data to the system. We had a glockenspiel available to play, but shouting and table banging were just as effective.

We developed and adjusted the process over the duration of the workshop, adding a feedback step where the image scanned was sent to the audio visualisation and therefore added to the photo taken that fed into the system.


And it was fluid, some people preferred to scan mud and a banana.


Or their faces.


[Workshop run with Francesco Tacchini]