User Preferences: Tech Q&A With Di Mainstone
Each week we chat about the tools of the trade with one outstanding creative to find out exactly how they do what they do. The questions are always the same, the answers, not so much. This week: Di Mainstone.
The Creators Project: Who are you and what do you do?
Di Mainstone: My name is Di Mainstone, and I create wearable sculptures for experimental performance. Very often I embed technology into these structures as a way to express a story. For example, I recently developed a wearable musical sculpture (with my collaborator Tim Murray-Browne) that allows the user (or “movician”) to compose music as they dance.
What kind of hardware do you use?
Much of my digital work is collaborative and I usually join forces with an engineer and software developer as part of the process. In the case of a current collaboration called Whimsichord (a wearable device that turns you into a human string instrument, made with sound artist and researcher Dave Meckin at Queen Mary University of London), we are using a combination of rotary encoders, motion sensors, and microcontrollers, which communicate wirelessly via a ZigBee network.
What kind of software do you use?
In this example, we are using the SuperCollider audio programming environment, which will generate the sound.
If money were no object, how would you change your current set up?
I would purchase a mysterious warehouse in Berlin, where I would develop electro-mechanical wearable musical sculptures on a vast scale, working with a team of dancers and scientists! This place would have a fabulous fab-lab, boasting a stadium-sized laser-cutter!
Is there any piece of technology that inspired you to take the path you did?
One of the first technologies that I worked with was Nitinol, a shape-memory alloy. I locked myself in XS Labs (a digital textiles research space in Montreal) and experimented with it tirelessly for almost two years to create a series of shape-shifting dresses called Skorpions. I had a love-hate relationship with this temperamental alloy, which when embedded into cloth, moved in a very organic way rather than the fast mechanical way I had hoped. Instead of giving up, I decided to allow this technical limitation to take me on a totally new journey, capitalizing on its organic qualities and referencing them in my visual design. Nowadays, I love to use these moments of frustration as opportunities to unleash unexpected outcomes!
What is your favorite piece of technology from your childhood?
The village water pump at the bottom of my Mum’s garden…a big rusty rotating wheel, which made musical squeaking as my sister and I used all of our strength to rotate its lever. Our labor begrudgingly rewarded us with a wheezy belch of rusty water. I love the idea of technology that asks us to spend energy in an expressive way in order to make something happen. This is a big influence in my work at the moment, as I am developing an orchestra of wearable musical instruments that only release sound through creative movement. As well as mapping movement to sound through digital technologies, these instruments will also include many mechanical details. I’m a sucker for all things old-school mechanical! Check out the work of Arthur Ganson—he is my hero.
What fantasy piece of technology would you like to see invented?
The Tickle-Teaport. The size of a memory stick, there is no need to plug in, simply stroke the Tickle-Teaport’s belly (anytime, anywhere) and steaming tea will be released (with plenty of milk, no sugar)… I guess it would have TARDIS-like qualities—being able to house far more liquid than its volume would suggest. The Tickle-Teaport would either giggle or choke as liquid issues from its spout (depending on your settings)…