Turning tools into instruments

The Piksels and Lines Orchestra (PLO)

If we turned our tools into instruments, could we experience Libre Graphics as an ensemble? What would be the performative potential of lay-out and drawing, and how to listen to the sound of a pixel, or to the tune of a line?

In response to these curious questions, The Libre Graphics Research Unit developed a prototype for The Piksels and Lines Orchestra. In a single afternoon, several well-known Libre Graphics tools were networked using standard protocols. The 'Instrumented' versions of Scribus, MyPaint, SketchSpace and GIMP were made to send their actions (everything that is saved to the undo/redo-history) as HTTP GET requests to The Underweb so that any completed brushstroke, transform or text-change made by the Orchestra's Instruments would be displayed on a screen. From here, we used Lyd to sonify actions with the help of the LibreOffice sound-effects.
Simultaneously, Players were saving their results into git. A PureData-patch pulled from the repository and provided ambiant sounds based on processing the outcomes of The Instruments. Finally, through OpenFrameworks, we visualised the growing image-collection on-screen.

We started thinking about The PLO in the Demonstrating the Unexpected workshop with Brendan Howell

Pierre Huyghebaert drawing the PLO-diagram

Multiple visual outputs

The Orchestra performed two sets of about an hour, exploring the improvised connections between design-production and experimental sound. The differences in tonality of the various instruments were obvious, even if this was just a quick sketch. Scribus proved to be interesting to play; the action-history of this page-lay-out tool is fine-grained, and it's large variety of operations is clearly defined. The range of sounds produced by MyPaint appeared to be less rich then we expected; to turn a drawing tool into an instrument, it might have been more interesting to take mouse-positions into account. Although exciting because it was the only web-accessible Instrument involved, playing SketchSpace was a little less gratifying due to the high granularity of actions that made it hard to actually perceive causal relations between a change on canvas and it's sonification.

Ana Carvalho and Pierre Marchand playing Scribus

Pippin playing Lyd

Playing MyPaint while Brendan explains

Adding sound-feedback to lay-out broke the usual boredom of putting elements to the grid. The pleasure of connecting these different tools through a minimum of negotiation and a maximum of improvisation allowed them to express their character to each other and with each other. Free, Libre and Open Source Design practice will never be the same again :-)