Meet Justin Giltin, AKA Cacheflowe: software programmer, musician and creative coder who will literally be taking over the sidewalk with his audio-reactive visual projection installation CommuniChords at Communikey this year. An expert in all things digital, Gitlin has a knack for using code to transform public spaces into art spaces while bringing people together through technology. Last summer, he debuted the Oh Heck Yeah project – the biggest street arcade game you’ve ever seen – in downtown Denver, bringing video games into the public space via huge LED screens and projection mapping technology. Passersby were invited to interact and play with the games, engaging in friendly digital competition right in the heart of downtown Denver.
Communikey had the chance to chat with Gitlin about what he has in store for this year’s installation and the impact that building open, creative spaces for people to play and interact with can have on our communities.
CMKY: Tell me about what you do. You play music, but then you also have this whole other part of your art, the audio-reactive visual projections that you do. I’m not sure I even really know what that means.
Cacheflowe: [Laughs] Well you’ll find out! It can mean a lot of things and that is kind of the cool part. The whole time that I’ve been playing music I’ve always had these two sort of parallel lives of, like, doing the musician thing – more for fun than anything – and then I was going to school for computer science and digital media studies at the same time I was playing music.
I’ve been working as a software developer for the past 15 years and along the way I sort of found ways to integrate music and tone into programming. I’m not really much of a visual artist; but over the years, and even in college, I discovered these really fun things you can do with code, like draw pictures just by writing software. Now, as technology has progressed, it’s gotten even easier to sort of take the music that you’re making and have that be the thing that’s drawing pictures via your software. So I definitely got a lot more into that and now, over the past couple of years, video mapping has become a real thing. So last year at the CMKY fest I did the two big techno nights and collaborated with Rachel V. Murray on the big projection map visuals for those two nights.
CMKY: That was the installation at Apex, right? The big blocks with all the different colors on them? I remember that, that was really cool.
Cacheflowe: Yeah, totally! That was just more software–custom code that draws pictures based on the music. I created these controls where I could control the visuals, or certain aspects of the visuals, from an iPad app. I could be out in the crowd pressing buttons or hand it over to someone else and let them press buttons and control the big visuals that were the backdrop for the DJs.
I’ve sort of fallen off of my music and it’s been more interesting for me to keep pushing with the code niche and the code-based creative output. For me, it’s just been more satisfying because there’s just such a saturation of music right now. It’s just become so easy to make music and get it out there that it’s just really hard to stand out.
Visuals have been a fun area for me to play and learn, and it’s a little easier to stand out because there aren’t as many people doing it. It’s more of a niche skill or a combination of niche skills. I’ve been focused on doing more algorithmic and generative art and doing a lot of projections. I want to create more intentional audio and software based experiences. I think that installation last year [at Apex] was a really big step for me. I worked hard and pushed my skills to bring it to the point where it could be in front of hundreds of people and I would feel good about it. I think now it’s time for me take it into sort of a weirder direction or more abstract direction.
CMKY: Can you tell us a little bit about what you have planned for CMKY 2015?
Cacheflowe: So what I’m planning this year is more of an interactive experience that festival goers can participate in more directly, I guess. It’s not so much of just something that you’re looking at but it’s something that you’re actually interacting with. So that’s kind of exciting.
CMKY: The theme this year is Inner Space // Outer Space–this idea that we’re all searching for the true final frontier when it might rest within ourselves making the inner and outer spaces we crave interdependent. How does your installation relate to that, if at all?
Cacheflowe: I think maybe the best way to say it relates is that the participants are simultaneously the creators and the consumers of the experience. What I’m building is a multi-player, music and light experience. When people stand in front of the installation they will be creating chords together – musical chords. Each person will also have, like, a tower of light that is associated with their particular sound that they are contributing to the chords.
I think that it’s a really cool way for people who are maybe not musicians, or don’t think that they’re musicians, or don’t even know that there’s even a music festival going on, to be creative with each other and to create a really cool ephemeral experience with each other. There’s no musical training required to create something interesting and artistic with each other. I think that it’s hopefully a way that people can find new ways to interact with each other and create in ways that they haven’t before.
CMKY: That kind of ties back to what you had said earlier about algorithmic art, a term you don’t typically hear often; but it seems that the progression that you’re taking with your work is to incorporate more of these skills that are traditionally not thought of as “artistic” and using them to create these interactive art experiences.
Cacheflowe: Totally. The popular buzzword right now is “creative coding.” That’s sort of based on some tools that have become popular in the education world and certain new media art world. Tools like Processing, which I know Communikey has had people come in to talk about Processing or MAX MSP, another popular multi-media, generative digital art platform. It’s really cool to get to integrate audio, video and hardware to create completely new combinations of technology that may not have been done before.
I think that’s the real exciting place for me right now. These tools keep getting easier and easier to use and computers are just getting faster and faster. We all have computers in our pockets now with the smartphone which can be sort of a node in this larger computing brain that can power larger and larger, and more dispersed, experiences.
It’s giving creators more possibility every single day to make new things. When you get a video artist together with a programmer there are now ways to connect those mediums pretty easily, depending on the tools that you are choosing.
Collaboration in any field is where the magic happens because you get experts in different areas that bring their skills together, and I think that’s where innovation really happens, combining things that maybe haven’t been combined before. I think there’s also a challenge there, too. How accessible can you make it to people who maybe aren’t used to this type of experience?
That’s one thing with my project, I want to make it really accessible. So some of the technology I’m using came from a project that I did this past summer called Oh Heck Yeah, which was an interactive street arcade in Denver. We built these video games that were meant to be played on the street, on the huge LED screens in downtown Denver. It was pretty much the biggest video game you’ve ever played, and they were all really simple games, so you know anyone – a four-year-old, even – could step up to it and pretty much figure out what was going on; or an 80-year-old could step up to it and not be scared to try it out. There was this interesting spread of users…I think for me it’s about building things that are really accessible and that the more people can experience these things together, they can make the experience really magical.
I think it’s also a way to attract people into the festival. Obviously the people who are going to the Communikey Festival are pretty tech savvy and forward thinking in a lot of their media consumption, so they’re sort of ready for it. But being able to bring people in from off of the street in the greater Boulder community – like, how cool would it be if they could just jump in and start using it and have this experience that hey had no idea they would be having? That’s the magic I want to see happen. Can we have people at the festival sharing an experience with the community using the exceptional nature of these tools that we know bring people together to have fun and play together – and just share this new experience?
CMKY: What drives your artistic vision? Are you using the code to create a vision or is the code driving the final output?
Cacheflowe: Dammit! [Laughs] So I don’t really have a very strong visual imagination. Some people say, “oh you’re totally making that up,” but it’s totally true. I can’t really draw or I just don’t see or have a vision of what I to want to see. As a musician, I feel like I have a natural vision in ways that I can just hear music in my head and I can try to make it. It might come out close to what I had in my head, but I just don’t have that visually generally. I’m trying and I’m working on it, but most of my visual projects come from what I know I can code – a lot of geometric stuff, mathematically generated colors. There’s definitely a certain aesthetic. I do want to be more purposeful, or intentional, with what the overall experience is and what it means.
I think the goal of the CommuniChords project is sort of concrete and there is definitely an intent behind the whole thing. While it’s still going to be pretty abstract and generated from code, I think that at the very least this experience that I’m bringing is very intentional and there’s more of a concept behind it than some of the audio-visual projections, or code generated visuals in general, that are just sort of cookie-cutter, screen saver looking visuals.
It’s like you have to ask yourself, can you do something more organic or purposeful? That’s kind of where I want to head but I think I have a long way to get there.
CommuniChords will be on display at various venues around Boulder, Colorado throughout Communikey Festival 2015.