Video: X-rays reveal dance of electrons!

Short animation I produced in collaboration with Design Science and Dr Adam Kirrander from the University of Edinburgh.

The piece explores work being conducted by Adam’s team which hopes to ‘freeze’ the rapid motion of electrons. The principles at play here are not dissimilar to those used in early high-speed photography, but in this case involves measuring how atoms diffract rapid pulses of x-rays. The technique is hoped to revolutionise the ways in which we study and understand chemical interactions, such as the breaking and formation of bonds.

This was my first full scale animation project and I learnt a lot in the production process – individual scenes were animated in Apple Motion and then exported and compiled in a FCPX timeline. There are lots of hand drawn elements within the piece, some of these were drawn on paper and scanned in – while others were drawn in photoshop with a graphics tablet – the leaves and eye at the end were drawn multiple times and then animated – that was a lot of fun!

There were some little touches that I found made a big difference visually, such as adding a subtle background texture and applying a faint vignette with blurring around the edges of the frame – this helped to draw attention to the centre.

The voice over was recorded on a Marantz PMD 661 with an AKG D230 – it wasn’t recorded in the best environment, so I had to work to tidy it up in Ableton Live. Subtle sound design also helped to bring a bit more depth to the animated scenes, this was also composed and produced in Ableton.

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Audio: The Sound in Silence, the Silence in sound

The space between silence and noise

Last year, as part of an AHRC funded project, I was commissioned to make a short experimental audio documentary on the subject of silence. I was given freedom as to how I explored this subject and so I set out to capture the thoughts of those who worked with sound and in silent spaces.

Click here to download it.

The result, unsurprisingly, was that silence meant lots of different things to different people and so thematically it was very noisy! This relationship between noise and silence was one I was keen to explore through the production and so the piece is filled with hiss, distortion and feedback in an attempt to echo the noisy subject matter. This was explored further through the use of interviews but also with extracts of the poem ‘Describing Silence’ which are intercut throughout. This piece written by James Wilkes was a response to his time spent in total silence and explores some of the self generated noise born out of silence.

The audio work was an artistic output for an Arts and Humanities Research Council funded project exploring the role of silence in academia and other professional fields. The project was run by the Science Communication Centre at Imperial College London and the piece was featured at one of their events.

Production Notes

  • The piece features interviews with Sophie Scott (cognitive neuroscientist), James Wilkes (poet and writer), Sara Mohr-Pietsch (BBC Radio 3 presenter), Cheryl Tipp (Natural Sounds Curator, British Library) and Vidyadaka (London Buddhist Centre).
  • The idea of distortion and noise influenced the production from the early stages and as work continued I really wanted to create an intense build up of noise that would level off and really help mark the silence experienced later on in the anechoic chamber.
  • The piece written by James Wilkes ‘Describing Silence‘ – can be heard in full below:
  • The interview and reading from James was recorded in an anechoic chamber based at UCL. The space itself is very strange to stand in, the best comparison I can think of is what happens to your hearing when you travel in a pressurised aeroplane. In terms of recording audio in there, it was actually a pretty boring space to record in!
  • Although it did crop up in several interviews I was keen to avoid referencing John Cage’s 4:33 – there are some great pieces on this already (particularly here: http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/library/1258-john-cage-and-the-question-of-genre) and it justifies a much longer discussion than I could have accommodated for it.
  • The piece was recorded on a Zoom H4n and a Marantz PMD661 with AKG D230 dynamic microphone. It was edited and composed in Ableton Live.

Audio Piece: The List

Earlier in the year I received a commission to produce some experimental audio work on the theme of ‘dreams’ for the ‘Dark Matters’ event at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry. For this commission I collaborated with poet James Wilkes who has previously been a poet in residence at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and run the ‘Vox Lab’ project. 

The resulting pieces we produced present a list detailing a week’s worth of dreams – pulling an odd array of incoherent imagery, places and situations into the formalised structure of a list. The list was compiled and narrated by James and then worked into three soundscape movements, each of which were responsive to elements of the list content.

Dreams naturally offer a rich source of imagery to work from, they’re patchy, incoherent and often overflowing with symbolism, so I really like the idea of pulling all this messy imagery into a structured, arbitrary list. In a sense, The List is an attempt to bring order to some of the madness that breaks loose within our nocturnal imaginations. The conscious brain seeking for order from the chaotic ramblings of the unconscious mind.

The  pieces were presented in the form of an In The Dark listening event held at the museum and which pulled together a collection of audio works exploring the human mind, dreams and brain disorders. After curating an In The Dark event for ‘The Voice’  (an event produced by James at the Wellcome Collection) it was great to work with James directly on the production of this commission. It was also fantastic to be given the opportunity to bring creative audio work within the confines of a Science Museum and introduce In The Dark to an audience outside of London!

Video

Why Does The Placebo Effect Work?

My latest film for The Ri Channel takes a look at the placebo effect and it’s central paradox – if we have the ability to cure our symptoms of illness when taking a placebo- why can’t we just do this all the time?

The film looks at the ‘WHY’ rather than the ‘HOW’ of the placebo effect and features Professor Nicholas Humphrey – an evolutionary psychologist who has contributed a significant amount of work to our understanding  of consciousness and the evolutionary context of the placebo effect.

I was aware of how the body is able to reduce pain through the use of it’s own internal painkillers (the endogenous opiates) – but I’d never really considered the evolutionary context of the placebo effect. WHY can’t we just deploy it whenever we want, why is it that a sugar pill can somehow grant us permission to do this and what information are we acting upon when we take placebo medications.

The film was created as part of a YouTube Super Collaboration (possibly the first in its kind) – which brought together 10 Science YouTube Channels each exploring 10 unanswered questions in science – the project was coordinated by the Channel AllTime10s – a monumental effort cajoling all ten channels into meeting the same deadline! You can view the AllTime10s video below, which links to all the videos in the collaboration:

Video creators include VSauce, Veritasium, Minute Physics and ASAPscience.

Production notes

AllTime10s asked us to produce a video on the placebo effect and we had a very tight deadline for this film (about a month to conceive and produce!) – after a bit of mild panic and some research we were delighted to have Professor Humphrey on board – he was incredibly helpful in informing this project.

Due to limited time we decided to shoot this in the format of an interview and cut the audio together to present a logical argument. I think the most difficult aspect in producing this film was in conveying the information succinctly, in the right order and deciding what to leave out. Obviously there was a lot of nuance and detail that we simply couldn’t afford to go into – so there was a lot of careful consideration involved in presenting these arguments concisely to a YouTube audience. As it often goes with the editing process – there were some painful moments  having to excise sections from the film.

Professor Humphrey had a number of thought experiments to help illustrate his arguments and I was keen to use these within the film, as they help to add real-world context from which to grasp these ideas. One of these was an anecdote of a schoolboy falling over in the playground and experiencing pain – with this section I was particularly conscious that we needed some sort of visual aid to augment the story.

At first I started with simple static slides created in Key Note, but found myself longing for something more dynamic. These slides then became placeholders and I later revamped them in Motion. This was true for the rest of the film as well, we were dealing with a lot of talking-head footage and I wanted to add in some motion graphics to help break this up and provide moments of pause between sections. I must say I’m completely new to using Motion and animation – so they are simplistic, but it was a great way of teaching myself how to do these things.

The style of these animations was very much guided by the central anecdote in the film (the schoolboy story) and this is why we see a chalkboard, wobbly text (it’s not Comic Sans!), simplistic stick men (I’m also a bit crap at graphics) and playful music.

I also really like the opening titles – although I’ll admit they’re not entirely keeping with the rest of the film’s style.

The film was shot with a Panasonic AF101, Nikon D7100 and edited on FCPX.

More on the placebo paradox: