Category Archives: Architecture




WYSIWYG was an investigation of sonified soft materials that encourage playful interaction. The group was a diverse mix of artists, scientists and musicians from McGill University’s Input Devices and Music Interaction Lab and Concordia University’s Topological Media Lab. In the first phase of the project, a large, stretchy, light-sensitive square “blanket” was developed, which was shown at a public exhibition on October 31st 2006. At the show, visitors interacted with the interface by standing under it and lifting it up. The tension of the fabric was such that shapes and waves could be made, producing rich, multichannel sound. Detailed discussion of this installation can be found in the publication Mapping and dimensionality of a cloth-based sound instrument

In the second phase, a tapestry was designed and woven with conductive thread which was used to generate an electric field. At its public exhibition on July 18th, 2007, visitors could touch various parts of the tapestry to generate sound. The interplay of narrative image on the tapestry and the abstract sound associated with it encouraged discovery and experimentation.


The following overview is from the Topological Media Lab’s WYSIWYG page:

As an extension of the research work conducted with the Topological Media Lab (TML), Sha Xin Wei and his team are creating textile objects such as wall hangings, blankets, scarves, and jewelry that create sound as they are approached or manipulated. These sonic blankets can be used for improvised play. A phonetic pun on the old acronym for What You See is What You Get from the era of the Graphical User Interface, WYSIWYG (for wearable, sonic instrument, with gesture) draws on music technology, dance, children’s group games, textile arts, and fashion. Created first and foremost to sustain social play for people of all ages, WYSIWYG allows players to express themselves whether enjoying time in a park, dancing at a club, passing the time during a long car trip, or just playing at home.

The custom-designed digital instruments embedded in the cloth sample movement to transform ambient body movement and freehand gestures into new sounds or “voices” associated with a player or transmitted to other players in the vicinity.

When the project was launched in November 2006, the WYSIWYG team experimented with a prototype ”blanket” able to sense how it is handled. During the presentation, eight people manipulated this photo-sensitive blanket to produce a spatial sonic landscape. In July 2007, dancers performed a semi-choreographed movement improvisation around a 20’ suspended “tapestry” and a 6-foot “tablecloth” woven with conductive thread on a Jacquard loom by Joey Berzowska’s XS Labs.

Dancer Marie Laurier with 20’ sounding cloth woven by Marguerite Bromley during Ouija workshop. © 2007 Topological Media Lab.

Custom electronics by Elliot Sinyor, McGill University. © 2007 Topological Media Lab.

David Gauthier with capacitive proximity sensor in the form of a bird woven from conductive fiber. © 2007 Topological Media Lab.

Principal investigators: Sha Xin Wei, Marcelo Wanderley
Physical materials advisor: Rodolphe Koehly
Mechatronics, feature extraction: David Gauthier
Mapping, feature extraction: Doug van Nort
Sound instruments: Freida Abtan, David Birnbaum, Elliot Sinyor
Assistant project technical coordinator: Harry Smoak




“In the classical art of rhetoric, Quintilian and Cicero suggested that an orator or storyteller imagine a familiar building and position characters or other narrative elements in that imaginary architecture. The mnemonic device had the subject take an imaginary walk through a static architecture. Today’s architecture is suffused with motion, flow, transfer, and transmutation, veined by the internet, conducting video, sound, and people in constant movement.”

‘WunderKammer’ [Wonder Room], is a new media installation modeling people moving through time to explore poetic modulations of rhythm, repetition and corporeal memory. This new project conceptualized by the Montreal-based collective: Alkemie, exists in the format of a miniature portable theatre that features a provocative fusion of installation art, performance and real-time media technology.


Collaborating participants:
Elysha Poirier [Guest Resident Artist}
Jerome Delapierre – [Alkemie] Video Design and Interactive New Media
Navid Navab – [Alkemie] Sound Designer
Sha Xin Wei – Technologist/Theorist and Co-founder of TML and Alkemie
Michael Montanaro – Project Strategist and New Media Choreography and Co-founder of TML & Alkemie
Katie Young – [TML] Administrative Coordinator
Harry Standjofski – Actor and Script Writer
Alex Gaskin – [TML] Student and Builder of the WunderKammer
Jason Hendrik – [TML] Student Volunteer, Graphic Design
WunderKammer was conceived by Michael Montanaro and Sha Xin Wei
Funded by the Ontario Arts Council’s Ontario-Quebec Artist Residencies Program 2012.

Pneus Champ Libre


Pneus Champ Libre

Pneu, the air- or fluid-filled cell structures in the living tissue of plants, embody a plant’s symbiotic relationship to its milieu. Plant cells change their pressure to give stiffness or flexibility to a branch as the wind changes, and simultaneously conduct fluid nutrients from the plant’s roots to its leaves.

Our installation, Pneus, exists in a world of second nature, a world made by human hands but governed also by electricity and gravity. Its roots extend into the subterranean world of infrastructure, and its canopy drinks sunlight.

By suspending Pneus off the ground, overhead, we up-end the earth to expose its roots, and let those who walk underneath the installation experience the rhythms Pneus extracts from the street and the building as dappled light and shadow, much like dappled shade on the forest floor.


Pneus also works on the membrane between a building and its street. In this age of « intelligent » technology, opening a window is no longer an innocent act, so we open a building symbolically and informatically. Like an air-plant, Pneus adheres lightly to its host, drawing rhythms from the heart of the building and releasing them into the exterior as a kind of music.

Pneuma’s capillaries contain eyes that see not identities like « intruder » or « employee » but only elementary things: light and dark, the chiaroscuro of sun and cloud, or a pedestrian’s body walking past the window. Other capillaries lightly touching the building or hanging freely in mid-air function as whiskers sensitive to the friction of traffic – human, vehicular, infrastructural – and passes them back and forth through the membrane of the building. Transmuting and radiating rhythms allows the building to breathe together with its exterior again.

More analytically, Pneus also serves as stethoscope or instrument. As it becomes attuned to its site, Pneus becomes more legible and playable to passersby – it will respond to the approach or departure of a human by modulating itself on the momentum of the person’s passage or gesture.


Installation description Pneus is a responsive pneumatic installation formed from bundles of semi transparent plastic inflated tubular cells interconnected through various low-pressure systems and simple electronic sensors. The bundles of cells in Pneus are able to branch, bend, take shape and weave into various configurations. Some cells will contain smaller cells with embedded sensors, electronics and pneumatic valves. The approximate size of Pneus will be about 4m x 6m x 4m high, but can be stretched or multiplied according to the site.

Interaction occurs in different ways: photocells in tubes act as simple proximity sensors of people passing by the structure. Optical flow will be processed to modulate a motion referencing sparks, waves, or steam depending on the hour of day and the evolving state of the system, a motion composed in turn from the transmutation of natural patterns of sunlight or infrastructure data, for example, the vibrational data from the wire whiskers touching the walls or ground. Light and shade condenses over people as they walk, depending again on the state of the system – like weather.

Constructed from semi-transparent plastic, the quality of light possible through the installation will make a continually varying shadow play, integral lights within the cells are being considered as a type of photosynthesis feedback system.


Pneus will be suspended in two parts : the exterior part will be above head-height and directly above the sidewalk on rue St Antoine so that the participant can walk under the installation. The interior part of Pneus will consist of the following materials. Inflatable cells: heat welded PVC, PVC tubing, PVC connections. Sensors: IR and visible light photocells, printed circuit boards, low voltage Piezo electric induction micro- phones. External power sources, external speakers and a small computer (Mac Mini) will be incorporated into the interior part of the proposed structure. Exterior structure will consist of a scaffolding system, non-invasive clamping for the existing building. Sub structure will consist of a fine network of high stress monofilament connected to the PVC structural manifolds.


Peter Hasdell is an architect, artist and academic.

Patrick H Harrop is an architect and associate professor of Architecture at the University of Manitoba; doctoral researcher, Topological Media Lab.

Sha Xin Wei, Ph.D., is Canada Research Chair in media arts and sciences, and Associate Professor of Fine Arts and Computer Science at Concordia University,Topological Media Lab.

eSea Shanghai 2008

eSea Shanghai 2008

ESEA, is an irregular reef-like wall, 12m long, 2.5m high, made of more than 2000 sheets of individually cut sheets of cardboard. It multiplexes the rhythms of the sun with the ephemeral rhythms of pedestrians, and manifests the result as a pattern of varying LED lights at night. ESEA was presented in Shanghai’s Century Plaza at the E-Arts Festival, October 17-22, 2008.

The wall’s paper substrate holds the inflatable cells in a variety of holes. The substrate is CNC cut corrugated cardboard that allows for different patterns for the holes. Note that not all holes have cells in them. The holes that do not have cells can be used for viewing, peeping, communication etc. The overall result of the various holes can be like the structure of coral.



The architectural design was done in Montreal, Hong Kong and Australia.

The custom electronics was designed by Sha Xin Wei (TML) and Vincent Leclerc and built by ESKI. The CNC (computer-numerically-controlled) manufacturing was done in Shanghai. Media choreography logic was designed and written by Sha, TIm Sutton, JS Rousseau. Supported by the Topological Media Lab.

Photocells rooted inside long tubes atop the wall measured sun’s slow transit across the sky, and ultrasound sensors embedded into the wall measured nearby people’s movement. Logic was coded in Max, and mapped to custom LED control electronics by ESKI.


Peter Haskell, Patrick Harrop, Joshua Bolchover, Architectural design
Sha Xin Wei, Interaction design, Max programming
Vincent Leclerc (ESKI), LED electronics
Tim Sutton, JS Rousseau (TML), Max programming
Dedale studio, and Shanghai eSea, fabrication and assembly




Based on previous work with Meteor Shower, Cosmicomics presents a fantastical sky animated by a fusion of lunar dreams inspired by Italo Calvino’s eponymous novel, and by the quantum inflationary cosmology created by Andre Linde. A large ceiling-mounted display (three plasma displays or a projected screen) opens a window into a fable of a cosmos, filled with liquid light and sound that dance to movement, epoch, and the alchemical condition of the Moon.

Cosmicomics was presented at Elektra 9-13 May 2007, Montreal.



1 tracking camera
3 tiled plasma screens
Video processing computer
Sound processing computer

Camera-based tracking, motion-feature extraction, media choreography state engine, realtime sound processing, realtime video processing.


Sha Xin Wei – Director, Art Concept
Harry Smoak – Director of production, creative advisor
Jean-Sébastien Rousseau – Video design and Max/Jitter OpenGL programming, Models and special effects video
Timothy Sutton – Sound design and Max/MSP programming

Emmanuel Thivierge – State engine programming, Camera feature extraction
Josée-Anne Drolet – Project Coordinator, Models and special effects video

Olfa Driss – Research, Models and special effects video
Michael Fortin – Graphics programming, OpenGL and optimization

Artaudian Lights


Artaudian Lights

Artaudian Lights took place in Hexagram-Concordia’s black box research facility in collaboration with Harry Smoak and under the umbrella of the Topological Media Lab. The three-week residency marked the beginning of an ongoing investigation into the development of new technological and human models for performance based sensing environments. The collaboration was designed to deal with issues that revolve around the interaction between movement, lights and projection through camera-based tracking and computer vision. The focus of this ongoing research is to explore, identify and develop new movement techniques, and applications of pattern recognition and computer vision.



Video camera,
Theater space
MDX controlled lighting grid
DMX-Ethernet interface
Custom feature extraction and tracking software
Custom lighting animation software



Michael Montanaro
Harry Smoak