Tangible and Responsive Media

Sha Xin Wei


We develop intuitions about physical and computational materials out of which we can construct hybrid, responsive matter, such as fabric, glass, networks, clay, lattices, video. We develop facility for working with sensors for interactive and responsive art.

Conceptual Questions

What makes something tangible? Does causality imply tangibilty? What makes stuff material rather than “virtual”? What kinds of temporality are there? Does temporality impart tangibility? When is it better to use physical media, numerical simulations or representations? (And what’s the difference?) What makes a substance responsive, active, agentful, lifelike? (Or is that a grammatical or categorical error?)


The graduate studio-lab offers students a chance to deepen their facility with hybrid physical-computational media and installations using more sophisticated techniques.

Topics include aeshetically-performatively sophisticated applications of camera-based tracking, computer vision, sound feature analysis, physical sensors in a realtime media installation of performance (MAX/MSP/Jitter). Topics include noise, resolution, calibration, fusing sensor data, state-based programming (rather than procedural programming), real-time response. We also treat physical installation / performance questions such as lighting and sound conditioning, agency, accident vs. intention, when to use pre-composed media vs. real-time responsive media, first-person vs. third-person experience, and the differences between making performance, temporal composition, and installation object.

For experienced practitioners interested in larger-scale work, we may also discuss questions of building and caring for multi-disciplinary teams, mediating communication across expertises with conflicting values, managing different rhythms of work, etc.

This is a companion course to Architecture of Responsive Spaces, in which students design interventions in the built environment using such media.


Students will be evaluated based on in-class participation and responses in the form of digital artifacts: software, animations, video, as well as short written notes, collected in their Scrapbooks, and on an individual report/construction/simulation using a material of their choice. Duo Final projects may be permitted.


Students should already have some experience with physical computing, and with real-time computational media, e.g. courses in Max/MSP/Jitter and physical computing. We also assume expertise in some material arts. Students without such preparation should contact the instructor before registering.








  sha@encs.concordia.ca • 514-817-3505 • http://topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei