‘Art Imitates Network’ at Ball State University

By Mary Grush

AVP for IT Phil Repp Sees the Wireless Network in a New Way

At Ball State University (IN), an interactive digital sculpture project will bring the university’s wireless network infrastructure to life for all to see and hear on April 18 th and 19 th – offering IT managers, the general university community, and campus or virtual visitors a new view of Ball State’s wireless network.

Ball State’s Associate Vice President for Information Technology Phil Repp explains, “This project is an effort to provide personalization of the network. A network is like a huge ‘noun’ out there – just a thing – and our idea was to find out how we could make our network a ‘verb’ and get people to interact with it. We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to actually visualize a person’s location and sense on the network?’ That would give the network more meaning and value to the individual. They could relate to it on a personal level and say, ‘I’m over here! I’m involved!’”

Ball State University’s Shafer Tower

Ball State University’s Shafer Tower houses
the bell carillon to be incorporated in the event.

So for two days, four large projection screens, cameras, computers, speakers, lights, and carillon bells will be incorporated in a multi-sensory experience depicting traffic on the 15 wireless zones on campus, including the activity of local participants using their handheld 802.11g wireless devices to interact with the outdoor sculpture. Those participants will be able to follow their own engagement with the wireless network through the sights and sounds of the sculpture as it reacts to changes in network activity and traffic location in real time. Web visitors are invited to access live streaming video remotely from 7:00-10:00pm EDT each night of the event.

Sound and video will be generated live using several Apple G5 computers that run Cycling 74’s Max/MSP and Jade. The video will be processed via a MIDI interface, Apple’s Motion software, and Jitter. Synthesized sounds will be reduced and reordered with some degree of randomness, reflecting on the concept of the splitting and reassembling of IP packets. Much of the networking equipment for routing and managing network traffic – mostly from Cisco Systems – also plays a key role in the project.

After the event, the sculpture will be recomposed and displayed permanently on a series of wall-mounted plasma screens. Plans are to overlay real-time and historical data that illustrate the full spectrum of wireless traffic on campus. Repp says that the project can give even IT managers a new view of the network. “I would venture to say that this is also giving us in IT new ways to look at and organize data showing activity on the network.”

The Ball State University artists who designed and produced the sculpture are: John Fillwalk, Associate Professor of Electronic Art; Keith Kothman, Associate Professor of Music Technology; and Jesse Allison, Assistant Professor of Music Technology. Technical and organizational support is provided by Ball State’s Information Technology and University Computing Services. Sponsorship comes from the Center for Media Design at Ball State and is part of a $20 million Digital Exchange Initiative funded by the Lilly Endowment.

For more information and possible updates on links and schedules, see: http://www.bsu.edu/web/jfillwalk/wireless

Mary Grush is the editor of this newsletter.

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