Winds of Change (unreal-estates: Drew Browning, Annette Barbier) addresses the housing boom and bust as seen through a metaphorical window in a formerly modest neighborhood.
The Making of "Winds of Change"
(Production of a Linear Video Work with Real-time Data Driven Animation)
We raised our daughter in a neighborhood of ranch style houses built during the first housing boom of the post WWII decade. It was a neighborhood of small houses with big yards and big trees. The trees overshadowed the houses. In fact the neighborhood is bounded on three sides by forest preserve, easily viewed from the street over the single story ranch houses that back up to it. In the post millennium decade came a second housing boom that brought change to the neighborhood. Driven by cheap money from unscrupulous lenders many of the modest ranch houses were torn down to make way for what came to be known as McMansions. These multi-story houses with grand facades of masonry columns, arched doorways and clear-story entryways seemed out of place. They filled the lots, blocked the view of the trees and began to dominate the landscape. Our neighborhood was becoming one of "tear-downs".
When the ranch house next to ours began to collapse under the blows of demolition, Annette grabbed a video camera and ran out to document it. In less than an hour, the house that took months to construct, was leveled. That video became the catalyst for this piece, "Winds of Change".
Initially we envisioned the piece to be a data-driven interactive installation. The curtains became the canvas on which we would compose a portrait of the economy, curtains being the filter through which we view the world. Foreclosure data would modulate the curtains over time. For the current version we wanted to use networked housing data to move the curtains but as the piece came together Drew imagined the strong sounds of demolition from the video modulating the curtains. When he tried it he felt it worked very well. Making the sound visible also emphasizes the omnipresence of noise in our everyday lives.
Except for the demolition video and audio interviews the work is created with real-time computer graphic and sound programming techniques. The finished piece is rendered and recorded in the same time it takes to watch it. Using the open-source data-flow programming language, Pure Data (PD), Drew created the opening housing graph and associated wind sounds. He also used it to animate the graph into the curtains and modulate them with the virtual wind (demolition sounds). PD was originally designed as an electronic music programing language but has become, through its many external libraries, a popular multimedia programming environment optimized for real-time installation and production. It is the real-time nature of Pd that makes "Winds of Change" so easily reshapable. By changing the data that drives the graphics and sound or the audio threshold at which the McMansion stills are flashed or changing the timing of the control algorithms, the structure and content of the piece can be infinitely tweaked.
This can be both a blessing and a curse. With so many aspects of the work controlled by the program (patch), many corrections become trivial. However, that which formerly could be dismissed as not possible without major re-producing may now be possible with software changes. But just because it can be done doesn't mean it should be done. As with all art works, at some point we must call the piece finished but with computer based real-time production and control the moment of completion becomes more elusive.
The work makes internal responses to itself – for eg., the stills of McMansions occluding the motion video at times of highest volume in the audio. This algorithmic production makes the work self-creating, and self-sustaining. It favors the nature of the material over the choices of the maker, and foregrounds the end result of the process – the mega-mansions – at times when we might most like to see the dramatic moments of disintegration. We’re distanced from the kind of pleasure we experience in watching shoot-em-up action/adventure movies and made to reflect on the entire process of what happens to a neighborhood, and a community.