Created at The Basel School of Design by the 1st year Visual Communication students, Laser Letters is a group project resulting from a short 6 day course providing an introduction and overview of topics in the realms of typography and media interaction.
The programme is broken down to address a range of topics covering specifically layout and design (Typo), drawing and graphic form (Bild) and time based media + interaction (Medium). Following a year of development in other areas of study, each student is expected to have developed an interest area. This course is devised to expose students to areas of study they might not otherwise be interested in or aware of and explore its potential + contribution to the development of their focused study, and possibly even becoming something they would specialise in.
The 6 day course consists of a two day introduction to Processing basics, followed by a day each dedicated to audio visualisation and typography. Day five brings these together in the form of combined experiments that include typography, audio and laser simulation. Finally, the last day includes reviews, laser debug and showcase of the work produced.
When it comes to the topic of interaction, the teaching emphasis is placed on utilising programming as a compliment to other subjects of study. From learning about generating imagery to manipulating typography by code, the introduction expands quickly into using libraries such as Geomerative (Ricard Marxer) and Minim (Damien Di Fede) to let students manipulate the anchor points of type and incorporate audio as an input.
With nearly 25 students in the class (plus one teacher), a combined project is created using keyboard/alphabet for interaction. Each student develops a sketch to represent a letter of the alphabet where letter’s coordinates are manipulated by the audio signal. In the live setting, these are controlled and swapped between using a wireless keyboard made available to the audience.
This curriculum and combined project was first implemented in 2015, with an interactive showcase at the end of the semester. Documentation and open-sourcing of code sat on the back burner for some time and now are made available on GitHub. Speaking to Ted Davis, the course instructor, he provides some background to how the course came about and inspiration behind combining lasers with typography:
“While attending media festivals, I was exposed to the impressive light qualities that a laser could provide (Lumière II + Deep Web by Robert Henke). This led to a burning curiosity about the possibilities of combining digital video projection with this extremely bright RGB laser light, mapped 1:1 over one another. Gaining knowledge of the technical terms and equipment involved (ILDA laser programming, EtherDream DAC) from Robert Seidel and being able to benefit from recent open-source explorations for openFrameworks by Memo Akten + Daito Manabe + Yusuke Tomoto, it seemed possible to add another layer of wow to the project… LASERS!” – Ted Davis
In order to achieve this (laser programming via openFrameworks, while course teaching was focused on Processing) – a set of abstracted basic drawing functions from Processing were mirrored, where instead of rendering the form, it was sent via OSC to a custom openFrameworks tool, receiving the signal and translating the inputs to what was necessary for the laser. One just had to place an x in front of the forms that should be sent to the laser, ie. xline (x1,y1,x2,y2); This allowed students to quickly and easily swap between which forms would be projected and/or sent to the laser. At the time of researching the project, there were only existing libraries for producing static ILDA files from Processing to be looped on a laser, not realtime.
The course included just 6 sessions, students only had time to test their sketches with the laser on the day of their reviews in the controlled environment (laser + video != laser + eye), which proved to be surprising, disappointing, impressive, inspiring results due to the limitation of points that the laser could render.
The hardware used included a LaserWorld DS-1800 (RGB Laser), EtherDream DAC (computer to laser interface) and Optoma EW-610ST (Video Projector). The software included Processing (sketching environment), minim, geomerative, p5osc (libraries for audio, typography, osc communication), openFrameworks (laser controlling environment) and ofxEther, ofxILDA addons.
Students (BA 1. Year Vis_Com): Victor Bringolf, Johanna Bühler, Nils Dobberstein, Lilian Dolder, Milena Ferreira, Anja Furrer, Sina Gerschwiler, Patricia Grabowicz, Livia Graf, Sina Grass, Sonya Haksar, Lisa Hartmann, Elias Hodel, Madelene Imhof, Franziska Krenmayr, Silvio Meessen, Lena Meier, Salome Neuhaus, Celine Pereira, Julien Rondez, Lara Schai, Sarah Schiltknecht, Linda Walter
Instructor: Ted Davis
School: The Basel School of Design / Institute of Visual Communication