This year has been overwhelming and exciting and it’s probably been the most varied one so far. The stand-out experience was at The Albert Hall for Space Shambles where I shared the stage with an actual Apollo astronaut who played a massive version of Lunar Lander, laser projected onto a 25m wide screen.
But there have been many other highlights too – I performed a short run of my solo geek comedy show Hacked on Classics, went on tour with interactive dance show Choreocracy, and took Mindfulness Machine to TIFF in Toronto.
But let’s start with what seems to be defining my career lately – lasers!
My own open source laser control code base has been growing in capability and reliability. The underlying controller code has been optimised, and it can now easily handle multiple lasers (an upcoming project in January 2019 uses 8!).
Other capabilities added this year; complex warping functionality (for architectural mapping) and a graphic object that allows for vector occlusion.
I invested heavily in laser hardware this year, buying 3 x 11W RGB lasers. This should really make it easier to produce and develop my own shows, without the dependence on third party suppliers. (If you want to hire my lasers, let me know!)
In February, Lightning Strikes had its second outing at Spectra Aberdeen, and in November, that project won the ILDA award for Art and Innovation. (I also placed second for its sister project, Lightning Catchers)
A couple of interesting collaborations this year, in March, I teamed up with artist Joanie Lemercier to produce a laser projection project at The House of European History in Brussels.
We had to figure out how to get Joanie’s vector graphics from VVVV (a visual programming environment) into my laser system. I built an app that could receive and parse SVGs over a socket in real time, and then send it to two lasers, that each had zones mapped onto various planes on the building. It was a really beautiful project, and lasers look especially good in the snow 🙂
And in August, I teamed up with comedian Bec Hill on her new show I’ll Be Bec at the Soho Theatre in London. It’s a fantastic time-travelling sci-fi comedy show that she’s hoping to take to Edinburgh in 2019. Unfortunately my contribution to the show is somewhat of a spoiler, but suffice it to say it was such a pleasure to work with Bec and the team, and it’s worth checking out her show if you can.
Space Shambles at the Royal Albert Hall
Such an incredible experience deserves its own sub-heading!
In June, Robin Ince and Commander Chris Hadfield put on a spectacular space-themed cabaret show, Space Shambles, at the Albert Hall. The amazing line-up included my friends from Festival of the Spoken Nerd and musicians Grace Petrie and Laura from She Makes War, as well as the best and brightest science communicators in the industry.
In my section, I introduced the arcade game Lunar Lander, and replicated it with lasers. “Some people say the original game was so difficult that it was as hard as flying an actual Lunar Module… but there’s only one way to find out…”, at which point (and I still can’t quite believe this) I introduce Rusty Schweickart, the Apollo astronaut who was the first to test drive the real Lunar Module.
He of course was cool as anything as he gently touched down the laser generated Lunar Lander, and of course, the crowd of 6000 erupted into applause! As a confirmed space enthusiast, it was probably the highlight of my career so far.
I’m really hoping that I can take Laser Lunar Lander out next year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing (and the 40th anniversary of the Lunar Lander arcade game!) If you can think of any opportunities or big buildings that could do with a massive laser version of a 70s arcade game, let me know.
The Albert Hall show was just one of many stage appearances for me, and it’s something I’m really enjoying these days.
A booking from The Lowry for their Week53 festival was the incentive I needed to update my solo geek comedy show Hacked on Classics. I worked with a producer and comedy director Chris Head to help give the show a semblance of narrative structure and bring out the humour.
But as well as that, I also made several appearances at An Evening of Unnecessary Detail, my favourite nerd comedy night in Bethnal Green. Early in the year I was a guest at several MathsFests, a show for young maths students. And the end of the year was finished of with Nine Lessons and Carols (where I played a Christmas song on a keytar made of floppy disk drives) and the wifi wars Christmas special at the Royal Institution.
Also in December I was part of the BBC Click live show, where I showed off one of my new lasers. It was great fun, a really nice team, and I hope to do more with them next year.
It seems that much of my work this year has been in theatres and Choreocracy is no exception. Working with choreographer Tim Casson, we have put together an interactive dance show that you control with your mobile phone.
It’s a lot of fun, and we toured with it in November and December. We’re touring again next year more details at choreocracy.com.
A couple of years old now, but Mindfulness Machine made it to the DigiPlay exhibition at TIFF in Toronto, and then straight to the O’Reilly AI conference in New York.
As well as the aforementioned floppy disk drive keytar, there were several other making projects this year. I made some radio controlled light-up shoes for Choreocracy (using bespoke PCBs, Adafruit feathers, 3D printed enclosures).
I also have continued work on a home light installation based on something from the movie Ex Machina – I started it a few years ago but got busy on other projects. I got myself a Glowforge laser cutter in the summer, and this was just the excuse I needed to finish laser cutting all the parts.
I also have the PCBs for this project and I’ve wired a third of it up… the rest is going to take a while, maybe before the end of 2019? 🙂
I spoke at a few conferences, including Smashing in Toronto and Freiburg, I ran a glow-stick band performance for my friends at Westvisions in Germany, I did a last minute TEDx talk in Surrey.
I spent the summer experimenting with 3D printing finishes (including coating resin) and I also took photos for Belongcon and FFConf.
This year, I feel like I reached the limit on the number of large installations I can organise, so next year I’m hiring Cat Hunter to help me promote and produce those events.
So if you have any good leads for events that need massive spectacular interactive light shows (PixelPyros, Laser Light Synths, Lightning Catchers, Laser games etc) please let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
But it’s already off to a good start – I have a booking for Laser Light Synths in January at Middlesbrough Town Hall that will have the most lasers I’ve ever used!
And to help with the promotion of those events, I’m going to be breaking off my professional identity into a new brand and website (eventually at seblee.co) and keep this as my personal site, for random thoughts, project updates, and personal appearances / speaking engagements.
I realise that I have hardly blogged at all this year. I’ve got out of the habit, but it’s something I’d like to restart again. There are so many guides I want to write about using lasers, openFrameworks etc.
I’m struggling at the moment with social media and the state of the world. Brexit is a huge depressing thing that’s hanging over 2019, and will likely be very damaging for myself and this country.
But I feel truly blessed to have such a great and varied career. As long as people need joyful experiences, I’ll be here to provide them.
Timeline of 2018
Jan / Feb
UCL MechEng Engineering gig (laser show)
Maths fest Birmingham
Maths fest London
Spectra Aberdeen -Lightning Strikes
Toronto TIFF digiplay – Mindfulness Machine
Brussels, Flux – Collaboration with Joanie Lemercier
Trip to Toulouse (personal)
An Evening of Unnecessary Detail – Updated version of live Casio Vl1 demo
Implemented IDN protocol in ofxLaser
UK Laserist meet up
An Evening of Unnecessary Detail – Laser Duck Hunt
New York – Mindfulness Machine install at O’Reilly AI conference
Purchased 3 x 11W RGB lasers
Choreocracy previews, London and Ipswich
Westvisions, Germany glow stick band
UX London – Performance of Hacked on Classics
The Lowry Theatre, Hacked on Classics at Week 53 festival
Choreocracy Preview in Bournemouth
Space Shambles at the Royal Albert hall
Toronto – Smashing Conference
3D printing R&D
Prep for Bec’s show
Bec Hill – I’ll Be Bec run at the Soho Theatre, London
Laser cutter purchase
Smashing Conference Freiburg
Distributed Cyborg Ring kits
Ex Machina Light installation
Light installation wiring
Finished remote controlled LED shoes for Choreocracy
An Evening of Unnecessary Detail – Spoken Nerd DVD launch – Floppy drive keytar
Choreocracy tour kicks off
BBC Click live recording
Nine Lessons and Carols
WiFi wars Christmas Special