Misha's Blog

The Virtual Reality of the Desert

Posted in Installations, Projects, Research by Misha on May 20, 2015

Pink Noise Hunt VR by Misha Rabinovich & Caitlin Foley

I spent two weeks camping in Andrea Zittel’s A-Z West Wagon Station Encampment in Joshua Tree. My partner Caitlin Foley followed that up by creating a Shellphone Listening Lounge at the High Desert Test Sites Headquarters in the Sky Village Swap Meet. It was an opportunity to try out some Virtual Reality experiments with the good old Google Cardboard VR headset. It was a fun process that included many first-time VR experiences by the participants.

The Shellphones and several other projects we’ve created explore pink noise which is a special energy pattern ubiquitous in systems on earth. We refer to pink noise as the golden ratio of sound. This VR game is based on the Google Cardboard Treasure Hunt example but with pink noise added in order to get people to listen to it without any visual distractions. To make the game more attractive we flocked the headset with pink flocking, which is something we first did at the Pink Noise Salon at the Flux Factory last summer.

People seemed to have enjoyed playing the game. Someone even said that the Cardboard headset was not nauseating like the Oculus Rift. Perhaps it is because it is a tad less immersive due to a smaller range of vision?




Feminist Data Visualization at LACMA

Posted in Research by Misha on April 13, 2015

I participated in the Feminist Data Collectathon workshop at the Art Plus Technology (#ArtPlusTech) lab at LACMA yesterday. The project was part of Annina Rüst’s residency at the lab and it was also co-lead by Micol Hebron (the head of the Gallery Tally project).

Annina got her hands on some juicy LACMA data, and we played around with different visualization ideas. One idea was to take a look at what the most exhibited artists at LACMA are, and how many of them are female. Please mouse over the bars to get the names of the artists.

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Arduino Cricket Emulator

Posted in Research by Misha on February 20, 2015

Did you know that plants can be stimulated by flashing light, sound, and even electricity and magnetism? Google Electroculture or check out this site for crazy stories of people trying to stimulate plants in funny ways. I am building a plant synthesizer where the plant is cultured by colored moving light. I found out that plants enjoy 3 khz blasts of sound, and luckily Signal Culture had some piezo speakers kicking around that output at that exact rate. I decided to articulate the sound into something humans and plants would be able to relate to: the sound of a cricket. I experimented with an Arduino Uno board and came up with this:

int crickets = analogRead(1) * (5 / 1023.0);
int chirp = 50;

On analog pin 1 you have a potentiometer that sets the number of crickets (all the way left is none, all the way up is like a whole field of the bugs). It only works if there is no other code being executed due to the subtle interplay between the board, the speaker, the delay, and the PWM pulse. Below is the recording of what it sounds like when the knob is turned from left to right.

Ecology Software

Posted in Research by Misha on October 19, 2014


Is it possible to interface with the underlying software of ecology using computer algorithms? In a time when our culture seeks a new balance within what Timothy Morton calls “the mesh”, our latest and greatest tools can only help gain the insight of enmeshment.

On a recent trip to Yosemite national park I was struck by the beautiful order and chaos that surrounded me. Termite or woodpecker gnawings of tree trunks resembled text or pictographs. I decided to feed photos of these carvings through Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software to see what information can be excavated from these traces left by the purposeful algorithmic activity of animals eating their wood (and having it too).

There must be some meaning in this!

There must be some meaning in this!

Expecting Animals to Perform

Posted in Miscellaneous, Rant by Misha on June 6, 2014

The excellent Amy Waldman (her book The Submission is great) wrote an article in a recent New Yorker magazine about the architect Jeanne Gang. Gang has been hired by aquariums to change their mission in order to reflect humanity’s recent realization that keeping whales and dolphins locked up is barbaric. It seems that everyone has seen Blackfish, a documentary about the evil of keeping hyper intelligent animals in slavery. The aquariums want to respond to this but as the article states they don’t want to just release their valuable animals into the wild or some kind of sanctuary: they will loose a lot of money. So what do they do?

The article describes an arrangement where the cetaceans are free to swim around in a protected sanctuary in exchange for pervasive video surveillance to let aquarium patrons gaze at them. The idea that aquariums have trained humans to expect animals to perform is a solid one, and the aquariums have to retrain humans to respect these animals while they are still sharing the earth with us. But to make them subject to our surveillance is desperate. These mammals need their privacy just like we do. I can imagine an underwater monitor for the dolphins that tracks the geolocation of their trainers by scraping social media activity so that the dolphins can prepare themselves for any possible incursions on their lives.

I do hope the aquariums start to retrain people to not expect these guys to always perform. This expectation is causing people to do stupid things like poke at wild sharks with go pro cameras on sticks. The sharks are just chilling so please lets not provoke them.

Raised On YouTube

Posted in Projects, Video Grow Light by Misha on April 17, 2014


Have you ever spent too much time watching YouTube videos? Don’t waste your YouTube hours, recycle them at http://raisedonyoutube.com. Raised On YouTube is an ecology game connecting the cultural and the natural ecology across the Internet. People watch a live feed of plants being grown only with the projected light of algorithmically curated YouTube videos. You can submit YouTube videos and have them analyzed right in your browser. If you submit the highest scoring video you can win prizes made from the plants.

If you could spare a few minutes and paste a YouTube video address into the game it will help the ecology. The plants will do better under the light of the more photosynthetic videos. Can we crowd-source the discovery of the web’s most photosynthetic video? The longer you leave your browser window open with the video analysis running, the higher our chances of success. Once your video analysis finishes, unscored videos will be analyzed one by one right in your browser. You are doing this ecology a huge favor by lending your CPU cycles while increasing your chances of winning. The fickle players that close the page or stop analysis before their video completes can never attain the true spoils of this contest. So please, keep that window open, and if not for me then at least for the Armenian cucumber (among others).

Join me, and together we will find the best video for plants. From the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to the contemporary green walls, plants have fascinated us. We enjoy rooting for plants—they make us happy. When the time comes, the vegetables, raised to maturity by YouTube, will be circulated into the supply of food for people to eat and relish. And then, who knows, maybe some will return to the Internet to post a better video.

Gender-based Fashion and Survival of Humanity

Posted in Miscellaneous, Rant by Misha on March 20, 2014
Metal Hand Bag on eBay


Why is it that women wear purses and men don’t? This gender-based fashion standard has serious implications on our survival as a species. Specifically, I am worried about keeping a cell phone in the pants pocket in utmost proximity to that vulnerable sack that some people revere with the name ‘family jewels’. There is evidence that radio waves can alter genetic information, and that is why individuals who identify as women and carry their phones in a purse are better off themselves and are also helping to maintain the integrity of humanity.

Have you heard about the Danish experiment designed by several girls which showed that plants don’t grow near WiFi? Wireless Internet, cell phone signals, and many other communication spectra fall under the general realm of radio, which is a type of radiation. And radiation can cause mutation. I’ve heard that it is healthier for the brain to wear a hands-free headset when talking on the cell phone. So why are so many people still packing this gadget right next to their junk like a confused marsupial pouching a radioactive baby?

Generally speaking, human females have their ovaries tucked away inside their body and I speculate that their DNA might be safer from cell phone interference. So if anyone needs some kind of purse to keep their phone at bay it is the men, especially if they are planning to reproduce. Why would we want the genetic integrity of our species to be manipulated by these all-permeating waves of potentially dubious cultural information? What kind of junk email downloads are mutating our chromosomes? It is time to popularize a male style of purse&#8212or for more people to identify as female&#8212and to critique fashion from the stance of informational integrity in general.

Dead Drop: the Digital Glory Hole

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on January 18, 2014
Image ripped off from Adam's website http://deaddrops.com/

Image ripped off from Adam’s website http://deaddrops.com/

Do you remember Adam Bartholl’s Dead Drops art project?  The one were he installed USB drives into public spaces and invited people to plug into them and share data? It is incredibly prescient that he created it in 2010: the same year that Stuxnet was discovered.  Stuxnet is the centrifuge-ruining computer virus that wormed its way into Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges after spreading through USB keys for several years.  The virus—purportedly written by Israeli and US American government cyber warriors—was meant to reach targets that were not connected to the Internet.  The strategy was to have the virus spread via removable media in the hopes that some scientist will eventually bring their MP3s to work with them  from a home computer infected via the Internet.  In a post-Stuxnet world, I am a prude about opening my computer’s ports to strangers’ USB keys without formatting them first let alone jacking into a Dead Drop.

Bartholl’s Dead Drops project is described as a rumination on public space and sharing, but behind this optimistic story lies a much darker comment on the dangers of mutual exchange.  Stuxnet and its variants threaten to turn any innocent bystander into an enabler of international cyber warfare and the risk of unforeseen consequences loom over people’s personal data.  The paranoia widened after the paradigm-shifting NSA related leaks from Edward Snowden.  How likely is it that your computer is not currently infected with sophisticated spyware?

Adam Bartholl’s Data Drops are the digital equivalents of the glory holes.  There is dangerous excitement around the idea of complete anonymous intercourse and the exchange of information between strangers.  A recent new product referred to as a “USB Condom” caught my attention not only for its functional promise, but for its potent symbolism.  By short circuiting the USB’s data pins and leaving only the power pins functional, this device promises to sanitize device charging via strange ports and third party cables.  It seems that our post-Stuxnet, post-Snowden world needs some USB Condom vending machines in every bathroom of every public playground which houses a USB Dead Drop device.  So if you see a Dead Drop and plug into it I hope you find something tasty.  Or perhaps you can leave something tasty behind.  There is a glory in surviving such an anonymous encounter.

Politics of Parametricism

Posted in Miscellaneous by Misha on December 8, 2013

2013-11-16 15.41.21


Parametricism (parametric design) encompasses computer aided design approaches that let you endlessly tweak models by changing variables and generate new iterations of structures.  A two day conference on the politics of parametricism was sponsored by Autodesk—the company behind 3D modeling programs and Building Information System management tools.  There was an ideological divide between the speakers: some designers and architects were on the “right” and spoke of top-down design approaches being the answer to humanity’s problems.  Others were on the “left” because they were more concerned with issues of access to these design methodologies and how they may marginalize whole swaths of people.

One of my favorite speakers was Teddy Cruz.  He gave examples of kids who started using a crappy lot under a highway overpass as a skate park.  They were told to stop by the city and county, but they kept at it and eventually formed a non profit organization, did fund raising, and finally made over the underpass as a really cool skate park.  I was energized by this story which was optimistic about dealing with state bureaucracy .  I’ve heard this idea in the parametric design circles of reconfigurable buildings which would physically readjust their structure based on human desires.  Cruz overwrote this mechanistic vision with video of Tijuana street vendors who retracted their ultra light sales kiosks to make room for a passing train.  As the train cleared the railroad the vendors unfolded their awnings in rapid succession, closing behind the train in a wave.

The question and answer period resulted in a heated exchange between and the panelists and Patrik Schumacher with demands being made to disclose political affiliations and rebukes of etiquette flying back and fourth with the audience caught in a sort of awkward rapture in between.  It was truly worthwhile to be part of a real confrontational smack down between parametricism apologists led by Schumacher and the opposition led by Cruz.  They said the conference was going to be streamed and archived on the site, but I can’t find the racy video anywhere!  All I have is this lousy pic.

Revisiting the Prague Biennale

Posted in Installations, Projects by Misha on December 1, 2013

Biothing: The Invisibles at Prague Biennale

I recently reconnected with my friend Kevin Kane who was my old collaborator on Biothing: The Invisibles Prague Biennale installation in 2003. He is now an architect & founder of Arktura. The Prague installation was quite an adventure, and its interesting to see where the people behind it ended up. Alisa Andrasek is still teaching and now involved in the European Graduate School. Several of the Columbia Architecture students who we worked with started their own firm called We Are Dag.

Biothing.Invisibles. map

This installation used animations produced with the Maya Embedded Language (MEL) and granular synthesis sound displays. The animation and sound would get more or less chaotic based on a digital model of a bacteria colony (using a Cellular Automata algorithm). The bacteria model had an “environmental” variable that could lower or increase environmental impediments to survival. We tied this variable to the count of people in the space using an infrared beam sensor positioned by the entrance. The idea was that people’s presence would help spread the bacteria and boost this invisible ghostly presence in the walls. During the research phase, we tested ultra-directional infrared beam speakers by Holosonics but decided to use conventional speakers so that we could hide them in the walls.

Biothing.Invisibles audience

I learned a lot from the project and loved seeing Prague. I hope to make it back there soon.