junkMail (2012)

I have a sign placed prominently above my mailbox: “NO ADVERTISING MATERIAL PLEASE”. It’s regularly ignored, particularly by real estate agents and pizza shops. I decided that a public shaming would be the most effective means of ending the tyranny of wasteful advertising and obviously best served by making some ‘art’. First step is always a disclaimer…

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Disclaimer.

Originally, I wanted to capture any movement with a video camera, but only save the video if something was placed in the mailbox (avoiding capture of anyone that walked past our house). So I put an Arduino board and range sensor in the roof of the mailbox. Any change in the depth of the mailbox would let my MaxMSP patch know that I got mail.

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Arduino and range finder inside the mailbox.

It wasn’t long before I realised that this wouldn’t work: the capture had to begin as soon as movement was detected. If recording waited until mail was delivered, it was too late. Until I work out this process (perhaps deleting a video file if no mail has been delivered), I’m having to sift through many short videos of people walking their dogs and/or babies past our home. If one falls over, I might hit Funniest Home Videos paydirt.

I’ve set the MaxMSP patch to save video to my Google Drive, so I’m able to remotely check the video and delete any that’s just clogging my hard drive. It’s both creepy and weirdly interesting to surveil like this. I’m not sure what the neighbors will think once they find out that I know what time they left for work each day. Despite the very fine print on the mailbox (which is a joke in itself), it’s certainly not a secretive process; the camera is sitting fairly prominently above our front door, inside a box to protect it from the direct sun and has already been spotted by the postman and a door to door salesman. It’s only the junkmailer(s) that conveniently aren’t paying attention to signage.

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PS3 Eye Cam.

I’m still not entirely sure what form this work will take once I’ve got a few junkmailers captured. A ‘Wall Of Shame’ is definitely on the cards, but for now I’ll just keep adding each one to my Flickr account

As always, here is the MaxMSP patch, should you want to play at home. It shouldn’t need any external objects and will work with your own camera.

UPDATE: The constant watchful eye of the camera was starting to freak people out a bit. Or maybe it was me; texting my girlfriend to let her know I had video evidence of when she left/arrived home each day. Either way, I’ve taken down the junkMail camera, shortly to be replaced by the interactive-Christmas-lights-extravaganza camera. Whatever that may be.

I’m obviously busy with said extravaganza, so before I put this junkMail thing to bed for the time being, I sat down and thought to myself, “I bet I can make some truly terrible music with this.” And when I’m right, I’m right.

Taking the recorded video of a few junkmailers in Jitter, I frame differenced them and used an optical flow algorithm to show where the most movement was taking place in the picture. Breaking the image into a 4×3 matrix, each column outputs MIDI: note, velocity and duration respectively. The R, G and B planes have been separated for controlling different instruments.

Here’s the result. If you’re into late Sun Ra, you might enjoy it. On second thoughts, you’ll probably (rightly) think it’s shit. Enjoy…

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