Video Games for plants

I have been developing a video game for a houseplant to play.

I found a circuit online that uses Galvanic Skin Response to translate changes in conductance into midi notes. I soldered it together and I have been using it to play video games with my skin using an open-source program called ‘MidiKey2Key’ which translates incoming midi notes into any kind of keyboard button presses. I also use Ableton Live to output the midi notes to a particular octave and not the entire scale (this is also useful with the sonification of these elements). Interestingly this process also works on plants of any sort, although I found it works better on some more than others.

Signals arrive via TENS electrodes (green) and the changes detected in the electrodes are translated and output as midi data (purple)

After ‘training’ the plant (slowly adjusting the signals and assigned button presses, since there is no direct feedback from the game to the plant it can’t ‘learn’ as such) I was able to get it to play Soul Caliber VI, a player vs player fighting game, albeit really badly. It is akin to someone pressing buttons on the controller really rapidly and seemingly at random (a tactic I have too often been accused of abusing…).

Here is a short clip of it fighting in the arcade game mode.

I found some really bizarre outcomes through doing this and because I recorded vast amounts of midi data (on Ableton live) doing these tests I was able to view clear patterns after multiple days. For instance, the plant preferred vertical attacks earlier on in the day and horizontal attacks in the afternoon & evening. An increase in movement/strafing depending on the amount of light in the space. As well as this the frequency of signals being output from the plant would fluctuate based on a variety of elements such as time of day, if I was in the room or not, whether there were other plants that were nearby, and even if those plants were of a similar genus (it seemed to enjoy having ‘friends’ so to speak).

I took the plant online to fight other online players (without telling them they were against a plant) and it lost nearly every single fight ( I pity the people who lost against it). Initially, I thought it (the plant) was ‘bad’ at playing this particular game and tried to find others for it to enjoy, then I realised there should be no ‘bad’ way to play a game, only bad games. Which is exactly when I decided to make a game specifically for this house plant.

It was very difficult for me to imagine what kind of game a plant would want to play as we have no concept of plants playing, furthermore, anything I imagine to be fun or enjoyable is from the perspective of a bipedal human and not that of a house plant so would be inherently wrong.

I posited that if I were motionless and rooted to the same spot for my entire existence that I would dream of being able to move around, just as we, confined by gravity, dream of flying. So that was a start…
Then I began thinking about how I would represent such an entity, how a plant would visualise itself and also perceive the world around it. What would it see? How would it relate to its environment?

Videogame – ‘Innervision I’ – OST

The soundtrack for my first game ‘Innervision I’ interestingly came way before the videogame.

I had previously had a vision-like dream about a videogame that I had fallen into unwittingly following a late-night drunken zelda boss-fight session. The dream contained all which I would put into my first game in terms of music & visuals. The vaguely Playstation-1-era looking graphics, the crispy-clean interaction sounds, the NPCs etc.

I found the idea of making a videogame based off of music, and not the converse, an amusing one due to the fact that I enjoyed both sound design and visual design as well as the obviously backward methodology. The process of designed a game-level based off of a sound was entirely backward and I would not recommend this process to anyone else, however, I feel it works well for me as I enjoy reverse-engineering projects. This caused multiple problems on every level of production & performance.
Instead of going back into the songs and changing their structure to match the level layout, I would rigorously play through each level to make sure what was happening on-screen visually was in accordance with what was happening acoustically. If part of a level didn’t match the sound I would delete and rebuild that part of the level somewhere else within the level at a time when the music was more fitting. This eventually translated to having a strict playthrough-schedule within each level, due to the restrictions within the software in not letting you dynamically change the sound. Maintaining this schedule within the level when done correctly gave the impression of an entirely natural evolution of sound, however, when done incorrectly gave an entirely jarring effect.

This game was performed only once for the 2nd Interworld Media event @ Foodhall, Sheffield, sometime in February 2019. 

Due to the incredibly janky nature of the gameplay and the fact that I did the ENTIRE THING IN 1 WEEK, the game will not be released to the public in full at any point. However I will be releasing a playthrough video at somepoint in the near future.

Music Video – Phoneutrian – Base Journey

My music video for Base-journey by Phoneutrian, Interworld Media, 2018.

This song for me is very emotive & evokes a strong sense of feeling alone in a crowded environment, so I endeavoured to articulate this feeling of solitude.
One of my favourite things to watch, as previously mentioned, is slow movement. I’m a big fan of ‘slow-t.v.’ and anything which involves the gradual transition of form. Furthermore, I recalled a powerful experience exploring spaces which are usually busy but now are empty (Kenopsia).

I used these experiences to draw inspiration from primarily because of how removed the vocal lines are in the song, it instantly made me feel like I’m inside a vast cavern, glimmers of human interaction echoing off the walls, like the dying hiss of reverb desperately trying to stay alive! Moreover, I had experienced many long car journeys growing up and would routinely try and create patterns in what I was seeing as a way of keeping myself entertained.

I had previously enjoyed sessions viewing ‘Night Walk/Ride‘, which is a ”
first-person view of a trip through part of Toronto during the late-night hours, accompanied by Jazz ” and found them comparable to my present-day late-night/early-morning walks home from work. I decided to use this footage instead of trying to re-create my own as I felt I would create a poor recreation, also I felt that it may date the video tremendously if I used contemporary footage as opposed to the ‘Nightwalk’ footage, which was shot in the 80s. But isn’t the 80s footage dated as well? Well yes, however, I feel that using found footage doesn’t recall as strong a sense of specific location or date for me. Whereas if I had used contemporary footage, I feel it would have seemed like I was overtly trying to say something about that specific space/time. Which is exactly the opposite of what I wanted: a universal experience of travelling alone.

One of my favourite music videos of all time, which undoubtedly had a very discernible impact on me is for the Chemical Brothers song ‘Star Guitar’ directed by Michel Gondry. Its influence on me and my life is palpable and it still gives me goosebumps every single time I watch it.

If I was to start this project again I would probably choose to use a wider variety of footage. Whilst I used a wide palette of material I chose to exclude some footage due to a wide difference in colour levels. Whilst recognising those as different is obviously important I feel that I could have used them elsewhere in the project, working with their differences as opposed to against them.

‘Dronez’ Album

My first collection of music published on a physical format.

When I made Dronez and the period of time directly leading up to its publication was the most difficult of my life thus far. I had just finished my University degree (barely) & education as a whole, ended a 7-year relationship and was effectively homeless.
Despite this, or maybe because of it, my first collection of music was more-or-less ready for release. The album liner notes read “…Dronez is a culmination of the author’s fascination with stretching and spatial manipulation of audio. The emotional intensity of Dronestasy and True Grit counterbalances the calming environments of Frahmbient and Peace With Birds to achieve a complete psychoacoustic experience. For this reason, we advise Dronez is enjoyed in one sitting. “

I was severely unwell during this period and only now find myself coming close to feeling 100% again. The myth that artists produce better work when they are unhappy is just that, a myth & a terribly damaging one at that.

Hugeyes – The album opener starts with a very soft bed of blended string-based instrumentation put through a vocal convolution reverb. Essentially meaning that it’s a sound which was placed inside an unfamiliar or impossible space, in this case, it’s the sound of a variety of pianos run through the vocal characteristics of a human mouth. 
This slips surprisingly into a distorted drum beat, one made entirely of artificial sounds. Unnaturally low kicks bounce back & forward as extended snaps slap along and a field of static is propelled forward. I wanted this dichotomy of natural & artificial elements to be both disparate and also synonymous, as this was how I felt. 

True Grit – Is the soundtrack & reaction to a poem written by Joe Kriss. The poem – to me- is about being in nature and the overwhelming response it can elicit. I tried to convey this through my use of spatial swelling and in the wide palette of sounds & instruments sampled in the recording.

Dronestasy – This was one of my first major accomplishments in sound design and remains one of my favourite pieces I have made. I was trying to evoke the feeling of full-body pulsation I had felt so very strongly at the end of my first experience with ecstasy. Laying in bed not listening to anything except my own heartbeat and imagined 4×4 drum beat that had been the predominant force for the past few hours. I realised not only could I hear my blood flowing through my body but I could feel it as well.

Peace with birds – Is a more-or-less closed environment. Made at a time in my life when I felt I could no longer listen to music, for fear of associating it with how awful I felt. I would take walks to calm my mind and listen to small things which pleased me, like the sound of tree leaves in the wind and bird sound. During this period I made a wide amount of aleatoric (randomness in nature) recordings, which I would find myself returning to at varying instances when I wanted to elicit that feeling of natural stillness.

6000w – Or 6000 words by tomorrow is an illustration of how I was feeling, pressured. I was struggling heavily with depression, anxiety & invasive thoughts and university deadlines. I made this song when I had a 6000 word essay due the next day, I should really have been concentrating on that but instead decided to use that urgency in this piece.
This song is preceded by the much earlier ‘3000w’, which as you can guess was made under similar circumstances. Probably my least favourite on the album due to how ‘scrapey’ I feel it sounds now.

Frahmbient – This is an ambient reworking of a song by Nils Frahm, I made this immediately after hearing the album ‘Screws’ for the first time. I clearly remember how powerfully the entire album was from start to finish. It instantly compelled me to make music again and I needed to emulate how it made me feel. I recorded the sound of ‘You’ playing into the room I had first heard it in and began layering it back onto itself. (you can even hear the church bells & the birds tweeting from outside my window, a beautiful natural addition I decided to keep in). From there I worked with more convolution reverb and various other filters to separate layers and generate a few different versions. This is certainly the best take however, exhibiting the careful solitude of the original piece whilst still displaying an overwhelming feeling of peace.

Ideasthesia – The final track is a record of where I was then, a sound excerpt from my final university installation.I have written & spoken about this in length elsewhere but as a summary: The piece itself was a meditation on the melding of sight & sound, pairing colour groups with sounds & vice versa, these are sonic excerpts taken from the installation blended into a narrative experience.

This album is available to listen & purchase via Interworld Media:

Videogame – ‘Innervision I’ – Ideology.

I have been working on 6 Levels of a video game (and 1 bonus level).
These levels are directly inspired by a recent experience of falling asleep & waking up whilst playing video games.

I finished work at 7 am and returned home to play some much needed GameCube. I finished one of the first bosses on the game ‘Zelda: Wind Waker’ and found myself drunkenly wandering around the first ‘Fairy cave’ I had experienced in the game, a religiously relaxing experience.
The (relative) intensity of that boss perfectly complimented how calm I felt now peacefully residing in the safety of the cave, this had an entirely tranquillizing effect on my person and I pretty much immediately drifted off to sleep listening to the fairies lullaby.

When I awoke I found myself inside the fairy cave, I could hear the great Deku tree (an incongruity) speaking to me softly and I could see the pixellated fairies floating around the cave gently. Most notably, I could hear the music I had fallen asleep listening to, or my perception of it was this.
I wandered around the cave looking closely at the textures of the walls, floors and leaves of the plants that grew there, holding no concern for the music.
Merely moving around in this area was almost like walking through water and I felt I could no longer keep this up, I tried to lay down on the grass, which was waving around in front of me, although what I actually achieved was to ‘clip’ or move through the floor, following which I felt myself descending an unfathomable distance.

When I awoke I found myself inside my bedroom, I could hear the fairy music still looping and my projector still displaying the fairy cave.
The experience left such a powerful impression of confused peacefulness on me I felt I would have no trouble in illustrating this in a piece of work.
Thus I resolved to create an interactive experience in the form of a 1-player, first-person video game, which would in effect illustrate this dream to an audience.

I had previously been inspired by various video game music, most notably the ‘Earthbound’ OST by Suzuki & Tanaka. Furthermore, video games as a whole have been instrumental in my childhood, adolescence and adulthood, so I already had a wealth of experience from the perspective of an audience to draw upon in my creation.

‘Slow-mover’ Installation

This installation is typically paired with a more frenetic visual piece as so to provide some direct antithesis and a strong sense of dichotomy.

The piece serves as a moving canvas, gradually transforming throughout the 7 hour period of exhibition into complete abstraction and eventual removal from its original spiralling form. The piece illustrates how our perception can change through time, without our noticing and how what was once immediately recognisable can become eschewed beyond our recognition.

“I enjoy people watching immensely and find this installation to be analogous to that so peaceful act of observation. How we can watch things slowly move around & still remain the same but somehow looking away and returning your gaze can make the changes, however minute, all the more obvious.”

I feel that this experience is a very relatable one that can be applied to many aspects of the human condition, specifically to our relationships with each other and more importantly, our selves.

‘Slow-mover’ installation documentation from Aaron mears on Vimeo.

Installed at Hope Works in Sheffield for Pretty Pretty Good, various instances, 2018-2019

Climax – Gig Excerpt (3)

The final excerpt of the ‘Cittasamskara’ event held at The Moor Theatre Deli, 2016.

The song, slowly builds with militaristic reverberated snares, a swelling layer of pitched vocals and a slow advance in volume, which builds up to nothing. An anti-climax.
This is how I had felt at the time about my university degree and personal life, everything I had done so far in my life had been working up to something I no longer had; I felt extremely detached from the entire arrangement, to say the least.

Zebra – Bennet Foddy

A minimalist maze game seemingly designed to hurt your eyes by rendering all textures as the ‘zebra’ pattern of repeating monochromatic lines.
I enjoy playing this game for the sheer difficulty it takes merely to look at it & discern which direction you are supposed to be going. Which is nearly impossible.

I am often concerned that a lot of the aesthetic within my work relies too heavily on an ‘Optical Illusion’ aspect, this game illustrates these concerns perfectly, it almost physically hurts my eyes to play this game for more than a few minutes. Which is something I try to steer away from, for obvious reasons. However after seeing how other artists have replicated this for a plethora of applications I’m beginning to reconsider my approach to this ‘difficulty of perception’. Not wanting to lose the “microcosm of subtlety” my work displays, it will be a welcome challenge integrating this style into my own.

(below – Portrait of artist Akiyoshi Kitaoka)


Cycle – Marla Singer & Witch – 18/3/17

Explicitly minimal/cyclic visual stimulus for Cycle

In order to convey a cyclic sense of movement, I attached various forms of layered feedback onto a rotating sphere inside another rotating sphere, each spinning at exactly 33.1/3 RPM



Here’s a few GIFs I’ve made from a collection of screenshots from recent works.

My first fairly simple GIF, made from two frames of densely layered glitchy feedback.

My next attempt contained more frames & at a faster rate but I felt lost a part of its amorphous quality in being so skittish.

My third attempt combined what I liked the most of the previous two, having a vaguely identifiable foreground central shape with a more complex background of layered digital feedback.