This is an ongoing project. On this page, you will find blog posts that elucidate my research, development, and progress. The work will continue to evolve and develop over the coming months.
As work is resolved, I am publishing it on a separate page here [DJ Beatmatching].
In August 2023, I was accepted into a six-month artist residency program at the Centre for Systems Modelling & Quantitative Biomedicine (SMQB) at the University of Birmingham. SMQB was looking for artists to collaborate with their researchers on interdisciplinary projects, and I was paired with a DJ beatmatching project.
As a photographer, I am interested in how art and science can intersect to create new perspectives and understanding. I am also drawn to the idea of collaboration, and I am excited to work with the researchers at SMQB to develop creative outputs that respond to their work.
My DJ experience has given me a deep understanding of beatmatching, which is the process of synchronizing two tempos.
I am interested in exploring how the principles of beatmatching can be applied to other fields, such as science and medicine. For example, researchers at SMQB are using computer modeling to study the complex rhythms of the human brain. It maybe that beatmatching can be used to explore these rhythms in new ways.
The potential for the research to move beyond DJ Beatmatching analysis is limitless.
During my residency at SMQB, I plan to develop a series of creative outputs that will explore the intersection of beatmatching, music, and science.
I am particularly interested in using this project to create new ways of visualising and understanding complex data. Art can be a powerful tool for communicating bewildering ideas, it can bridge gaps and help make science more accessible and engaging to the public.
This is a radically interdisciplinary project about the art and science of DJ beatmatching, spanning a number of different disciplines, including electronic music studies, digital music analysis, music psychology, disability studies, participatory action research, cognitive philosophy, performance, movement, cognitive and neuroscience, dynamic systems modeling, time-series analytics, and biophysiological analysis.
There are 6 members in our team, namely:
- Dr Maria A. G. Witek, Associate Professor, Department of Music, School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, University of Birmingham
- Dr Patti Nijhuis, Research Fellow, Department of Music, School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music, University of Birmingham
- Dr Rob Sturman, Associate Professor, School of Mathematics, Pro-Dean International, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Leeds
- Dr Daniel Galvis, SMQB Centre Research Fellow, Institute of Metabolism and Systems, University of Birmingham
- Dr Diar Abdlkarim, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
- Simon Peter Green, Artist Practitioner, CAS Associate
L to R – Dr Daniel Galvis, Dr Patti Nijhuis, Dr Maria A. G. Witek, Dr Rob Sturman, Simon Peter Green – missing from photo Dr Diar Abdikarim
Birmingham, September 2023 – Photographer Heley Salter
DJing is a sophisticated musical skill that involves complex temporal perception and active manipulation of multiple, often polyrhythmic patterns at the same time.
In a process known as beat-matching, DJs need to synchronise two different records playing at different speeds on the turntables.
This is an embodied and dynamic activity that relies on a coordinated system of processes in the body, the brain, the turntables, and the sonic patterns in the music.
How do these movement, brain, and sound dynamics interact continuously during the process of beatmatching to make the skill possible? And how are these dynamic interactions impacted by disability?
Why is it important?
By studying the dynamics of these physiological signals, we can understand the complex interaction between humans and their environment.
This has broad relevance in understanding how we coordinate movements within our own bodies and with others.
Coordinating movement with musical rhythm yields numerous additional benefits, such as increased social bonding, pro-social behaviour, and pleasure.
Furthermore, understanding the barriers faced by disabled DJs can help inform the development of more accessible DJ technologies and practices.
Dance music practices, such as DJing, have been largely ignored in academic research, but are ideally suited to explore these benefits.
What are the outputs?
The project team will develop methods for analysing three-way coupling between three time series (movement, EEG, and audio).
This will be published as a peer-reviewed paper on the method and outcome.
A peer-reviewed paper modeling the DJ as a dynamic system will be prepared.
We will organise an outreach event, where we will present the model in an accessible and engaging way to help demonstrate how the mind is like a mind/body dynamic system of oscillators.
The event will feature disabled and non-disabled DJs.
The event will act as a showcase pilot, which we will subsequently tour at music festivals in the summer of 2024.
As an interdisciplinary project, we are combining methods from several distinct fields.
This includes quantitative and qualitative methods.
We are using interviews to gain insight into disabled DJs’ experiences, whilst designing quantitative studies using experimental methods from (neuro)psychology, using a variety of measures to capture behaviour in DJing, including (temporal) brain activity (EEG), body movement (motion capture), the produced audio, and the physical interaction with the turntables.
We use a dynamical systems approach to model the DJing process as synchronising oscillators, adopting measures like phase and frequency coupling to analyse the interaction between the brain, body, and sound.
The study uses a five-stage representation of beatmatching to understand the DJing process:
1) listening to track A
2) listening to track B
3) listening to track A&B simultaneously
4) match track B to track A
5) monitor the mix. Prior to the beatmatching, DJs’ general capacity for beat perception was also tested with the Beat Alignment Test (BAT).
During all five stages, continuous time series data is collected from the brain (EEG), body (motion capture), and turntables (audio).
EEG and motion capture data have been cleaned and processed using MATLAB and Python.
From the outset, we recognised the utmost importance of maintaining communication within our geographically dispersed team, spanning locations in Finland, Birmingham, Leeds, and Andover. The significance of ongoing dialogue cannot be overstated, as without it, cohesion becomes elusive.
To facilitate communication, we utilise various channels such as email and Zoom, allocating a portion of our budget for periodic face-to-face gatherings. Our inaugural in-person meeting took place in Leeds on October 23rd and 24th.
During two intensive days, we collaboratively navigated the path forward and delved into the substantial body of data materials already gathered. The intricacies of interpreting and utilising this data fall squarely within the domain of our academic colleagues, guiding the direction and purpose of our endeavors.
While I initially anticipated assuming a passive observational role in the academic process, the team has graciously embraced me as an active participant in the research. The scientific complexities often transcend my understanding, yet the team’s patience and clear explanations have been instrumental. Although I occasionally find myself adrift, the project is gradually emerging in my consciousness and taking shape.
Face-to-face meetings play a pivotal role in this process. They not only provide a forum for comprehending the intricacies of the project but also contribute significantly to building trust and strengthening our working relationships.
As we invest in these interpersonal foundations, the ultimate outcome promises to be more profound and robust.
Following the initial research, my focus shifted towards refining the production process. In order to amplify the wind pressure generated by the sounds, I selected lycra, a more elastic material, to cover the sub-bass speaker. Additionally, I applied a small mirror tile to the stretched membrane, aiming to achieve a sharper reflection from the laser.
The choice of a white surface for the screen was deliberate, aimed at maximising reflective efficacy. Systematic experimentation ensued with various materials, including a rigid wooden sheet, a pliable cotton bed sheet, a reflective solid gloss door, and a matte emulsion-painted wall.
The findings indicated that a soft projection screen yielded the most compelling results. This surface not only echoed the main projection with multiple gradual fading lines but also imparted a soft and organic aesthetic, which I found visually appealing. Consequently, the decision was made to integrate the soft projection screen into the final design.
My production setup was primed, awaiting the cover of darkness to commence image creation. Operating in low light maximizes the brightness of the final photographs.
From prior research, I identified a shutter speed of 1/30 as the optimal camera setting, striking a balance that yielded the most captivating images. This choice was informed by the duration required for the laser to complete a projection loop. Opting for minimalist loops, as opposed to busier chaotic patterns produced with a longer shutter speed, proved aesthetically superior.
I meticulously isolated 0:00:00:010 of each instrument’s beat, adjusting the volume to achieve a standardized 60 dB at a distance of 1 meter. The camera was configured to capture a sequence of 15 images with a 2-second interval between each. Subsequently, the images were meticulously crafted and I curated one image per instrument.
Post-production involved fine-tuning using Lightroom editing software, with basic adjustments to exposure, contrast, and other key parameters. The images were cropped to a 10×8 aspect ratio, a deliberate choice to evoke a subconscious sense of scientific gravitas. Historically, 10×8 plate cameras were employed to document early scientific experiments.
You can view the results here: DJ Beatmatching
I have been refining the caption protocol to provide images with a sense of narrative and scientific documentation, while also incorporating a slightly deconstructed approach. Additionally, I aim to conflate the audio and visual aspects of the data.
Here’s an example of an early caption:
0.02 of kick 16 epoch 1 track “A” ISO 100 f1.7 1/30 sec
- 0.02 represents two-hundredths of a second on the software timeline.
- kick 16 refers to the sampled instrument.
- epoch 1 indicates that the audio soundtrack is divided into epochs for data analysis reference.
- track “A” signifies one of two tracks used in the research, designated as “A” and “B”.
- ISO 100 f1.7 1/30 sec represents the camera settings.
To provide a sense of scale, I included loudness as additional descriptive information, expressed in decibels at a distance of one meter. Loudness directly influences the size of the laser projection, making it larger or smaller based on the decibel level.
The refined caption is now:
0.02 sec of kick 16 epoch 1 track “A” ISO 60 dB 100 f1.7 1/30 sec
I incorporated Harvard referencing, to give the captions a stronger scientific feel:
Green, S. P. (2023). epoch 1 track “A” 0.02 sec kick 16 60 dB ISO 100 f1.7 1/30 sec [Photograph]. Andover, Hampshire.
I further, refined the caption incorporating details such as timing and the photographic file number. The current format, which emphasizes a balance between audio and visual information, resonates with me. I appreciate how it conveys information in a scientific manner – a straightforward and clear declaration of factual elements.
Green, S. P. (2023) DSCF8012 laser 2 Track A 130 BPM RIM22 Start: 0:00.000 End: 0:00.000 Duration: 0:00.010 60 dB 80 mm 1/30 sec f1.7 ISO 50. [Photograph]
Green, S. P. (2023) epoch 1 track “A” 0.02 sec kick 16 60 dB ISO 100 f1.7 1/30 sec [Photograph]. Andover, Hampshire
Multi-media Social Event
At our inaugural incubator meeting in October 2023, our team enthusiastically embraced the notion that an “event” could serve as an exceptional means of disseminating the discoveries of the DJ Beatmatching research project. The underlying concept was to impart the research findings in a captivating manner, within a social setting where individuals could unwind and absorb the information at their leisure.
Our envisioned event was to be a dynamic showcase, incorporating essential elements to ensure an immersive experience:
A mirror ball stands as an iconic symbol, and it is a staple in every respectable club, gracefully suspended above the dance floor. Over time, it has evolved into a historical and traditional element within any club environment.
Recognising the significance of this tradition, I felt compelled to incorporate a mirror ball into our planned multi-media social event. Initially considering a conventional round mirror ball, a more intriguing idea struck me – creating a feature mirror ball that harmonises with our research.
Inspired by the essence of our DJ beat matching project, I conceived the notion of enhancing the mirror ball by incorporating elements representing both the music and visual components. Deliberating on recognisable icons, a camera and a loudspeaker came to mind.
However, finding mirror ball versions of a camera and a loudspeaker proved elusive. and even if I could find such items our budget wouldn’t stand for it.
Undeterred, I resolved to craft them myself, a task I had never undertaken before.
A cost-effective plastic camera, resembling a typical SLR with an attached flash, was procured from eBay. Its unmistakable appearance from a distance made it an ideal choice. Armed with small mirror tiles, glue, and an eye bolt for suspension, I transformed the plastic camera into a reflective masterpiece.
The final product exceeded expectations, and I plan to capture its essence through photography, incorporating these images into the culmination of our project.
I found a cheap unservicable 10 inch loud speaker on eBay. When it arrives I will convert it into a mirror ball too.
The DJ workstation will feature a table draped in black theater cloth, creating an unobtrusive and sleek setup.
The media workstation will be constructed using lightweight aluminum scaffolding, featuring a broad shelf positioned approximately 6 feet above the ground. This shelf serves the crucial purpose of ensuring an unobstructed projection path above the heads of the audience.
The floor plan illustrates the event production layout: