Centre for Media Research




This blog post started with a promise to Scott Stulen from the Walker Art Centre in the Residents Bar at the Da’Vinci Hotel, Derry at 4AM on the 12th September to try and write about practices that I, and separately he, have been working on. Scott was in Derry for Culture Tech Festival to present the Internet Cat Video Festival and talk on the opening plenary of the festival conference; “The Culture of Technology”. We discussed the similarities and differences between the Internet Cat Video Festival and the /v/IRAL /v/IDEO /d/ISCO that I was presenting at the festival. I would like to write some of the reflections we had on our curatorial practices down to give context to what often seems like videos from the Internet playing in a nightclub or an Art Centre. I can only write about my project and our conversations.

For me it is important to understand the form the project takes, it’s starting points and what exists in the space when the project is “performed” or “enacted”.

The Website: The project uses a Tumblr Blog to aggregate content from the public, this mean that new videos or tracks can be suggested by visitors to the site and the content and playlist updates regularly. For me, it is important that the Tumblr is used as the brand, and format of Tumblr has become synonymous with throw away internet culture, fan art, memes, porn, and teenage scrapbooking. It would be easier to use other tools, and give both more control over the process and the aesthetic, but the Tumblr is important to the ethos of the project as a whole. It would also be easy to remove for instance the .tumblr suffix to the URL, hiding or masking the Tumblr origins of the system but it is important to retain links between the project and the cultures of “Tumbling”. This site is more that an archive, crowdsourcing mechanism or advertising mechanism. The Tumblr in its form is part of the structure of the work and part of the process of producing.


The Club: The project has run a couple of times and is still developing. At present the work plays on a big screen which fills the stage, and the sound blares out across the club PA system. The mix is a back to back mix, lasting roughly 2 hours, of music based “viral video” taken largely from Youtube. As a bench mark figure I usually take over a million hits, and I usually use external sources such as Unruly or Buzzfeed to confirm reach and “cultural penetration”. There is no DJ booth, only the screen, the dance floor and the club, which is important to me in terms of the emphasis on the video content and also that the project is not authored or collaged from a visible place (this often leads to “can you play NUMA NUMA that’s my favourite”.

All of the mix is preauthored, and premixed, the project is not a VJ or DJ project or set, and is not a demonstration of the craft and skill of beat synch and track transition, but instead hopes to focus on something different. I have tried to strip the project back and make it as simple as possible to produce and interpret. I have worked on a number of Club Nights and have DJ’d (not very well) on a number of occasions but this process, project and experience is supposed to be something different both for me and the audience.
For me, it is an experiment, I am interested in what happens when the videos are taken out of their context and given a new purpose. The videos are often music parodies, and as such use the same temp, structure, beat and melody as the original tracks with often altered lyrics. There are obvious exceptions to this such as the work of groups like Auto-Tune The News, Lonely Planet and a lot of the news remix work I use in the mix. I am interested with this project, not in how the videos fit together but how they work within the club. What does this music do in the club, how do people dance to it, is it still funny.
Often these videos are designed and produced to consume singularly at your office desk over a cup of coffee, on a bus over wifi, or through social media sites and our relationship to the text is on an individual basis. These are then shared (so I can claim some cultural capital) but they are often experienced not as a group. I am interested in situations and occurrences which unfold both on the dance floor and around the tables when these are videos are played out in a new context with a group viewing. For instance, the work of parody artist Baracka Flacka Flames and his video Head of State based on the track Hard in The Paint by Waka Flocka with its crude parodies of race and gang life, depicting President Obama as a “one hood ass nigga” features in both mixes of the project. The depictions in the video seem different when the video plays out on a large projection screen and 2, 60 inch plasma screens in the club, the joke becomes lost in the club and the video and track becomes something different, maybe closer to the media it is parodying but it in the recontextualising of the video it both loses and gains something when it enters the new setting. This is one example of a track that is used but for me it is about seeing how the audiences and media change as the media is recontextualised, reconfigured and remixed. This work rarely makes it to other reconfigarings of the internet viral video such as RudeTube, or Clipaholics, and in some instances such as Dramatic Look Gopher is already appropriated, remix and reused content.

When chatting to Scott Stulen we ruminated on the similarities and differences between our approaches on some of the same topics and the future of both project. We discussed the “internet offline” and how internet videos operate in different spaces (given that a large majority of views on Youtube Videos come from Embeds in other sites which gives them new contexts and configurations). We discussed remix, video collage and bricolages but after all musings maybe /v/IRAL /v/IDEO /d/ISCO is a party but I am currently working on a paper to formalise some of these musing and make some situated claims about reconfigured, recontextualised and remixed videos, balancing context and situe to content and audience to submit to ROFLCon this year.
For more on the project the is a project Tumblr  and the original mix is available online on Vimeo  and there was also an unperformed mix in the form of a playlist made for the last American Election based on Henry Jenkins work on Remix as a way to understand the political in America.

This is Our Playground: recognising the value of students as innovators

CMR researcher Alan Hook and PhD candidate Oonagh Murphy will be presenting  at the Conference Museums and the Web 2013 in Portland, Oregon between the 17th and 20th April. It follows research undertaken in April 2012, around informal events such as Hack Days as a way for Higher Education to engage and feed into the museums and cultural sector (This Is Our Playground Project),

The paper entitled “This is Our Playground: Recognising the value of students as innovators” is available prior to the conference online. The paper proposes that an informal relationship between young practitioners and large cultural organisations is a practical way to think about fast, nimble Digital Research and Development teams for these institutions and gives real world contexts to students designs and projects.

CMR at #BLOC54

This week saw two BLOC54 meetings, “BLOC54 is a distributed publisher for a group of independent games companies. The games sector in Northern Ireland has undergone immense growth over the last three years but to fully have the impact it deserves, this organisation was formed to provide collaboration opportunities for the studios in Ireland.” The First meeting in Derry hosted in the Business Incubation space NORIBIC and the other in Belfast hosted by Farset Labs, a Makerspace in Weavers Court.

Farset Labs is a makerspace that provides a hub of creativity, technological innovation and entrepreneurship for local professionals, students and interested hobbyists in Belfast City Centre. In terms of atmosphere, it sits somewhere in the triangle of ‘Incubator’, ‘Research Lab’, and ‘Playground’.”

BLOC54 is a monthly meeting of the growing game development sector in Northern Ireland facilitated by Matt Johnston of Digital Circle. This month’s meet saw 3 presentations by Researchers from the Centre for Media Research and School of Media Film and Journalism, who attended both events to discuss their current work and challenge the usually tech focused events with their research into games and play.

At each event, Media and Play researcher Alan Hook presented “Capture the #fleg, games and contested spaces: ‘what games might change in Northern Ireland'” a meandering through his current research on games for change and pervasive games as a lens for the city. This was a review of an up and coming (postponed) project MYNI, a civic pride and internal tourism game developed for NITB and some musings on how play could help challenge contested spaces in Northern Ireland, resulting in the promotion of a new advertised PhD in the area.

This presentation was followed by Lance Wilson, a recent graduate from the Interactive Media Arts BA (Hons) who presented on Gaming for a Cause, a review of his dissertation project Revulsive on Carriage, a week long Alternate Reality Game designed to promote Health and Safety in the home, and expanded out into projects like Extra Life (Lance hosted the first Northern Irish Extra Life event last year), and Free Rice, amongst other projects that look at gaming as a fun way to help charities and organisations

The final presentation was by one of the Centre for Media Research’s PhD candidates Charles Clements who presented and mediated a debate on “Why Games Shouldn’t be Fun” the first steps into his PhD on Games, Agency and Meaning. This lively debate tried to shift the focus from the vacuous word “fun” and propose that developers should be aiming at meaning in games rather than “designing for fun” drawing on Bogost, Juul and Costakyan.

The digital switchover and RTE in Northern Ireland

Incompatible digital broadcast systems and a welter of contradictory information have left viewers of RTE and other Irish TV channels in Northern Ireland in an invidious position after the digital switchover on 24 October: either make do with limited or no service or pay out for additional equipment. Greg McLaughlin counts the cost and considers the implications of this failure of policy vision.


In my previous post, My Digital Switchover Hell!, I vented my frustrations with the initial digital switchover on 12 October. The problem was the mismatch between the digital broadcast systems deployed by the UK and Ireland, which could leave viewers in Northern Ireland of RTE and other Irish TV channels with limited or no service after the final switchover on 24 October. As it happened, I was out of the country for that event and returned a week later in hope rather than expectation that things would have somehow resolved themselves. But no! My brand new, fully HD TV picked up the said channels ok but it was all sound and no picture with the error message: “Does not support video format”, i.e. the MPEG4 video compression system used in the Republic as opposed to the UK’s MPEG2 system.

Refusing to admit defeat, I called Jimmy at the local electrical store and told him the situation. “Ah”, he sighed like a weary helpline advisor, “you’ll need a box”.  He was talking about a Saorview box, which is the Irish equivalent of a Freeview box, essentially a video decoder.  “How much is that?” I asked fearfully. “For you my friend, only 60 quid!”  So off I go to Jimmy’s shop only to find that he had just sold the last box and was waiting for a new delivery. When would that be?  It might be come in later that day or the next morning. Failing that, sometime next week. But he took my phone number and promised to call me as soon as the next batch came in.

Now in my last post I referred to Mr Grumpy, the TV aerial man who told me I would probably need not only a box but, if worse came to worse, a new, more powerful aerial. And wouldn’t you know? There I was having my breakfast the other morning when he kicked down my front door and presented me with a box! I kid you not!!  Cost of box and installation? Ninety quid! But at least I didn’t need a fancy new aerial or wait for a call from Jimmy that I knew would never come.

So I am on the pig’s back now and looking insufferably smug. I can receive all available Irish TV channels, one or two of them in glorious HD (though Mr Grumpy told me that my TV was crap. “How much did you pay for it?” he asked me.  I think it was 250 quid. “Well that tells you something”, he said with a knowing wink.)  I guess that makes me what they might call around the CMR, “a digitally empowered viewer” along with all those living in border counties like me ma who receive the channels as “spillover” on Freeview or those, like some of my colleagues, who get them via Rupert Murdoch’s satellite service.  Some viewers in Belfast can receive a limited service via the Divis transmitter, i.e. RTE1, RTE2 and TG4 but in standard definition only. However, and I stand to be corrected here because the information I’m getting is very uncertain, anyone who receives Irish channels via Freeview or satellite will find that transmission of certain sports events will be blocked due to “rights issues”, e.g. live international football and Champions League. (Rupert Murdoch again!)

So far, so messy then. But whose fault is this? And what are the implications for the concept of “digital empowerment”?

Well, I’m not sure if we can talk in terms of “fault” as such. It seems that while most countries in the European Union have invested in the MPEG2 system with a view to roll out of MPEG4 at some unspecified point in the future, Ireland opted for the superior MPEG4 from the outset, which is fine for all license-paying viewers in the Republic but not so fine for viewers in Northern Ireland who in the analogue age were able to receive Irish channels as spill over, while thousands of viewers in the Republic of Ireland were able to receive UK channels via aerial or cable.

But if we can’t think of it as someone’s “fault”, we can think of it as a failure of policy vision because the problem should have been anticipated well in advance of the switchover. In 2008, RTE assured OfCom that it was working to ensure that its services would continue to be available to viewers in the North after the switchover in 2012. Two years later, in 2010, the British and Irish governments agreed a memorandum of understanding to this effect (McLaughlin, 2011; p.35). However, in each case, there seemed to be little or no consideration of what must have been the very evident incompatibility between the proposed digital broadcast systems. There was some hint in their respective public information campaigns that reception of Irish channels in Northern Ireland might be more complicated than first thought but this, again, was often vague, confusing or contradictory.

It took me months of frustration, exasperation and, ultimately, added expense, before coming to the point where I can now view all available Irish channels in digital. But at least I had access to the knowledge and resources required. There are other citizens out there who simply baffled and weary with it all and may well do without. Digital empowerment? I don’t think so.

PS:  Have you seen Johnny Giles in HD yet? It’s like realising for the first time that your granddad wears make up. Frightening.


Greg McLaughlin (2011) ‘Those post-devolution, falling revenues blues: a political economy of Northern Ireland’s news media’, in David Hutchinson and Hugh O’Donnell (Eds.) Centres and Peripheries: Metropolitan and Non-Metropolitan Journalism in the 21st Century. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press; pp.27-41.

Does New York show the way to the digital future for local museums?

Encouraging visitor engagement through digital innovation needn’t cost local museums the earth, and it’s crucial to their future, argues Oonagh Murphy.


Earlier this year I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, which provided me with the opportunity to spend 5 weeks researching digital practice in New York at some of the best museums in the world. I met with senior staff from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met), Guggenheim, MoMA, Cooper-Hewitt, MAD Museum and The Whitney, and I got to attend some incredible events, such as The Met’s 3D Hackathon, co-hosted by Makerbot.

Met 3D Hackathon. Image credit: Makerbot on Flickr

The 3D Hackathon brought together artists and curators to test out the possibilities that 3D printing offers both the museum and artists. Not long ago 3D printers were the stuff of science fiction, but in recent years the technology has developed rapidly and you can now buy a desktop 3D printer for around £1200, while the software required to scan objects or develop 3D designs is open source (free).

What’s really exciting is that the very technology used by The Met to host this much talked about event is available right here on our doorsteps in Northern Ireland. Two new Fab Labs have opened in Derry and Belfast, and are crammed full of exciting new technologies such as 3D printers and both have the technicians that can teach anyone how to use them.

Fab Lab, is the shorter, cooler name for Fabrication Labs, a concept developed by MIT’s New Media Lab.

Fab Labs democratise rapid prototyping and allow anyone to turn an idea into reality. As 3D printing becomes more accessible, and more people get to access it, the uses of this technology will develop. Who knows what museums will be doing with 3D printers next year, let alone in 5 or 10 years time?

In this spirit, Newark Museum has gone one step further than The Met and set up their own MakerSpace, a fabrication lab of sorts, which was set up with a £10-£15,000 budget, in a small, unremarkable classroom.

Newark Museum’s first Makerspace programme saw underachieving kids from a local school visit the museum once a week for 14 weeks, during which they developed their own computer game, 3D printed their own controllers and using Arduino technology programmed buttons on these controllers to allow them to play the game they had created.

The next iteration of this programme will see the museum collection used as a departure point for game narratives; an approach in-line with the museum’s broader mission to bring art and science closer together. As the museum’s founder John Cotton Dana puts it:

“A good museum attracts, entertains, arouses curiosity, leads to questioning—and thus promotes learning.”

I am often told by staff from museums in Northern Ireland that they simply don’t have the time, resources or budgets to carry out digital research & development. On the other hand, digital R&D takes place in most of the big international museums in New York. This may not be a fair comparison. Admittedly museums in New York are for the most part bigger than museums in Northern Ireland. They have bigger collections. They have bigger gallery spaces. They have more staff and more money.  However during my trip it was encouraging to find that some of the most ground breaking, cutting edge digital research and development is being done on a shoe string budget, with technologies that even the smallest museums in Northern Ireland can access.

We live in an interactive, participatory web 2.0 world, in which visitors no longer want to simply read exhibition labels. They want to make, investigate, question and have fun, and the challenge for museums is how to respond to this contemporary culture whilst maintaining the academic integrity of their staff and collections. What’s going on at the Met and the Newark demonstrates that museums in Northern Ireland do not need vast resources to develop innovative approaches to digital engagement. What they need is vision; access to skills; and a management culture that fosters research and development. If museums in Northern Ireland can learn one thing from museums in New York then it has to be that they need to recognise the value of the journey not just the destination.

Museums have traditionally had an authorial and definitive voice in the presentation of art, science and the past. This move towards iterative and open development represents a massive cultural change for museums. There is no doubt that these are disruptive technologies, but perhaps museums need to recognise that if they want to maintain their cultural relevance and hold on to their funding, then they need face the harsh reality – disrupt or die.

For further case studies and analysis see my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Report


Oonagh Murphy is a PhD student in the Centre for Media Research, and the Arts and Humanities Research Institute at the University of Ulster. She has spent the last two years researching digital practice in museums and developing a series of projects, including a Hack Day at the Ulster Museum; The Foursquare Mayor Chair, in collaboration with her supervisor Alan Hook. She also organised #ArtsNI, a series of digital events for those working within or with the cultural sector and is on the committee of the Museums Computer Group.

Oonagh is particularly interested in identifying management approaches and organisational cultures which facilitate digital innovation.

Tweet: @OonaghTweets                         Blog: oonaghmurphy.com


Project to increase public ‘dwell-time’ in arts venues

How to increase public engagement with arts venues and museums is a question being tackled by researchers at the Centre for Media Research.

The Foursquare Mayor Chair uses digital media and social networking to promote public “dwell time” at cultural venues and events. It’s the brain child of Alan Hook and Oonagh Murphy who will be installing their Foursquare Mayor Chair at The Queens Film Theatre, Belfast, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens University.

The Foursquare Mayor Chair is both an artistic intervention and an academic research project that playful encourages visitor attendance and engagement with art centres, museums and festivals.

To become mayor visitors need to physically visit the cultural venue in which the Foursquare Mayor Chair is located, and check-in regularly. Someone might go to see a show one evening, and because they want to become mayor will then go out of their way to pop in for a coffee the next day. The project also seeks to change how visitors engage with cultural organisations by acting as a catalyst for a deeper relationship between visitors and venues.

The Foursquare Mayor Chair encourages visitors to see cultural venues as places to hang out, meet friends, read a book, and grab a coffee.

Our mayor will be made to feel especially welcome, and will be encouraged to bring friends and relatives for afternoon tea, or host colleagues for an informal meeting in their foursquare mayor chair parlour. During its installation in QFT the mayor of the chair will enjoy free tea and coffee on their visits alongside the usual perks of always having a comfy seat, reserved for them, on their arrival.

The Foursquare Mayor Chair is available at The Queens Film Theatre, Belfast, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queens University from the 16th October until the 4th November

Show Us the Money – Show Us the Stats

Alan Hook, from the Centre for Media Research, will be among the speakers on a panel discussing audience/consumer behaviour within converged media. Entitled, ‘Show Us the Money – Show Us the Stats’, the panel will talk about the technologies that can make useful sense of collected data and how it can affect commercial results. Other confirmed speakers include Jana Wedekind from IN2, Gawain Morrison from Filmtrip TV, Greg Maguire of inlifesize and John Farren from 360 Production.

The discussion panel is part of a half day event called Partnering for Innovation, taking place in Belfast at the University of Ulster on 16th October, beginning at 10.30.

Creative Industries KTN are hosting the event to promote the Technology Strategy Board £1.8M funding competition around ‘challenge 3’, which seeks projects that investigate the potential of Cross-Platform analytical metrics and feedback tools to help content producers better understand the consumption of their products in a converged landscape.

Admission is free. Further information is available here.

New game to promote tourism in Northern Ireland

Think you know Northern Ireland? Experience it like you’ve never experienced it before.

MYNI is a pervasive game developed as part of continuing research into media and playfulness as a form of audience interaction. The game has been developed to help promote regional tourism and civic pride in the 6 counties of Northern Ireland and will launch as part of the NI2012 campaign for the Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

The game will last 6 weeks and see participant compete to complete tasks across Northern Ireland. Participants will be asked to document their achievements by uploading photographs of their activities, tagging them to a map of the region. Tasks are developed in two categories; site specific locations in all 6 of the counties and tasks that could be completed anywhere in the region.

This project is developed to test methods of crowdsourced media for public bodies such as the Tourist Board, and to encourage specific behaviours in the participants.
MYNI was design by Alan Hook to investigate how play mechanics can be used to encourage civic pride, promote internal tourism and engage in the places and spaces of a region, helping to foster new contexts and memories for some spaces which have previously seen minimal tourist engagement and dwell time. It has been developed by Blue Cube Interactive and sponsored by NITB as research into the gamification of tourism, and the potential power of crowdsourcing content and aggregate data.
Register for information at www.ni2012.com/myni

The game will launch in October 2012

Gaming in the Arts: Live Chat

Alan Hook from the University of Ulster’s Center for Media Research will be a panel member on the Guardian’s Culture Professionals Network live discussion on “Gaming Culture in The Arts“. The live chat will take place on the 14th of September between 12 noon and 2PM and Alan will be joined by a wealth of knowledge from other researchers and practisioners from the field of gaming, including Matt Adams from Blast Theory, Tom Highman from FutureEverything, Alex Fleetwood from Hide&Seek and Iain Simons from GameCity to name a few (for a full list and bios please see the article).

Alan will be discussing some of his recent projects which are launching soon, such as his work with NITB on the game MYNI launching at the beginning of October and the mysterious PROJECT2OF3, coming to the university in January