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Downsampling masterpieces workshop

January 28, 2015

The Downsampling masterpieces workshop was organized as a part of Europeana Creative’s Redesign Your Cultural Heritage session at the Mozilla Festival in London. The session was one of the activities under the Art and Culture of the Web track and explored how open cultural content can be used in creative ways.

High-resolution images are often unavailable for free reuse due to copyright reasons. Even for works that belong to the Public Domain, such as old paintings, only low-resolution digital copies might be available. Facing such a situation can be frustrating. However, instead of dwelling in despair, the Downsampling Masterpieces Workshop examined what kind of expressive opportunities low resolutions might provide. Embracing the 8-bit aesthetic and DIY electronics, we made melody cards using downsampled masterpieces in painting and music, which are accessible via Europeana. One of our sources for creativity were Public Domain images of famous painting from the Rijksmuseum. The museum is among the few who provide such images in a very accessible way and in high resolution, so promoting this collection was a pleasure, even if we did not really need all those pixels. Secondly, we used recordings of famous music pieces provided by Sound & Vision – another nice Public Domain collection which is encouraged to be reused.

In the beginning of the workshop everyone got an electronics kit, which included an ATtiny85 microcontroller, a small speaker, a battery, a LED, a switch and couple of resistors. Each of the microcontrollers contained a different surprise melody, which was based on one of the famous music pieces, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The melodies were created by converting the original mp3 recordings first into MIDI, and then into Arduino code using an online tool. They were truly surprise melodies in the sense that there was not much resemblance with the original piece in the end of the conversion process! In order to play their melody, the participants had to solder their electronics into a functioning circuit. The electronics were then hot glued on the card itself, which was made from cardboard, foamboard and prints of downsampled Public Domain masterpiece paintings. The downsampled images were generated beforehand by pixelating the selected images of famous paintings, giving them the look of retro computer graphics. The last touch to the melody card was the switching mechanism that played the melody when opening the card.

DIY instructions & more details

The workshop was facilitated by Kati Hyyppä with the help of Sanna Marttila and Neea Laakso from Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.

Kati Hyyppä
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