[PD] Thoughts in conclusion of the 4th Pure Data Convention

Max abonnements at revolwear.com
Wed Feb 8 04:50:25 CET 2012

Dear list and Pure Data community,

I'd wanted to write this down since a few months now and finally had the chance to do so.
To welcome you in Weimar and Berlin in August has been a great pleasure for us. The Pure Data community has proven to be a diverse, inspiring and very thankful audience. We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and professionalism and sometimes patience of performers and guests as well.
It was the first time for most of the team to be involved in any kind of event of this scale. We have gained a tremendous amount of experience through hosting it. Those who have been to Weimar/Berlin for the convention will agree when I conclude that it was a great success. http://www.uni-weimar.de/medien/wiki/PDCON:Testimonials
Never the less I'd like to take some time to critically assess the convention giving future hosts the opportunity to build up on our experience.
CONFERENCE: Using the openconf system proved to be a choice that helped tremendously to structure and guide through the submission and paper review process. In fact I would try to use the same system for concerts and the exhibition as well.
The peer review process is augmenting the quality of the papers and is giving the conference and publication a higher academic relevance. It seemed unfair to ask for finished papers to be reviewed (and possibly rejected) that's why we asked for extended abstracts for the review. It turned out to be hard for the reviewers to fully assess the relevance and quality of the paper from just reading the extended abstract. I now think that it would have been better to let the reviewer read the full papers. After all most of the papers – once written – may also be submitted to other conferences such as ICMC or Linux Audio. A bar-camp day could have complemented the more official conference part to give latest developments and impromptu idea-sharing its space. All though it was part of the plan we failed to provide a live-stream of the conference, partly because of our lack of know-how, limited resources in time and the inability of the institution to provide the necessary installations. At the forums and Q&A sessions an IRC chat or twitter hashtag projected could have improved audience participation.

WORKSHOPS: In my opinion it has been a wise decision to organize most workshops on an open, registration-free basis. This saved us from managing registrations and I know from experience that it is frustrating having to exclude possible participants because of a full class when in the end some of the registered ones decide not to show up. That happens especially when participation is free of charge. The cooperation with the Bauhaus Summer School wasn't trivial in its execution but made sense organisational and financial.

CONCERTS: It would have been impossible to endeavor in such a venture like the Pd-Convention without the support by the Studio for Electroacoustic Music. Consequently the concerts were very well organized and a real highlight of every day. It would have been much easier to organize though if the exact demands of the musicians would have been clear from the submission stage. Using a web-form or the openconf could have made that more straightforward. Making clear that the musician is responsible for everything until the specified mixer input for themselves would have made things clearer from the beginning.

EXHIBITION: The exhibition was certainly the least prepared part simply because the venue was unclear just until two weeks prior to the event. Unfortunate was that the venue wasn't open at all times which happened due to misunderstandings and possibly not enough controlling. 

FUNDING: Getting the necessary funding was certainly the issue I personally spent the most time on. We had an overall budget of around 17.000 EUR. This doesn't take the value of things and services into account the university gave us for free, that is all the equipment and the lecture halls/concert venues and neither my own regular salary as employee of the university. Roughly 10k of the Budget came from different funds at the university and the ministry for economics and were bound to specific aspects of the convention. The rest was covered by the sponsors. That budget is less than a third of what the convention in Montréal had available.

EXPENSES:  We spent most of the budget supporting our participants. The biggest expense there was covering for the accomodation, followed by a contribution (around 100,- €) towards the travel expenses for the participating artists (those either performing or exhibiting). The accomodation costs turned out to be about 2500 Eur more expensive than necessary since we had to pay for those participants who reserved the hostel through the online sign-up and then decided neither to cancel nor to check in. The workshops were handled separately through the Bauhaus-Summer School. Further expenses were catering, printing, renting a car for transport and so forth.

Frankly I've been a bit surprised that the average age wasn't a bit lower. This certainly has implications on how to accommodate the guests in the future (youth hostel, again?), but more importantly is to think about the future user-base if, and when yes: why Pd is deterring for newcomers.
And here I'm hoping to get into a discussion (which we should have had at the convention)

There are great programs out there who might make more sense to learn instead of Pd for certain kind of projects: Processing, Supercollider, OpenFrameworks. I was taught in university Programs like Freehand, QuarkXpress and Director, all more or less dead softwares today. In my role as a university educator I ask myself what makes the most sense to teach; what persists and where do the students learn concepts that will help them master other environments yet to come. The BSD License and Pd's open source community is making sure that it won't die because of a companies merger (like Freehand from the list above). Thinks like that IOhannes is practically the only overall dev for Gem aren't making it more comfortable.
Yet I see that Pd meets for many of the young artists exactly that level of abstraction to be easily picked up while having the maximum amount of freedom in the creativity without the presets that could hinder your expression.
Combine that with the real-time experience tweaking and tinkering until it works is ace. I personally find beauty in the dataflow paradigm which can be nicely put in context with cybernetic flowcharts of systems interconnected through input and output.

When I find artist like Lukas Buschfeld presenting his prints printed by a custom large scale dot matrix printer which is programmed in and run by Pd entirely (plus a little Arduino) I'm stunned. Look at the prints: http://lucasbuschfeld.com/index.php?cat=graphic

In an attempt to improve the first impression you get when checking out Pd I've been experimenting with vimeo gathering Pd based works in a group:

When you look at a few other OSS Audio related softwares i find their websites to be very clear and well structured

Now compare. It's a great ressource but plone can certainly look nerdy and cluttered:

In my classes I am shocked to see that the majority of the young students have trouble setting up their mail client in a way that they efficiently can use the mailinglist - if they know what a mail client is at all. Facebook seems to replace this more and more, but I'm strongly opposed to accepting that.
The Pure Data group on Facebook is not what the Mailinglist is:
I think that a new kind of digital divide is happening silently between the now adolescent nerdy natives and the young instant-web-app-social-connectedness generation who think that there is no internet beyond the web. The forum for now is a kind of a bridge between those worlds, it certainly would be interesting to know the demographics of the users in all four channels: mailinglist, forum, facebook and IRC.

I'll leave it at this hoping to spark a little discussion on the list now for example about how Pd can become more attractive in our very own interest not to loose a future user base not only for the next convention. Also I'd be interested to hear where the next convention will take place ;)

More information about the Pd-list mailing list