Leeds Creative Labs

Collaborations for Academics & Creative Innovators

Tag: Randomness

Half Way Hajj

Last week all the groups involved with Leeds Creative Labs, together with the organisers and a few other creatives met to recap and share their experiences. I’m working on British Experiences of the Hajj pilgrimage and have introduced the project on this blog earlier. The informal presentations and discussions were really useful, and helped as a form of reflection.


Overall it’s the processes, how people collaborate, what roles do people take, what are the types of ideas, and how do people get there which are more interesting than the concrete results.


Randomness & Play for Creativity

As Imran records,  we noticed that change and randomness was being used in the creative process. I think this is twofold – firstly it’s used as a type of “oblique strategy” – a way to get out of any boxes and encourages creation, and secondly it’s a reflection of free form play, like the form of play children take.  For our project I used chance and randomness in the form of Markov Chains to create new phrases which I’ll outline now.

Markov Chains

With 17 transcripts of British pilgrims interviews, I parsed the text to extract just the voice of the interviewee. I think put this through a markov chain generator and created entirely new, but human sounding sentences.

The way this works is like the following. Take two sentences:

1. “I hope this makes lot of money”

2. “Always hope this makes sense”

Then using groups of 3 words together, it looks at what other words are there and comes up with a new sentence.

{[“I”, “hope”, “this”]  [“makes”], [“hope”, “this”, “makes”]  [“sense”]

3. “I hope this makes sense”

Example generated sentences:

“Mecca from this particular angle you could see that he had a doctors kit with him and did a lot of luggage, and we were just glad that  I have to say, when you just say, you know for me, thats the first one, you should go because youve been on Hajj, its almost like the severing of the apron strings”


“Are you asking for the Umrah there were people in my group didn’t want one each and I said. financial reasons, the level of excitement for all of us to go together but because of sheer numbers and volume of people coming through and having to cope with all these new experiences.”


“Hajj one time, being Hajj in one time is one of the big globalisation taking over and… as in, he is religious, you know, in this country. nothing, no tents and it’s open field.”


The transcripts come from audio files. I looked at a couple of audio / oral history sites, and liked two in particular:

Sounding the Underground

Here the audio is linked by category and place, and allows comparisons between places.  Of particular note is the ability for users to add their own notes, and the curators generate a new interface for these

Sonic Memorial

This has a number of wiggly lines which when clicked on you can hear the audio, and it shows the themes of the clip. Clicking on the themes allows the user to hear other clips around that theme.

For our project I think both could be looked at – they encouraged contribution from users and linked together the material, encouraging users to create their own narratives.

What I’d love to do is to timestamp the transciptions with the audio to create works which  are “supercuts” – so you could have all the audio of just people saying “Hajj”, or even forms of sentences:“[gerund] [determiner] [adjective] [noun]”  “unlocking the human story”


A number of mapping websites were looked at including ESRI Story Maps.

The take home point from here was that a site could be geographical in focus – and have embedded video and audio. Maps could be shown on each section, or be the focus, an aid for navigation etc.

Reflection Apps –  Mappiness

We discussed using mobile apps when on the Hajj. Something like the Mappiness project could easily be done – to encourage people when they are on the pilgrimage to share how they are feeling, where they are, what they are doing etc.   Foursquare also allows people to check into places.

The take home point here is that new technologies could be used to interact with users both on the Hajj and interested in it, with a locational component.

Conclusion & Processes


This was a bit of a reflection upon the discussions and a small set of ideas presented.

In the future we looked at and will look at the following:

1) Augmenting existing digital exhibition on the Hajj for British Museum – with the constraints of working with WordPress within the University.

2) Design process – identification of actors and users.

3) Design mockups of future interfaces and projects

4) Look at feedback  / encouraging interaction of material with users.

Reflections at Half-time

Yesterday afternoon, this year’s cohort took over the first floor bar of Leeds’ Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen to share their experiences of the first five weeks of this edition of the labs. We’re actually way past the half-time mark, but we thought this was a useful juncture to pause and reflect.

Each group took a few minutes to introduce themselves, outline the conversations they’d been having and the projects, insights and artefacts that are beginning to surface from their collaborations; we also wanted to give them an opportunity to get to know each other outside their matched pairs.

The cohort was also joined by a few members of our advisory group – Dave Lynch, Simon Popple, Richard England & Sarah Goodrum – who helped to provoke discussion and provide useful commentary on each project.

As each group outlined its projects, what was striking was the very human core to each subject area – from spoken histories of the Hajj pilgrimage, to the works of Harold Pinter, playful ways of seeing sound, interpreting the context of photographic archives and the training of actors – each was rooted in humanities and largely motivated by understanding the impact of technology.

Simon East also observed that many of the projects appeared to be toying with notions of randomness and serendipity. I wondered if this was a broader reaction to wider anxieties about a data and algorithmic-driven culture (what Simon called the “tyranny of big data”) and an attempt to design a kind of humanity into digital artefacts. We didn’t offer themes or narrative framing at the outset of the labs, so it was a somewhat satisfying surprise to see some common and complimentary themes emerging across the cohort.

Though most of the presented content focussed on outputs, Sue, Dave and I were quite curious to understand the process, mindset and methodology each group was experiencing. Many of the cohort commented on the liberation they felt from institutional and commercial pressures; I did wonder if this freedom would intimidate some, but they all embraced it with elevated ambitions.

It feels as though the labs have progressed creatively and intellectually between the 2012 and 2014 editions, we’re understanding that people and creative process are what’s unique about the structure and also we’re more confident in the vocabulary and metaphors that describe the philosophy behind it.

I’m actually a bit sad we’ll only have two more weeks with these groups, but each is determined to find a way to continue their collaborations in some capacity, with most looking at follow on funding to develop their projects further.

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