Next week, I will be taking part in the Mobil/And workshop in ESADSE in Saint-Etienne, France. I was planning content for my speak during the workshop and came up with a rather cheap and robust way of using SMS text messages in Quartz Composer.

Previously, I had been able to come up with a hack that involved BluePhoneElite, AppleScript and iTunes to send SMS to Quartz Composer. I used this for example in the FF>> Media Festival last fall, but it was really awkward solution and you could only have the information of the latest message. So, I had to think of some better way.

This time around, I’m using the excellent Cocoa UltraSMS to send my SMS messages to a MySQL database. Then I’m using a small php-script to convert the database into an XML file which can be easily read and manipulated in Quartz Composer. Here’s how you do it:


  • Computer running Mac OSX (I’m on an early 2008 Macbook Pro)
  • Mobile phone with bluetooth (I’m using Nokia 6103)
  • Cocoa UltraSMS -software (it’s free)
  • Quartz Composer
  • Empty MySQL database
  • Some PHP skills

1st STEP – Create the Database

Ok, let’s start. First of all, you need to create an empty MySQL database. For the purpose of this tutorial, I’m going to call my database sms_database.

2nd STEP – Cocoa UltraSMS

Then you need to download and install Cocoa UltraSMS. Setup your phone to connect with it and also insert the information of your database to the fields. Your settings will be different, of course.

After you click OK Cocoa UltraSMS will ask you if you want to create tables for your database. Click OK and and after that hit Start to connect to your phone. Now you can test the connection by sending yourself an SMS. The SMS In counter should increase and if you have Growl enabled you should also see the message in the Growl window.

3rd STEP – PHP lovin’

Now we need to somehow convert the information in the database to an XML file. I’m really far from being a PHP expert, but even I was able to do this, so if you have even a little bit of experience in PHP this shouldn’t be too hard. I used this tutorial to help me.

Here is the PHP code that you will need to upload to your server in order to make this work.

EDIT: As it seems to be almost impossible to paste any working code on WordPress as the WYSIWYG editor f*#%s it all up, I’ve decided to upload the code as a separate file. Download the .txt file here, modify the database settings and rename it to whatevernameyoulike.php. (Can anyone point me to a WordPress plugin that disables all the “intelligent” modifications the editor makes? I’ve tried a few and none of them work perfectly.)

Just upload the .php file to your server and point our browser to the url. It will look something like this

You might have noticed the strange lines in the php code like this one

$row['message'] = str_replace("|", "ö", $row['message']);

I’m using those just to display the Scandinavian letters properly. This really can’t be the best solution to do that, but it works for now, unless you want to use smilies that is. I’ll have to see how and where I should change the encoding settings to get this display properly without this hack.

4th STEP – Quartz Composer

Now for the easy part. In QC you need to just connect the XML Downloader to a couple of Structure Index Member -patches, modify the XML location to be the URL of your .php file and you are all set. Download here a simple .qtz file that just displays the latest message.

5th STEP – What next?

Now it’s just a matter of what to do with the data you receive from the messages. I have a bunch of different applications in mind. You will probably hear from them pretty soon. I just got this thing working today, so I haven’t had the time to test all the possibilities.

Of course, this same technique can be used to access SMS data from various other applications that can read XML files like Flash, Processing etc. I just used Quartz Composer as an example because it’s the environment I’m most comfortable with.

That’s it. Hopefully this is helpful to someone. I’ve seen many interactive installations where SMS messages are used, but I haven’t seen good documentation on how to do it anywhere. Feel free to comment here or email me if you have any improvements or questions.