Art from code - Generator.x
Generator.x is a conference and exhibition examining the current role of software and generative strategies in art and design. [Read more...]
Archive for November, 2005
Nov 29/05
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Crystalpunk workshop

Crystalpunk: Workshop

Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture
Matthew Fuller, Jon Bird, Andy Webster

Saturday 3 Dec, 15.00-18.00. Free entrance.
Oudenoord 275 (entrance at the back)
Utrecht, Netherlands

Calculation Space by Matthew Fuller
Software has an acknowledged impact on cities and space. Some parts of towns look like they just dropped out of a CAD program. Other spaces, like airports and border crossings treat people as good or bad data to be sorted. Modern societies depend on the ability to abstract and quantify particular parts of life, to turn them into numbers, things that can be known by numbers, and then feed that knowledge back into living and non-living matter. As mathematics and matter become more closely interwoven, can we distinguish a politics or culture of calculation? Hip Hop, childrens games and speculative software offer some interesting clues.

More Paskian Strategies by Jon Bird and Andy Webster

The Crystalpunk Workshop earlier picked up on the work of cyberneticist Gordon Pask and his unique theories about communication. Today Jon Bird and Andy Webster will present their Pask inspired work. In the 1950-1960ties Pask build crystal computers, electro-chemical contraptions that evolved sensors tailor made to environmental input. In 2002 Jon Bird was involved in constructing an electronic circuit that evolved into a radio: to teh surprise of its creators it started to pick up and transmit signals from a nearby computer. Andy Webster is an artist who has worked with Jon Bird on a project in which they recreated an electro-chemical computer.


It seems the Open Source community celebrated too soon when the State of Massachusetts declared that they would go with OpenDocument (see previous post). After the recent announcement by the Redmond giant that it will submit Microsoft Office Open XML to ECMA for standardization, Massachusetts officials have lauded Microsoft's "progress". They now say that they expect Open XML to meet their standards for open formats.

For a political analysis of the issue, check out this article on ZD Net. Ars Technica has another review of the issue while Groklaw has a breakdown of the technical differences between OpenDocument and Open XML.

Software: MadTracker

Software: MadTracker

Software: ModPlugTracker

Software: ModPlugTracker

It seems that tracking is a topic of interest. Marisa Olson reblogged the previous G.X post on tracking on Rhizome, and now Tom Moody has posted a followup. Tom had posted on the tracker phenomena and its historical relevance in two posts earlier this year (see post #1 and post #2), with questions about the origin of the scene. Most people might find a discussion on whether tracking was pre-, post- or proto-jungle a bit obscure, but as an examination of different tools and methods for producing music it’s pretty interesting.

For those of you who prefer action to theory, here are two more trackers: MadTracker and ModPlugTracker. Both are Windows-based, but ModPlugTracker is Open Source. And if you should want to make your sound deteriorate as though it had been recorded on warped vinyl and played a thousand times, check out the “ultimate lo-fi weapon” – the free Vinyl plugin (VST etc) from Izotope.

Realities:United - SPOTS media facade

Realities:United: SPOTS media facade

Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz is getting new eyes. The SPOTS media facade opens Sunday on the Park Kolonnaden building. SPOTS will be a gallery for a series of curated art projects for public space. Commissioned by ad agency CafĂ© Palermo PubblicitĂ  for HVB Immobilien AG, the installation was designed by Realities:United, a Berlin-based architecture studio with previous experience in creating large-scale light installations. Their BIX facade for Kunsthaus Graz garnered much international attention, and won them more than a few awards.

SPOTS will last for 18 months, with four commissioned works by Jim Campbell, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Carsten Nicolai and Realities:United in collaboration with John Dekron. The selection was curated by Andreas Broeckmann, director of the Transmediale festival. Visitors to Transmediale 2006 will have a chance to see all four works, as they are shown one per day in a special showing for the festival.

It should be noted that Potsdamer Platz is a problematic space in Berlin. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a symbol of regeneration or an attempt to erase history. A vibrant city center in the 1920s, it was practically destroyed in World War II and then divided by the Berlin Wall. It became a no-go zone, empty and desolate.

With the Wall down in 1989, the empty Potsdamer Platz became a prime investment opportunity and saw aggressive commercial development. The area is now dominated by corporate headquarters, three cinema multiplexes, restaurants and a shopping mall. The Sony Center is one of the most ambitious building projects in the area, and has achieved iconic status. While detractors will lecture you on the horrors of modern architecture and inorganic urban planning, the area is a de facto success, with 70 000 visitors per day.

The official opening is Sunday November 27 (tomorrow) at 17:00, so if you’re in the neighbourhood you can catch the official presentation of the project. Be sure to bring warm clothes.

The Art of Tracking: Renoise

Art of Tracking: Renoise GUI

Want to be a digital breakbeat artist? Forget 303s, MIDI keyboards and software synths. If you want get down and dirty with sequenced music, tracking and MOD files is where it’s at. Often thought of as a hacker’s approach to music, tracking started in the Amiga demo scene as a barebones way of programming sound. It’s a bit like writing MIDI files by hand.

The arcane art of tracking takes what I like to think of as a hacker’s approach to making music. The interface is primarily numeric, notes are entered via the keyboard, length, parameters, effects are often entered in hexadecimal notation, and code flies across the screen as if you were looking at the opening credits of The Matrix. What’s not to like?

Kuro5hin has a good article and how-to on cutting up breakbeats with tracking. It lists possible software (such as Renoise) and gives a step-by-step breakdown of how to go about murdering the Amen Break (the biggest drum’n'bass break of all time…) For more insights into the origin of tracking culture, has an article called MOD Love.

The article points out that the analogy that tracking is to music what code is to software is a bit of an overstatement. Tracking, which involves writing notes and effects in hexadecimal code, is still much like sequencing. Its true significance seems to stem from the fact that tracking started as a DIY culture, by kids who had no access to professional equipment (and frequently, no musical training). But tracking also allows a mechanical approach to music that makes it attractive to practicioners of drum’n'bass, breakcore, digital hardcore or plain old noise.

Go forth and track.


Lately I have been using 2.0 for my word processing and spreadsheet needs. Initially, I decided to try it to boost my self-esteem as a supporter of Open Source, in much the same way I can fool myself about the damage my frequent flying does to the environment as long as I recycle all my beer bottles. But then I found it to open faster and be just as effective as Microsoft Office for my basic clerical tasks. It’s not perfect, but I’m sticking to it for now, slowly migrating my work flow from MS Office.

Like web browsers and email readers, office software is an important test case for Open Source, simply because this is software that most people need to use every day. Public and private organizations that have tried to migrate to open platforms have frequently been scared off by the lack of basic productivity software. Bureaucrats are not geeks. So when the French tax agency switches to Linux and, it’s not because they love Open Source. They do it because it’s cheaper and better for them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Name: Project

Abigail Reynolds: Mount Fear

Paul wrote a great post over on Dataisnature about non-digital artists working with visualizations. Particularly striking is Mark Lombardi's beautiful maps of political webs of influence in pen and paper, predating Josh On’s classic They Rule. More images can be found here, the image quality is low but one can just make out the artist’s deliberate use of beauty in making these maps of otherwise grim data.

Another example is London-based artist Abigail Reynolds. Her Mount Fear maps crime statistics in a series of models, translating geographically specific crime data into physical spaces:

The imaginative fantasy space seemingly proposed by the object/image is subverted by the hard facts and logic of the criteria that shape it. The object does not describe an ideal other-worldly space separated from lived reality, but conversely describes in relentless detail the actuality of life on the city streets.

Reynolds has executed the project in several locations, using local data to create the models, which are made from layers of cardboard and styrofoam. Painstakingingly, layers are built up to create a to-scale topological model of a geographical region, with the height dimension indicating number of crimes in that area.

The images above show the following:

The models appear as impenetrable, imposing spaces, giving a physical representation of the crime statistics. As with Lombardi (or indeed with any visualization), aesthetic choices have been made as to how the data is represented. The number of crimes given per layer can be scaled down or up to create a less or more imposing model. But giving a clear physical presence to the data gives the viewer a completely different experience.

(Thanks to Christine Wolfe of Unwetter for the link.)

Lia: Mira

Lia: Mira

Lia has posted a lovely new Shockwave piece called Mira over on her site. Particles swarm around, creating intricate flower shapes that emerge like slow fireworks. When a flower is fully drawn, a path is drawn to a new point and the process begins over. As usual, the color scheme is subdued, in this case using black and pastel colors. It’s a nicely resolved piece, turning what seems like a limited geometry trick into a source of visual complexity.

Mira also features Lia’s signature control panel, a cryptic set of parameters for the user to play with without ever really knowing what they do. If in doubt, have patience. The flowers grow slowly, and feedback to a change in parameters will not be immediate.

Read also the Generator.x profile on Lia.

John Maeda: Exhibition at Fondation Cartier

John Maeda: Exhibition at Fondation Cartier (stills from Nature series)

A show of new work by John Maeda opened at Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain last Friday. The Nature series consists of 7 “motion paintings”, inspired by natural phenomena. Eye’m Hungry is a collection of 6 reactive works intended specifically for children, exploring themes connected to food.

Unfortunately, the works are only documented as stills on the Cartier web site, so it is difficult to appreciate the works as time-based compositions. Maeda has published a shaky handheld walkthrough video on his site, but it confuses rather than illuminates. The impression one gets from the stills is one of works that prioritize motion and surface texture over graphic form. Many of the stills have a blurred, out-of-focus feeling, giving them the texture of video or closeups of low-res images. There is a 18 sec trailer of ine of the Nature pieces on the Maedastudio web site, called Linear Way. If this is anything to go by, it seems obvious that the works must be seen in motion to work as intended.

It seems like Maeda has slowly been moving away from his bold graphic forms and colorful compositions shown in Maeda @ Media, a book he describes as “a farewell to digital design”. Interestingly, he says in an interview for the Cartier show that he wanted “to create work with a lively and joyful spirit close to Pop Art”. This connection is not so easy to perceive in his recent work, including this exhibition. Still, it’s hard to judge from the online documentation, so if you’re near Paris then go see the show for yourself .


Two generative art events in Australia:

1. The Third Iteration conference will take place 30 Nov – 2 Dec, at Monashe University near Melbourne. There will be 3 packed days of art and theory on “generative systems in the electronic arts”, with keynote speakers are Peter Bentley, Machiko Kusahara and Casey Reas. There will also be an exhibition of generative art, put together by Paul Brown.

2. The Generative Arts Practice symposium is also a 3 day affair, taking place directly after Third Iteration (5-7 Dec), but this time in Sydney. The same exhibition will be featured here, as Paul Brown is one of the co-chairs of the symposium.

Judging from the lecture titles, a lot of the papers presented will deal with the intersection between artificial life, complexity theory and art practice. This type of “hard science” approach to generative art (sometimes called “alife art”) was not represented at the Generator.x conference. It could easily be argued that it has a longer lineage than the current style of visual abstractions, with artists like Vitorino Ramos, the aforementioned Paul Brown and Karl Sims producing strong work. These two schools of work are not necessarily opposed, but rather concerned with different issues arising from similar methods.