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Archive for June, 2006
Simon Elvins: Mapping sound

Simon Elvins: Silent London (detail) / Notation

Simon Elvins is concerned with sound as an ubiquitous force. Through a series of projects he has been documenting how sound is an often ignored dimension of our physical environment. Silent London plots quiet spaces in the English capitol using noise level data. An embossed print shows quiet areas raised up from the paper, bringing them to the attention of the viewer, while noise areas become blanked out valleys. noisy areas raised up from the paper while quiet areas become blank areas of peace. His FM Radio Map serves a dual purpose. On the one hand it plots the physical locations of commercial and pirate FM radio stations broadcasting in London. But circuits conductive pencil lines placed on the back of the map also turns it into a physical interface. Using a modified radio the map can be aurally “navigated” by placing metail contacts on points on the map.

These projects are poetic but ultimately functional. Taking a conceptual design approach (Elvins studied Communication Art & Design at the Royal College of Art), they present numerical data in an aesthetic context. By choosing low-tech materials (paper, electronics) Elvins creates fragile objects whose material qualities belie their sophisticated technical content.

Parallel to Elvin’s interest in sound is his fascination with mapping of physical and intangible forces. Both the aforementioned projects are classic mapping projects, while Notation is a more abstract exploration of how sound can be represented visually as marks on paper. Reminiscent of experiments with graphic notation (see Eno etc), the project consists of studies of representations of tonal patterns using pencil on paper.

The Notation project page seems to indicate that these drawings can ultimately be used to produce sound, but no details are available. If so, it would be an inversion of Elvin’s excellent Paper Record Player, where he constructed a functional record player out of paper, complete with its own conical paper amplifier.

(Thanks to TomC. See also Mount Fear.)

Jun 27/06

Following up on the post about David Dessen, here is some more VVVV news:

The busy boys at Meso have launched a new version of the VVVV wiki, improving considerably on the previous design. Important new functions include the Galeria (where Meso can show off VVVV projects like the Football Globe Germany) and News blog sections, as well as improved Reference and Documentation sections. The main access for users is now the Fan club page, which gathers access to the forums, blogs and shoutbox in one place.

All in all, this redesign sharply reduces the geek factor which marked the previous VVVV site. It should also make it easier for would-be users to find information about the tool. Like Processing, VVVV might be in eternal beta, but that doesn’t mean there is no maturing of the tool and its community.

David Dessens: Sanch TV

David Dessens (aka Sanch): Linear / Math surface destrukt

David Dessens’ work with VVVV has been generating a lot of interest since the first appearance of his shell-like objects on the VVVV pages. With the launch of his own blog Sanch TV he displays a range of hugely impressive formal experiments, bursting with voluptuous curves and saturated color. It is proof not only of Dessens’ personal talent, but also of VVVV’s qualities as a production tool.

Most of his experiments involve the use of vertex shaders, filters that affect geometry but which are executed directly by the graphics card (GPU) rather than the computer’s internal processor (CPU). The GPU is a specialized chip dedicated purely to graphics operations, and farming out computation to it results in lightning-fast execution. Some of Dessens’ experiments are based on shader implementations of mathematical "supershape" surfaces. These meshes are then distorted and manipulated further. But even working with standard mathematical formulas as raw material, Dessens manages to produce images with a unique visual style.

At the moment Dessens’ interests lie mostly in live visuals, but it will be interesting to see how his work develops. He is currently artist-in-residence at VVVV developers Meso, which should be a guarantee of more interesting work from him in the near future.

Be sure to see Dessens’ showreel, generated purely in realtime. As an extra bonus for wannabe VVVV hackers, he also posts shaders and patches on his blog.


Vague Terrain: Jeremy Rotzstain / Paul Webb

The online digital art journal Vague Terrain launched Vague Terrain 03: Generative Art last week, featuring work by 11 artists and musicians. Edited by Greg Smith and Neil Wiernik, Vague Terrain asks contributing artists not just for works (images, videos, mp3s), but also to articulate the context those works exist in. The final result is both artistically challenging and theoretically weighty.

This issue explores generative strategies in art, an approach to image production as well as for sound and live performance. From the abstract images of Meta to the image producing machines of Jeremy Rotzstain or the random music systems of Paul Webb, the works presented show a range of possible uses of generative systems. Of special interest are the many examples of sound works. Lately the generative art field has gotten most of its attention for visual art, belying the rich history of such systems in musical composition.

The most important theoretical contribution is a new paper from Philip Galanter, in which he clears up some common misunderstandings about his by now canonical definition of generative art (see this interview). Entitled Generative art and rules-based art, it traces a genealogy of generative art, presenting a number of historical works that are generative without being computer-based. Specifically, he looks at two exhibitions (Logical Conclusions: 40 years of rule-based art at Pace Wildenstein, New York and Beyond Geometry at Los Angeles County Museum of Art). Using these as a reference point, he clarifies some often-misunderstood terms and analyzes how the works in these shows can be understood in relation to a generative tradition.


Vague Terrain: meta / Ben Bogart

Galanter’s presentation of these precedents is thorough. In focusing on the principles used to produce the works, he presents a firm platform for defining a basic terminology. The downside is that his paper does little to connect the aesthetic content of historical works to the works typical of the generative art field today. This is both a strength and weakness. In looking only at a limited formal aspect, Galanter avoids getting bogged down in art history. He can thus compare works that would otherwise be seen as representatives of different art movements. But in doing so, he risks giving the impression that a work like Alfred Jensen’s The Apex is Nothing is concerned with the same issues as Salavon’s Shoes, Domestic Production 1960-1968.

This dilemma clearly illustrates the problem of generative art as a definition that only describes a methodology. Apart from identifying an interest in systems, it says nothing about the resulting work and so constitutes a tenuous common link. Uncritical use of the term risks conflating artists from different periods and assuming that their artistic interests are the same, when in fact the contexts in which they produce their works are very different. Philip Galanter is no doubt aware of this, and likely does not intend to make this implication. But the recent historicization of generative art has tended towards ignoring differences in the desire to find similarities.

Finding historical references for generative art has the potential effect of legitimizing the current work by placing it in an art historical context. But it also risks ironing over the unique qualities of works. In the long run, the current generation of artists working with code and software as artistic materials might do well to specify their position as being separate from this historical context. This would allow them not only to state what is unique about their work, but also to be understood by the art world at large as more than an updated appendix to work done in the 1960’s.

All texts from Vague Terrain are under a Creative Commons license and are available for download as PDFs.


Graphic design excellence: Emigre / Zuzana Licko’s Puzzler

Nostalgia can be distracting, particularly the “good old days” variety that makes one feel things used to be so much better. But when Emigre launches a redesign of its web site (the first in 9 years – yes, that’s 1997) it’s hard not to feel at least a pang. A lot of Generator.x readers probably know the Emigre story, but here’s a short history lesson for those who don’t.

Although it was always the Emigre fonts that paid the bills, it was Emigre Magazine that built the cult. Founded by Rudy VanderLans and first published in 1984, it finally closed with issue 69 in 2005. Always uncomprisingly dedicated to eclectic visions and new voices in graphic design, it concerned it self with a theoretical and subjective approach to design.

Emigre was declared public enemy #1 by much of the design establishment of the 80’s and 90’s. Its unpopularity had several causes. Emigre openly embraced computers as design tools and digital artifacts like pixels as new design elements in their own right. This put them in the midst of the “desktop publishing” controversy, which would eventually cause the obsolescence of professional typographers. More importantly, Emigre championed postmodernist and deconstructivist design experiments, and became a soapbox for new ideas coming out of schools like Cranbrook and Calarts.

Emigre’s willingness to showcase stylistic exercises that explored “form as function” rather than “form follows function” was an affront to Modernist schools of thought. But by the mid-90s Modernism was on the run, and the idea that a designer is merely a neutral translator of content was all but dead and buried. The Emigre revolution was soft, but irreversible. But nothing lasts forever.

With little to fight against, Emigre started losing steam towards the end of the 90’s. The internet took over as the most important influence on graphic design, and the excesses of postmodernism fell out of fashion. Emigre were among the first type foundries to have a web site and offer downloadable fonts, but it didn’t have such a good grasp on the new issues brought up by digital design. Some early computational experiments like the RandomFonts from Letterror, found space within the pages of Emigre Magazine. But web design as a field was largely passed by in silence.

The final issue (#69) features a collection of 69 stories by Rudy VanderLans, chronicling the trials and tribulations (but also successes) of Emigre Magazine. The font foundry remains one of the most important independent foundries out there, dedicated to solid typography with an eye for the curious and eclectic. Don’t miss out on Zuzana Licko’s fonts, including her lovely Puzzler pattern generator.

Related links


delire + pix: fijuu / q3apd

The dynamic duo delire + pix have been hacking game engines to produce sound and visuals for some time now. Their projects typically go much further than simple Unreal or Quake hacks. Instead, they use the game engines to create application environments that are either self-running installations or interactive performance systems. The resulting works exploit the aesthetics and interactivity of computer games while presenting new models for realtime performance tools.

fijuu is a sound performance tool based on the Ogre3D open source graphics engine. The user controls sound synthesis by manipulating morphing 3D shapes using a Playstation-style controller. Different shapes correspond to different “instruments”. See the Fijuu video on YouTube and screenshots for examples.

q3apd uses Quake3 and various bots to control realtime sound synthesis in a PureData (PD) patch. Data like bot position, view angle, weapon etc. are sent to PD over the network interface. The PD patch then uses these to control the soundscape that is being continuously generated. The visual component consists of Quake3 with custom made maps and graphics. See a video of q3apd at Lovebytes to get an idea of the result.

Via Pixelsumo. See also Alison Mealey’s Unrealart.


Some new calls for projects in the Nordic region, the first being the brain child of several people involved in the Generator.x conference in Oslo. Please note that these calls are also for international artists.

Call for artworks – INTERFACE and SOCIETY exhibition, Oslo.
Organized by Atelier Nord, to take place at Henie-Onstad Art Center. Curators: Atle Barcley, Erich Berger, Jana Winderen.

In our everyday life we constantly have to cope more or less successfully with interfaces. We use the mobile phone, the mp3 player, and our laptop, in order to gain access to the digital part of our life. In recent years this situation has lead to the creation of new interdisciplinary subjects like “Interaction Design” or “Physical Computing”.
The project INTERFACE and SOCIETY investigates how artists deal with the transformation of our everyday life through technical interfaces. With the rapid technological development a thoroughly critique of the
interface towards society is necessary.

The role of the artist is thereby crucial. S/he has the freedom to deal with technologies and interfaces beyond functionality and usability. The project INTERFACE and SOCIETY is looking at this development with a special focus on the artistic contribution.
Deadline: 1 July 2006
URL: Atelier Nord: Interface & Society

Call for entries. Electrohype 2006, the fourth Nordic biennial for computer based art.
Organized by Electrohype, to take place in Lunds Konsthall, Lund, Sweden.

Electrohype has since the start in 1999 focused on what we choose to call computer based art. Art that runs of computers and utilizes the capacity of the computer to mix various media, allow interaction with the audience, or machines interacting with each others etc. in other words art that can not be transferred to “traditional” linear media. This might seem as a narrow approach but we have discovered that it gives us a better focus on a genre that in no way is narrow.

We are not looking for “straight” video art (even if it is edited on a computer) or still images rendered on computers and other material that refers to more “traditional” media forms. Forms were the traditional tools have been replaced with computers and software.
Deadline: 3 July 2006
URL: Electrohype 2006 call

The Electrohype call is exciting, since they had long ago announced the likely death of the Electrohype organization and thus also the biennial. With Electrohype resurrected, there are currently three major exhibitions of media art underways in Norway and Sweden (the third being Article). With Pixelache in Finland and various projects in Denmark completing the picture, that means the Nordic scene is still going strong.

Nodebox projects by Tom de Smedt

Tom de Smedt: Supercurly / Photobjects (done with NodeBox)

NodeBox was blogged here last year, but checking in on the project there are a number of developments that warrant an update. To refresh your memory, NodeBox is a code tool for visuals based on the Python language. It is being developed by Lucas Nijs, Frederik De Bleser and Tom De Smedt, all teachers at St-Lucas Art College, Antwerp.

Taking inspiration from Processing, NodeBox lets the user get to work coding graphics using a simplified syntax, without worrying about the underlying technology. Unlike Processing, NodeBox is based on vector graphics rather than pixels. That means that it is an excellent tool for exploring 2D graphics intended for print, and in particular typographic experiments. The exported results take the form of PDF files, ready for use in Adobe Illustrator or any professional vector graphics package. NodeBox can also export Quicktime movies for animations.

The NodeBox Gallery shows off some good-looking sketches. Tom de Smedt has published two good examples: Supercurly uses the modular font Superveloz by Andreu Balius to construct organic compositions, while Photobjects is a database of images which can be queried for images connected to certain keywords. These are then used to create randomized collages of images.

NodeBox is now up to version 1.0 release candidate 7, and is sophisticated enough to count as a real production tool. Sadly it is only available for Mac OS, but the source is released under the MIT license in case anyone wants to have a go at porting it. NodeBox is based on DrawBot by Just Van Rossum.

Related links:

  • The NodeBox research wiki.
  • Trapdoor: More projects by the NodeBox team and associates.
  • Replica: Even more projects and texts by the NodeBox team and associates.