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...]
Performative software

The dominance of the computer as a performance tool (whether used for music or visuals) has led to a new class of software that act as performance interfaces. Instead of just mimicking physical interfaces like mixers and keyboards, generative systems are now becoming new performance tools .

NODE08 is a new festival for digital art set to to take place in Frankfurt April 5-12. The near-final programme is now out, and it is shaping up to be a powerful event indeed. While the topic is realtime art in general, the event is loosely based around the VVVV tool, making it the first VVVV-centric festival ever. With a full week of workshops, exhibits, concerts and live visuals, it should be a treat not just for VVVV aficionados, but for anyone interested in digital art.

The lecture program yields heavy-hitting names like Casey Reas, Herbert W. Franke, Paul Prudence, Verena Kuni, Theverymany and Berthold Scharrer. The many workshops will feature hands-on topics like “vvvv for Beginners”, “Shader Programming” and “Microcontroller And Sensor Handling”. Not all the workshops are about VVVV, for instance Casey Reas will give a tutorial on printing-related strategies using Processing. In any case there should be plenty of practical input to take home.

On the performance side of things generative VJs like Onoxo, Desaxismundi and Elektromeier promise to make the evening events interesting. The ever-present VVVV guru David Dessens aka Sanch will be performing under the new project “VA” with Nushitzu.

NODE08 is part of the Luminale light art festival, which will feature works by NODE08 participants. Have a look at the NODE08 web site for details on the programme as well as ticket booking. It’s guaranteed to be an event worth catching.

Clarification regard VVVV: Joreg from the VVVV group has asked us to clarify that VVVV is no longer produced by Meso, but rather by a group of 4 developers known as the “VVVV group” (two of whom work at Meso). This is a change from the early days when VVVV was maintained directly by Meso.

As a total malapropos, Meso has one of the best company mottos we’ve seen in a while: “Unimpressed by technology since 1982″.


Cimatics 2007: Otolab: Op7

Last week was a good week for live cinema buffs in Belgium, thanks to the fifth edition of Cimatics, the Brussels-based festival for live cinema and AV culture. The main programme featured three evenings of audiovisual performances, with names like Ryoichi Kurokawa, Scott Arford, Jeffers Egan w/ Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit, Synken and many more.

There were also plenty of parallel projects, such as the Cimatics Masterclass for Live A/V and the Cinematic Experience conference on live cinema. For a general idea, take a look at these Flickr links: Cimatics 2007,

One very striking performancewas "Op7", a three-screen piece by Italian audiovisual collective Otolab. A long sequence of forms and structures move slowly but inexorably towards the viewer, giving the sense of a forward motion into an abstract landscape. But if this is a landscape, it is barren and alien, devoid of color. If anything, Op7 is reminiscent of early computer graphics, but in a good way. Stripped of gimmicks, the spaces it presents are monumental, architectural in scope. The 3-screen setup reinforces this sensation, creating a sense of immersion and demanding the viewer’s attention.

Op7 sounds as monumental as it looks, with rich bass textures and needling stabs of high frequency noise. The same restraint taken with the graphics is here applied to sound, with only a sparse selection of tones and waveforms that gradually shift back and forth across the spectrum. A steady rhythm is never established, but there is a strong sense of narrative within the soundscape that more than matches the visuals.

According to a short conversation with one of the performers, the graphics were made in 3DStudio Max. It’d be interesting to know if any computational processes were involved. Judging from the way it was performed, it seems likely that the visuals were in fact pre-rendered for the performance in Brussels. But with such a sumptuous presentation, it hardly seems appropriate to niggle about its non-realtime status.

Otolab’s performance at Cimatics was part of a programme of events titled +39: Call for Italy, curated by our friends at Digicult. See the Digicult page about Op7 for more details on the project, including the curatorial text.

This post marks the return of the video category here on Generator.x. After having struggled with the awfulness that is the YouTube GUI, we have decided to go with the excellent (and free) Vimeo for video hosting. Vimeo does not recompress your files, and generally have much higher quality both in terms of image and content.

There’s even a Generator.x Vimeo channel for posting videos related to generative art, audiovisual performances etc. Go have a look if you have a minute or twenty…

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.


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.

Name: Project

Dein Lieblingsgestalter: Generative hip hop visuals

Jannis Kreft has uploaded videos of his generative hip hop visuals (made in VVVV), which was blogged here a while ago. It looked good in pictures, but in motion it really rocks. Massive kudos to Jannis for proving that abstract generative visuals can stand its ground against speculative booty videos. You can find the video over on, it’s short but most excellent.

For those who of you who don’t know German, Dein Lieblingsgestalter roughly means “your favorite designer”, but Liebling also means beloved and so is a more ambiguous word. The name is a play on a German rapper whose artist name is Deine Lieblingsrapper. I have no idea if Jannis knows him or not. In any case, the video features a gem of German rap, created specifically for Jannis’ finals show (note that this is transcribed from the video, and my German grammar is dodgy at best): / Monarch und Thec / this is how we do / Ihr hört die Raps von Monarch und Thec / für deinen Lieblingsgestalter / Jannis Kilian Kreft / das ist innovativ / quasi ganz grosses Kino / vergiss alles was du kennst / Wer war noch mal Tarantino?…

Name: Project

Dein Lieblingsgestalter: Generative hip hop visuals

I should say that Jannis is an ex-student of mine from the Universität der Künste, so I am probably biased when looking at this project. But I love the way he has managed to make the hip hop expression effortlessly his own, all the while making no attempts at satisfying any visual clichees from the genre in his visuals. He manages to create visual 3D spaces with sound-responsive input, without it feeling contrived or unoriginal. The colors are good, and he has a solid grasp of graphic vocabulary. Makes me think it would have been an excellent addition to the Generator.x tour.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I was still his teacher I’d be proud. Way to go, Jannis. It’ll be interesting to see what you do next.


Our gig in Tromsø last night was a success, possibly the best night on the tour both in terms of audience response and quality of the sets. The audience soaked up sounds and images enthusiastically, and gave immediate positive response. Once again Tromsø audiences prove that they are open to new ideas.

The mood was clearly aided by the intimate setting, Kaos is a small club with low ceilings and we were happy that we managed to set up our two screens without too much trouble. Once up, they really transformed the space.

Our thanks go out to Kolbjørn and his crew at Kaos for support and love, and to Geir Jenssen for playing an eclectic mix between sets and softening up the audience for us. Thanks also to Ny Musikk for supporting the concert. This was a great experience, and we hope to come back to Tromsø in the future. They have several small festivals etc, so there is hope…

Today we play Union Scene in Drammen, tomorrow we go to Tou Scene in Stavanger. In Stavanger we will share the stage with the excellent FE-MAIL, Maja Ratke and Hild Sofie Tafjord. Emi Maeda has played with them before, and we’re looking at a possibility of some sort of jam.

Elsewhere tomorrow, Alexander Rishaug (producer and co-curator of the Generator.x tour) is producing a new version of his Random Cube event at Black Box in Oslo tomorrow, Saturday 29th. Playing are Phill Niblock, Thomas Ankersmit, Moha!, Kevin Blechdom and DJ Erik Skodvin. If you’re in Oslo, you know where to be.


The Generator.x concert tour continues. We are now in Tromsø, north of the Arctic Circle and historically home to a significant scene for electronic music. Artists like Biosphere (Geir Jenssen) and Mental Overdrive (Per Martinsen) became an influential force on an international level, with much resulting talk of an “arctic sound”. The arctic tag has since been applied to many Norwegian electronic acts that feature dark, organic beats.

Biosphere in particular is regarded as one of the grandfathers of ambient techno, with albums like “Patashnik” and “Substrata” exploring a restrained and crystalline sound. We are therefore honored to be able to say that Geir Jenssen will be DJ’ing for the Generator.x event tonight. We hope we make it will make it worth it for him to do this rare DJ set. For more information on Biosphere, see his web site or the excellent Wikipedia: Biosphere article.

The concert itself will take place in a small club called Kaos, which variously functions as football pub, concert stage and general hangout. Kaos is an unpretentious venue, but can nevertheless boast of a serious pedigree hosting artists like Röyksopp, Timbuktu, Darren Laws, Tungtvann, etc.

Yesterday we played at Landmark in Bergen, with the support of BEK and Ny Musikk. The Bergen scene is a powerhouse of experimental music and sound art, and Landmark is the centre of much of this activity. Bergen is also home to one of the artists on the tour, Espen Sommer Eide aka Phonophani. Espen originally comes from Tromsø, so today’s concert will be a double home-coming event for him.

Check the Generator.x: The concert tour photo set on Flickr for snapshots of the tour.


This video shows Berlin-based Frank Bretschneider performing live on the Generator.x concert tour, with excerpts from Trondheim, Oslo and Fredrikstad. Bretschneider creates his own visuals using a highly reduced vocabulary of shapes and colors to create a precise visual representation of his music. More information about his work can be found in his profile.

Video: Frank Bretschneider live on the Generator.x concert tour. (~ 5.5 MB)

Generator.x Tour: Frank Bretschneider

Generator.x Tour: Frank Bretschneider live on the tour (more photos on Flickr)

A veteran of electronic music, Frank Bretschneider is currently based in Berlin but was born in 1956 in East Germany, growing up in what was then Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz). He originally trained as a graphic designer and painter, but in 1984 started experimenting with electronic music through tape loops, a Korg synth and treated guitars. In 1986 he founded the now-defunct AG.GEIGE, an experimental group mixing popular music with avantgarde performance strategies, borrowing from Dada and the Surrealists.

In 1995 Bretschneider formed the Rastermusic label with former bandmate Olaf Bender, releasing experimental electronic music. Rastermusic merged in 1999 with Noton Archiv für ton und nichtton (run by artist and musician Carsten Nicolai), creating the now renowned Raster-Noton label. With artists like Bretschneider, Nicolai and Ryoji Ikeda, Raster-Noton is famous for releasing uncompromising musical abstractions. The label also focuses on the interaction between music and visual art, with its artists frequently producing audiovisual performances or art installations.

Bretschneider’s music is often described as minimalist, but when asked he prefers to describe it as simply economic. Whatever the term used, his music is highly structured, marked by pinpoint precision and micromanagement. His raw materials are sine waves and white noise, resulting in a sound which is clearly digital and synthetic, although not without warmth.

As strategies for composition Bretschneider emphasizes accidents and the intentional misuse of software. Claiming to be “lazy”, he experiments with connecting modular synthesis systems until he gets interesting sequences. These are then saved and processed further. The final track is then constructed using these elements as building blocks, with looping and filtering applied to introduce further unexpected results.

Bretschneider’s interest in visual representation of sound comes naturally from his background in visual work. Using spectral analysis and custom software, he takes visual cues from music software (dots, lines, bars etc.) and turns them into representations of musical structures. The visuals mirror Bretschneider’s sound perfectly, with hypnotic repetition and precise micro-events drawing audiences into a synthetic visual space. Again, he claims that his use of a limited visual vocabulary of shapes and colors is a matter of economics rather than a minimalist statement.

To watch one of Bretschneider’s audiovisual performances is to be placed inside the logic of the composition, seeing and hearing it simultaneously. While this highly structured environment somewhat restricts possibilities for improvisation, the result is immensely precise in its connection of sound and image. To overcome the improvisational challenge, Bretschneider is currently working on new software solutions for realtime visuals.

Frank Bretschneider is touring with the Generator.x concert tour for 7 performances all over Norway. The tour is produced by Rikskonsertene and co-curated by Alexander Rishaug and Marius Watz.

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