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...]
Tools & code

Artists and designers create their own software tools and share them with others, either in the form of code snippets that perform specific tasks or as fullblown applications. We present some of these tools here.


Karsten Schmidt: enerugii wa antee shite inai I (Unstable Energy I)
Mark Napier: Genesis (7 bit)

FURTHER PROCESSING: Generative art, open systems
23.09.-11.11.2006, Kunstverein Medienturm, Graz

Pablo Miranda Carranza (ES), Fabio Franchino (IT), Ben Fry (USA), Golan Levin (USA), Lia (AT), Mark Napier (USA), C.E.B. Reas (USA), Martin Wattenberg (USA), Marius Watz (NOR). Curated by Sandro Droschl and Marius Watz.

FURTHER PROCESSING uses the Open Source software Processing as a departure point to examine positions based on computational processes. Programming has always been a component in computer-based media art, but there is now an increasing interest in software and the computer code itself as methods of artistic exploration. Combined with the emergence of a new generation raised on microcomputers, BASIC programming and the Internet, this has produced a new movement within the media art scene, one which is concerned with code-based abstraction and the art of the database.

GENERATIVE ART: The system as art object
All software is by its nature based on systems. It is not surprising then that much software-based art is concerned with the system itself as an object of investigation. Loosely grouped under the term Generative Art, this work goes beyond the simple desire to use code as a tool. Instead, algorithms and code structures become the framework and material for the work itself.

Historical art movements like Conceptual Art, Minimalism, Fluxus and Op Art, as well as artists like Bridget Riley and Sol LeWitt, can serve as a background for understanding this artistic practice. At the same time. the importance of new scientific theories like complexity theory, emergence and artificial life should not be ignored. Advances in contemporary electronic music is another influence, with several of the artists working with musicians to produce software-based performance systems for the synaesthetic combination of sound and image in a live context.


Lia: O.I.G.C / C.E.B. Reas: Process 9 (software 3)

Within FURTHER PROCESSING several artists adopt a generative position, but with distinct formal interests. Lia and C.E.B. Reas use kinetic processes as an analog to drawing, leaving complex traces on the screen’s canvas that become heavily layered surfaces. They both show a sparse use of form and color, but while Lia exhibitis a minimalist aesthetic, Reas’ work is richly layered and complex. Fabio Franchino explores the computation as a design tool by commenting on the nature of pattern, which itself can be said to be a practice of rules. His “Unfinished Wall” describes a pattern that is non-repeating, which through procedural creation could be generated on a vast scale.

Karsten Schmidt and Marius Watz deal with the evolution of structures in space, tracing out virtual sculptural forms on the screen. Here vivid color and density of the forms is used to great effect, producing bold spatial compositions. Finally, Mark Napier's “Genesis (7 bit)” is daring enough to use the text of Genesis from the Old Testament as raw material, interpreting the letters as the coordinates for points in space. The resulting arcs and filament-like traces are delicate and mesmerizing.

The generative works in FURTHER PROCESSING present an aesthetic of complexity, concerned with formal explorations of spatial and temporal parameters. Ranging from the opulent to the minimalist, these pieces comfortably bridge the gap between an electronic image culture and traditions in drawing and painting.

For more information, see Kunstverein Medienturm.

To be followed by pt.#2, on Data art.

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.

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.
Name: Project

Fornes / Nowak / Corcilius: From DIN to DIM

For a different take and a different scripting language, go read theverymany, Marc Fornes’ blog on his experiments in computational architecture. 98% of his blog so far is Rhinoscript code for creating generative structures, accompanied by intriguing illustrations. It makes you want to work with Rhino just to be able to see it run.

For those who don’t know it, Rhinoscript is a VBScript language used to control Rhino, a high-end 3D package used for anything from CAD/CAM and visualization to computer animation. Rhino is popular with coding architects, sculptors and CGI heads alike. It’s not as old skool as AutoCAD and AutoLISP, which has been used for computational architecture since 1986. But it’s likely a lot more useful.

theverymany is refreshingly focused on sketches and code, but there is documentation of one interesting recent project: "From DIN to DIM", a “series of experimentations looking at transitions between the German Standard of design to self-similar objects controled by declared variables…”. Done with Vincent Nowak and Claudia Corcilius, it consists of generative formal studies, using nested loops to generate structure.

As with much computational architecture, the results are visually very compelling. The techno-organic tower structures recall fashions in blobby architecture, while simultaneously reminding one of 70s sci-fi book covers. The translation of simple code structures into complex and appealing form seems effortless, it would certainly be interesting to see the slides shown in higher detail.

Marc Fornes is a graduate of the AA's Digital Research Labotary class, and is currently working as an architect for Zaha Hadid Ltd. He indicates in the sidebar of his blog that his rhinoscript library might be available as open source.


The EXTEND workshop with Casey Reas, Ben Fry, Zach Lieberman and yours truly is now underway. Today is the second day, yesterday was spent giving personal introductions and dividing the 18 participants into groups. Each day we have micro-lectures. Zach started off by talking about animation and movement, and showed some examples from his making things move workshop.

The participants have shown significant interest in data visualization, and so Ben presented some background to computational information design. He used his Linkology project as a specific example.

Casey is currently speaking about the history of Processing (traced back to ACU and other MIT projects) and how to sketch with code. He is also talking about the importance of the concept of libraries as a way of extending Processing, and in particular to bring it beyond the screen. In particular, he is demonstrating the new PDF library with some code examples that will soon be posted to the Processing site.

I will sporadically be blogging the workshop over on Code & Form, a new blog I just opened to support workshops, teaching and code experiments.


Soda has released a mock-up of SodaPlay 2.0 (see blog here and here). It’s over on, and gives a pretty good idea of how the new system will work when fully functional.

Most exciting for SodaPlay enthusiasts should be the links to functional new style SodaPlay applications (see image above). These launch under Java Webstart, and require Java 5.0. and a discussion forum about SodaPlay 2.0 are also online.

And if you’re a true Soda fanboy, you can follow the exploits of the Soda creative team documented on the soda creative Flickr pool, of which Alexander Kohlhofer aka Plasticshore is the most prolific contributor.


Due to the current concert tour (which is going very well, expect an update very soon) blogging has been a low priority. Here are a few interesting things we’ve noticed recently:

  • Atelier Nord has a call for participation for a workshop called The Empire’s New Clothes - Art, Fashion and Technology. The deadline is today – Monday 24 April, so if fashion is your thing hurry up and send them a CV and statement of intent. Apologies for the late post of this call
  • Switchboard is a new Processing library written by Jeffrey Crouse. It implements a general application layer for using web services with Processing. Services already implemented to varying degrees are “google, yahoo, msn, allmusic, shoutcast, foaf, and rss/atom feeds”.
  • Linkology by Ben Fry is a project for New York Magazine showing link connections between the top 50 blogs. I’ve been meaning to blog it forever, but never got around to it so I’m simply linking it here.
  • Visualcomplexity keeps adding new projects. Some new favorites are Essence of Rabbit (by our Berlin friends at Pictoplasma) and Font 004 - Community by Marian Bantjes. Interesting to see that Visualcomplexity is including projects that don’t fit a strict infoviz focus. If you haven’t checked in for a while then take a look and consider subscribing to their RSS feed. It’s well worth it.

Photos and video of the Generator.x tour should go online in the next few days.


Ed Burton from Soda has given some feedback on Tuesday’sSodaPlay 2.0 entry. He hastens to point out that Playforge is not strictly a XML framework just for SodaConstructor, but rather a general application framework that will form the base of all future SodaPlay applications. That way all projects based on Playforge will benefit from common services such as user authentication, persistence etc.

Here are some further explanations from Ed:

Why Sodaplay 2.0?
Currently is the home of the spring and mass editor and simulator Sodaconstructor together with the remarkably diverse models that hundreds of thousands of talented users have learnt to create with it. Here we launch our vision of Sodaplay 2.0 as an evolving ecology of applications of which a redeveloped Sodaconstructor will be just one. These applications can be created, modified, extended and shared by Sodaplay users themselves.

By giving a community of users that includes teachers, students, hobbyists and developers the ability to not only use but also modify and create applications that benefit from shared services such as online storage and discussion we seek to nurture a creative ecosystem of innovation that can develop and tailor applications to fit into multiple contexts spanning art, science, learning and play.

What is Playforge?
Playforge is the term we use for the underlying framework that Sodaplay 2.0 will be an instance of. Sodaplay applications such as Sodaconstructor and Sodacities will benefit from common Playforge services such as user authentication, persistence and discussion. Playforge will also make it possible to modify the user interface of an application by simply editing an XML file, or extend the behaviour of an application by augmenting it with additional java code all without the need to re-write the original applications source code.

Ed confirmed the link between SodaConstructor and the work of Karl Sims, pointing to an interview he did with Sims for It is recommended reading for anyone interested in evolutionary approaches to creature design. Thanks, Ed!


As mentioned in the previous post about Soda, there are some interesting new SodaConstructor developments in the works. While talking to the Soda crew in London a few weeks back I was lucky enough to get some details.

From its launch in 2000, the popularity of the SodaConstructor project exceeded all expectations. It was intended to be a simple experiment with Java, spring dynamics and meccano-like creatures, but quickly became a runaway hit with mentions in fashion magazines and the popular press. Something about SodaConstructor gets to people. You can call it the LEGO effect or draw parallels to the popularity of "god games", but put simply SodaConstructor is just good clean fun.

Today, SodaConstructor has over registered 200 000 users that can save their creations and show them off to others. The site sees over 200 000 visitors per month, many of whom are temporary visitors. For some users SodaConstructor has become both a serious hobby and an arena for research. There are even user-run community sites like sodaplaycentral, with serious articles on how to build "amoeba" type creatures and the workings of Multiple Stiffness Springs.

SodaPlay 2.0: The community. At first Soda was unprepared for the popularity of the project, and had no time to support or develop it further. A simple but much-needed mechanism for saving user models was added, and allowed for the Sodazoo. In 2002 SodaRace was released thanks to external support. It provided a XML file format for models, making it possible to automate model design through AI and alife strategies. With a nod to Karl Sims’ classic Evolved Virtual Creatures, SodaRace uses the metaphor of a race to evaluate the ability of different models to navigate a random terrain. It became a hit with the AI and engineering community.

Now, with the generous long-time support of NESTA Soda are working on combining the popularity and simplicity of SodaConstructor with the advanced functions of SodaRace. The result will be SodaPlay 2.0, which will combine community functions (think Flickr, with galleries, comments etc) with a XML application framework called Playforge for creating models as well as modifying the SodaConstructor environment itself. SodaPlay 2.0 is scheduled for launch sometime in the near future.

The details of the APIs and framework are still being worked on, but users will be able to customize the interface of the Constructor enviroment as well as the physical simulation being used. These modifications can be saved as “Extensions” and shared with other users. Like with SodaRace, a web API will allow communication and uploading to the SodaPlay server, so user-written applications can be used to contribute to the environment.

Other ideas like a SodaConstructor screensaver which automatically downloads models for display are in the works. As with any service, opening SodaConstructor up to users through APIs and standard file format could potentially transform how the tool is used and what results that can be produced. Constructor heads should have exciting times indeed.

I have asked the SodaPlay team to give a short explanation of PlayForge and future functions, I will post that in a follow-up when I get it.