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...]
Tag: alife

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A post on the excellent Interactive Architecture blog reminds us that John Frazer’s classic book An Evolutionary Architecture" is downloadable as a PDF. Originally published in 1995 and now out of print, the book gives a fascinating history of experiments in computational architecture going back to the 1960’s. Frazer’s main interest is in the use of biological models in architecture, applying classic Alife models like cellular automata and genetic programming to spatial problems.

Given its age and that it was already a retrospective account when it was released, the historical perspective is one of the best aspects of the book. But this also means that many of the concepts are presented in a somewhat outdated way. Frazer’s approach to architecture is rather dry and academic, and his text can tend towards the bombastic. Still, the way he combines 1960’s utopian belief in systems with modern technology gives food for thought.

(In all modesty, there was a Generator.x post about the book all the way back in 2005.)


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.


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.


Images shown are not from the Swarm exhibition.

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Julie Mehretu: Ruffian Logistics

Wattenberg: Shape of Song

Matthew Ritchie: Self-Portrait in 2064

This has been blogged elsewhere, but it’s interesting enough to bring up again. The Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia currently have a show they call “Swarm”. The title is a tip of the hat to scientific and cultural theories, as well as a more general idea of “unplanned and decentralized modes of organization”. Some obvious references:

Curated by well-known designers and curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton, the exhibition brings together artists that typically would not be shown together. Painting is juxtaposed with generative software works and installation art, well-known art world names mix with less obvious ones. Generator.x readers will be familiar with C.E.B. Reas and Jason Salavon, but perhaps less so with Julie Mehretu or Matthew Ritchie. Of course, the reverse would be true for readers from the mainstream art world.

The interesting aspect of this exhibition is how the works are selected for relevance to a cultural idea (the swarm), and not for their inclusion in specific art trends. Generative art, still an outsider art form as far as the art world is concerned, suddenly makes sense in the show. After all, it tends to address issues similar to those explored in the complex paintings of Mehretu or Ritchie (if nothing else, then certainly on a visual level). While generative artists usually shy away from talking about the relationship between their work and the human condition, this show makes just that connection.

Julie Mehretu reference via dataisnature. More to follow.

Murray McKeich

Murray McKeich (img from Memory Trade)

Troy Innocent: lifeSigns

Troy Innocent: lifeSigns

The main program of Third Iteration was a mix of academic papers and artists’ and technical talks, with disciplines from comp. sci to visual art and music represented. Highlights included Alan Dorin's "Beyond Morphogenesis: Enhancing Synthetic Trees through Death, Decay and the Weasel Test." Anything that messes up the idealised vitalism of generative art is fine with me – but Dorin’s paper also opened up interesting issues about the abstractions used in modelling plants, and what it would take to make your L-system trees wither, die and rot! On a historical angle, Mike Leggett discussed his experiments from the 1970s in what was called formalist film – but which Leggett now recognises as a generative practice (not computational, but based on formal rules and procedures). Also interesting, Tim Kreger & co’s “Time Space Modulator” project is an industrial design / cultural theory / generative art project, to make a physical interface to a complex, generative media database. The prototype device resembles an oversized, rapid-prototyped Rubik’s cube; lots of potential as a rich and intuitive interface / controller.

In the artists’ talks the standouts included UK duo Boredom Research (Vicky Isley & Paul Smith), who among other things presented some great workshops for kids on generative processes (all done with pencil and paper). Melbourne artist and conference chair Troy Innocent presented his lifeSigns work, which continues his interest in a living, iconographic digital language, and his pursuit of “generative meaning systems”. My favourite was from another local, Murray McKeich, who over the past decade has developed a trademark aesthetic of intricate monochrome digital collage, constructed from a massive personal database of scanned found objects. McKeich has recently turned to generative techniques for purely pragmatic reasons, and is now making multi-field, side-scrolling video from the same material. McKeich uses the scripting features of AfterEffects to generate huge populations of compositions, then selects the best for rendering. As I said to anyone who would listen, I’d love to have one running in my house as an ambient display. Or better still, have it generated on the fly by your ridiculously powerful games console…

Next post: forums and wrap up


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.

Kirk Woolford: Will.0.w1sp

Kirk Woolford: Will.0.w1sp

The jury of Vida 8.0 Art & Artificial Life International Competition has published the list of this year's winners. Interestingly, the top 3 prized went to projects involving physical computing, with the first prize going to Martin Howse and Johnathan Kemper for their AP0201 piece.

Among the special mentions one finds Kirk Woolford’s Will.0.w1sp, which merges dance-like motion with particle swarms. Normally shown as an installation, Kirk used the piece at this year’s Ars Electronica as a visual performance for music.


Jon McCormack: Turbulence

Last year the Australian Centre for the Moving Image published a book detailing the work of generative and artificial life artist/researcher Jon McCormack, whose work turbulence ten years ago in 1995 resembles some of the more recent generative experiments.

While Jon was probably more philosophically concerned with artificial biologies than generative processes per se, this recent book features a chapter written by the artist titled “Art, Emergence and the Computational Sublime”, which seems an apt description for many of the generative artworks seen on this blog and elsewhere. The notion of the sublime is one that has long been debated in aesthetic theories, and could prove useful in discussions of new media works. A quote from the blurb states:

What would life be like if it were made from computer algorithms rather than flesh and blood?
Dave Griffiths: WigWamJam

Dave Griffiths: WigWamJam

I’ve previously posted about Dave Griffiths’ livecoding visual tool Fluxus, but his web site is an amazing place so I’m posting about it separately.

What he calls "dave's page of art and programming" is an overflowing sketchbook of projects dealing with Artificial Life, sound synthesis and software for live performance. Most of it is Linux-based and freely available, often directly downloadable from the CVS source repositories.

The WigWamJam project looks particularly interesting. It’s an evolving modular synthesizer, with the resulting combinations looking like a PD hacker’s dream (or nightmare). It’s part of a larger package called Live noise tools, used for live performances with coded or evolved music.