Art from code - Generator.x
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Tag: visualization

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abstrakt Abstrakt: Ben Fry – All Streets

Ben Fry w/ Eugene Kuo, Chris Brown, Katy Harris: All Streets, 2008
Digital print, 4,7 x 3 meters

“All Streets” is a vision of the United States as represented only by its infrastructure of roads. The country that invented car culture is rendered quite clearly by drawing its 26 million streets. Focusing not on geographical features or political boundaries but only on routes of travel, the resulting map is revealing. Population-dense areas become complex fractal clusters that dominate the eastern parts of the country, while westwards the open landscapes of America’s heartland reveal blanker spots reflecting the harsh terrain.

Ben Fry is a pioneer of the new model of computational approaches to information visualization, applying design principles to revealing structures in huge sets of data. Fry does not consider himself an artist, but the emotional affect of his visualizations is undeniable. They represent a new form of augmented vision through which we might understand the complex data streams that increasingly dominate our digital lives.

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Andy Huntington: Cylinder

Andy Huntington/ Drew Allan: Cylinder (”Seahorses”, “Designed”, “Market”)

Cylinder by Andy Huntington and Drew Allan is an elegant series of data sculpture based on sound analysis. A mapping of the frequency and time domains produces cylindrical forms representing the spatial characteristics of the sound input. Physical versions of the digital 3D models are then 3D printed using stereolithography.

The idea of mapping sound to space is not unfamiliar. The Cylinder project shows similar strategies to those used in the exhibition Frozen, which showed sound represented as a continous space rather than as a one-dimensional signal. However, Cylinder is from 2003, predating Frozen and making it somewhat of an early example of the data sculpture genre.

There is a tangential similarity between Huntington’s pristine objects and Booshan & Widrig’s Binaural object. But in fact the spiky geometries of both works are a result of the numeric data underlying the form. Any data set will yield inherent patterns, and in the case of digital sound two “defaults” present themselves: The waveform (a 1D graph) and the spectral map found through FFT analysis, which represents a 2D map of spectral energies in the time domain. Any translation of these numeric representations into visual form must grapple with the fact that while they may be faithful representations of the data, they rarely give a good idea of how the sound is experienced by a human listener.

The Cylinder series show a range of different waveforms, some showing an apparent orderly structure with others suggesting a noisier sound input. Titles like “Seahorse”, “Design” and “Breath” imply the source sounds used to produce the forms. Their success as aesthetic objects derive from their complexity as well as from the clean quality given by the 3D printing process.

Information visualization: Social Collider / Synchronous Objects

Schmidt & Pohflepp: Social Collider / William Forsythe & ACCAD: Synchronous Objects

A disclaimer is in order: The following post is not original content, rather it is a collection of links provided by various people on a private mailing list. The initial request (from Memo Akten) was for “really hot data visualization”, and the following suggestions were made by some fairly knowledgeable people.

They are presented here as an unedited list of links, they are listed in the order they appeared on the list. Some are fairly new projects while others are well-known canonical works. Two new favorites are shown above, namely Social Collider and Synchronous Objects.

Some pseudo-random Info Viz links

5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen - Sound sculptures

Fischer & Maus: Reflection, Widrig & Booshan: Binaural

5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen
Wed 2 through Sat 26 July 2008
Melkweg Mediaroom & Paradiso, Amsterdam

Frozen (part of the 5 Days Off MEDIA festival) is an exhibition of experiments in the representation of sound in media beyond the auditory. It examines the sound signal as a virtual space, presenting possible mappings that visualize or interpret the structures contained within the soundwaves.

Frozen was proposed and commissioned by Jan Hiddink and the 5 Days Off MEDIA festival in Amsterdam, and consists exclusively of original work. It was conceived with Generator.x 2.0 as a conceptual reference (all four artists in the show were also involved in Generator.x 2.0), but with a clearly defined focus: The representation of sound as spatial structures, realized as physical objects through the use of digital fabrication technologies.

For more information, see the documentation in the Frozen Flickr set, Leander Herzog’s FFT set or the blog posts by Benjamin Maus and Andreas Nicolas Fischer.

Frozen: Sound as space
5 Days Off MEDIA: Frozen - Sound sculptures - Herzog, Watz

Leander Herzog: Untitled / Marius Watz: Sound memory (Oslo Rain Manifesto)

Over the past years, there has been an enormous development in the field of live-presented audio-visual performance art. Owing to digital techniques, image and sound are connected in a way that was previously unthinkable. Frozen is headed in the opposite direction. Frozen pulls the plug and presents audio art, prints, and sculptures as independent, but interconnected works of art.

In the Mediaroom at the Melkweg multi-channel sound pieces can be experienced over an advanced speaker setup, accompanied by sound in a "frozen" form: Images and sculptural objects made using sound as input. These artworks use audio analysis and custom software processes to extract meaningful data from the sound signal, creating a mapping between audio and other media. Frozen will feature digital prints as well as four "sound sculptures" created using digital fabrication technology such as rapid prototyping, CNC and laser cutting, which allow for the direct translation of a digital model into physical form.

Frozen arose in collaboration with the Norwegian artist and curator Marius Watz, whose Generator.x project investigates the implications of generative systems and computational models of creation. The recent exhibition Generator.x 2.0: Beyond the Screen brought together artists and architects to explore the potential of this new mode of creation.

‘Audio sculptures’ will be on display by Andreas Nicolas Fischer (DE) & Benjamin Maus (DE), Leander Herzog (CH), Marius Watz (NO) and Daniel Widrig & Shajay Booshan (UK). These sculptures are based on audioworks by Freiband (Nl, Frans de Waard), and Alexander Rishaug (No).

Frozen is presented in the Melkweg Mediaroom and at Paradiso.

5 Days Off MEDIA is part of the 5 Days Off festival for electronic music from Wed 2 through July 6. 5 Days Off MEDIA presents three themes: Crosswire, Frozen and Roots. Locations: Melkweg, Paradiso, Dutch Institute for Media Art and Heineken Music Hall.

Ebru Kurbak / Mahir M. Yavuz: Newsknitter

Ebru Kurbak / Mahir M. Yavuz: Newsknitter

While the generative potential of knitting should be obvious (it has pixels, it follows rules), a new project by Turkish artists Ebru Kurbak and Mahir Yavuz shows the full computational potential of the medium: Newsknitter combines computerized knitting technology with live internet feeds to produce the ultimate in customized sweaters. Using the daily news as a data source, a software generates different visualizations which are then finalized as patterns ready for knitting.

Newsknitter will be shown at the Ars Electronica festival this week as part of their Campus 2.0 exhibition at Kunstuniversität Linz. On display will be 10 unique sweaters generated by the Newsknitter software. The sweaters were produced at TETAS Tekstil in Istanbul, using Shima Seiki knitting hardware.

The Newsknitter web site does not indicate whether custom garments will eventually be for sale, even though it would seem an obvious extension of the project. Too bad the daily news typically makes for a grim way to commemorate one’s birthday or other significant date.

For a different take on generative knitting, see this old post: Freddie Robins: How to make a piece of work when you’re too tired to make decisions.

[Link via pöfmagazine]


Manuel Lima of VisualComplexity gave an inspiring presentation yesterday at Reboot 9.0 in Copenhagen. Manuel set up the site in 2005 after doing his thesis project BlogViz at the Parson’s School of Design. Frustrated by the lack of a unified visualization resource, he started collecting links and even scanning out-of-print articles. Soon after VisualComplexity (VC) was born.

Since the launch in 2005, VC has grown to feature over 460 projects. Seen over time, it mirrors current trends in the Infoviz field regarding what kinds of data people are visualizing, as well as what techniques are popular. To reflect this, the site now features navigation by topic or by method. The statistics over common searches and subject distribution is also interesting reading.

Although the intention of VisualComplexity is academic, it does reveal a fascination with the aesthetic qualities of networks. In his talk, Manuel compared structures that look similar despite being essentially different in nature. For instance, the massive Millennium Simulation, which shows the evolution of the Universe, looks strikingly like the neural net of a rat. Obviously, this has no scientific relevance, but might explain why networks have such an aesthetic impact.

Lev Manovich has presented a reading of visualization as Data Art, with Infoviz projects often have an emotional impact on par with more traditional art forms. His paper “Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime” is downloadable from his web site. Seen in this context, VC is a treasure trove of works with both scientific and aesthetic impact. Simply scanning the page with thumbnails of all the projects will confirm this.

According to Manuel, the next step for VisualComplexity will be to turn it into an open map of maps. The VC database itself will be opened up for people to navigate or visualize in new ways. Hopefully this will help the database grow even further.

Relevant links


Alex Dragulescu: Extrusions in C major (detail) / Blogbot (detail)

[Read pt.1 for completion] Dragulescu’s Extrusions in C major uses music as its input, specifically the “Trio C-Major for Piano, Violin, and Cello” by Mozart. Here the artist rigorously describes his mapping: Different colors represent different instruments, while each segment of the fragmented forms represent a single note, with characteristics such as velocity and duration controlling the development of the form. The final form represents the temporal structure of the piece.

Blogbot and related projects Havoc and Algorithms of the Absurd represent a slightly different approach with a performative flair. Blogbot generates “experimental graphic novels” from content found on blogs. Texts are presented as though being read, appearing line by line accompanied by visual icons.

The online example What I Did Last Summer appropriates pixellated images of war machines and soldiers taken from computer games. They are then used to illuminate a narrative of fragments from two blogs relating to the Iraq war. One is by an American soldier and contains details of raids and military maneuvers, the other is the famous blog of Salaam Pax, the Baghdad Blogger. The introduction of temporal and graphic aspects to the text turns it into a performed narrative. Simultaneously, a graphic composition of increasing complexity is created as the text grows on the canvas.

Lev Manovich speaks of data visualization as the New Abstraction (see Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime, Word DOC file). In this context Dragulescu certainly presents an interesting take on info-aesthetics, with complex data sets being appreciated for their structural beauty alone.

Alex Dragulescu is from Romania and currently leads the Experimental Game Lab at the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts at University of California, San Diego.


Alex Dragulescu: Spam Architecture (detail) / Spam Plants (detail)

Romanian artist Alex Dragulescu turns data sets into raw materials for the generation of tantalizing 2D and 3D forms. Rather than scientific visualization intent on clarifying the content of the data, Dragulescu creates graphic and temporal compositions notable for their strong graphic qualities.

Spam Architecture is one project that has garnered much attention recently. Here spam is translated into three-dimensional form by analysing keywords and patterns in the text. Like its sibling project Spam Plants, it explores the mapping of textual data into spatial configurations.

All trace of the original data source is absent in the final result. No reference to the textual material remains, nor of the analytical process involved. Instead, a single coherent form is presented, with no signifiers indicating its origin. In this sense, the spam data could be said to simply constitute an arbitrary pseudo-random data input, with the result bearing no semantic connection to the raw material that it was generated from.

Dragulescu does not provide clues or any rational way of evaluating the nature of the mapping. But nor does he make a claim to producing literal meaning. Hence the viewer is free to enjoy the results as a complex formal experiment in which spam undergoes a process of transsubstantiation, transformed from a source of irritation into intriguing objects of great beauty.


HTML and markup languages like XML describe documents as hierarchies of tags, in what is called a Document Object Model. This structure can be visualized as a graph.

Websites as Graphs (by Sala of takes a web page URL as input, and outputs a graph of the underlying HTML structure. Used on any large content site like CNN or BoingBoing, it reveal the underlying logic of presentation used to build those pages. Related information form clusters, with color codes revealing a tendency towards table- or CSS-based design (the former being a no-no, obviously) as well as density of images, links etc.

While the graphs make for interesting images, it is still hard to make hard and fast assumptions about the page in question only by looking at the graph. But a well-structured document will always reveal itself as such, as will badly-structured documents. Websites as Graphs should be of interest to anyone who has tried to define a page structure, particularly if that structure conforms to the current CSS-based ideal of “logic-not-presentation” style of web design.

The source code for Websites as Graphs is freely available for download. It was built with Processing, using the Traer.Physics and HTMLParser.

Update: Markavian has hacked up a remix version which allows you to browse the tag structure interactively and even follow links to new documents. To use it, point your browser to a URL in the following format:

“” should obviously be replaced with whatever URL it is you want to explore.

Relevant links:

Harris / Kamvar: We feel fine

Harris / Kamvar: We feel fine

We feel fine is a lovely new project by Jonathan Harris and Sepandar Kamvar. It scrapes blogs, Myspace accounts and similar social networking systems, looking for the sentence fragments “I feel” and “I am feeling”, recording the sentence and the context they appear in, including photographs in the case of Flickr entries. The result is a massive dataset of feelings and moods combined with demographic data.

Written in Processing, We feel fine is a delightful combination of data mining and typographic treatment. Like Golan Levin’s The Dumpster, it is at once poetic and somehow serious. The playful use of color and typography supports the content of the piece, making it both beautiful and wondrous to explore.

While We feel fine goes a little further than The Dumpster in trying to project scientific axis on the data, both projects make a claim at scientific impact which is not really held up by the work. Ultimately, both are arbitrary visualizations of data which is hardly quantifiable. The success of these works (and they are successful) then stems from their ability to project a snapshot of human emotions in multitudes of permutation, as evidenced on blogs and social networking services. While the viewer may get a slight insight from the axis on which the data can be projected, the sheer size of the dataset is much more signficant in its impact on the audience.

Jonathan Harris presented at the OFFF Festival yesterday. See his site for his other visualization projects. Sepandar Kamvar founded a search engine called Kaltix, which was acquired by Google. He is a consulting assistant professor of Computational Mathematics and Engineering at Standford.