Art & Technology

I’m really fond of building big systems for performance and art with friends. We usually end up in a cat and mouse game, where the technology defines what happens artistically and the art inspires the technology to grow and change. It takes a fairly large system before this kind of experimentation makes any sense, because constraints of the technology must impose certain natural qualities on the performance. These “natural” qualities don’t really exist unless the technology is fairly complex. For example, one could take a computer viewing this website and probe a single pin of the CPU. There is a “natural” output of the computer on that pin: a long stream of high and low voltages or 0s and 1s. A computer is so complex that is it nearly impossible to precisely control the the voltage on a random pin on the CPU (alright, it’s possible, but not on a machine viewing this site!). So there’s a really complex system, but not a great one for art, because we want to have some ability to express our feelings (or something like that) with the systems we build. So the challenge is making a system that naturally produces something meaningful.

A very simple example of this is paint on canvas. A painter does not work with oil paint in the same way as water colors because oil paint does things naturally that change how the painter thinks about what is being expressed. We don’t often think about modifying the chemical makeup of oil paint to make it change color or texture based on one’s mood, but that’s what people like to do with technology and performance. So it all gets very interesting!

A more complex example is how accelerometer data can be used to trigger audio and control its spatialization, but the type of analysis of the accelerometer data and the capability of the spatialization system greatly change how a sound designer might create  with such a system. Once there laws of physics and math involved, it’s possible to take advantage of naturally occurring phenomena to do some pretty interesting things!

So that’s how I view sound design and computationally “generated” works. The first question is always: could we replace this with a random number generator without people realizing? If the answer is yes, then it’s cool but not something I’m really interested in. I like to manipulate systems that exist to produce something with clear intention.

Uh, all of that is a bit abstract, but it’s what I like to think about. I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m more of a tinkerer! But, there is a point that we often reach where it’s possible to wield very complex technology as simply as a paint brush. That’s the really, really fun part because you think and execute like an artist while working in a medium that’s completely unique.