“For the ‘One Hundred Billion Sparks’ album project I want to tell a story of our one hundred billion sparking neurones, and the magic which they create: our minds. Early in the story I aimed for the “nuts and bolts” of the processes involved, but not in the sense of showing a neuroscience lecture, I want to find the artistry and beauty of the natural processes involved.
Those are what make the richest visuals for my videos and live shows. Following this reasoning, one idea which came along, was to visualise a “Turing-complete” machine, which is a computer that is capable of performing any computation. This means the design of the computer is versatile enough to allow for any logical operation, within the constraints of the sorts of logical operations our usual computers can do. David Deutsch, amongst others, makes a convincing argument that human brains must also be universal computers in this sense, in his interesting new book ‘The Beginning of Infinity’. So I have some rough grounds at least, for making this link between brains and computers for the purpose of trying to get some hint of the visual essence of thought.
The interesting aesthetic link comes in via the work of Stephen Wolfram, from his 2002 book, ‘A New Kind of Science’, where he shows that simple “cellular automata” models, growing blocks of binary colour following simple rules, can create rich behaviours in their growth patterns, and even yield a system capable of Turing-completeness. Following a systematic exploration of the simplest possible rules governing cell duplication, Rule 110 is the first rule which displays Turing-completeness and is the simplest visual system that I know of which embodies this attribute.
The really interesting thing is that Rule 110 also displays a very particular visual aesthetic, that of a combination of order and chaos, never totally predictable or totally random. For me, that potential artistic/aesthetic link to universal thought is pretty amazing, and it’s also an aesthetic/property which appears in many other important places in nature (for example https://maxcooper.net/the-nature-of-nature), as well as being one of the main principles of my approach to music, where a healthy dose of disorder is always important.
After settling on this visual form for the project, I needed to create a piece of music which suited the retro blocky nature, which is something akin to Tetris. My immediate thought was big gated reverb snares and powerful classic synths. It had to be bold and clean in one the large scale, but also full of generative unpredictability.
It all fit nicely with what I like to do anyway, and just pushed me in a slightly more poppy direction than anything else on the album. The initial focused time was spent finding the killer chord sequence and bold patch, then setting up a generative seething chaos of synthesis with plenty of random waveforms and modulations, then a long time on the arrangement detailing with more than 100 layers of sounds. I finally added a vocal from Wilderthorn, which I chopped into destruction, just there to add a little hint of humanity in amongst the computation.
The final step in the process was to chat to the great visual artist, Raven Kwok, about the ideas and what I would like from the video. I was really happy when Raven showed me that he wasn’t just going to make an artistic interpretation of Rule 110, but had actually built his own version of the real system!
So the video shows an authentic pattern-generation of Rule 110, where we can see moments of repetition and pattern, but never in perpetuity, it always returns to disorder. The colours and 3-dimensional explorations are Raven’s extension of the basic system.
I still find it counter-intuitive that a simple deterministic system like this can yield undecidability in the content of its output, and I find it inspiring that this property relates to universal computation. It seems to me, at least, like the finest artistry.”
“At 42 years old, Charlie Brooker is settling into his middle age, but in the world of current affairs, where few male presenters under 50 occupy top jobs, he’s basically a small angry child. At 66, Jon Snow is far closer to the likes of John Humphrys (70) and James Naughtie (62) at the Today programme, Jeremy Paxman (63) at Newsnight, Andrew Neil (64) at This Week and the Sunday Politics, or Question Time’s 75-year old David Dimbleby. The few female presenters on these shows are allowed – compelled even – to be under 50, but current affairs output remains dominated by 50- to 70-something white men. This even extends to the pundits – a very small proportion of panelists on Question Time are under 40, and those under 30 are treated virtually as cultural curiosities to be gawked at or patronised. Owen Jones’s TV career seems – through no fault of his own – to be predicated on the idea that by giving him a say, broadcasters have somehow ticked the ‘under 30’ box, as if one guy can somehow be the ‘voice of a generation’.”
I’m 42 in a few months.
I really enjoyed Andrew’s book. I thought I knew about the structure (and structures) of the Internet, but this is is a detailed, critical and fun illumination which quickly proved me mistaken. It’s also a travel book, about an unreal place that spans/permeates real places, lives, spaces. And a wonderful one at that. Highly recommended.
(My emboldening below)
Everything you do online travels through a tube. Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers. Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us. [Location 94]
The Internet is everywhere; the Internet is nowhere. But indubitably, as invisible as the logical might seem, its physical counterpart is always there. [Location 276]
TeleGeography in Washington was asking a computer science department in Denmark to show how it was connected to a university in Poland. It was like a spotlight in Scandinavia shining on twenty-five hundred different places around the world, and reporting back on the unique reflections. [Location 418]
You can demarcate a place on a map, pinpoint its latitude and longitude with global positioning satellites, and kick the very real dirt of its very real ground. But that’s inevitably going to be only half its story. The other half of the story comes from us, from the stories we tell about a place and our experience of it. [Location 485]
“If you brought a sophisticated customer into the data center and they saw how clean and pretty the place looked—and slick and cyberrific and awesome—it closed deals,” said Adelson. [Location 1211]
But it wasn’t the machine’s mystery or power that terrified Adams most. It was how clearly it signified a “break of continuity,” as he puts it. The dynamo declared that his life had now been lived in two different ages, the ancient and the modern. It made the world new. [Location 1826]
He counted off the zeros on the screen. “This point is the millisecond … this point is the microsecond … and this one is usually expressed as nanoseconds, or billionths of a second.” I mulled all the zeros on the screen for a moment. And when I looked up, everything was different. The cars rushing by outside on Highway 87 seemed filled with millions of computational processes per second—their radios, cell phones, watches, and GPSs buzzing inside of them. Everything around me looked alive in a new way: the desktop PCs, the LCD projector, the door locks, the fire alarms, and the desk lamps. [Location 2045]
Nearly universally, they wore black T-shirts and zip-up hooded sweatshirts, handy for spending long hours on the hard floor of the server rooms, facing the dry exhaust blast of an enormous router.[ocation 2378]
The Internet “cloud,” and even each piece of the cloud, was a real, specific place—an obvious reality that was only strange because of the instantaneity with which we constantly communicate with these places. [Location 3159]
The Internet had no master plan, and—aesthetically speaking—no master hand. There wasn’t an Isambard Kingdom Brunel—the Victorian engineer of Paddington Station and the Great Eastern cable ship—thinking grandly about the way all the pieces fit together, and celebrating their technological accomplishment at every opportunity. On the Internet there were only the places in between, places like this, trying to disappear [location 3183]
The emphasis wasn’t on the journey; the journey pretended not to exist. But obviously it did. [location 3186]
“Want to see how this shit really works?” he asked. “This has nothing to do with clouds. If you blew the ‘cloud’ away, you know what would be there?” Patchett asked. “This. This is the cloud. All of those buildings like this around the planet create the cloud. The cloud is a building. It works like a factory. Bits come in, they get massaged and put together in the right way, then packaged up and sent out. But everybody you see on this site has one job, that’s to keep these servers right here alive at all times.” [location 3268]
“If you lose rural America, you lose your infrastructure and your food. It’s incumbent for us to wire everybody, not just urban America. The 20 percent of the people living on 80 percent of the land will be left behind. Without what rural America provides to urban America, urban America couldn’t exist. And vice versa. We have this partnership.” [location 3299]
Some of the smartest tech products of the year also came from enterprising young companies. Jawbone and fuseproject, both based in San Francisco, collaborated on the development of the UP wristband, which uses tiny motion sensors to monitor the wearer’s sleep, diet and exercise. A London design group, Berg, caused an online sensation when it introduced the Little Printer, a cute device that scours the Internet for information likely to interest its owner, and then prints it out.
Here I am sat like an rumpled, bearded stooge while it seems a city is carved with light from a block of aerogel in front of me.
Insanely-proud of being even peripherally-involved in this piece of work from Timo, Jack, Cam, Matt B., and Beeker.
I think this might be my new avatar image…
The year of the papernet continues a-pace!
Very exciting this morning to see the first edition of The Incidental, a project done for the British Council by Schulze&Webb, Fromnowon, Åbäke and others, for the Salone Di Mobile furniture and design event in Milan, which is about the biggest event in the product design world
I was lucky enough to get contacted by Daniel of Fromnowon early on in the genesis of the project, when they were moving the traditional thinking of staging an exhibition of British product design to a service/media ‘infrastructure intervention’ in the space and time of the event itself.
Something that was more alive and distributed and connected to the people visiting Salone from Britain, and also connecting those around the world who couldn’t be there.
From the early brainstorms we came up with idea of a system for collecting the thoughts, recommendations, pirate maps and sketches of the attendees to republish and redistribute the next day in a printed, pocketable pamphlet, which, would build up over the four days of the event to be a unique palimpsest of the place and people’s interactions with it, in it.
One thing that’s very interesting to me is using this rapidly-produced thing then becomes a ‘social object’: creating conversations, collecting scribbles, instigating adventures – which then get collected and redistributed. A feedback loop made out of paper, in a place.
We were clearly riffing on the work done by our friends at the RIG with their “Things our friends have written on the internet” and the thoughts of Chris Heathcote, Aaron and others who participated in Papercamp back in January. In many ways this may be the first commercial post-papercamp product? Or is it an unproduct?
Anyway – very pleased to see this in the world. The team in Milan is working hard to put it together live every night from things twittered and flickered and sketched and kvetched in the galleries and bars. It seems they turned it around in good time, with the distributors going out with their customer-designed delivery bags and bikes at 8am this morning…
Can’t wait to see how the palimpsest builds through the week, and also how ideas like this might build through events throughout the year.
Action-at-a-distance = Magic!
I thought that delivering my webstock talk, and finishing reading Welcome To Mars, Cold War Modern and The Bomb while on holiday would let me escape my obsession with the post-war and the high-modern. I had reckoned without James Coburn.
Tom Armitage picked up on my love of the Derek Flint movies, and suggested that I had not really experienced Coburn at the height of his powers until I had experienced him in “The President’s Analyst“. The plot is a thing of gossamer, and the dialogue is probably best described as “very much of it’s time”, but the production designs and way that product and environment is photographed is wonderful.
I watched it on my flight to Etech, and went a little crazy taking screengrabs of every beautiful detail I saw…
The complete set is here, but I want to just point out a couple of wonderful moments.
The classic Cold-War combo of the long fluoro-lit corridor with tiny psuedo golf-cart.
Amphibious vehicles and long-zooms…
Headquarters of Corporate Evil, designed by Bruce Goff?
With corporate communications by DePatie-Freleng. (What was the first in this line of ‘hi-modern corporate communications animation vernacular’ as parodied eventually in Jurrasic Park amongst others?)
Look at this… the way they are curled, and nested, and converging to a central control point… This might just be the ne-plus-ultra of command-and-control cybernetics of the cold war meets the high-modern consumer culture!
Close Encounters of the Third Kind was being shown on TV this weekend. I happened across it accidently, and sat glued to it for a couple of hours, realising perhaps how burnt into my subconcious some of the images in it are for me.
I started watching it not for the story (of which there is not much, admittedly) but trying to watch the imagery, the iconography.
So many of my hot buttons pressed! One of the first issues of Starlog I ever bought, about 1978/79 / a classic 2000ad cover by Brian Bolland / The Goodies / Syd-Mead-esque prefabricated pods and silky tracksuits / 1975 NASA Ames /Stanford Torus research illustrations / the italian-supermodern furniture aesthetic of Space 1999 /
I’m currently reading Ken Holling’s excellent “Welcome To Mars”, in which the golden age of flying saucer culture is juxtaposed with the rise of suburbia and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.
One could conside Close Encounters as the end of that trajectory – and the end of other trajectories: the last freak-out LSD scifi, the last ‘serious’ 70’s scifi before/during the starwarsification of the scifi movie.
And the beginning of trajectories: the scifi conspiracy movie, the beginning of the industrial light-and-magic revolution, and an in-joke that would play out more than 25 years later in Alias.
Aside from being lost in the imagery, one piece of dialog I had never heard before floated through as soon as I’d switched on. It’s the scene where a young boy, Barry is about to be abducted.
His mother tries to block all the doors, windows and ducts but cannot stop screws being unscrewed and their hiding place being unwrapped by light, noise and apparent unseen malevolence.
Barry stands smiling, points at the UFOs and cries with joy: “TOYS!!”
Jessica Helfand of Design Observer on Iron Man’s user-interfaces as part of the dramatis personae:
“…in Iron Man, vision becomes reality through the subtlest of physical gestures: interfaces swirl and lights flash, keyboards are projected into the air, and two-dimensional ideas are instantaneously rendered as three and even four-dimensional realities. Such brilliant optical trickery is made all the more fantastic because it all moves so quickly and effortlessly across the screen. As robotic renderings gravitate from points of light in space into a tangible, physical presence, the overall effect merges screen-based, visual language with a deftly woven kind of theatrical illusion.”
“…one notices that the UI doesn’t get in the way of the action, the flow of the interactions between the bad guy and the captain. Also, there is a general improvement in the quality of the space it seems ? when there are no obtrusive vertical screens in line-of-sight to sap the attention of those within it.”
Instead of the Iron Man/Minority Report approach of making the gestural UI the star of the sequence, this is more interesting – a natural computing interface supports the storytelling – perhaps reminding the audience where the action is…
As Jessica points out in her post, it took us some years for email to move from 3D-rendered winged envelopes, to things that audiences had common experience and expectations of.
Three years on from Firefly, most of the audience watching scifi and action movies or tv will have seen or experienced a Nintendo Wii or an iPhone, and so some of the work of moving technology from star to set-dressing is done – no more outlandish or exotic as a setting for exposition than a whiteboard or map-table.
Having said that – we’re still in tangible UIs transition to the mainstream.
A fleeting shot from the new Bond trailer seems to indicate there’s still work for the conceptual UI artist, but surely this now is the sort of thing that really has a procurement number in the MI6 office supplies intranet…
And – it’s good to see Wheedon still pursuing tangible, gestural interfaces in his work…