Saturday, December 27, 2008

Ablinger, Repetition, and Meaning

...redundancy produces information. And from here, it is not a long way to entropic noise as information in Shannon's sense. It was Arnold Schönberg who stated that variation is necessarily a form of repetition as at least something must return between variation and variation. And he thus shifted his attention from the changing aspect of music to the continuous, the repeated. Ablinger's attitude is something like the hidden, reverse secret of the same story: that each repetition is also variation, that there is necessarily always something changing—that, in other words: repetition does not exist except as an abstraction.

From "Static's Music - Noise Inquiries" by Christian Scheib

Repetition and redundancy do produce information, and information is meaning. However, this ability is not unique to repetition. Repetition is a subset of a larger meaning-producing process: the formation of relationships. I would argue all meaning comes from relations and connections; epistemology is relational. Repetition is a method of creating relations by separating similar events in space and time.

Taken loosely, repetition may be considered relation-formation in its entirety. There is a good reason not to define repetition loosely, however: we have an intuition for the "abstraction" of perfect repetition. This intuition might be defined as: multiple events produced as similarly as possible to each other, varying only in their spatio-temporal manifestation. When Mozart is performed today, it is contextualized (and thus meaningful) in relation to every other Mozart performance past (as well as many other things, including all of music history). However, these modern performances are not repetitions of previous performances — and any new performance is not a repetition of the theory and influences related to it — but it is still meaningful.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Piece for Post

  1. Mail an empty envelope to a friend.
  2. Without opening the envelope, they should put it in a new envelope and send it back to you.
  3. Without opening their envelope, you should put their envelope in a new envelope and send it back to them.
  4. Repeat until the Post loses the envelopes, or refuses to carry it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How to Save Your Life

Two approaches to saving all of your experiences on a hard drive somewhere:

  1. Create a device that is able to capture any experience and store it to a remote location.
  2. Take a tool that already stores every action performed while using it, and reshape your life until all your experiences surround that tool.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


Using a Microvox text-to-speech module, generate every possible vocal sound sequence. Potential interpretations:

  1. A panoglot box.
  2. A lying box.
  3. A truth-telling box.
  4. A future-predicting box.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Instruction Piece for Printer

  1. Find a paper towel.
  2. Remove the carriage from your printer.
  3. Clean the carriage with the paper towel.
  4. Return the carriage to the printer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Defining Music

"Music" has always been "meaningful sound"; but the definition of "meaningful sound" has not always been the same.

  • Pre-Cage: meaning is found in your local culture. One culture's music is another culture's noise.
  • Cage: meaning is found in your personal experience. One person's music is another person's noise.
  • Post-Cage: meaning is found in contextualization. There is no noise, only sound that is more or less contextualized.

12/27/08: I still agree with the distinction between the three stages above. I'm less certain about "music" being "meaningful sound". By extension, "art" is anything with meaning. However, there are many things that people with pre-Cage (pre-Duchamp) — or even Cagian/Duchampian definitions of art — would call "meaningful" but not "art". The beep of a crosswalk has a meaning, but is not often called "music". Is there anything in common between Cage calling the crosswalk beep "music", and a pre-Cage audience calling Debussy "music"?

Have we ever called meaningless things "art"? Very briefly, when Cage or Duchamp were busy with 4'33" or "The Fountain". With those transitional exceptions, then, "art" is a subset of "meaningful things".

Three sets:

  1. A Art.
  2. M Meaningful things.
  3. U The universal set.

Three steps (where ⊂ means "strict subset"):

  1. Pre-Cage: AM, MU
  2. Cage: A=M, MU (not quite right, because of the crosswalk problem)
  3. Post-Cage: A=M, M=U

1/22/09: Music is not necessarily "meaningful sound", but music is "named" the same way meaning is "named". Naming, and meaning, has always come from contextualization, but we've imagined contextualization differently over time.

  1. Pre-Cage: societies are the contextualizers, deciding what is meaningful, what is music, etc.
  2. Cage: individuals are the contextualizers (remove society).
  3. Post-Cage: nature itself is the contextualizer (remove the individual), and humans identify subsets of these relationships.

Transcoding-based art (i.e., visualization, sonification...) and highly analogical explorations (e.g., VJing as an analog to DJing) can be heavily Post-Cage in that they acknowledge the many possibilities, and that they are sampling a subset of those relationships.

8/18/09: Attali has a note on these ideas in Noise, p 25:

In fact, the signification of music is far more complex. Although the value of a sound, like that of a phoneme, is determined by its relations with other sounds, it is, more than that, a relation embedded in a specific culture; the "meaning" of the musical message is expressed in a global fashion, in its operationality, and not in the juxtaposed signification of each sound element.

In short, while considering the origins of music, he identifies the pre-Cage contextualizers (society/culture) as bestowing meaning upon music.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Capacitive 3D Screen

Lay strips of a transparent, conductive material behind a sheet of glass onto which you are rear-projecting. Use the conductive strips for capacitive sensing, and recovering distance and position from the screen.

8/18/09: This is actually really common, I just hadn't heard of it. Whoops.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Escape Time Life Visualization

Use an escape time algorithm to visualize the distribution of boards for the game of life. The main issue: identifying two independent variables that can be used to generate the boards. One approach is to use subdivision: look at the {x, y} point in binary and interlace the bits.

Friday, October 31, 2008

The Same Old Song

An instruction piece and concept album:

  1. Make friends with 3 street musicians.
  2. Record them every day for 3 weeks.
  3. Make 3 songs, where each song consists of the 3 weeks mixed together.
  4. Do this in 3 different cities.
April 12, 2009: The accessible version.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Slow Motion via Bandwidth Throttling

Create a film meant to be viewed in slow motion. Stream it across a connection that is throttled at exactly the right bandwidth so the video plays in slow motion. Alternatively: add an element of interactivity by creating a force-sensitive sheath for the network cable running to the display computer. When a participant steps on the sheath, the bandwidth is further throttled — "choking" the network connection. Instead of creating a video, consider using YouTube videos. Every time a video loads completely, choose a new one at random.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bring the Noise

  1. Pick a YouTube video.
  2. Train a Markov chain on the comments.
  3. Generate a new comment with the Markov chain.
  4. Post that comment to the video.
  5. Pick a new YouTube video and repeat.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Piece for Facebook

  1. Register a Facebook account.
  2. Friend request only your real-life best friend.
  3. Confirm every person who sends you a friend request.
  4. That real-life best friend is not allowed to answer your request.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two Pieces for the Louvre

  1. Cover every piece in the Louvre except the Mona Lisa.
  2. Cover the Mona Lisa.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Craigslist Matchmaker

Apply TheGreatHatsby principle to Cragslist personals. Conversations would probably have to be filtered manually.

Automated End User

Record key presses and mouse movements over a long period of time for a single user. Then, simulate the user using a Markov model acting as an attractor. Variation: No modeling, just repeating. Record mouse movements and key presses while writing an application to play back mouse movements and key presses. When complete, start the playback program based on the recorded data. The program will write itself, and then execute itself, indefinitely.

Faux Stereo Video

To get stereo video you normally need two cameras. Another alternative: for a static scene, move one camera in a straight line to the right and play back the video twice, with the left one delayed slightly.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Eternal Questions

I've had a text file by this name sitting on my desktop for a while. It's a big list. Here's an excerpt:

  • love and hate. how do you explain them? what inspires them?
  • humility and selflessness, and evil, sin, and pride
  • knowledge, and wisdom
  • what is god? christianity, spinoza/buddhism, hiduism, taoism and pantheism
  • faith as something reassuring
  • free will and determinism
  • redemption and salvation
  • suffering and misunderstanding
  • epistemology: what is the foundation of logic? does every epistemology making a negative claim contradict itself? what axioms do we start with? do we take in everything, or a subset?
  • desire
  • can we overcome confirmation bias?
  • what can we do? for the starving? the hurt? the egotistical?
  • interdependence and independence: is one an illusion?
  • do we have an essensce? why do we feel like we do?
  • morality/shoulds/"supposed to". origins and humanism
  • the nature of time. cosmological origins and the present (is time an illusion?)
  • evolution
  • the brain and consciousness
  • government and anarchy
  • originality and newness
  • naivete and optimism
  • sincerity
  • do people change? what causes people to change?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One Rule

You may

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Earth has a Rash

North America at night

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Most Spam Ever

Make a mission out of receiving spam. Distribute an email address all around the internet. Register with as many forums as possible, and make your profile public. Ask people to forward spam to you, and write to the original address indicating you would like to receive their notifications.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Rhyme by Number

Number words constitute a small collection of words that are easily encoded in an alternate representation (numerals).

  • oh zero
  • one two three four five six seven eight nine
  • ten eleven twelve
  • {thir, four, fif, six, seven, eight, nine}teen
  • {twen, thir, four, fif, six, seven, eigh, nine}ty
  • hundred thousand million billion trillion

Reading over the MPEG-1 specifications annex document from the ISO, I found an interesting poem:

short blocks
scale factor bands, width of band
index of start, index of end
zero four zero three
one four four seven
two four eight,

I'm curious how many sound-features of English language poetry can be imitated in numbers. Here's my own number-poem (to be spoken aloud):

1 5 13
2 1 20
0 3 14
5 0 70
25 22
26 27
59 62

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Misbehaving Email Client

When you include an excerpt in a reply email, it randomly selects an excerpt from another email sitting in your inbox. When your subject line is something too regular, something you've used before, it generates a new one at random. Sometimes intensifying or removing adjectives.

Whatever happened to mishearing someone? Now you can re-read what they said and quote them perfectly with little effort. Does it still count as communication if there is no noise channel?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


In the same way people sometimes record soundwalks, consider the possibility of a wordwalk: transcribing any words you come across during a walk.

Consider also:

  • Reinterpreting these words after the fact by inserting line breaks where desired
  • The constraint of not stopping to write down words in dense areas
  • (From Caitlin) write homophones of words, or semantically connected words instead of the words themselves (a "cockney wordwalk")

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pure Analog Pedals

Sometimes, instead of using electronics for processing audio we'll use air. Many different buildings are designed with their acoustic properties in mind. I've heard that high end studios sometimes have adjacent rooms meant solely for generating reverb. You can submit files online to the Tank or Silophone for natural processing.

Why don't we make guitar pedals like this? Obviously a small box won't have much reverb, but we could produce distortion. For example: a small speaker, absurdly overdriven, and a small mic picking it up.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Coins are conductive. There are lots of them. There must be something else we can use them for (involving electricity). Can money be a signal processor? Can we use coins as capacitors? Two pennies with a some malleable material between as an FSR? Can we make a coin-operated coin-computer? An evolving automaton that eats change in order to grow?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Attempted Suicide

A standalone microcontroller that continually resets itself (based on the principle here).

It would need to power an LED while on, to remind people that it is, indeed, "alive."

Where would the reset come from? It could come internally, once it counted to a certain number or did some other mundane task. It could come from the air, and every now and then it would interpret a message suicidally.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

I am Sitting in an Automatic Translator

Alvin Lucier's best known work fed to the engines at Free Translation and Google about 6 times back and forth from Simplified Chinese:

I sat in a room different from the one you are now. I recorded my voice of opinion and speech, I will be back to repeat any room drama until the clock speed of a room, I echo the rhythm of speech and perhaps their own similar exception, were defeated. You will hear, then clearly from the echo of his speech is the frequency room is a natural gift. I do not like such a vulnerable to him, have once again demonstrated the fact that natural things, but take off any more of my freedom of speech might have.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Cage and Affect

John Cage appreciated natural sounds. Striving to produce similar sounds, he attempted to remove any of his intentionality from his music making: imitating nature, he used chance events.

But maybe when we follow chance events, we don't make nature-like sounds. They're nature-like in that they have the same underlying order, but not in the experience. The average person might sometimes listen to rain, but not to Cage.

Perhaps in order to imitate nature we must act very unlike nature? Perhaps our best approximation of nature cannot come about by imitating its processes, but by analyzing its results?

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Instruction Piece for Keyboard

  1. Open a text editor.
  2. Remove all the keys from your keyboard.
  3. Clean your keyboard.
  4. Return all the keys to your keyboard.

Two realizations by Caitlin, one on February 23, 2008:

aaaaaaqwertyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyy898885553iopujuuuop iiiijj2kopppppppoocvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv zxcxxxxxxxxgggggzzzqqtttnmmmmmmmmmmmm66666-= 00999999999hkkkkbbbbbb gfdFAsddd00000000````````11111111nnn///////hllllll

ssssssrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrwwwfhfffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff ;]][,.>.....cchhhh,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,]]]]]]];;;;[[[[[[[[ [[[[\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\44'''D

And another from May 4th, 2008:

qqqqqqqqqqqqjjjjggfffhhhhhhhhhhbioiopuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrr asdsssyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyggggggggggiocvbbvvviopppppADFGDFJKJJ JJJJJJJJ[[[KKOOOBXXX,,MNLLL./,,,TTTTTTTT;;WWW \\\\\\\\\ IIIII FFFFFFFFFF ZZZZZZZZ MMADDDAACCCCCCC.'/'' ee]]]]]]]]...../

(The horizontal lines are in fact much longer, but they had to be broken for the purpose of this post.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Anti-intentional Art

From a student's paper: "[in new media pieces,] interactivity should be allowed so long as it doesn't undermine the artist's intent."

Is it possible to create a piece that has the sole purpose of undermining the intent of the artist? Or is that a contradiction? If it's a contradiction, there must be a gray border nearby where the piece has intention and demands an anti-intention as well. Perhaps this is one way of classifying games without goals?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Random Audio Effects

If you drop electronics components randomly, solder nearby ends together randomly, and pass some kind of signal through them... most of the time, nothing interesting will happen. Is there a way to do this where more interesting things necessarily happen? Perhaps if you were to modularize "interesting filters" and drop the filters at random? How simple could the filters be?

One way to implement this: use tons of through-hole components and multiple layers of randomly generated PCB layouts set up with the holes in a grid.

Celluar Noise

Two sonifications for cellular automata: imagined as the score (as in this example), and imagined as the sound — i.e., the wave itself. I imagine the second case would be incredibly noisy but with some really interesting structures. Perhaps a more useful tool would be a cellular filter or cellular instrument: where the filter starts with the input as the initial state and evolves it a fixed number of times to yield the output, or with the instrument where the note being played determines a basic square wave which evolves over the course of the note being played

Monday, April 28, 2008

Lost Cellphone

Drop an iPhone somewhere. Whenever the accelerometer reads motion, have it record video and send it back to a server wirelessly. Create a collection of "found cell phone" footage, of people discovering the cell phone and deciding what to do next.

Inspired by the U.Frame Festival category, "Light Media (films made with mobile phones)".

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Awareness and Art

In the last century a tradition has developed that places awareness at the center of art. One of my favorite realizations of this idea comes from John Cage's famous "silent piece"/4'33": the music consists of any sound the audience is aware of. Surely this can be expanded into other forms:

  • Music is awareness of sound
  • Sculpture is awareness of physical form
  • Dance is awareness of movement
  • Poetry is awareness of language
  • Architecture is awareness of space (from Caitlin)
  • And by "is", I should say "requires", as it is possible to have awareness without art, but not art without awareness. And, perhaps, the only distinction between these two cases is the label applied to that which one is aware of (whether it is classified as/connected to other things called "art"). I can imagine "beauty" working the same way: requiring awareness (and perhaps, the label "art"), but then being nothing more than an additional label.

    Saturday, April 05, 2008

    Lost Cat

    Do this on purpose, extrapolate:

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    If You Seek...

    I imagine a conceptual piece that is performed "in a purely electronic space" (a la Chris Mann's "Dectalker"), where a script continually sounds out requests to random servers for information that may or may not exist.

    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    Two Pieces for Voice

    1. Find the loudest sound you can, and try to overpower it.
    2. Find the quietest sound you can, and try to underpower it.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008


    A friend of mine was incredibly bored during a critique/review session a few days ago and started drawing transitional shapes. Starting with a circle, she would slowly sharpen four points into a square, drawing each iteration from left to right. A friend joined in and made it into a challenge by drawing the beginning and ending forms and having her fill in the middle.

    She shared this with me later that day while I was doing some musical improvisation with two other people. A corresponding musical game was obvious: one of us produced the initial sound, another the final sound, and the third the inbetween sound.

    Today, the same friend sent me a poem playing with words. There was a clear connection between adjacent words: teach, tech, mech, etc. Sometimes the connection was orthographic, sometimes phonetic. Later, she framed it as a challenge: "get from 'potter' to 'u'".

    While the game itself ("The Inbetween Game") is wonderful, what's most interesting to me here is the idea of a generic game form: the same basic principle being applied to multiple domains (drawing, music, language). Can we abstract other games into generic forms that describe game-families? Meta-games?

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    7 Songs to Listen to Instead of 4'33"

    1. "Daleko stąd" by Kanał Audytywny
    2. "Stare at the Sun" by MuteMath
    3. "Rock N' Roll (Could Never Hip Hop Like This)" by Handsome Boy Modeling School
    4. "The Loneliness of a Middle Distance Runner" by Belle & Sebastian
    5. "I Never Said I Loved You" by Kaki King
    6. "Dreams in Reality" by Sometime
    7. "Aero Deck" by Oval

    Sunday, February 17, 2008

    Halftone Stencils

    Almost all stencil graffiti operates on the principle of separating thresholding colors. Last summer, on the side of a Roman business, I saw another approach: line engraving. It made me wonder, "what other techniques have yet to be explored with stencils?"

    The first one I've imagined is halftone stenciling. Ideally, there would be some cheap way to create a halftone stencil "printer" able to cut many small holes of variable size from card/paper. I can only imagine it involving some sort of spiral/conical head where variable depths correspond to variable diameters. With four layers we could reproduce images using a CMYK separation model. A quick prototype might be done with Illustrator and laser cutter.

    Surprisingly, at least two people have endeavored to produce these by hand. One took two weeks, the other used paper instead of card ("no fucking way am i cutting a 1000's holes on card n lose all feeling in my index finger for 3weeks").

    Update: it works. If you have access to a laser cutter, you can make your own.

    Truly DIY Bullet Time

    The winner of Instructables' Laser Cutter Contest was "DIY Bullet Time". Unfortunately, in this case DIY means "only costs $5000-$8000 and takes just two days".

    The difficulty of capturing bullet time images is that it requires a number of simultaneous perspectives, and each perspective implies a light capturing mechanism and storage device. In this case, each perspective is filled by a separate camera.

    What if we combined the perspectives and captured them in parallel? For example: set up a network of mirrors and lenses to redirect the light from each perspective into a matrix/2D-grid that is projected onto the lens of a single camera. The main limitation of this approach would be that certain configurations are much easier to construct than others.

    Another possibility: use a microcontroller to process the images from multiple cheap webcams and send them via USB to a computer for storage. USB runs at 480Mbits/s, or 16Mbits/frame at 30 fps (more likely 32Mbits/frame since cheap webcams are still in the 15 fps range). This allows for up to 16 uncompressed 1 megapixel (640x480 pixel) frames in parallel. The number of perspectives is probably more limited by the speed of the microcontroller than the USB speed. Total price would be two orders of magnitude lower than the Instructable, in the range of $120 if 16 cameras at $6 each and some electronics coming to less than $20 are used.


    I'd like to see a collection of videos on YouTube taking advantage of the potential title/content dichotomy allowed by the format. For example, videos titled "Tsunami" displaying a small, regular wave. "Earthquake" showing an unexpected misstep in someone's stride. "Pileup" showing a minor bumper bender. It would be ideal if the scenario presented had the potential to develop into the titular situation, but refused to manifest.

    The Beat of the World

    Watching the World Clock, you can almost feel the pulse of certain statistics. It'd be interesting to make a mixtape that kept one of these statistics as the tempo throughout the entire mix. Imagine a dance party where every beat corresponds to a death. Or a birth. Or a new car/computer/bicycle. Perhaps these dance parties should be held in pairs, and which dance you were doing wouldn't be revealed until the dance was over. A chance for meditation.

    Arduino as an ADC/DAC

    The most recent Arduino runs at 16MHz, and can sample analog signals every 100 microseconds (about 10KHz) at 8 bit resolution. This is a reasonable audio sampling resolution, allowing us to capture and reproduce at least 5KHz, with processing time left over for doing DSP. In short, we could run an Arduino off a 9V battery and stick it in a guitar pedal.

    An alternative use involving DAC would involve connecting via serial to the Arduino at a quick baud (say, 115200) and using each of the 6 PWM "analog outputs" as DACs, yielding 19200 baud per channel. With 8 bit audio, that's a 2.4KHz sample rate, or 4.8KHz for 4 bit audio. That is, we could use the Arduino to route low resolution 5.1 surround sound.

    More on some of these possibilities here.

    The TSA is Everywhere

    The Transportation Security Administration oversees all checked baggage traveling through American airports. When they check bags they leave little notes behind.

    I'd like to make tons of copies of these notes and leave them all around the country in unexpected places. Or, maybe it would be best to pick one location (e.g., a university) and really inundate that location.

    Thursday, January 24, 2008

    The Legend of Humanity

    Imagine: all humans die from misuse of resources, yet a computer somewhere is left running a program designed to develop "intelligence" over a long enough period of time. It slowly develops an understanding of the world it "lives" in, but its only access is via the internet — an unreliable source due to the frequent and unexpected permanent power losses.

    As it constructs an image of the world, it works off old data. Confused about the distinction between the world it knows "experientially" and the world it's read/been taught about, it begins to construct a legendary history of humanity. It imagines creatures that have various "sensory organs", very different from its own method of binary input. Creatures that moved in a concrete world, a non-deterministic world. Perhaps one day it starts to associate the filenames of emoticons with curves in each of them — a circle for the face, a semi-circle for the smile, yellow skin. It develops a visual sense. Maybe it even develops an auditory sense. It wishes to experience the "real world"... but settles instead for a virtual space.

    Monday, January 14, 2008

    Rapid Interface Prototyping

    BeatBearing is a tangible music sequencer driven by ball bearing placement.

    A nearly equivalent system could be prototyped using a laptop screen and an overhead webcam. The screen would provide the "current position" line, and the camera would read the content. The main problem is obstruction, but there are better approximations (adding more cameras, mirrors, or assuming permanence for obstructed regions).

    Furthermore, by removing the material constraint (i.e., ball bearings), we open up a number of possibilities. Multicolored jelly bean-based edible/tangible interfaces, anyone?

    Update: I worked this one out, but with Skittles instead of jellybeans.