Thursday, August 20, 2009

Email To Real Mail Converter

I like this idea for an iPhone app, "Shoot It". You take a picture on your iPhone, and they print it out and send it as a postcard for you.

My favorite part is that this is an "algorithm" that involves both automated and non-automated actions. There are real people involved in pushing a postcard around. I'd like to start a service that send letters for you. You would send an email to a specific address, include a mailing address, and we would print out and mail the letter for you.

This service actually exists in reverse for older folks that don't want to deal with the internet. They can have a service print out emails for them, and send out their handwritten letters as emails.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Every Every Icon

John F. Simon Jr.'s "Every Icon" iterates through all the 32x32 black and white icons at approximately 100 icons per second. Sintron's "God's Eye" iterates through all the 800x600 color images at 97,000 images per second. Jim Campbell's "The End" iterates through grayscale images using custom electronics. Leonardo Solaas' "Magic Mirror" iterates through every 720x576 color image at 25 images per second.

I propose a meta-Every Icon, "Every Every Icon". This work will include all of the above works, as well as any other variations that may be dreamed up in the future. It will accomplish this by iterating through every possible resolution, at every possible framerate, for every possible bit depth, in every possible order.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Negativity of Noise

In "Noise", Jacques Attali proposes that noise is a simulacrum of murder.

We must establish two things: First, that noise is violence: it disturbs. To make noise is to interrupt a transmission, to disconnect, to kill. It is a simulacrum of murder. Second, that music is a channelization of noise, and therefore a simulacrum of the sacrifice. (p 26)

He goes on to provide a technical description for the uninitiated:

A noise is a resonance that interferes with the audition of a message in the process of emission. A resonance is a set of simultaneous, pure sounds of determined frequency and differing intensity. Noise, then, does not exist in itself, but only in relation to the system within which it is inscribed: emitter, transmitter, receiver. Information theory uses the concept of noise (or rather, metonymy) in a more general way: noise is the term for a signal that interferes with the reception of a message by a receiver, even if the interfering signal itself has a meaning for that receiver. Long before it was given this theoretical expression, noise had always been experienced as destruction, disorder, dirt, pollution, an aggression against the code-structuring messages. In all cultures, it is associated with the idea of the weapon, blasphemy, plague. (p 26-27)

I can't deny that there are technical definitions of noise that restrict it to the "undesired portion" of a signal. And I completely understand that a variety of cultures see noises as violent. And that we have an intuitive reaction to them as violent.

But saying that noise "does not exist in itself", and advancing the technical definitions or intuitive folk-definitions as the final word on noise seems narrow minded to me. What about noise in an epistemological context, as a human creation: without humans, there is not only no music, but no noise. It's not that noise requires music in order to be differentiated, but it requires humans to do the differentiation. This act of sound-interpretation and categorization is equally important as our technical and folk definitions.

Furthermore, I reject language like this:

In its biological reality, noise is a source of pain. Beyond a certain limit, it becomes an immaterial weapon of death. The ear, which transforms sound signals into electric impulses addressed to the brain, can be damaged, and even destroyed, when the frequency of a sound exceeds 20,000 hertz, or when its intensity exceeds 80 decibels. Diminished intellectual capacity, accelerated respiration and heartbeat, hypertension, slowed digestion, neurosis, altered diction: these are the consequences of excessive sound in the environment.

I reject it because it's conflating two very different phenomena: noise, and damaging sound. Saying that noise is a source of pain, and then giving examples of loud sounds and high pitched sounds is just giving noise a bad name by association. If I play a Bach chorale at 80 decibels, it's going to do just as much damage as "noise".

Ignoring Africa

I'm always a little surprised when I read things like this:

All music can be defined as noise given form according to a code (in other words, according to rules of arrangement and laws of succession, in a limited space, a space of sounds) that is theoretically knowable by the listener. Listening to music is to receive a message. Nevertheless, music cannot be equated with a language. Quite unlike the words of a language — which refer to a signified — music, though it has a precise operationality, never has a stable reference to a code of the linguistic type. Itis not "a myth coded in sounds instead of words," but rather a "language without meaning." It has neither meaning nor finality. (Noise by Jacques Attali, p 25)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pranks and Pragmatism

Some excerpts from "African Rhythm and African Sensibility" by John Miller Chernoff.

African drumming is renowned for the ability to express the tonal structure of their spoken languages, to the point where rhythms are imbued with complex semantics. A great illustration:

During my first day practicing with Gideon, I was following him well until he suddenly performed a rather complicated series of rhythms and then went back to the basic rhythm he was showing me. A few minutes later a man who passed at that moment returned with two bottles of beer. (p 75)

There is a short passage discussing the difference between "false meaning" and "intended meaning", due to a prank:

Ibrahim Abdulai's son Alhassan, who was assisting in my instruction displayedgreat ingenuity duringan extended prank in which he tried to confude me in my work by inventing false meanings to fit many rhythms in Takai [a dance/beat from the Dagomba in northern Ghana]. Many of the rhythmic styles a Takai drummer beats are played only to make the music more interesting, but the language Alhassan supplied matched the rhythms so perfectly that I began to think Ibrahim was withholding the meanings. When I persisted in my questions, he said, "We have a general name for the whole Takai drumming, but only a few of the rhythms have names. In Zhem [another Dagomba dance/beat, played "during the "installation or funeral of high chiefs"], all the drummers will be making speeches, but in Takai the rhythms are mainly to make the dancers strong. The name given Takai is for the different rhythms combined together, and all the rhythms are equal. Anyone who wants to tell you words for these rhythms is lying. Anytime I want, I can just listen to the sound of the dondon [an hourglass-shaped talking drum] or gondon [sic? "gongon"] and compare the music to something in the Dagbani language [of the Dagomba], but it is not the same as making speeches. As for the styles you have been learning, I am the one who has been bringing all these styles when drumming Takai, and I am the right person to give them meaning, but I have no name for them. So how can another person give them meaning or say that this style says this or that style says that while I was not making speeches when I got those very styles?" (p 76)

Another example is given of a "false meaning" for a dance, Bangumanga, that is regularly accepted by "junior players":

The drum language is Bem bo ma, be pam boma je ("They will search for me, but they will not see me"). One false meaning is Man daa yeli, mam bi lan yeli ("I said it; I don't say it again"). The meaning is a "secret" because of the seriousness of the war. In its truth, Bangumanga recalls the blood that was shed in the war... (p 206)

Sometimes the meaning of rhythms is simple misunderstood.

If you play gagedega instead of gagedegi when executing a phrase on Atsimewu [a tall drum that acts as a lead], or if you miss the pitch when beating a dondon, you may have a more serious mistake than you think. Indeed, one of the reasons why repetition is so important in African music is that repetition of a rhythm often serves to clarify its meaning. When rhythms change too abruptly, the music can lose some of its meaning... (p 80-81)

This tendency to court misinterpretation can be heard just by listening to the complex polyrhythms of any West African dance:

The effect of polymetric music is as if the different rhythms were competing for our attention. No sooner do we grasp one rhythm than we lose track of it and hear another. In something like Adzogbo or Zhe, it is not easy to find any constant beat at all. The Western conception of a main beat or pulse seems to disappear, and a Westerner who cannot appreciate the rhythmic complications and who maintains his habitual listening orientation quite simply gets lost. [...] Actually, if we try to apply Western notions of bars and time signatures, the music seems much more complicated than it really is. [...] The individual rhythms are simple, but the way they are combined can be confusing to Westerners. (p 46-47)
I see these stories as beautiful metaphors for, and examples of:
  • Information having a noisy character (the beer story)
  • The difference between intention in sending and receiving
  • Our ability to find structures that have a different cause than we expect
  • Repetition as the foundation of meaning, a type of contextualization that allows us to separate "signal" from noise
  • The interaction of repetitions producing more complex structures than the sum of their parts (in the case of polyrhythms, it's their least common multiple)
  • Our ability to misunderstand a system based on the wrong contextualization (the last example of Westerners misunderstanding polyrhythms)
  • Combinatorial music in general

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Crowdsourcing Glitches

I'm interested in the possibility of destroying data through natural processes. I've already explored this a bit with Future Fragments, where quotes from friends were carried in their pockets and destroyed over the period of a summer.

Another interesting system that naturally destroys information over time is the human mind (memory). Consider the possibility of crowdsourcing distortion: for example, with Mechanical Turk, create a task that plays a subset of a song that the worker is then asked to repeat. These responses are then averaged to create an approximation of the original tune.

This task takes advantage of our ability to hear melodies. We can also treat the mind as a more generic digital signal processor: ask each worker to recall the midi pitches of each note. Or better: portions of the mp3 encoded audio in hex. Besides the auditory system, we can also take advantage of the visual system. Ask each worker to recall and draw the audio signal (at a sufficient scale).

These tasks would be especially interesting in the case of people like Ben Pridmore, who is able to quickly memorize large amounts of data (e.g.: 364 playing cards in 10 minutes). I imagine his memory slowly degrades. It'd be great to see what a compressed image looks like that is memorized slightly incorrectly, and watch it degrade over time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stars and Bubbles

Astronomers have recently realized that galaxies are distributed in a sort of "frothy" or "bubbly" structure. That is, the large scale structure of the universe can be described as consisting of strings of galaxies with big spaces in between.

A projection of this structure onto the sky of any planet should look highly web-like as well. From these webs, we've created constellations. One of the features that has helped give rise to similar constellations from separate traditions is locality: , the ancient "three stars" asterism from Chinese astrology, matched the belt of the Greek constellation Orion. Within traditions, "guideposts" are also established, creating a coherency to the stellar structures.

Various religious traditions have identified constellations as prophetically or genetically relevant to their beliefs. In 1884, Joseph Seiss laid out his "Gospel In The Stars" system, describing the relevance of the zodiac to Christianity. Authors like John Kotselas will argue that the structures act to justify belief in Christianity. Today, new patterns are identified and the old ones still argued.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Salience as Local Entropy

Based on a suggestion by Romann Weber, regarding an alternative definition of visual salience.

  1. There is an image I comprised of integers in the range R
  2. The probability of a specific value c from R occurring in I, PrI(c), equals the number of pixels with the value c in I divided by the total number of pixels in I
  3. There is an image S that is a sub region within I
  4. The entropy of S with respect to I is equal to the negative sum of PrI(p) * log(PrI(c)) for every pixel p in S
Using this metric, an entire image may be analyzed by moving the sub region S about the image. Also consider different sizes of S, and the possibility of use both a moving S and I within the actual image.