by software artist Scott Draves. You may also follow me on google+ or twitter, buy art, or join me on facebook.

January 27, 2006

Phylogeny of my artwork and my first VJ gig

Almost two years ago this book came out with a section on me and my work (Bomb and Electric Sheep). When it came out I was just happy to be in there. Now rereading this after so long I feel like it really needs clarification. Please excuse that this devolves into reminiscence...
Developed between 1995 and 1997, ... /Bomb /can be aligned with the growing genre of software systems for generating real-time graphics, or just visuals, in conjunction with music; this software has risen out of the cultures of electronic dance music, where visuals are a staple sensory ingredient. Draves uses /Bomb/ and his other graphics software in live performance and cites the rave scene as a contextual influence...
that's mostly true but it seems to make an implication which is really wrong. to clarify: i wrote bomb before i went to anything like a rave or got into electronic music. in my case causation ran the other way: i was invited to my first parties because of my art.

the origin of bomb was personal pleasure. since childhood when i first encountered computers, i have written a series of similar programs (abstract generative animation) using various techniques. this was something i did at home alone in the dark and nobody knew about it. but yes later half-way through "bomb" which i started back in 93 or 94, not 95, i discovered that there is a context where people like to watch this: projected at parties. and bomb was further developed in this context. i didn't go to what i would call a rave until 98.

to put this in context of my development as an artist, i got into the Prix Ars in 1993 when i was a grad student at CMU. i had never heard of it, but i showed an early sheep image to my advisor (andy witkin) and he suggested i send it to them, and handed me the brochure. i think he had been in it the year before. i didn't even attend the exhibition, it didn't seem important to me. but it did attract the attention of a professor in the art department, who invited me to present my work in her class. it was the art students who invited me to project at one of their parties. that was my first time as a VJ and it wasn't even really electronic dance music, more like noise, very industrial (see below for more on this).

so "this software has risen out of the culture of electronic dance music" does not apply to my work. my work was adopted by this culture after the fact. neither does my work rise from complex systems theory, or alife theory. i learned of these things in school and quickly learned their techniques to pursue my existing agenda.

my work rises from asking the question "can i wrote a program that entertains or surprises myself"? and yes, since its humble and egocentric beginnings i have found larger purpose for my work and my life.

Here is something i wrote years ago about this.

Technically, the a-life in /Bomb/ resides at the level of graphics algorithms, most of which are cellular automata. Draves uses a handful of preexisting rule sets, including "brain," a more active variant on Conway¨s Game of Life, and "rug," a rule based on averaging of cell neighborhoods. (Incidentally, "brain" and "rug" were invented by CA explorer, sci-fi author, and noted cyberpunk Rudy Rucker.) Draves¨s important innovation here is in how these rule sets interact with each other in time and space.
this isn't right, Whitelaw jumped to a conclusion because i used the same names for my rules as some classic rules. yes my "brain" and "rug" were inspired by the namesakes, but over time they had become quite generalized, to the point of unrecognizability in the "brain".

but yes, the more important innovation was having multiple CA rules interacting with each other. still unique as far as i know.

As in /Bomb, /the most interesting engagement with a-life here is not the technical details of the system. In fact, /Electric Sheep/ currently makes the barest use of artificial life techniques, by labeling the parameter set a genotype and the graphic output a phenotype. While Draves plans to introduce artificial evolution, the system currently generates new sheep at random; users can, however, vote for favorite sheep, thus increasing their longevity in the flock.
this was written a long time ago -- the sheep have done full evolution since 2003.

continuing the story about my first VJ gig:

i remember a few bits clearly: ed um-bucholtz invited me to project bomb in a room at this party. we had heard that the beaux arts ball, the art students party, was pretty wild. i showed up with my friend nick. on the walk over we had an idea, and during setup i coded it up and compiled it in. i'm not sure if i met ed through the lecture or through a mutual reclusive friend (and in my case, artistic mentor), todd kaufman, aka toad.

i'm also not sure exactly when bomb started. i got the vga interface and CA loop from vga_eyecandy by, and performed with it by early 94 (the beaux arts ball is derived from mardi gras). i am pretty sure bomb was in progress when i visited NYC the preceding fall 93. The first entry in the README is version 0.6 in Jan 1995, so maybe that year the Ball was in the fall and it was really 94 not 93. Posted by spot at January 27, 2006 02:19 PM

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