Live Coding on The BBC

The BBC are running a feature on the livecoding group TOPLAP –

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/8221235.stm

This is great, as TOPLAP and livecoding deserve wider attention. Take a look!

Aesthetic Analysis

An infinite poem generator that finds tweets that rhyme on Twitter. I was talking about doing something like this for lyrics with Furny –

http://www.longestpoemintheworld.com/

The Hacker News discussion of that site has some very useful links to references for computational rhyming –

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=788117

In the comments of this blog below, K. Bender links to their statistical study of the iconography of the goddess Venus in which they discover that artists production of Venus images seems to fit a well known bibliographic equation. You can download the relevant papers (and buy their books) here –

http://stores.lulu.com/benderk

Technical Problems

The perceived lack of psychological content, subjectivity, interiority, or affect is not a problem that concerns me in art computing. It is a deficiency of criticism, not the art under consideration. Software is ultimately made by human beings and its output is experienced by them. Visions of order are psychologically and ideologically interesting if you choose to look into them. Fractals, alife and evolutionary art all have this cognitive and social aesthetic value. Their un-Frankfurt-school-illustrating nature is a feature, not a bug, of their artistic worth.

Much modern art is, like art computing, produced at one remove. Brit Art was not produced by the artists who signed it for the most part but by the same East London foundry. Not only is the work manufactured there but the technical problems involved in realising the work are solved there by someone other than the artist. The same is true of Jeff Koons’s or Damien Hirst’s manufacturing teams.

This disconnect between the solving of technical problems and the experienced aesthetics of artworks is a problem that can and does affect some art computing. Historically progressive artworks consist in no small part of the solutions to the technical problems of their own construction. These are artistic, aesthetic, representational, material technical problems involved in the work of making the artwork. Their resolution can be seen in the finished work. The value of the artist is in solving them. How do you depict a riot, heaven, neoliberal economic hyperspace? Not with charcoal on the walls of your cave.

The bureaucratic, economic or unseen technological problems of making an artwork are not aesthetically interesting. They can be drawn in and animated by the artwork in order to criticise its environment, they can be used as indexes or signifiers, but talking about them is not a substitute for the artwork showing them. To add to rather than detract from the artwork, technical problems must be what making the artwork itself consists of and in; problems of representation or realisation rather than problems of preparation or administration. Their solution is an exercise of artistic skill and is part of the uniqueness and thereby the validity of the artwork.

Technological affordances are the opposite of non-artistic technical problems. If technology suddenly allows you to do something, making art that way does not solve technical problems encountered in artistic production. It simply illustrates the new technique. Technological affordances can be used to solve technical problems, but this is unlikely or at best trivial if it only involves the presets. The problems must come from demands made by and on the artwork, the solutions must come from the artist’s practice. Technology may be the medium or the subject of art, but it cannot be the cause.

The technical problems of creating a technological environment in order to support making art, whether in hardware or software, compare to studio clean-up and are not of interest if they cannot be seen as part of the finished work. The technological affordances of third-party software and hardware are not of interest if they are not used to solve artistic technical problems other than the ones they have been pre-packaged to solve. Demo culture detracts from art (I mean tech demos, not the “demo scene”).

Fractal, evolutionary and alife art might seem to fall foul of this. They are novel concepts implemented in code. But they take little code to produce and its results can be seen on the screen. They are the realisation of theories of order that touch on ideological concerns such as the social darwinism, reductionism and visual order of the 1970s and 1980s. I believe that this makes them of greater interest than simple negativist visual critiques of the same ideas, or at least that they are a useful bad conscience for any attempt to un-self-critically lionise those ideas.

Historically progressive, artistically and socially worthwhile art computing would have to exist somewhere between mere technological problem solving external to the finished artwork and mere technological affordances entirely determining the finished artwork. That is, somewhere between PhotoShop presets and heroically hacking endless code just to paint the screen blue.

This somewhere between is at the level of producing the least code required for the greatest effect in the experienced artwork. Given the current state of computer technology, with millions of lines of source code available online as Free Software and hundreds of sources of data and computation exposed online as web services, hacking on existing code (editing it, not cracking it) and producing enough new code ¯to solve technical problems in the production of the artwork but not enough that the production of code becomes the hidden part of an iceberg of which the experience of the artwork is just the tip is probably the current sweet spot for art computing.

Writing this, I realise that this is how we approached art computing at the Centre For Electronic Art at Middlesex University in the 1990s. Students were provided with code frameworks to build on and modify to make work, and with the skills to study and extend those frameworks as needed. I didn’t write this essay to work backwards to the CEA as an ideal model, but it was a very successful model.

Weaponized Aesthetics

I’ve been looking for examples of offensive (as in attacking) military use of aesthetics. Dazzle ships and pop music torture are all I can find so far. The IDF’s use of Situationist theory comes close.

In literature there are examples such as the hypnomats Jerry Cornelius’s father built into his fake Le Corbusier Chateau in “The Final Programme” by Michale Moorcock or the free-will-destroyingly addictive entertainment of “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace.

I think I’m relieved that I can’t find more real-life examples, but I’d be interested to hear if anybody knows of any more.

Windows 7 Sins

When I first heard about Windows 7 Sins I didn’t like the idea. But then I saw the website, read the arguments, and I found the whole approach very effective.

Take a look here –

http://windows7sins.org/

I’ve been following people’s reactions to the campaign’s launch on identi.ca. Reaction has mostly been positive, but there have been some criticisms.

I’ve seen comments complaining that it’s a negative campaign. That is, people being negative about it. If it’s OK to criticise things, it’s OK to criticise things, so I find those complaints self-refuting.

And I’ve seen some complaints
about the design. Which means the design is getting people’s attention. The layout and the JavaScript on the page are excellent in my opinion, and the use of colour gets your attention.

To answer another comment, the FSF does positive campaigning that emphasizes the advantages of Free Software every day. Asking for examples of events that are positive ignores the rest of the FSF’s work. But sometimes you need to answer other people’s arguments, and Microsoft are spending an awful lot of time and money arguing that Windows 7 is a good thing at the moment. From the point of view of free software it patently isn’t, and if the FSF remained silent in the face of this then we would have something to complain about.

Art, Statistical Modelling, Normativity

Cross-referencing David Bowie’s songs against their chart success to produce a perfect Bowie song – http://newslite.tv/2009/08/26/scientist-writes-ideal-david-b.html

For me that song is “Ashes To Ashes”, though. 😉

If art is ideologically normative representation then this US Military simulation of the world is contemporary art of the highest order – http://therearenosunglasses.wordpress.com/2009/08/22/sentient-world-war-games-on-the-grandest-scale/

And the brain may be a Bayesian Probability engine (much as it used to be clockwork, or a computer?) – http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/the_prophetic_brain/

The layered feedback model of perception has long made sense to me from my study of art, and I think that Minsky’s “Society of Mind” is an idea worth revisiting with a statistical rather than rule-based basis.

Affect Mining

Extracting affect (or sentiment) from electronic text is a hard problem, and it’s difficult to persuade people just how hard it is. The Manhattan Times has an article that explains just how difficult it is, and has lots of useful links to projects and resources. The stand-out link is to Lillian Lee’s paper “Opinion mining and sentiment analysis“.

The first project I became aware of that tackled emotion online was We Feel Fine, which uses blogs as its source. More recent systems tend to use Twitter, such as http://twittermood.org/ which has useful links to the essays  “Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression” and “Detecting Sadness in 140 Characters” in its references.

And it’s an older book now but Rosalind Picard’s “Affective Computing” is still a useful resource, particularly for its study of emotional taxonomies.

Durian – New Blender Movie

The Blender Foundation have previously made two short computer animated films codenamed Orange and Peach to help drive development of their 3D modelling and rendering software. Earlier this year they announced a third codenamed Durian. Very little is known about it at this point but I’ve every confidence it will be as distinctive and as well-made as the first two (which I reviewed for Furtherfield).

Not just the final films but all the modelling and other files used to make the films are included in the DVD and online releases of each project. Everything from the film is licenced under Creative Commons’s Attribution licence, and all the improvements to Blender are under the GPL. It’s a great contribution to free culture and free software, and although some of the costs are covered by sponsorship it’s also partly paid for by pre-sales of the DVDs.

You can see the announcement here –

http://durian.blender.org/news/durian-project-announcement/

The project’s blog is here –

http://durian.blender.org/

And you can pre-order the DVD(s, there’s 3 of them in the box) here –

http://www.blender3d.org/e-shop/product_info_n.php?products_id=120

The DVDs are sent out before the film is released online. Order now and get your name in the credits at the end of the film!

Quantifying The Canon

Dissecting the Canon: Visual Subject Co-Popularity Networks in Art Research

Fascinating (pdf) paper on the mathematical analysis of art history, finding long tails and sub-tails of works and subjects and uncovering interesting geographical data about the most popular works in the artistic canon as represented through a corpus of art historical texts.

Quantitative Iconography

This is clearly intended just as a bit of fun, but it is also a good example of using statistical methods to analyse images –

http://io9.com/5340578/proof-that-every-fantasy-book-cover-must-contain-a-sword