Crypto Magick

Entirely Unsatisfactory Notes Towards An Imagined Cypherpaganism

The book of nature is encrypted.

Encryption is the production of nature.

Ciphers are deiforms.

De/ciphering is ritual.

Ontology is mathematics.

Universes are sets of objects.

Cryptographic spaces are universes.

Occultation is placing out of sight.

To en-crypt is to place in a crypt.

Events are trapdoors.

Nature loves to conceal herself.

Alice, Bob and Carol are archetypes.

If nature is unjust change nature.

What if nature isn’t natural?


glTF ERC-721 NFTs

What is it?

3D rare digital art made by minting ERC-721 NFT tokens that represent 3D models rather than 2D images.

(Building on by simplifying the approach.)

How does it work?

Add a “model” field to the metadata for an NFT that is a uri pointing to a .gltf model, using only standard (non-extension) glTF features.

Then allow these models to be placed in blockchain virtual worlds. The in-world position of placing the entity representing the token for that model is the origin at which that model is rendered inline.

VR World platforms should enforce that if the owner of a parcel of land or an avatar wishes to attach the model represented by the ERC-721 token they must own, via the same address, both the item that the model will be attached to and the model that will be attached to it.

If you are concerned that this allows the owner of a token to use the same item in different virtual worlds then use an ownership proxy or extend the contract to register its current “location”. But we don’t worry about that for image art NFTs, not yet at least, so I suggest waiting to see if anyone really cares about this for 3D art NFTs.

Why glTF?

It’s a modern standard with reasonable features that is well-supported by the kind of web technologies used to make blockchain virtual worlds.

How do I implement this?

Add the following field to the ERC721 Metadata JSON at the uri returned by tokenURI() for the token:

"model": {
  "type": "string",
  "description": "A URI pointing to a resource with mime type model/* representing the asset to which this NFT represents."

Then set it to a .gltf file.

For the image field of the file, either include an image preview of the model or use the glTF logo. When the image is the glFT logo, a preview must be created from the model file. How can you tell if the image is the glTF logo? If the filename is gltf.(png|svg|jpg), it’s the glTF logo.

But what about…?

Do not worry about anything else.

The token metadata should not include a bounding box, because that can be calculated from the model file and could be incorrectly specified.

Voxel vs. mesh vs. primitive vs. metaball virtual worlds should all inline the same model, and there should be one model per glTF file. That model’s aesthetic is more important than the world’s, that’s part of true digital ownership. If a virtual world wants to voxelize or LOD it, that’s the world’s problem.

Support for proprietary or single-world formats should be frowned on but someone is going to try to embrace, extend and extinguish this at some point. Just ignore them, we don’t need to legislate against that here.

Aesthetics Art Crypto

Tokenized Vickrey Aesthetics

In “Radical Markets”, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl propose a system of universal, permanent second-price “Vickrey Auctions” of land as a mechanism for price discovery on the utility of property and the taxation of the ongoing ownership of that value with a “Harberger Tax” as the means of funding a just, redistributive, state. They call this the “Vickrey Commons”.

Critics of the Vickrey Commons proposal tend to focus on the fact that everywhere is always for sale to the highest bidder rather than the fact that the accompanying tax is intended to ensure socially productive use of property and to securely fund social welfare. From a cypherpunk or cryptocurrency point of view however, the intrusion of the state into property relations is inherently unjust and distortive of social relations. We will return to the redistributive element of the Vickrey Commons later, but for the moment it is its capacity for driving price discovery and productive use that I wish to focus on.

Vickrey Auctions are often used by states to privatise radio frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. Extending this to the visible spectrum, to colour, would be the stuff of satire. But below the state level we do see the inefficient allocation and exploitation of colour and other aesthetic properties in the artworld. We can tackle this using the intelligence of markets and simulated property rights on the blockchain.

Let us first make individual colours, shapes, line and surface qualities and other aesthetic properties representable as non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. These can then be sold. The right to use those properties can then be sold by the owners as fungible tokens.

Compositions of these tokens can then be represented in turn by a secondary layer of non-fungible tokens and usage rights for those expressed by their own higher layer of non-fungible tokens.

This process can be repeated until concrete instances of the expression of asthetic properties are expressed by composing non-fungible tokens from different layers into a non-fungible token that can be treated as unique or, alternatively, editioned using a final layer of fungible tokens.

If we use the Ethereum blockchain for this, the system can be represented as a stack of ERC-721, ERC-1633, ERC-20, and ERC-998 smart contracts.

In the absence of rent or taxes, the owners of non-fungible aesthetic properties can make money by selling those tokens or by releasing and/or re-purchasing fungible tokens that represent them. The optimal strategies for this are outside the scope of this essay, but do involve reacting to demand at different levels for fundamental and derived/composed properties in a timely manner.

Returning to the redistributive aspect of the Vickrey Commons, we can (pre-)sell the fundamental aesthetic properties to one or more foundations that exist to profit from them in order to redisttibute those profits to deserving artistic and/or social causes. It is possible to imagine various ways of structuring those foundations as smart contracts or their payment(s) as domain-specific tokens, although introducing a Tokenized Aesthetic Vickrey Commons currency coin risks the introduction of a central bank-like entity into the system.

Where the foundations’ revenue must go to the authors of works using those properties, this is possible to enforce simply on-chain although avoiding the sybil problem and other issues with on-chain redistribution is much less simple. Where we wish to enforce more complex relations between the work and the foundation we will need aesthetic comparison games, which can be completed onchain but are much more expensive than a simple token check. Where the foundations’ missions are more arbitrary, controls begin to look more like human organization than enforcement through code.

It is not possible to exclude duplicate token contracts on a given blockchain without support for doing so at the protocol level, and in the general case it is impossible across blockchains without protocol support for a cross-chain proof-of-precedence protocol. It is even easier to simply not use these tokens. Why, then would anyone use them?

Anchoring a singular source of these properties through first-mover and network effects may be sufficient to make it authoritative for anyone who wishes to use them. The use of these tokens is then a means of establishing price and authenticity, which if we squint hard is to say it is a means to establish value.

Further objections to this translate neatly into objections to the artworld and schemes to reform or replace it.

Aesthetics Art Crypto

From WART to DeAes

Building on some of the ideas of WART (Wrapped Art) tokens gives us a powerful toolbox for organizing the evaluation and production of blockchain art.

Rather than using a Moloch DAO to decide which ERC-721 contracts to accept tokens from as we could in WART, we can use it to curate a collection of tokenised art directly by voting decide which tokens to purchase, commission, lend and sell as a form of Decentralized Aesthetics (DeAes, pronounced “dais”).

The membership application tribute for joining the DAO can be ERC-721 tokens (unwrapped if we modify the Moloch DAO codebase to directly handle ERC-721 as well as ERC-20 tokens, or else wrapped in the DAO’s own purely internal equivalent of WART) or Wrapped Ether (for the purchase fund). WART itself should not be used for this as it (deliberately) makes selecting artworks for their aesthetic content more difficult.

Each proposal for managing the collection that the membership puts forward to be voted on must fit the stated aesthetic of the DAO, and each member’s votes must evaluate whether that fit is real and appropriate. The DAO’s aesthetic and the interpretation/application strategy used to realize it can be updated through voting proposals, with or without rewards for successfully making the change.

If a DAO member wishes to ragequit they can take art and Ether proportional to their shares. Art allocation strategies for ragequitting can use an internal equivalent to WART, a simple FIFO queue or ERC-721 token, a flat percentage scheme using an agreed-upon source of (pseudo)-randomness, or a more complex combination of or replacement for any of these approaches.

Operationalizing and financializing aesthetic evaluation in this way via investment portfolio management ties art historical development to market signaling in a dynamic and accelerated way, which is to say a mutually beneficial one. This is a radical approach that asks both art historians and financial investors to learn much from each other. Despite this it still cannot reach into the artwork except before the fact in the form of commissions, which extends the history of patronage in a useful way but leaves the frame of the artwork otherwise intact.

We can take this approach further by making the DAO’s voting proposals purely for commissioning or authenticating art, turning the DAO into an artist itself. The former recreates a Koonsian approach to the outsourced fabrication of art, the latter a Kostabian one. The producers of these artworks can be paid in Loot or if the aim of the DAO is to grow by adding like-minded members they can be paid in fully voting shares.

Even where the DAO becomes active in the production of art in this way the edges of the artwork are left intact after its production, securing the interior of the artwork against being connected to market signals. Removing the firewall of the frame rather than routing around it or simply liquidating its contents (an approach I discussed along with the WART proposal) will take still more radical steps.

Art Crypto Projects

Facecoin Cash

Facecoin Cash is a new higher-resolution, lower pixel bit-depth advancement on the original Facecoin.

Facecoin is one of my most popular projects. It’s a good introduction to some of the technical and ideological ideas behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

This new and improved version produces larger, more defined images with clearer “face” identification. It has the same block size though.

See it in action here:

Get the source code here:

Aesthetics Art Crypto Ethereum

WART – Wrapped Art

Wrapped Art (WART) applies the ideas behind Wrapped Kitties to rare art tokens, opening up new possibilities for investment and aesthetics.

The Wrapped Kitties Ethereum smart contract takes CryptoKitties ERC-721 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and gives out its own ERC-20 fungible tokens (WCK) in return, “wrapping” the former in the latter. This makes it easy to buy and sell kitties in bulk, to use kitties in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) applications, or to trade low-valued kitties that one wishes to dispose of for others with more potential value by “unwrapping” the ERC-20 tokens back to (different) ERC-721 CryptoKitty tokens. WCK is credited with giving CryptoKitties a 50% price bump in mid-2019.

Wrapping Rare Art ERC-721 NFTs with ERC-20 Wrapped Art WART tokens would allow the same use cases. It would be a way to get (financial) utility from (financially) under-performing art. Or a way of exploring new artists by swapping NFTs via the contract, either randomly or by seeing which other ERC-721 rare art tokens the contract currently has wrapped and redeeming WART for them accordingly.

The Wrapped Art smart contract should allow tokens from more than one Rare Art platform to be wrapped and unwrapped, both to allow the widest range of tokens to be used for liquidity purposes and to give access to the widest range of artists and works. On a technical level this might require the contract to be centralized in order to manage the list of platform contracts it accepts NFT tokens from, but on balance this is better than tying it to (one version of) one platform or a frozen list of contracts that will rapidly become outdated. To decentralize this while robustly incentivizing the curators to act in the best interests of WART we can instead curate the addition and removal of contracts using a Moloch DAO with WART itself as the membership tribute.

WART gives collectors who don’t have a background in fine art but can follow price charts the ability to shake up their collections. This is both financially and art historically useful, allowing collectors to benefit from access to both financial and aesthetic liquidity as they build their collecting strategy. The blasphemy (for art historians) of art as a fungible asset class and the blasphemy (for financiers) of money as an insufficient sign of value resolve each other here. In doing so they create better signals than the positive feedback loops that would otherwise emerge when purchasing power drives artistic development under the efficient market hypothesis and nothing else.

It might appear that WART turns rare art into pure financial quantity, but in fact WART turns Rare Art into a pure aesthetic quantity. The monetary value of the art wrapped by the WART smart contract can be established by the trading price of WART but given what its tokens represent this means that hodling specific quantities of WART has an unavoidably aesthetic significance in addition to (and by virtue of) its financial one. Status games of hodling significant amounts of WART (in the sense both of large and evocative numbers) without unwrapping or using them for any further purpose might emerge in response to this fact. This fundamentally changes the concepts of collection, exhibition and value for art, coming down on the side of the price charts in terms of form but thereby opening that up to new aesthetic content.

Taking these ideas even further we can wrap the content of tokens. For example MATH tokens can be wrapped or burnt in return for the bits that represent their numbers as ERC-20 (or ERC-1155) tokens. We can’t break a CryptoKitty up into their genes (that would be cruel) but could we break up the image that a Rare Art token represents into its component colours? What cryptographic proof of the off-chain pixel values could be produced on-chain?

Or we can reverse this process and start by constructing NFT art from other tokens representing discrete aesthetic quantities. COLOR tokens start to do this with their wrapping of MATH tokens, but are monolithic and atomic rather than constructed from discrete elements. Tokens Equal Text is constructed from elements but each contains several words and the colours used are implicit. A more general and powerful NFT art construction system will require a different approach.


Self-Encoding Tokens

I just wanted to re-emphasize the idea of self-encoding tokens, Ethereum ERC-721 non-fungible tokens that contain their entire representation within the 256 bits of their numeric ID. I mentioned this in “Tokens Equal Tokens” and it’s an idea I’ve used in the last couple of years in both “Tokens Equal Text” and my story for Art Review.

As we add more (meta)data to a token outside its ID it becomes less self-contained and therefore less secure. That said, tokens with on-chain metadata or with content-addressable metadata links stored on-chain (for example an IPFS ERC-721 tokenURI() ) are still comparatively secure.

In contrast to the certain on-chain knowledge that we have of token IDs any meatspace identifier is much more breakable, whether in the sense of wearing out over time or the sense of being susceptible to copying and thereby to forgery. QR codes are trivial to copy. RFID/NFC tags usually have advertised working lives of around ten years and can be cut or otherwise damaged to stop them operating before that. Those tags without private cryptographic keys are trivial to copy, and even physically tamper-proof ones can be removed and affixed to a different object with enough care.

None of this is to say that blockchains can’t be used to for logistics tracking, just that doing so with physical identifiers for high value unique objects is difficult enough that it begins to require rather than represent an extra level of security.

As both the most secure and in many ways the most creatively challenging form of non-fungible token, self-encoding tokens should be the medium of the most valuable crypto art. That the market does not currently reflect this indicates that it is more interested in other properties of tokens, or that it has not yet recognized how self-encoding tokens can exemplify the value of true digital ownership of art.

Art Crypto

Multisig Art Organization

(Via the awesome @keikreutler .)

This is a key insight.

Social collaboration around learning to use technology is a key part of its value for art communities. In the era this involved getting online, subscribing to mailing lists, making web sites, etc. . Each step was an opportunity for frustration, assistance, bonding and productive encounters. For blockchain art setting up a wallet, receiving and sending transactions and learning good security practice are equivalent to this in many ways but they lack the ongoing productive, collaborative communication involved in engaging with a listserv.

From experience I would argue that the closest experience to this now for crypto is running an m-of-n multisig wallet. Setting up and testing the wallet, proposing transactions, gathering sufficient signatures, and transmitting the result is just this kind of shared technosocial task. It’s a focus of activity and a spur to communication and learning.

Crucially for representing artworld forms such as collections, you don’t need to add anything to a multisig in order to own an ERC-721 token representing an artwork. It works right out of the box, and doesn’t require setting up or understanding a more complex DAO before explaining it to others.

I’m hoping that we’ll see the emergence of blockchain art multisig groups with strong creative and critical identities. Initially as collectors, then as curators, and eventually as collaborative artists themselves.

Aesthetics Art Crypto

Flinging An NFT In The Public’s Face

The “Rare Art” market demands something aesthetic to own. “Tokens Equal Text” loops this back through a complexly unownable genre of aesthetics to both satisfy and frustrate this demand and to place blockchain (quasi-)property and the history of art into a state of mutually critical interrogation.

(From the description of “Tokens Equal Text“.)

That demand is exercising selection pressure in interesting ways. I don’t ever want to argue against transformative fair use but, seen individually, examples of what amounts to autotraced stock photos of famous people registered as non-fungible tokens are more like copyright-encumbered decoration than true digital ownership of art.

As a category this kind of tokenized art is absolutely a response to unsatisfied demand to be able to valorize the expression and consumption of creativity, and for engagement with historically and culturally meaningful imagery, which amounts to the demand for a more participatory artworld. Individual tokens of such tokenized art are interesting as tokens of this. And of course there is nothing to stop the intensification or exploitation of such art leading to instances of it that are interesting in themselves read through wider history and theory.

But at present there is an unacknowledged gap between the enthusiasm for such art and the reality of its construction. “That’s just your opinion” is a possible response to this, but it isn’t a strong one when discussing contradictions between the work’s construction and the value claims made for it. To ground the work securely will require either a more cypherpunk attitude or a different set of artistic value claims. Neither will sit easily with the other, and neither will leave the work unchanged in the eyes of its proponents.

Art Crypto

Tokens Equal Tokens

The Nifty Report’s excellent post on the MATH token and two projects inspired by it provide an interesting contrast with “Tokens Equal Text”:

MATH is an Ethereum smart contract that allows people to buy numbers, identified (and in identity with) ERC-721 non-fungible token IDs. Token ID 1 is the number one, and so on. To buy a number higher than 100 (the project’s creator owns the numbers up to 100), you must pay the owners of two existing numbers to generate it by adding their values. It’s a wonderfully absurd example of artificial scarcity and true ownership taken to the extreme. But it’s also an example of creating new forms of property on the blockchain, capturing things that could not previously be treated as commodities. Although people do try to assert ownership over numbers off of the blockchain as well.

Using token identifiers as the entire content and meaning of what they represent makes those tokens very secure – they require no off-chain resources to establish the significance and value that they assert merely by existing. They are self-describing or self-encoding.

The RGB token builds on MATH to create 16×16 coloured bitmaps by using the binary digits of three MATH numbers for their red, green and blue components and paying their owners for the privilege. It’s still an entirely on-chain token – no metadata from a web server or IPFS required – but it doesn’t encode the information directly into the token ID. The token ID is linked to each of those numbers elsewhere in the contract’s data instead. That makes sense as there isn’t enough room in the Ethereum number type used for token IDs to store three token IDs, but a monochrome bitmap of the same size or a much smaller coloured bitmap could be stored that way.

Likewise the WORDS contract also mentioned by The Nifty Report uses a similar join-and-pay scheme to that used by MATH in order to generate and purchase new words while storing them separately from their token IDs like RGB. As with bitmaps, words can be stored directly in a token ID. Depending on how long they are, several can be store in a single token ID as long as they don’t take up more than the 32 bytes of space available in the number type used to represent token IDs in ERC-721. Not doing this means that, like RGB, WORDS is a token with a significance that is purely on-chain but is not purely ID-based. Neither RGB nor WORDS are not self-encoding.

Tokens Equal Text’s tokens consist of words that are self-encoding. Its ERC-21 contract uses short fragments of text encoded as token ID numbers. It then assembles these these using an EC-998 composable token contract to create descriptions of imagined Vaporwave artworks. The colours for each token ID / each piece of the composition are generated by taking the first few hexadecimal digits of the hash of the token ID and treating that as an RGB colour, extracting surplus value although but surplus meaning from the code of the token IDs. This is a more complex structure than than MATH, RGB or WORDS but has a flatter creation structure – I have minted and composed all the tokens that will be available in the series and owning each token implies no residual rights.

Self-encoding tokens are both conceptually interesting and operationally robust. We’ve only started to see what they can do.

For more information about Tokens Equal Text see here:


Or to buy one of the pieces head over to OpenSea: