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Some follow-up links from last class

Lisa Spitalewitz's picture
First, if you were interested in the computer-generated ringtones Wolfram is selling, check out Wolfram Tones: An Experiment in a New Kind of Music (I suppose he's reinventing music, as well). You can listen to them on the website, share them with friends, and download them to your cell phone -- the last for a fee of about $2. Another bit of follow-up is something I'd been meaning to post for a while, but I was waiting to get my blog account. Since we were talking about computer-generated art, it seems particularly appropriate to link to it now. For the last few months, I've been using a screensaver called Electric Sheep (the name of which, as you may know, is a reference to Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). This screensaver is a distributed computing project which produces and shares fractal movies which are then shown on the screen as the computer idles. Users can vote on them using the up and down keys on their keyboards, and the "more popular sheep live longer and reproduce according to a genetic algorithm with mutation and cross-over." Obviously this art isn't generated in a context free from human input, but for the most part this input is limited to a simple thumbs-up or thumbs down (or, in this case, a right-side-up or upside-down sheep), and it's striking to me how entrancing the results are (I've had many conversations in my room interupted when the screensaver came on and everyone present started staring at my computer). It's available for many platforms, and I would really recommend downloading it and taking a look at it yourselves. Keep in mind that it takes a while for the "sheep" to download, so it's good to let your computer idle with it running for a while. The FAQ and other documentation might also be of interest.


Kathy Maffei's picture

Lisa, I love the sheep - thank you for that! I was thinking a lot about the topic of art since our last class. It seemed to me that Wolfram was suggesting that simple programs - ones that demonstrate complex results - might be used as a tool with which to explore the boundaries of that difficult-to-define concept of art. I would say that the act of programming is a creative act, and therefore a person might view the outcome - not just the text of my program, but also the actions and results of it running - as art. If I write a program that produces - say - images, would I be the artist credited with the images? I guess it all depends on how we define art - does it necessarily start with intention? When children create art, their focus is on the act - of painting, scribbling, etc - rather than with the results. In that case, is it art? What about those mass-production craft projects some schools like children to generate to take home? There's a lot of what's called art that I have a hard time accepting as such, and there are plenty of things I appreciate as art that probably don't fit commonly-accepted definitions. What about a spider's web? Or a tree?
LauraKasakoff's picture

Those ring tones hurt my soul. And my ears. They don't sound nice! I'm not sure what Wolfram is trying to accomplish with these ring tones other than a fatter paycheck. Rather than using his "new kind of science to create a new kind of music" , he is reducing the art of music to a mere scientific gimmick. Wolfram's main selling point is that each ring tone is original and unlike anything every heard before. You know what else would be entirely original? A ring tone composed by a human, and in addition to being unique it would also better represent a person's tastes and individuality. Anyone can click on an icon to obtain some randomly generated computer pattern, but to compose something from one's own consciousness is where true originality comes from. It is hard work that leads to creativity and originality. There is no shortcut.
LauraKasakoff's picture

I realize that my post about Wolfram's tones was kind of harsh. I still think they're ugly sounding, and they still hurt my ears, but I have rethought my stance on emergent music in general. My thesis advisor told me about Emerald Suspension, a band that plays experimental music based on data from sources like the stock market, algorithms, and other economic information. Personally, I actually liked "Fibonacci's Random Walk". You can listen to it and some of their songs, as well as learn about the emergent phenomena behind the music. Perhaps by mixing emergent data with a use of some poetic license with composition, we can enjoy emergent music as an art form...