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HSS8121: Media Archaeology

 What is Media Archaeology

According to Jussi Parikka and Erkki Huhtamo,

It investigates “alternate histories of suppressed, neglected, and forgotten media that do not point teleologically to the present media-cultural condition…” (Huhtamo & Parikka,Media Archaeology, 2011 ).

And Geert Lovink says,

‘Media archaeology is first and foremost a methodology, a hermeneutic reading of the “new” against the grain of the past, rather than a telling of the history of technologies from past to present. No comprehensive overview of the media archaeology approach is yet available, but we could mention a few scholars, such as Friedrich Kittler, Siegfried Zielinski, Werner Nekes, Jona- than Crary, Katherine Hayles, Werner Künzel, Avital Ronell, Christoph Asendorf, Erkki Huhtamo, Paul Virilio and others.’
(Lovink, My First Recession – Critical Internet Culture in Transition, 2003)

’In his Archaeology of the Cinema C. W. Ceram states: “What matters history is not whether certain chance discov- eries take place, but whether they take effect.”4 When Hertz experimented with electromagnetic waves he meant to prove Maxwell’s mathematical calcu- lations of the electromagnetic field; almost by accident he thereby practically invented radio transmission technology.5 How can we write media history when media systems create their Eigenzeit?’ (Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p57)

We can say that Media Archaeology is not a single methodology, but an orientation – a direction which is common to a loose group of researchers (a lot of whom are German and related to a particular kind of german media theory and philosophy) and a particular flavour of research. If methodology is ‘a system of methods used in a particular area of study or activity’ (OED) then really Media Archaeology exists at a level of abstraction above this. It is an associated set of theories, methods, methodologies and skills which emphasise a close reading of technology itself, not just in its ability to be a cultural phenomenon. As Friedrich Kittler says:

‘History is not a list of, “directors, stars, studios and celebrities, which in the end remains organised around a series of titles” ‘ (Kittler, Optical Media, p. 26).

As Ernst summarises,

‘Equally close to disciplines that analyze material (hard- ware) culture and to the Foucauldian notion of the “archive” as the set of rules governing the range of what can be verbally, audiovisually, or alphanumeri- cally expressed at all, media archaeology is both a method and an aesthetics of practicing media criticism, a kind of epistemological reverse engineering, and an awareness of moments when media themselves, not exclusively humans anymore, become active “archaeologists” of knowledge.’ (Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p55)

In practice

Although he is not usually referred to in the ‘canon’ of MA, we could look at Matthew Kirschenbaum’s archival practice with electronic literature as an example of MA in practice.

Meanwhile Wolfgang Ernst frequently uses the spatial and temporal specifics of technological kinds of writing to discuss and problematise the way we understand time and in particular historical narrative.

‘…the historical mode of describing temporal processes has been confronted with alternative modelings of time, When it comes to describing media in time, this aporia becomes crucial, since one can no longer simply subject media processes to a literary narrative without fundamentally misreading and misrepresenting their Eigenzeit. Historical media narratives take place in imaginary time. Storage technologies, on the other hand, take place in the symbolic temporal order…’ (Ernst, Huhtamo and Parikka, Media Archaeology, 2011, p. 242)

‘But is radio, when playing, ever in a historical state? Is it not in fact always in a present state? The medium only appears to conform to the logic of historical epochal concepts; in actuality, it undermines this logic and sets a different temporal economy. For example, an original record- ing resonating today from an old tube radio, provided it can still run on 220 volts, hardly makes history audible. A tube radio thus practices compressed time with respect to our sensory perception, as long as this is not overlaid with “historical meaning,” which corresponds not to the actual media work- ings of radio but rather to the logic of inscribed historiography.’ (Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p159)

Ernst makes the point that our language and methods of discussing, and modelling time in terms of historical narratives just aren’t up to the task of considering what technological (particularly electronic and computational) media actually do.

He also has a lot of interesting things to say about counting,

‘The numerical order, the basis of digital technologies, has always already been performed as a cultural practice before becoming technically materialized.’ (Telling vs Counting in, Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p147)

To tell, we learn, as a transitive verb, means not only “to give a live account in speech or writing of events or facts” (that is, to tell a story) but also “to count things” (to tell a rosary, for example). The very nature of digital operations and telling thus coincide.’ (Telling vs Counting in, Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p147-8)

The conjunction between telling stories and counting time is more than just a word game: verbs like conter, contar, raccontare, erzählen, and to tell are testimonies to a way of perceiving realities that oscillates between narrative and statistics.’ (Telling vs Counting in, Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2013, p149)

I found this work (actually earlier published versions of this work) extremely compelling during the early stages of making this piece, Mark Inscriber.

Ernst also maintains the Medienarchäologischer ‘fundus‘.

In Art Practice

Often this work takes the past as a point for a future imaginary.

Jamie Allen’s ‘The Lie Machine

Pablo Garcia’s ‘Profilography

Imaginary Magnitude, By Stanislaw Lem

And (though he doesn’t use this term himself) we could think of our own Diego Trujillo-Pisanty’s most excellent ‘This Tape Will Self-destruct‘.

In Pedagogy

We’ve previously talked about Julian Oliver’s work. He and Danja Vasiliev have a series of workshops around understanding network fundamentals. Jussi Parka points out that,

‘We can speculate that such ideas and practices as Weise7- group’s are an indirect response to what Geert Lovink (2012: 22) has called the need for ‘materialist (read: hardware- and software- focused) and affect-related theory.’ In this case, theory is not executed only in the normal written format but as engineered situations: the other material infrastructures and modes of expression in which power operates, from code to networks.’ Parikka (critically engineered wireless politics, 2013)

He notes that,

‘In real time computing systems, however, the collection, organization and storage of information leads directly to action, to integrated surveillance and control over the object environment. This dynamic marriage of information and control in real time systems is a fusion of knowledge and action, and, through directed action in real time, information is expressed as power. (Sackman, 1968: 1492) (in Parikka,critically engineered wireless politics, 2013)

These workshops (and others like them) are oriented towards a kind of techno-politics based on hacking intervention and self-enablement (however genuine this ends up being). There’s a like-spirited endeavour in this paper which I saw present in Xcoax – a symposium you should all make yourselves aware of.


What does the Sack piece tell us about the way that memory has been conceived of in the history of computer science?

Warren Sack in: Fuller, Matthew. Software studies: A lexicon. Mit Press, 2008.

Electronic Memory in Practice

In this section we are going to have an archaeological look, a dig in fact, at electronic memory. To do this properly there are a certain number of things we need to understand first.


how does binary work?

1 bit – 2 possible states
2 bit – 4 possible states
3 bit – 8 possible states
4 bit – 16 possible states
5 bit – 32 possible states
6 bit – 64 possible states
7 bit – 128 possible states
8 bit (a byte) – 256 possible states

Here’s a way of working out the value:

(image cc wikivisual 2015)

(then add the results : 32+8+2=42)

And here’s another way:

how to read binary

(image cc wikivisual 2015)

(then, again, add the results : 32+8+2=42)

This is how we combine single bits to create more and more memory. But what we are interested in is how, on a the level of both logic and components, this works.

Latches and Flip flops

Latches and flip flops (we can talk about the difference – it depends who you ask) are an essential part of computer memory. Some version of this circuit is inside the most fundamental aspects of computer memory. They are therefore massively significant in thinking about what we mean when we say ‘computer memory’. We are going to build a state saving circuit ( a flip flop) and use it to explore what we do and don’t know about digital memory and how we can use that as part of a research and creative methodology.

History and archaeology of the flip flop.

Here’s the original patent, designed with vacuum tubes.

And what do vacuum tubes do?

How does it work?

Let’s hear a nice (rather slow) explanation.  To understand what flipflops are and why they are important we first need to know a few things.

Like what is boolean logic?

How can we combine two NOR gates into an OR gate? Simple (ish)! We invert it! See a bunch of examples here. Take one and explain it to your partner!

Step one: Building a NOR gate

This circuit uses transistors

Transistors are manufactured in different shapes but they have three leads (legs).
The BASE – which is the lead responsible for activating the transistor.
The COLLECTOR – which is the positive lead.
The EMITTER – which is the negative lead.



Here’s our circuit diagram. (and below obviously)

Step Two: Combine two NOR gates into a flip flop.

Look at the diagram below. How should we wire up our NORs to make a flip flop?

2 NORs making a flip flop. CC wikimedia


It works, what next?

A flip flop gives us a single bit, held in memory (as long as there is power). Here are somethings I want us to discuss:

  • what is the significance of holding one piece of memory – what can that memory mean? What can it do? Wittgenstein asks of a man given a piece of paper which asks for 5 apples, the following ‘But how does he know where and how he is to look up the word ‘red’ and what he is to do with the word ‘five’?” Well, I assume that he acts as I have described. Explanations come to an end somewhere.—But what is the meaning of the word ‘five’? No such thing was in question here, only how the word ‘five’ is used.’ What do we mean when we say a bit ‘means’?
  • Now imagine we have an encoding system for that bit. e.g. 0 = ‘apple’, 1=’pear’. How does that affect the above?
  • Stepping outside this question for a moment – how many real-world applications for the storage of one bit of information can you think of? How about for 2 or 3 bits?
  • If we all combined our individual bits into a large register – what could we store? How could we act?

But Why? Let’s talk about that

  • What elements of media archaeology (if any) do you identify in your work?
  • What would be the impact of this method?
  • Returning to our project, how could you take this exploration of digital memory further, how would you develop it?


Suggested readings

What is Media Archaeology? Parikka, 2012, Polity

Media Archaeology, Huhtamo & Parikka (eds), 2010

Digital Memory and the Archive, Ernst, 2012, University of Minnesota Press

Deep Time of the Media, Zielinkski, 2008, MIT Press


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Current Students

Students currently studying Master in Creative Arts Practice

Ares Rabe 

Shawn Ma

Chloe Manyue Yu 

Chrissy Shou Yu Chen

Ben Woolsey

Megan Wilson

Jade Mallabone

Garry Lydon

Michael Hirst

Sarah Davy

Alexei Crawley

Lewis Brown

Daniel Bradwell

Ashley Bowes



Previous Students



Meena DaneshyarMaria Clemente – AlbaceteSean Cotterill

Xiyuan TanYue WangRiar Rizaldi

Daniel Parry


Previous Students



MeteorEdmund Nesveda

Clive WrightChilly Rain

Wenya ChenTrong Cuong Dao

Yousif AbdulghaniTan

BartiZhang Wei



Yinzhen BaoTatiana Fujimori
Jaejun HwangSaksit Knunkitti
Wenchang LinClare Robertson
Tunc Karkutoglu

Mres Digital Media
Adrian ParkBen HoldenIsobel Taylor
James DavollNina LimardoXue Yan
Aaron SmilesAlessandro AltavillaAndrew Nixon
Andrzwej WojtasBen FreethBen Thompson
Helen CollardJane DudmanJoseph Pochciol
Pengfei ZhangSanjay Mortimer
Ewelina Aleksandrowicz (Tikul)


External Signal Processing w/ Coil Pick Up


I’ve been thinking about how to expand the use of my newly acquired coil pick up, and i’ve been recently playing around with a couple basic external signal processing patches (trigger our/in, CV in, V-F converter) with my Korg MS-20, you put one and one together and you get this;


Although this is a rather stripped down basic patch/setup, it has the potential to be a foundation for more experimentation – I plan on creating my own monstrosity of a coil pick up and doing some further weird things.


Screenwriting rant

Tldr; passive-aggressive vagueing about narrative structure being haaaaard

Screenwriting has been interesting so far. I picked it because I wanted to expand my writing skills a bit, because I thought I would like it more than stage scripts and because it might be relevant to any attempts at games writing/narrative design I make in the future. I don’t think its too early to say that its achieved all of those pretty well already. I’ve already learned a lot about the format, about screen directions and plot structure (reading the screenplay for the Night Manager was a really helpful exercise), but there are some elements I’ve struggling with as well.

Namely, dramatic structure. The good old ‘who’s our protagonist, what do they want, why can’t they have it’ formula, with 5 main plot points starting with the inciting incident and ending with the character changing in some way, maybe getting what they wanted, but never in the way they thought they would get it. That one, as reductively misrepresented here.

On the one hand, I’m definitely not claiming it doesn’t work. I can’t claim better than the combined history of cinema and television, which both seem pretty sold on it. Learning it and sticking to it is almost certainly going to serve me very well in future projects. But right now, as we’re pitching our script ideas to our tutor and plotting out our screenplays, it feels like satisfying all the demands of narrative structure in a novel way is more or less the only metric of whether or not a script has the potential to be any good.

Which makes sense, I suppose. A script has to be pitched, directed and produced, after all, and I don’t pretend to be an avant-garde genius that knows a better way of banking on the narrative potential of a piece of writing. My complaints are probably all fairly typical prose-writer-y complaints: I do feel a bit naked with all my precious backstory exposition and internal character voice stripped away.

It’s not as if I don’t like my current dramatic-structure-approved screenplay idea, but it is definitely a few numbers down the list of ideas I’m excited about working on. The others were all beyond the scope of what we get to do on this module or just didn’t fit the narrative structure well enough for me to convince my tutor they’d be worth working on.

Which is also reasonable. It’s not as if I’m going to try something that actively goes against that formula, if only because I lack a compelling reason to do so. I can keep my less dramatically-satisfying ideas for other projects. But it would be nice to get something more than a working understanding of screenwriting and colour-by-numbers screenplay out of this module.

There definitely are scripted narratives that rely on elements other than dramatic structure in order to be good. But that doesn’t get me anywhere, unless I’m in a situation where I can surrender the burden of making-the-thing-good to animators or graphic designers or software engineers.

Who knows where I’m going with this rant. At the end of the day, this has already been a great learning experience. But even if a colour-by-numbers screenplay does end up happening to help me secure a decent mark, I’m going to see if I can’t find a way to bend this piece of coursework a little bit more to my purposes, one way or another.



MUS8161: Thank You, Free Music Practice

Morning Smoke

I cannot express how much I’m enjoying getting stuck into the Free Music Practice module. We’re building on some of the ideas I was toying with in HSS8120- like my ‘considered un-consideration’ theory. I’ve found the sessions and seminars really very inspiring, and in the process of completing my portfolio submission I think I’m creating some interesting work [pictures, writing and music].

It comes as a ‘discovery‘ for me; I haven’t grown up surrounded by these ideals of art, I have had my own experience with it’s own implications- and as such, the act of creating with the specific intent of ignoring perceived limitations has been a real liberation in a sense, and an eye-opener in another. It’s like disregarding the rules has made me more aware of all the things I was imposing upon myself without even realising.

Pictured above, is an essay I’m currently writing for the module. I’m approaching this in the spirit of the rest of the work; in this case, I’m writing it in smalls chunks (as much or as little as I want), when/wherever I feel like it, before censoring it over so I can’t see what I’ve just written. I’m fairly certain this will produce some sporadic results, I just hope it makes sense enough to be good- although, maybe I don’t?

In other news, below is an edit of a session with ‘Lemon Knxledge,’ an improvising band that we’ve started in perfect timing for this module. I think we’re going to do a performance at the start of next month courtesy of a gig that Ares is organising? Sunday 2nd April, upstairs in the evening at Bar Loco.

Vocals – Alexei Crawley

Synths – Ben Woolsey

Guitar – Garry Lydon

Drums – Jonah Scholfield-Lott


DMS8013: 5. 3D and Making: ‘we cannot discuss “things” outside of their shape’


I was standing inline in a farm equipment shop in Montana once, buying parts for a project, when I noticed that of seven people in the line I was the only one who had two working pairs of hands. eyes. ears or legs. Until then, I had flattered myself that I worked with my hands. Chris Csikszentmihalyi, 16 Reflective Bits about the Maker Movement.


  • To look at some tools and technologies for drawing, animating and making in 3D
  • To learn about how computers ‘see’ 3D space
  • To think about the politics of making artefacts with computers

Tools and Technologies

We are taking on (or possibly conflating) a lot in one session here. We might break down some of the tools to include:

  • Generative 3D (graphics and modelling). Software includes; Processing, Grasshopper/Rhino, Openframeworks, Cinder
  • Building software for CNC (computer numerical control) such as; Solidworks, Sketchup,
  • 3D animation/modelling/gaming e.g. Maya, 3D Studio Max, Cinema 4D, Unity

Despite this (arguable) conflation, there are a lot of things we can think about in common between (some of) them such as:

  • use of coordinate space x,y,z
  • terminology and concepts including; textures, normals, uv mapping, vertices, edges, faces
  • OPENGL (and DirectX); matrix transformation, graphics buffers, renders, lighting, cameras

Seeing 3D space

In high performance applications 3D graphics are processed on the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) rather than the CPU (Central Processing Unit). The GPU has a frame buffer(s) – a chunk of memory for storing pixel data and a processor setup that’s good for doing a lot of things in parallel (like transforming matrix data).

The matrix

Drawing things in 3D is complicated. A lot of the more difficult things are wrapped up for us in environments like Processing or Openframeworks but sometimes it helps to have an idea what’s going on underneath. To take an example of this let’s have a look at ‘vertex winding’ (see the openframeworks docs for more).


Another example is in so-called ‘matrix transformations’.

There’s an excellent introduction into matrix translations here. If you like that kind of thing, you can also find the maths here.


“a realist guarantee for the unreal”

The industry has expended huge amounts of time and money trying to mimic the way objects behave in real life or in early art forms (such as Renaissance painting). For instance see this article about cameras, this one about lights and this about physics (specifically it’s about Box2D an ‘engine’ for recreating collisions, gravity etc behind the hit game ‘Angry Birds’).

The ‘Maker Movement’

So far we’ve mostly discussed 3D on screens but of course the development of 3D modelling tools is connected to a hugely important phenomenon – that of the modern 3D prototyping ‘fab’ lab and more broadly the ‘Maker Movement’.

Makers’ Bill of Rights

Politics and Prosumerism

One perspective on the Maker Movement is that is a manifestation of political action in the form of prosumerism. It is a reaction to the blandness and homogeneity of industrial capitalism. If we can modify, hack and create for ourselves, this is ostensibly a form of political protest. Many commenters point out though that this aspect of maker culture has been effectively co-opted by industry – in particular O’Reilly, Maker Faire and Make magazine.

‘What is called ‘making’ in North America and Europe is. frankly, a luxurious pastime of wealthy people who rightly recognise that their lives are less full because they are alienated from material culture, almost all of which is products produced by corporate interests. Sadly, rather than address the problem. makers develop a hobby that solves the symptom for them, but if anything slightly strengthens the disease.’ Chris Csikszentmihalyi, 16 Reflective Bits about the Maker Movement.

‘Socially engaged making, of necessity. is engaged in a dialectic with its alternatives: commercial and corporate mass production on the one hand, and craft on the other Even when making is about self-expression. practitioners choose this form because they are attracted to the technological product as a genre. […] Making is always a political act. even if the denotative utility of the thing made is not political.’ Chris Csikszentmihalyi, 16 Reflective Bits about the Maker Movement.

Other Material Cultures

The point about material culture though is an interesting one, for artists specifically. For some the connection between non-linear computer technologies and the capacity to create things in the physical world is a way of re-evaluating craft practice. It’s also worth noting that the intersection of traditional crafts (such as knitting) and contemporary technologies (like arduino) has proved an in-point for people who don’t necessarily identify with common tropes of computing aesthetics – e.g. chip tunes, glitch, computer vision generated imagery, projection mapping etc.

Image Varvara and Mar

…and ‘Other’ Communities

As I hinted above, one kind of value, perhaps, for the Maker Movement (or better movements) is in fostering particular kinds of community, often but not always around a particular maker space or project. For instance Kaiton Williams on Jamaican DIY describes how his father’s propensity to tinker inflected the son’s future engagement with the material world. A perceived value for the made outputs of many communities is in expressing a vision for the material world which is not produced by a narrow band of society and is consequently reflective of other kinds of value and priority. None of this is necessarily contingent on access to CNC-type tools but there is a sense in which assuming contemporary forms of production proposes a different kind of ‘answer’ to the dominance of mass produced products. A nice example to finish on is here. In this project, Kuznetsov and her co-authors build arduino based soil quality sensors with members of a community garden. Cheap and accurate commercial sensors are available but the authors describe the value of the building process in learning about the specifics of the local soil chemistry, interacting with their environment and perceiving time differently.

Further Reading

A truly excellent resource for reading about Critical Making can be found here.

Pre Task

Read the article here on matrix translations and code the accompanying examples.

Read Geert Lovink and Michael Dieter on Making in the Digital Age here. Come prepared to explain one of the theses and explain why you agree or disagree.

And also look at processing examples in the following sections:


Total Bombardment


A blog about blogging.

Prepare for total bombardment!! I haven’t blogged in a wee while but there is lots to tell!!

I realise I haven’t blogged about anything I have been working on pre/post post-truth so I have plans to drop all retrospective bits n bobs on you in the coming days. Yippeeeeee.

Solar Circuitry


Look, okay, I’m not that great at this blogging thing/ maybe.  I’m trying so be nice.

A little time ago now, we built some synthesizers using circuit breadboards and colourful little wires. Attached to our little circuits were some little solar panels; which detect little rays of light, and changed things a little bit accordingly-you could sort of alter the order of things within the circuit for differing effects as well.

We took these little devices a little but out of culture lab and annoyed the general public a little with a symphony of eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

This project got me a little hot under the collar, and all excited about circuits. It was a little bit like being back in little school, as I have very vague memories of doing Basic Circuit Stuff then.

In the little video above, you can see some stylish and aesthetic close ups of our devices. I also decided to colour the whole thing with a tinge, to reflect the melancholic feelings of all the people we irritated doing this little project.

Writing with constraints

I’m reading about the Oulipo at the moment (tldr: they’re a movement of mostly French-speaking writers and mathematicians that impose constraints upon their work to spark new ideas and creativity). I came to them off the back of interactive fiction and tabletop games, since those are both forms which impose very specific restrictions on their creators and/or audiences, but so far the Oulipo has gotten me thinking more about poetry.

I used to really hate writing in traditional poetic forms: sonnets, haikus, vilanelles, etc (limericks get a pass), but more recently I have found adhering to specific forms or rules productive in one or two cases. I intend to pursue this further, trying out some new forms perhaps or finding some new ‘constraints’ to play with once I dig a bit further into the reasoning behind the Oulipo, but here are my examples for now:

Predictive – written using phone’s ‘suggested word’ function, cut down and formatted (it seems that this is what my phone thinks I type about):

On the other hand
you’re looking forward to the utopia
a lot more than just being able to be
in the morning

all art is truth through a film and
I was stressed about deadlines
and a good idea to be
in the morning

and that abomination of your control
the statue of liberty
and hang out with everyone

a mushroom cloud, black poison
a mushroom, cloud computing is truth in sand.
a mushroom soup
a mushroom cloud, the narrator of your vision

I was so happy for each update on Saturday,
the one about adding an additional download
four times a day I hope
you have a war of words between stereotypes and hearts

the first time since I was waiting for each update
on Saturday I was stressed about deadlines
and a random number
for the first time since the battle

for the first time since the battle for
the first time in space I probably wouldn’t be much fun
for the first time since his spinal cord injury
and hearts are you holding

a good holiday season is constantly changing their minds
and hearts in the chaos
resulting from the tidal wave
striking the first eighteen years of your control

over your control over the statue of a known individual
on the other hand you’re looking forward
to being able to be
severely limited in the morning

and hearts are
we going back to the bottom of a bustling city
it would help if they were not meant to exist
on god’s green acre

an expression of a known issue with the new year
everyone has reportedly been extremely violent
a known abomination has reportedly been sighted
near the first eighteen years of your experience.
Nothing is Sacred – a sestina (six stanzas, each with six lines, and each line must end with a specific word in a rotating pattern):

‘Nothing is sacred but the sea,’
says the sailor, nearing port.
The cold wind stirs the whiskers on his chin.
He is no longer proud to be alive
the last remaining of his crew
a crime that he repents in vain.

The others prayed to God, in vain
for ‘nothing is sacred but the sea,’
or that’s what the captain told the crew
just as they were leaving port.
‘There’s only one law – stay alive,’
he said, as he rubbed his bearded chin.

The beard upon the captain’s chin
did shield him from the cold in vain.
A man needs more than warmth to stay alive
adrift upon the starving sea
and when for gold he would not make port
he made enemies of the homesick crew.

To mutiny he lost the crew
and they split a gash beneath his chin.
Pirates now, they could not return to port.
They sought some blessed sanctuary in vain
but found nothing sacred but the sea
and just one law – ‘stay alive’.

But they could not all come back alive
not without food, so lots were drawn among crew
for no meat goes to waste at sea.
Of those men with hollow, trembling chins
twelve of thirteen prayed in vain
and only one came back to port.

It was a ghost ship that returned to port
or, almost – the thirteenth sailor was still alive
his fellows did not die in vain.
When they asked what happened to the crew
he answered, red juice dripping from his chin
that nothing is sacred but the sea.

New Music – Possible Direction for Final Performance

I’ve been toying with the idea of creating ‘Metal’ music through purely electronic means in my head for a while now. This came about when thinking about my final performance in August. As much of the music I have made over the last few years has gone between Electronic Dance Music and Metal I think this would be an interesting way to subvert both practices. As I would be making electronic music, but not for a club context as I normally would; and I would be making metal music but not in a band context. How I would perform this is not clear to me yet, but I feel I’ve made progress towards a stylistic direction this week.

This was actually unintentional, and just started from me messing around with ‘dream2’ from the new Code Orange album when on a long train journey. I didn’t really have an intended outcome with this

(which is often how I like to create). This resulted in a lo-fi mash of genres from Trap to Gabber. Drawing from Gabber brought me to an interesting realisation actually. It is not a style of music I like,

however I found that using the style outside of a Dance-Music context gave me a different perspective (it’s basically an electronic blast-beat).
Anyway, here’s the track:

I’ll be starting work on some original (and performable) songs like this pretty soon…

DMS8013: 4. Algorithms and Generativity: The Map is not the Territory


  • To learn about the history of algorithms and generative computer code
  • To think about the ways that computers ‘model life’ or otherwise connect to the physical world
  • To experience creating generative systems

Algorithm (خوارزمي‎‎): “a description of the method by which a task is to be accomplished,”

History of Computer Science (and previously in mathematics)

In art/music/education Shintaro Miyazaki & Michael Chinen, Algorythmic Sorting

Literature and Poetry

The Oulipo and Exercises in Style, Raymond Queneau

Algorithmic Poetry


Formalism vs Action

The algorithm “is the unifying concept for all the activities which computer scientists engage in.” Provisionally a “de- scription of the method by which a task is to be accomplished,” the algorithm is thus the fundamental entity with which computer scientists operate.[…] But the algorithm is not simply the theoretical entity studied by computer scientists. Algorithms have a real existence embodied in the class libraries of programming languages, in the software used to render web pages in a browser (indeed, in the code used to render a browser itself on a screen), in the sorting of entries in a spreadsheet and so on.

Fuller, M. (2008). Software Studies: A Lexicon. Leonardo Books, MIT Press. p17

So (what I’ll call) the mode of material expression is vital, powerful etc.

A conception of the algorithm as a statement as Michel Foucault used the term might allow us to understand this approach a little better. For Foucault, the statement is not analytically reducible to the syntactic or semantic features of a language; it refers instead to its historical existence and the way that this historical existence accomplishes particular actions. […] As Foucault puts it in The Archaeology of Knowledge, “to speak is to do some- thing—something other than to express what one thinks, to translate what one knows, and something other than to play with the structure of language.

Fuller, M. (2008). Software Studies: A Lexicon. Leonardo Books, MIT Press. p17

Generativity: Modelling life?

In a sense we can think of the field of cybernetics as an orientation

Cybernetics: “Our bodies are hardware, our behavior software”

‘In a sense, the original purpose of Cybernetics was to produce a unified theory of the control levels and types of messages used by men and machines and processes in normal operation. Thus the history of computer technology may be interpreted as progress in making communication between men and machines more natural and complete. This remains an ideal definition however, because quite often in industry human beings have been adapted to inhuman machine schedules, rather than the other way around. What is less realized is that most businesses of any size have had to adapt themselves,more or less traumatically,to radically different patterns of administration and organization as the result of information structures made possible by computer systems. So in part Software addresses itself to the personal and social sensibilities altered by this revolution.’


‘It is now empirically clear that Darwinian evolutionary theory contained a very great error in its identification of the unit of sur-vival under natural selection. The unit which was believed to be crucial and around which the theory was set up was either the breeding individual or the family line or the subspecies or some similar homogeneous set of conspecifics. Now I suggest that the last 100 years have demonstrated empirically that if an organism or aggregate of organisms sets to work with a focus on its own survival and thinks that that is the way to select its adaptive moves, its “progress” ends up with a destroyed environ- ment. […] The flexible environment must also be included along with the flexible organism because, as I have already said, the organism which destroys its environment destroys itself. The unit of survival is a flexible organism-in-its-environment.’ Bateson, Gregory. “Form, substance, and difference.” Essential Readings in Biosemiotics (1970): 501. p508


 Software Information Technology. Its Meaning for Art.

Generative Code

Meanwhile in computer science bleeding to art practice people became interested in algorithmic modelling, generative processes on both ontological and processual levels.

Such as Conway and the game of life.

‘These artistic systems are not wholly deterministic, running an image through pre-set parameters until it reaches perfection. Indeed, Latham realized early on that the most interesting outcomes of his program were quite unforeseen by him: his evolutionary program could arrive at unexpected conclusions. Even if an artist programs the computer from the start, there will always be an important element of mystery in the working of the software. Such quirks render the computer less mechanistic (and predictable) and more “artistic,” because the outcome of certain operations cannot always be foreseen. is unpredictability can be harnessed in the same way as the chemical reactions of pigments, or the densities of stone. In other words, an artist develops a feel for its working and gradually incorporates its idiosyncrasies into their work, which itself changes subtly or overtly to accommodate these properties.’ Lambert, Nicholas, William Latham, and Frederic Fol Leymarie. “The emergence and growth of evolutionary art: 1980–1993.” ACM SIGGRAPH 2013 Art Gallery. ACM, 2013.
‘For Lev Manovich, contemporary generative art is distinctively concerned with complexity, unlike the paradigm of reduction that characterised abstraction in the visual arts in the first half of the twentieth century.’

‘Software art systems are concrete collections of objects, relations, actions and processes. In part they are formal but constructed ontologies, describing entities and their interrelations. These ontologies are partly metaphorical or figurative—constructing for example «agents» in an «environment.» They are also partly technical / textual, in the sense that the implementation of these figures occurs within the structures of a formal language with particular representational and computational limits. How do we read such systems, critically? They are literally texts, in their source code, but also in a critical sense, in that they involve specific figurations, relations, decisions, values and ideologies.’ Whitelaw, Mitchell. “System stories and model worlds: A critical approach to generative art.” Readme 100 (2005): 135-154.


Sketches from today: session_4_algorithms_and_generativity



Take my generative boids sketch and make it sing the music of the spheres. You’ll need to:

  • include processing sound library
  • decide what sounds you’re going to make
  • look in to the particles class and decide how you’re going trigger or affect the sounds. This should probably be some function of the distance between nearby particles

Flow – Waves of real time data

In Flow, sound and visual artist maotik creates an immersive installation which places the spectator in front of an impressive and soothing visual wave form, constantly modified and altered by realtime weather data.Using 11 various parameters such as sea levels, time of the day, moon cycles and wind force the colour and the shape of the wave form is altered.

TouchDesigner is a visual development platform and this was used to develop this immersive interactive installation.