Friday, 23 September 2011

Interview with Philip Galanter

Philip Galanter's paper titled: What is Generative Art was the first intensive research paper on the subject that I came across. I was very pleased that he was happy to be interviewed.

Philip's areas of interest include generative art, physical computing, sound art and music, complexity science, and art theory. He teaches graduate studios in generative art and physical computing at Texas A&M University. His artistic work includes generative hardware systems of his own design, installations, digital fine art prints, and light-box transparencies. His work has been shown in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and Peru. As a curator he collaborated with others to create ArtBots in New York City in 2002 and 2003, and COMPLEXITY, the first major fine art exhibition focusing on complex systems and emergence. Website:

Interview with Philip Galanter:

KJ: Could you describe a little about your background and how you became interested in generative art?

PG: The first arts activity that I participated in in a serious way was electronic music. This was back in the 1970's using analog synthesizers. The part I found most fascinating, along with the notions of timbral composition, was that the synthesizer could play itself. By using a sample and hold unit, for example, one could create random voltages or cascading stair-step voltages that would in turn determine pitch, loudness, stereo placement, and so on. So I would create these systems by patching together various modules and then sit back and listen. The term "generative art" wasn't used then, but that's what it was.

I went through a long period of pursuing various musical interests including punk, industrial, and various experimental and performance art forms. Little of that was generative. It was the more typical group collaboration style of manual music production.

Around 1990 I tired of collaboration and was trying to figure out a way I could affordably create live electronic music as a solo performer. One concern I had was that it would be terribly boring to watch; just a guy pushing buttons and tweaking knobs. So I began experimenting with analog video feedback as a fast way to create lots of visuals that I could project. That led me to the edge, and I fell over and became more focused on visual art. And with video feedback I was once again back in the generative realm. Because for years my day job had been scientific programming, and even included non-artistic graphics, it was only natural that I would soon turn to digital tools for generative visual art.

KJ: Is there a reason that you use generative software as part of the piece as a message within your own art work, or do you just use generative software as a process for making the work and it has no relevance to the actual art work? I was particularly thinking of some of your generative animations: worms, blobs, and light box drawing as I would imagine using generative software played an important aspect within the meaning of this work, but I'm also curious about your other generative artworks too.

PG: The question as to whether the generative approach is merely pragmatic or whether it is embedded in the work as content is a very interesting one. Initially my interest was purely pragmatic. In support of live performance I needed more visual material than I could practically create by hand, and so using generative systems was really the only way I could go. At the time my goal was to use analog video feedback in such a way that it didn't look like all the other video feedback that had been created by then. I didn't want it to be about the way it was made. It was only later that I realized that video feedback is a chaotic system and a legitimate intention could be the exploration and presentation of chaos theory.

As my interest in generative systems grew I became aware of complexity science. It's essentially an attempt to theorize across a diversity of domains and produce models and abstractions that can apply to what previously seemed to be unrelated systems. For example, is there something we can say about ant hills, the human brain, and weather systems that helps us understand all three? At the time this was pretty exotic stuff, but now to some extent it's become absorbed into the popular culture. Unfortunately the science of complexity is more subtle and complicated than the popular interpretation and folks tend to underestimate the depth of the complexity waters.

Anyway I came to realize that generative art is all about using systems, and complexity science is all about understanding systems. I came up with a generative art theory using complexity theory as a context for considering systems. This led to a paper "What is Generative Art" that contains the most widely cited definition of generative art.

Over the years my work has increasingly become a sort of meditation on complex systems, and so the pieces are about the very generative systems they contain. The art is the system and the system is the art. I refer to this as "truth to process" in some recent writing.

KJ: Are there any art movements that have influenced your work?

PG: I believe that art proceeds by accretion. Art movements are never lost or reversed, rather each new art movement layers itself over the last. So in a way every art movement is still present and influential. But we all have our favorites. Very little art before the 20th century excites me. For me Mondrian and Pollock are huge influences, with Mondrian contributing the Apollonian principle in art and Pollock the Dionysian. But really the entire pantheon of abstract expressionists is huge for me. Minimal and conceptual art is, not surprisingly, a big influence on me. I understand and enjoy pop art although it's hard to see in my work. Maybe it's visible in my use of unsubtle fully saturated color. Warhol appeals to me both as a visual artist, but also in terms of his contributions to film and music. Without Andy there would have been no Velvet Underground, and they influenced so many others it's hard to imagine what rock music would have been like without them. Music has probably influenced me more than other visual artists, although it's hard to pinpoint exactly how that comes out.

Back when I did purely music my approach was much more Dionysian. My visual art has been mostly Apollonian. It may be time for the pendulum to swing again.

KJ: Are there any reasons why you choose to simulate nature?

PG: Artists have always learned from nature. Of course in the postmodern era saying such a thing is viewed as being, at best, quaint. But increasingly folks have tired of postmodernism. There is now a whole generation of young artists embracing science and technology as not only a useful source of tools, but as a cool and creative subculture. So you have the arduino and Maker Faire and folks wiring up kinects to sound chips and so on. There's even this notion of art-science as a hybrid discipline with a claim to its own identity. So artists have always learned from nature and so have scientists.

If you want to create art using complexity and generative systems why not study under the master? That would be nature. In my work I'm not seeking to simulate nature so much as to learn from it. Some of my work has biomorphic form in it, but I don't view that as being essential to the work. Two recent pieces, RGBCA 1 and RGBCA 2, are much more minimal in style; cubes, hemispheres, lines. But they are still generative, they are still systems, and they are about the systems they are.

Philip Galanter
Assistant Professor
Department of Visualization
Texas A&M University
C108 Langford Center
3137 TAMU
College Station, TX 77843-3137


Monday, 19 September 2011

Slow Waves

I filmed these waves for my visual research as I found them quite fascinating due to their slowness and natural calming meditive effect.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Drift Line Patterns

Sunny Day Rainbow

During the week while I was taking photos for my visual research, a rainbow appeared. It was quite unusual since it was a totally sunny day. This was my first rainbow that I've ever seen without no rain. The rainbow was quite faint and can be seen  in a couple of these photos if you look carefully :-)






Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Interview with Shardcore.

During this year's 2011 Brighton Festival I went to see an exhibition at the Old Market called The Consciousness Engine by artist's Shardcore and Sam Hewitt. I found this to be such a fascinating experience, it has left me thinking about consciousness, freedom and artificial life forms ever since. For my previous blog post on this exhibition click here.

Interview with Shardcore:

KJ: Your video in the basement of the market place was made using generative software. Was there a reason to use generative software as part of the piece as a message within your work, or did you just use generative software as a process for making the work and it had no relevance to the actual work?

S: The use of a generative system was integral to the piece. It operates on two levels, firstly as representing one facet of conscious experience - that it is continuous, mutable experience (a feat which would either require a huge amount of scripting/editing without a generative system). Secondly, it allows for the content to appear as truly novel, just as in the conscious mind, no two moments are the same - we wanted to create a machine that, while bounded to the limits of the source content, could still produce new juxtapositions that we were unable to predict.

Looking more broadly, generative systems allow the artist to step away from the explicit form of the work, and into the realm of meta-creation - making the rules that govern the creative process, rather than explicitly creating the end piece itself. By loosening the grip on the end product, the artist is able to use the outcomes of a generative system to inform the manipulation of that system; the artist becomes a benevolent curator of the work, rather than the direct creator of the end product.

KJ: Would you say that as the artist you wanted to explore consciousness via an artificial source (the computer, core of the engine) using the process know as generative art to express and simulate existence of the natural world?

S: We wanted to explore consciousness, and that exists in a place beyond what is generally considered 'the natural world'. So, in that sense, we were never aiming to create a naturalistic environment.

The generative nature of the system, for me, was far more about creating an experience in flux, just as the conscious mind is constantly in flux - it makes no sense to take a snapshot of a mind, it's very nature is one of change - and that's why it had to be a generative machine. I wanted the viewer to be an involved observer of a simulated mind, and for that, it was essential that it was constantly changing. If we had used a pre-composed, pre-recorded film, it would have been a different piece entirely.

In building the piece, I wanted to avoid existing AI paradigms and produce a purposefully (semi-controlled) chaotic system. AI generally concerns itself with simulation of specific parts of the human mind to appear 'intelligent' in a rather narrowly defined sense.

The Consciousness Engine exists not as an end-point, but as a symbiotic process between the machine and the viewer. The viewer needs to engage their conscious mind directly with the machine for the work to exist. When no one is observing it, it's just a machine talking to itself in an empty room.

Conscious experience is primarily a constructive process - what you 'experience' of the world is mainly a projection of psychological expectations. With this piece I wanted to draw out the mind behind the expectations, the machine provided a method for doing this.

My hope was that the piece, along with the journey of installations before reaching the machine, would guide the viewer into a place where they were provoked to consider the nature of their own consciousness, and not simply assume the role of passive observer.

KJ: I found that the Core of the Engine (computer) related more to my subconscious mind. It felt like I was experiencing a dream filled full of random questions and different locations around Brighton, which were reminiscent of some of my own thoughts and memories. I'm curious was the core of the engine both the subconscious merged with the conscious mind?

S: The part of our mind that we live in, our wakeful consciousness, is but a small part of the machinations of our brains. Indeed, experiments show that the conscious mind is often 'the last to know' about what we, as individual functional entities, are doing.

So, rather than considering the subconscious in a Freudian way, I tend to see the conscious mind as a machine struggling to make sense of a series of events coming from both 'external sources' (what we see, hear, taste etc) and 'internal sources' (our memories, expectations and desires) - I guess you could consider the latter as 'the subconscious', but I tend to see them as an integrated system, with consciousness as the final layer.

It was important that the video sources used were of locations and events that may be familiar, this allows the piece to feel more like a mind like occupying a coherent space, and also to use these experiences to provoke memories and sensations in the viewer who may occupy a set of spaces and experiences.

The subconscious is generally seen as inaccessible, only visible via oblique projections, such as dream analysis. For this piece we wanted it to consider the direct conscious experience of the now.

For link to The Consciousness Engine by Shardcore and Sam Hewitt click here.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Clouds of the Sun.

For this experiment I first filmed clouds in the sky. I then speeded up the video and original audio sound by the same amount. The speeded sound reminded me of flames igniting so I colourised some areas to appear flame like.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Here's some photos that I took earlier today. I found it interesting to capture the pole type effect by the lens when looking directly at the sun, along with the bird flying through.





Phoenix Gallery: Solar Systems by Semiconductor.

Today I visited the Phoenix Gallery in Brighton, to see an exhibition called Solar Systems by Semiconductor (Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt).  I was very impressed to say the least. Such amazing photography of naturally occurring generative elements of nature. I also found this exhibition brilliant for my contextual research  :-) While I did take video clips of this exhibition which I was going to put on here. I have since found their site: click here. Below is one of the films that I saw at the today.  Here is a link to their other films.

Heliocentric excerpt 2 from Semiconductor on Vimeo.

Solar Systems is Semiconductor's first major exhibition in the South East for four years. Three moving image works explore the mechanics of observing the Sun, from the vantage point of the Earth to our orbit in outer space. These works are emblematic of the artists’ ongoing investigation of the natural world, which has resulted in major works on astronomy (Brilliant Noise, 2006), and geology (Worlds in the Making, 2011). Their unique approach has won them fellowships and residencies in significant scientific locations such as NASA’s Space Sciences Lab, the Galapagos Islands and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Solar Systems is curated by Lighthouse in partnership with Phoenix Brighton for Brighton Brighton Digital Festival 2011.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cloud Formations Experiments 2 & 3

I was thinking about how time is relative to the individual, so I decided to experiment with different timings and patterns.

I left my camcorder faced up at the sky and filmed clouds moving for about an hour. I used the original film and audio for track one. I then made a copy of this and separated the audio from the visuals as I wanted to speed up the visuals and stretch out the sounds for track two. I used the cookie cutter tool  in the first track to create the circle grid effect and placed the other track below so that it could be viewed through the grid. The original film of the clouds can be seen moving on the actual pattern of the grid.  The original sound consisted of the natural background sound, you can hear, cars, people walking, seagulls, and the sound of the wind etc. The stretched sound  has quite a warped effect. The changing lighting is not an effect, it's just the moving clouds blocking out the sun :-)

For the second experiment below I used the same method but only added in another layer of video and set it to a different speed (more or less in the middle of the other two). I then cookie cut squares inside the circles to create three different timings of the same visuals, and left the same two different timings of the sounds.

MA Show at Camberwell

At the weekend I went to see the MA show at Camberwell and was very impressed, click here for link.  There were so many amazing  art works that I found it hard to have a favourite.