Datamosh Vimeo Link: https://vimeo.com/273382806 Password: famst109ga
Humans have always used machines as extensions of our own body’s capabilities. In the information era, a mouse is our hand, the keyboard our voice, the screen our eyes, and the speakers our ears. Our minds have conditioned responses about how to use these tools to interact with our environment (and our real arms, eyes, skin, organs are no different) in exceedingly powerful ways.
However, computers operate according to a different logic to our biomechanical limbs and electrochemical neurons. Processors work close to the metal on the basis of math, boolean logic, branching, recursion, ordered lists, and memory stacks. More abstract, higher level (close to the screen) languages work on principles of ‘objects’, parent-child hierarchies, instances, and functions. The intent of computer programs is to use these logics to create end-use tools that follow human-understandable principles of ‘design’, rather than the principles of electrical engineering and conditional logic that make general use computers tick from an engineering perspective. The ‘effect’ of glitches is that of breaking the ‘design’, literally resulting in behaviors unintended for such end-use tools. The ‘affect’ of glitches is then that of revealing the principles that underlie the design. This offers value to artists because of its subversion of the pre-packaged hypodermic needle instrument, to speak poetically, and offers value to engineers because of its revelation about the inner system logics. Glitches offer an opportunity to advance our understanding of the systems behind the design.
Glitches are not a new concept, but they can be reconceptualized in relation to engineered computer systems in a unique way. Computer systems are ‘active’. They process information as an agent, whereas information tools of previous eras have all been passive ‘tools’ which required human operators. Beyond maintenance, the activity of computer systems is ‘automation’, ‘simulation’, and infinite reproducibility. They automate logic processes, they simulate human and mechanical machine behavior, and they allow for the infinite reproduction of ‘data works’, objects, ideas, arts, visual, audio, tactile, 3D, spatial experiences encoded into data can be endlessly copied, transferred, and transmitted. To automate and simulate, many computer systems use a modular system: object oriented programming separates expressions of computer code into ‘objects’, ‘functions’, ‘procs’, ‘lambdas’, ‘classes’, ‘tasks’, ‘daemons’, ‘variables’, ‘arrays’, ‘bootup procedures’, and ‘programs’ summonable into action infinitely without deterioration. Most such ‘modules’ require defined inputs of a specific format, and provide output in another format. A unified ‘black box’ theory of computing only exists in the realm of design. Our smartphones may be black boxes, but the inner workings are nothing but. The potential of module-oriented systems is that of ‘emergent behavior’, where the virtual space of possible outputs from a computer program or system becomes expansive and unpredictable, yet still slave to the logic of its individual modules. Procedural generation in video games, neural network based machine learning, video game AIs, robot swarms, algorithmic art, computer generated music, 3D texture tessellation, raytracing, cloth, hair, fluid, muscle, skin, and light simulation all come from a static set of logics (rules or modules) that interact with one another in ‘emergent’ ways.
This emergence creates a vastness of potential experiences and interactions that are ripe for exploration. There are many spaces of exploration. There is the natural world, the logic of our physical reality; There is the biological world, the logic of living creatures; There is the psychological world, the logic of perception and behavior; There is the psychedelic world, the logic of ‘experience’. The psychedelic is unique among these because it is the most synthesized by nurture rather than nature. It is an ‘emergent reality’ forming chiefly from the personal context of the ‘experiencer’. All psychedelic experiences are unique by virtue of the semi-controllable contexts and history within which they occur, which offers a near infinite space of unpredictable results to be explored. The exploration of experience is the main function of stories, which in my mind makes them inherently a psychedelic experience. The emergent behaviors of modular computer systems offer the possibility of ‘engineered’ psychedelic spaces of exploration. Setting ‘seeds’ in procedural generation programs, the careful tweaking of fuzzy logic in modular systems, the errant throwing darts into the darkness of setting randomized variables, and boasting a ‘playful’ attitude with a disregard for the notion of ‘breaking the system’ results not in picture perfect design, but in fresh semiotic and dialectical possibility. The objective of the ‘psychedelic engineer’ (storytellers, artists, simulators) is to redefine the ‘errors’ of modular interaction between systems as ‘emergent nature’ and curate the experience of the emergent virtual. From this we get unexpected and unthinkable experiences, like in many video games such as Super Hot where time only moves as fast as your in-game avatar does, or Fez’s 3D worlds that are flattened into 2D projections at whim, or Audiosurf where the pace, spectral frequency, and transient volume of inputted music emerges as a surrealist race track for a futuristic vehicle.
These are not synthesized and re-encoded human experiences. Instead, they emerged from the internal logic of engineered systems. This is the dawn of a new mythical canon of ‘generated experience’ previously unseen (to my knowledge) outside of the randomly generated music scores of the renaissance, and word games like ad libs. We have only scratched the surface.
Hi there, take a peak.