Author Archives: Jack Colton

Systems Aesthetics: A Later System Degrading Sound




For the System 3 assignment I attempted to make a system using Processing’s minim library. Getting up to speed with minim’s language was quite a task to begin with. In particular, I struggled with the complex manner in which classes are utilized by minim. Once I got a very simple tone instrument set up, I felt quite accomplished.

My next idea was to map a quality of the instrument to a quality of a shape. I ended up mapping amplitude to the diameter of a circle, creating a very simple positive relationship—as the diameter grew, the amplitude increased. I then decided to incorporate more shapes and to try having the shapes trigger a new instrument. Again very simply, I had to squares appear at the chosen maximum diameter/amplitude of the circle/instrument, both of which triggered an instrument on appearance.

Now, as described, this is not really a system. It’s just a set of commands. However something surprising happened when I ran my code. The computer somehow couldn’t run the sound effectively, or there was something I had not taken into account within the relationship of increasing diameter to amplitude. What ended up happening was that each tone overloaded the previous (or something like that…) and the sound gradually degraded, producing a sort of weird phasing effect alongside the rhythmic pulsing of the circle. This degrading effect seemed quite random as well. Each time I ran the program, it sounded a bit different, dependent on whatever goings on were in happening in the back of my hard drive (or something, I don’t really know why it did what it did).

Systems Aesthetics: Text + Movement Revisited

For my conference project I attempted to develop a system out of my Blackspace project. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was successful. Beyond the lingering presence of what I felt was only a semi-system in the original, a system of meaning-making for the viewer, there was not much in particular that I could grab onto as of a “systems aesthetic” in this piece. However, I am very satisfied with what I accomplished visually. I also think that there are some strong directions laid out for me to move in and many potentials for systems development given due time.



My first attempt to develop the project was in experimenting with text layout. I looped text in columns or large arrays overlaying the video. I actually did like the sort of graphic quality produced in these large arrays. Words became less legible and more like patterns, though still clearly within the realm of text. I also liked the way the dancers’ bodies were distorted seen through the text. However I wanted there to be some legibility over the course of the piece. Essentially I wanted to explore how the meaning of singular words could color an image, could almost subliminally undertone a viewer’s experience of image and also, importantly, of movement.




Later in the process I decided to experiment with pixels. I wanted pixel data from the video to be read by the text and for the text to respond to particular pixels in the image. My vision was for the video to be read through the shifting colors of a text array, broken up by the form of the words, but the words also acting as windows onto the movement. As the video was of two dancers, two moving bodies (my parents), I wanted to produce literal bodies of text. I succeeded in getting text to dynamically read pixel-color data, yet only at one fixed point, so I could not produce an array of text for the whole video to bee seen through as I had hoped. I think I could get there with more time, though. Hopefully in the future I can continue with this idea.




Ultimately I decided to use transparency as a technically simpler method of producing the aforementioned effect. I created a dense, low-alpha noise-field of text on top of the video, which itself had a low alpha value, making each frame ghost atop the last. The text then provided a sort of cell-structure for the faintness of the low-alpha video to “hang onto.” As new words were randomly grabbed from the text array, this cell-structure shifted, producing slightly different visual qualities. I found this visual effect quite beautiful and therefor wanted to linger on the colors and forms produced. To achieve this, I decided to slow the video down quite a lot, to .02 of its normal speed. Also, to maintain that slight legibility of text, I made a sort of margin of opaque text on the left-hand side of the screen, displaying what word the dancer’s bodies were being “seen-through” at any given moment.

Overall I’m quite satisfied with the piece, but I think there is still room to play with the relationship of legible to illegible text. I also want to work the pixel-color reading function of my previous sketches with this one in order to create an even more complex play of color, form, movement, and language. I’m excited about where this project could go. In general, though, I’m excited about using language more often in my digital projects, because writing is a real love of mine.

Blackspace: Text + Movement

  DSC_0041 This was a text, video, and sound piece that uses the ArrayList function to call up individual words from a song’s lyrics at random as the song plays, creating a counterpoint to the song, the intended meaning of the song, and hopefully producing surprising new meanings for the viewer/listener. The initial song I used was Somethin’ Stupid by Frank Sinatra, which accompanied a video of my Dad dancing in Twyla Tharp’s piece Nine Sinatra Songs, which uses, of course, nine Sinatra songs for nine duets. I hoped that the dancing would emphasize the sort of contrapuntal “dance” going on between the text and the lyrics. To push this piece forward I hope to experiment with using different music and video and to make it much more self-evolving. At the moment, it is only “self-evolving” in the sense that the random progression of text, in concert with the predictable progression of the song (in the sense that it is pre-recorded), produces a sort of self-evolving meaning for the viewer/listener. However I hope to play with the text and image themselves in order to make their evolution and response to one another much more explicit. I might play with pixel glitching, now that we know how to do that. I also hope to incorporate the text into the image in a variety of different ways. I actually like the white box separated from the video, but I think there are a whole lot of other ways this could go. Callum’s idea of actually having the text in a subtitle format is great. I could even try to do a sort of sing-a-long follow the bouncing dot animation. I think that could be wonderfully confusing. Lastly, if I can manage this, I’d be interested in having a sort of ArrayList of videos with their own associate lyrics to call up at random or with some evolving ruleset. This would allow for cross-polination of text,video,sound and I think could lead to some crazy jump-cutting. Ultimately, I think I have a strong little sketch to work with here and I’m excited about the directions I’m envisioning.

Systems Aesthetics: System 2 Scanner Drawing

For this project, I intended to make a process-based series of images with abstract and figurative elements using a simple, turn-based method. My materials were minimal, just a piece of photo-paper, a pen, a hi-lighter, and a scanner. I began by drawing a simple square in pen on the photo-paper, accenting it with some hi-lighter ink. I scanned this sheet into the scanner in four parts, thusly some of the scanner’s interior was imaged along with the paper. I put the images into one photoshop document as four layers. I then re-arranged the layers into a sort of overlapping collage pattern. When I was satisfied with the arrangement, I used Photoshop’s auto-blend, which attempts to make a coherent image out of all the layers selected. As I had disorganized the layers, this was impossible for the program, and so it resulted in an abstract, glitchy rendering with emergent transparencies, unexpected colors, and strange, warped shapes. The program also produces or adds new layers as it sees fit, resulting in more or less puzzle-pieces for me to arrange. I continued “taking turns” with the auto-blend algorithm, re-arranging and blending, until the image looked completely unrecognizable, totally unlike its source. Some early versions are below, and a later version is above. The goal of the program algorithm, all the while, was to make a “coherent image,” and mine, all the while, was to make a figurative image. I wanted to make something that appeared like a human body. Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.43.28 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.43.09 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.42.52 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.43.36 PM Ultimately neither of us quite succeeded in our goal, but the result was interesting nonetheless. The process, the game I was playing with the machine, actually made me see in a different way. I began to see the inkling of figures at some moments (visible in the examples below), but I also saw landscapes emerging. The process became immersive, and each step seemed to open up onto a landscape in a new world that I could explore endlessly, turn-by-turn. It was kind of crazy, but this was my experience. The image at the top of the post, in particular, marked a turning point. This rectangular space at its center looked uncannily like a landscape to my tired, immersed self, and only after that image did I end up producing the images below, which appear to me like scenes in some kind of fantastic tale—sci-fi cityscapes and mischievous characters popping up before my eyes. I hope to continue playing with this sort of “drawing” process, and a fantasy of mine has been to actually write a narrative to go along with some of these images, to produce a sort of graphic novel. Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.53.24 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.53.31 PM Screen Shot 2017-04-05 at 6.53.44 PM

Conference Post-Mortem: Iterative Painting

screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-31-21-pm   screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-31-08-pm RGB Grain Ultimately, I have produced five digital, animated, iterative paintings. This was certainly my intention. Nothing really went wrong. However there are some aspects incorporated into my five pieces that surprised me and there are some aspects that, I think, could have been improved and that I hope to improve. Initially, I aimed to make five pieces all based off of my original colorbar class, which iterates pixel-high rectangles of variable color along the height of a five-pixel-wide bar that can be moved across the screen, essentially “painting” itself if the background isn’t called. Moving forward with the class, I simply wanted to incorporate the new skills we learned since the early days of for loops. Not so simple, actually. I didn’t have much difficulty understanding individual concepts over the course of the semester, but in attempting to combine them I found that creative use of these skills together is the real challenge and most definitely the thing I have to play with if I really want creative control over my ideas. The final pieces were much more reliant on variations and additions to the original for loop than I wished. However a couple of the pieces I think were very successful in exploring the possibilities of layering simple loops because of this more reduced framework. RGB Grain (above) is my favorite painting, and it was also the first I coded. It relies on three different colorbars and a basic interactive function to produce semi-predictable color and texture effects and animation. One colorbar moves left, one moves right, and one acts as a shifting color field. The latter is responsible for the more dramatic, intermittent color/texture shifts, as it takes longer to screenwrap and, once it does, it iterates a great number of thin colored lines across the entire canvas at once. A mouse-press function resets this colorbar with a semi-random, red-leaning color-value, and this allows the viewer of the painting to disrupt its semi-predictable loop and introduce more variation, color and texture-wise, into the piece. I titled it RGB Grain because the way the colorbars “ripple” across each other suggests there is a with and against the grain to each of them. screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-31-48-pm   screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-33-32-pm Gross Picnic Blanket and Skywiper My other pieces tended to involve these three more consistently colored color bars than the more variant ones of Cut Canvas and Heat Scan. My experiments were more with composition, rhythm, shape, and opacity. The biggest challenge was making the pieces appear organic and smooth in their changes. I don’t think I was entirely successful in doing this across all five. Most notably, Flared was a challenge. I attempted to use the colorbar from Cut Canvas to make a piece along the lines of RGB Grain. Though I think the dynamic, lively quality of the colors and shapes is interesting, the piece doesn’t vary and evolve as much as it should. The same goes, I think, for Screenbound Ectoplasm Wipe. On the note of that piece, though, I did uncover a couple avenues I would like to explore further in the future through my failures. For Screenbound, I found it interesting how using a noise field of simple shapes below a semi-transparent color bar can produce a textured “trail” as the bar wipes across canvas. Using noise and transparency to create texture is probably the next thing I want to explore in Processing. screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-32-44-pm   screen-shot-2016-12-16-at-7-35-20-pm Flared and Screenbound Ectoplasm Wipe I do wish I had more time to work on most of these. I like to save multiple iterations of a piece as I work on it and discover new avenues. I can make “nice” looking things quickly, but I am ambitious with my ideas and I like to follow through with good execution. Though it’s very easy to get into an improvisatory dialogue with Processing and to get interesting, pretty results in this way, I think having a strong initial idea is very important. Otherwise you can just keep working on one file and it can keep evolving into different things. It’s important to have an idea to work towards. That’s not to say, though, that experimentation in Processing is bad and useless. One of the great things about it is how easy it makes experimentation. Lastly, overall Processing pushed me to work in a different way. I don’t usually think too much about color, texture, etc. in the production of my work in other media. I tend to be more of a conceptual artist who, nonetheless, likes to have sensual qualities in his work. Processing brought me back to basics in a way. I found out that I really lean towards the color blue. It taught me that good work can come from simple use of specific tools, that I don’t always need conceptual justification for making things. In the past few years I have really felt that digital art is very important and will become increasingly so. Maybe the conceptual tendency of my work can simply be bound up in the simple use of a particular tool that I have reason to believe is important. Instead of coming up with conceptual justifications for my use of a particular medium, just let the use of the medium justify itself.  

Conference Project Proposal: Iterative “Painting”


Heat Scan, 2016

Since my very early days of using Processing, I’ve been interested in pushing the program to its computational limits. There is such satisfaction in getting the computer working, with its fan running hard and the feeling of it heating up, the danger of it crashing at any moment. It seems like I’m gaining some control over the thing. So often the computer as a piece of machinery is removed from our experience. We see its screen and its content blends with our own cognitive space. This has always been very disturbing to me. I just don’t feel comfortable with this illusion that the computer is an entity or a domain beyond my bodily control. It is just a clunky silly thing made to look so absurdly sleek on the outside.

Cut Canvas, 2016

So, in my coding, I’ve found satisfaction in using these basic, shortcutted drawing functions we’ve been giving (rect, ellipse, line) in their smallest, most basic form (that being at the size of one, maybe two pixels) and as much as possible! I like these swarms and smears of little things because once I get close to manipulating actual pixels on the screen, I feel like I’m working with an actual material and I don’t feel so removed from the computer’s hidden operations. So, for my conference project, I’m basically going to be making CPU intensive, iterative “paintings” in an attempt to develop a more bodily, sensuous, less alienated relationship to my laptop. My early work is probably the best guide for understanding where I’ll be going with this. Heat Scan (above left) and Cut Canvas (above right) are the prime examples, and Interlacing and Wing relate to a lesser extent. These sketches were actually all built off the same initial code, that of Heat Scan. I built a custom function that loops tiny rectangles of varying colors along the height of a five pixel-wide “colorbar” that wipes across the canvas. The fill colors are responsive to the loop’s iterator h so that there is an interesting color gradation along the height of the colorbar. Background is not called in the draw function so that the colorbar prints or paints itself along the canvas’s width. Once it reaches the canvas’s limit, it screenwraps and lays another layer of itself over itself, with slight variation (actually unnoticeable if you’re nose isn’t to an HD monitor). It’s a simple thing, but that’s why I was able to draw so much out of it. For the rest of the semester I’ll be pushing it further. A couple ideas I have: first and foremost I want the differences between each layer post-screenwrap to be more apparent. To achieve this perhaps I would start alpha values very high and gradually reduce them each go-round so that we don’t simply get the new layer totally obscuring the previous. I’ve already experimented with using multiple color bars in Cut Canvas, but I would like to experiment further. Interlacing was also a valuable experiment in that I found I could achieve interesting results with a gradual change in background color rather than colorbar. Wing was the first time I tried using different shapes with the colorbar loop (ellipse and line). Departing from my previous efforts I want to experiment with image processing. Perhaps there’s some way to use another sort of scanning bar that will gradually displace the pixels in a jpg loaded into processing. This would move my work away from pure abstraction, which I would be happy about. I also want to try using the push and popmatrix commands to add layers to my work. Lastly I’m very interested by opacity in processing. I find that opacity really makes things look good, but I want to experiment further with how it actually functions. gerhardrichter_photo2  

Skywiper, James Hoff

Artists I’m looking to for inspiration include Gerhard Richter (above left), who does an aesthetically similar “smear” thing with actual paint, James Hoff (above right), who makes digital “paintings” that are actually prints of images that have been infected with computer viruses. I’ve also been paying attention to Callum and Shengluo’s work over the course of the semester, as they both have a way of working with code that is much more logical than my own. Shengluo’s Spooky sketch and Callum’s Alive Again sketch inspire me for their advanced technicality, organic animation, and affectivity. Ultimately this project should lead to some nice looking things. More importantly I think it will point me in a lot of interesting directions to be explored in the future. The greatest challenge might be to keep my focus on the initial code and really “stay true” to it for the sake of the coherence of the final body of conference work. I do want my five videos to really work together, speak to each other, and complicate each other. If I keep to the initial structure of a “colorbar,” which I think falls squarely in Galantner’s generative art definition (the colorbar is a fixed form moving in a fixed manner but the information encoded in it varies), but simply add on the new tools we’ve learned to use then I think I’ll be good.