Saturday, September 11, 2010

Deconstructing 'code dreams': breaking the 6th wall

I've been watching people enter my installation at Artbreaker! Some take a quick snapshot, some sit awhile; not sure how many listen to the audio... so I thought I'd indulge in some art-vanity: giving a tour through the installation and its meaning.

This post is long and analytical; a major essay. So either skip it or get some popcorn :D

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This installation, and the entire Artbreaker! show, is about SOUND. That is the focus and subject... my installation is a 6-dimensional soundscape. The objects are merely props for the sound. In fact, there are only two objects in the entire diorama that are not phantom: Shinjin [the poet] and the Bed.

The diorama is presented in a form that may be familiar to some people from computer adventure games: an environment that simulates a physical room. But nothing in such a room or environment is subject to the accidental influences and random variables of physical life. Every single object has been artificially made with great care and placed in the room. Everything is a signifyer. It is all artifice.

In such games this knowledge underlies and informs the player's approach and strategy. Exploration and observation are the keys to the game; to the storyline, available actions, 'powerups' (extras) and clues. You explore everything in your quest to divine meaning from the environment around you. You not only explore details, but you try to sense the overall pattern of the environment; the story arc.

code dreams is a detective game; the story is my world; how I perceive it. I am blessed/cursed with audio synesthesia. Random noise will suggest pattern to me; you might call it 'music' if your ears have an education in musics outside the Western Tempered Scale; have moved beyond pop music into esoteric sound experiments like Ambient, Industrial, Classical or Tribal or have heard the musics of other countries and instruments. code dreams trys to let you experience being me.

Observation in this case also includes hearing. The visual components of the installation are actually a red herring; subservient to the soundscape.

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The Room Structure

At the entrance to the installation is SLF Portrait, a small spinning cube whose form precurses the rest of the installation. It is made up of the code of my avatar, who is shown in various morphings. The data of the textures is both Visual Basic and hexadecimal, the codes of computers. Deep inside, obscured by this code, is a photo... which is just another code for a person; a visual one. This cube is the room you are about to enter.

The code on the floor is a section of the genetic code sequence for my particular biological being; racial type, sex, weight distribution, etc. It is composed of the primary structure of nucleic acids: Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine, Thymine [AGCT]. You will find this code scattered throught the installation.

These four nucleotide bases are the key to life on this planet. They are also as simple and fundamental as the binary code used to run a computer, which makes up all the other interesting, pretty, amazing or astounding things we can do with a computer. On/Off; Yes/No; 1 or Ø. From such small things, such limited variables, everything else is created: in computers, in life.

The binary on the walls is compounded from my real life data: social security number, driver's license, body stats, old addresses, bank accounts, telephone numbers, web site addresses, passwords [blurred and obfuscated of course]. It is the code of 'me' to various databases. It is a map of 'me.' But a map is not the territory.

Underneath the genetic code on the floor is another 'map' made by superimposing a cranial skull photograph and a map of Disneyland. This is a joke at my own expense, as is the headboard of the Bed :D Yet it interweaves with other jokes in the room to tell a truth about myself and my worldview (immature and juvenile as it is - honk honk!)

The hexadecimal code in the front of the installation and running around the back of the installation spells out m-i-s-o-s-u-s-a-n-o-w-a.

My skin, my age, my race, my height, my eye color... these are all bits and bytes of me; data about me. But they are not the unique philosophy and experience of me. I am the ghost in the machine. The sound of that ghost is the sound of this installation.

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The Objects

[Right Side/input]

Tripartite Key

The first object encountered is in three parts. The first part is the floating unique UUID of my particular avatar in this particular world-construct [Second Life]. It is my avatar's 'key'; that key identifies the avatar known as 'Miso Susanowa' to the program that is SL.

On closer approach, the 4 letters of my name materialize; this is another code, a linguistic one - a label; the codename of me to people here. I am 'Miso'.

Approaching this sculpture, a painting is revealed. This painting is composed of visual binary code [the black and white spaces], the hexadecimal code of my avatar's body shape and binary code spelling out my name. All of this code assembles a 'Portrait Of The Artist As A Binary Process'.

The Sound of Miso

Continuing along the right-hand wall, you will pass an assemblage, 'Come In Out Of The Rain', which will play the sound of rain when you approach. This piece also shows an exploded hypercube. There are 5 sides to this assemblage, the same as the entire room. You have 5 extentions from your torso (legs, arms, head).

Further on you will encounter a piece entitled 'The Sound Of Miso'. Touching this sculpture will play the soundbyte 'Miso!' There is both a 2-dimensional screenshot of an audio program showing the structure of the waveform of this audio and a 3-dimensional sonic map of it made with a spectrum analyser. This piece is another code; a sonic one. It is also a 'code' [signifier] for my being; my focus in the world, a revelation of my interior self [Miso is sound].

To the right of this sculpture is an assembly of binary numbers, which decode to the letter 'I'. Touching this sculpture will give you an additional sheet of binary to decode :D


The Bed

The Bed is the point at which the soundscape is focused. 'Sleeping' in the Bed will trigger the missing parts of the base soundscape - the Dream Horn and the Barking Dog - completing it and focusing the ears on the spacial positioning and blending of the soundscape. Headphones will help tremendously in experiencing this movement and envelope.

The best way to experience this is to focus your camera on the Looking Glass, then back out until you are just short of having the front hexadecimal code show on your screen. Sit and listen for awhile; listen to the space of the sound, the shape of the sound, the position of the sound, the movement of the sound. If you listen for awhile you will hear the sweeping of the entire soundscape back and forth & front to back in the field of your hearing.

As mentioned before, the Bed is one of only two objects in the room that is 'real' and not phantom. The bedsheets are the reflection of the genetic code sequence on the floor. The Bed's coverlet is a reflection of the binary code on the walls. Around the Bed on the floor is a rug made of binary code, with scattered unit-letters of genetic and binary code all around; my toys, my building blocks.

If you touch the Dream Angel she will repeat a childhood prayer, referencing herself and reflecting my own child-self praying to the angels.

The various Dream Figures standing around the bed and the room will speak when you are in proximity. Their voices are made up of combining and recombining a polyglot of 7 languages spoken by text-to-speech interpreters available on the web [these figures are from a RL dream of mine, where they stood around discussing the human race in debate and wonderment, pondering what these young beings might aspire to when they grew up]

The Bedside Table

The Table holds several items of interest:

The Golden Key, which is the second of the two Keys to the installation's meaning, this one visual. Touching it will both read your avatar's UUID [identifying you to me] and deliver the poem 'code dreams'.

The Music Box on the table is a pun on the room/installation's world, echoing the entire room structure as a musical 'box'.

The Spring Fling Flower will give you a copy of itself [self-propagation].

The Magic Mirror will give you a little toy mirror, which is a copy of a favorite toy of mine, a 'Princess Magic Wand'. Touching your copy of the Mirror in different places will give you several of the soundbytes from the original physical Wand. It is also an echo of and a pun on the Looking Glass (Yes, it's crudely made; it's a cheap plastic toy, silly!)

Cygnus on touch plays a fragment of 'Over The Rainbow'; a Wizard of Oz element echoed in the Seedling Swan and the Ibis. Dorothy's base code erupts in her subconscious after her accident, removed from the censor/operating system which is the ego. Dorothy's experience in WoO is a dream which reflects her real life, yet amplifies and explores her underlying psychological patterns and feelings [base code and subroutines] in symbolic and meaningful elements [artifice].

[ The Swan and Ibis both hold verbal keys to the meaning of the installation; a personal one.

I was involved in virtual worlds from the barest beginnings, homesteading and creating in 'strict' VWs like the VRML worlds of Alphaworld, Cybertown & blacksun as well as the text-based MOOs and MUDs, the 2D webworlds of Virtual Places, The Palace, Excite Chat, role-playing forums, IRC chats and many more.

I created many VRML worlds at that time along with extensive "worlds" crafted out of linked web pages (my largest being over 100 pages). I was active in many gameworlds, continuing to build both objects and game maps for 3D games such as DOOM, MechWarrior, Freelancer and Neverwinter Nights.
I was familiar with and using tools such as Bryce, LightWave, trueSpace, 3D Studio Max, POV raytracing, VistaPro and many others.

Many reasons and circumstances conspired in having me leave the net community where I grew up and withdraw into private concerns for over 10 years. Second Life is my return to the multiverse and my recovery from this isolation. The quotes played by the Ibis and the Swan and the music in Cygnus reflect on my feelings about being 'home' again (on the net) ]

[Left Side/output]

Above Blossom-Tree and The Moon is my Solar Symphony. This is an interactive piece, composed of compound loops from a long RL piece of mine of the same name which spans approximately 9 minutes.

The Sun in the Symphony may be SAT on; from this point, each planet's Voice in the Symphony may be activated by touching and waiting for the loop to synchronize with the timing. The Symphony is able to sound all the planets at one time or in subsets/'chords' of planets to produce several different soundscapes. It is a meditation on the structure and music of the universe [organized perceptual set] being a function of the central position of the Observer (you). The universe really does revolve around you... at least the local universe you create in your head does.

On the wall is a painting, 'The Matrix ReRendered', which will animate a stick-figure representation of a pivotal scene from the computer film 'The Matrix' on touch. Stick figures... because one of the first works of animation I did as a child (and many do) was flip-books made by making stick figures in the bottom corners of a book or notebook and then flipping the pages quickly to produce a crude 'movie'.

It was also created as a sly comment on the elaborate nature of modern virtual art (mine in particular) and creating in that modern medium my most raw beginning attempts in animation.

Shijin [poet] will 'speak' several poems on touch. Shijin delivers poetry in text [encoded speech] but is silent; a pun on the nature of poetry, which should be heard to fully appreciate.

Data/Information is a cube in which the textures DATADATADATADATA shrink on approach to show a sphere of information hidden in the data. Touching the Information Point will deliver a copy my painting 'Portrait Of The Artist As A Binary Process' to you. This piece is a restatement of the nested-loop structure of SLF Portrait.

Hanging in the air is ME MEME ME, a pun on The Beatles' "I, Me, Mine" [a sound recording] and on the word 'meme' [ "a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena." - Wikipedia]. I am [ME] the [MEME] of [ME].

At the front left corner of the installation is Building Blocks; AGCT arranged in a pyramid of 10 [1+0, the transposition in binary of a place to a higher place]. The Blocks play a soundbyte from Schoolhouse Rock about multiplying by 10 and the functions of Zero and One.

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Main Soundscape Pieces

Storm Caller holds the Dream Drum.

Gridflower contains the sound of my old Hayes modem connecting to Compuserve, long ago.

Iron Orchid/Hallucinoflora #2 (for Michael Moorcock) gives an audio and spacial expansion to the main soundtrack.

The Earth Tone sphere above plays the root fundamental frequency of the planet Earth; the measureable tone the planet gives off spinning in space.

Tao (Dragon Dance) also contains this tone with harmonics added.

The Moon above the Blossom-Tree is a Gregorian Choir singing harmonics of the Earth tone.

[All three of these sound emitters were created with overlays of alpha wave frequencies, designed to relax the body and mind and to stimulate the pineal gland. Likewise, they are layered with binaural beats to reinforce brainwave entrainment]

Angelic Lamp holds the Dream Horn.

Canis Majoris holds the sound of the Barking Dog.

The flower on the Bedside Table, Feyharp, plays the Dream Harp.

Blossom-Tree uses the sung notes of the major scale - Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do. However, notes were shuffled and combined to make the Tree sing my name. If you listen you will hear the looping melody:

->SO, Ti La... La, Re, Fa, So, Re, Ti, MI ->

The Bellflower sits beside and harmonizes with Blosson-Tree.

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The Codes

Scattered throughout 'code dreams' is information. Some of this information is encoded in the binary code of computers; some is coded in the hexadecimal programming language. There are also scattered QR code blocks and barcodes - if you have a capable scanner, scanning them will produce various statements, a biography of me, links to this website/blog and various other fun stuff. Some of these codes are embedded in the form or placement of objects; some of them are embedded in the tonal sequences of music and some are on textures. It is left to the explorer to puzzle out these little bonus items ^_^

For example, here is a QR code block hidden in the installation you might discover - scanning it will produce this text, which is representative of the theme of 'code dreams':

"There is information all around you; hidden meanings in the patterns of the world. Some people are aware of those hidden meanings; we call them shamans, witches, wizards. They read signs and wonders, trends and currents and know their meanings."

You might find the 4th Amendment, quotes from The Matrix and Blade Runner and the first verse of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song :D

You might also discover the barcodes, among them these:

"Secret message inside!"
"Eat At Joes"
"Im in yr codez bein sekrit"

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Why 'code dreams'

The ancient philisophical debate and existential question: who am I? Am I what people say about me? Am I the collection of facts; data; the incidentals and accidentals of my physical passage through the world? Am I 'real' online? Am I 'real' when I talk on the telephone?

Are we preprogrammed, like machines? Are we imprinted with subroutines, like EEPROM chips? Are there strict pathways in our cortex and neurons which make is do what we do, always, like a machine? Do we have freedom? Who makes the world - the school where we were taught about it; the opinions and insights of our friends; the various compendiums of data [facts and figures] regarding the material world; the voice from the pulpit?

A programmer or an engineer is familiar with the old maxim: "the variables are variable and the constants aren't constant." Familiarity with machines or programming will reveal certain unexpected influences and reactions, variations and conditions. There are no "absolutes" in computing, nor are there in physical life.

The world spins; cosmic rays alter; spacetime is elastic [as shown by Einstein and the quantum physicists]; merely a phenomenom of local stature. Strict grade-school physics tells me that most of what I believe to be 'solid matter' is in fact composed of more empty space than of physical particles. Further, quantum and electron microscopy starts to question even the 'solidity' of atomic structures... we are all dancing and changing through time. This is what the Tao would tell you thousands of years ago or right now, or the ancient Vedas, or Plato's allegory of shadows on a cave wall.

If you work long enough with machinery, electronics or computers, you come to realize that many machines have distinct 'personalities'; random system noise that is picked up by the machine and spun into the routines and subroutines of its programs, which sometimes affect the entire operating system of the machine or its' output [analog synthesizers are a good example of this, as is 'prim twisting' in SL, where functions and data from one shape can disappear, bend or be altered, truncated or discarded by changing the base shape of the prim with varying interesting effects]

Autonomous processes are our system daemons and BIOS; childhood habits and experiences are EEPROMS and subroutines, partially reconfigureable with effort. Nervous systems are networks, carrying sense data which our brain/cpu/operating system assembles into information [coherent relationships of data].

From simple code arises complexity. From basic building blocks we assemble the program of the world. We are always code, dreaming to itself.

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Miso Susanowa: we are only amino acids... if you are reductionist

Hypatia Pickens: But we do exist because of the code
Hypatia Pickens: We have a unique code, and we stand in a unique spot on the grid.
Hypatia Pickens: What isn't real about that?

Miso Susanowa: no more no less real that our usual persona masks in the physical world

Hypatia Pickens: And we play roles out there as well

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i build these walls like i build my world
out of bits and pieces, flotsam and jetsam
junk and jewels and seaweed and sand
wrack washed up on the beach of being

dreams and fears and loves and deaths
bits and bytes and notions and fantasies
amino acids, nebulous thoughts
waves and participles, past and present

i dream in code:
adenine, guanine, cytosine, thymine
i code dreams:
shape and surface, color and texture

code world; physical world
only masks on the core of experience.

- Miso Susanowa, "code dreams"
for Pop Art Lab/Artbreaker, Sept. 2010

You can see more photos from code dreams here:

code dreams Flickr set

... and Dividni Shostakovich has a very thoughtful tour of 'code dreams' and some wonderful writing on these topics here.

Unfortunately, Blogger kicked a wicket in posting my reply to his thoughtful review, so I am posting it here; please read Dividni's post before reading further:

[reply to that posting]

TY Dividni! A wonderful article and happy you came to HEAR how I think :D

We have no argument, contrary to your second half. You are making my points for me; it is my failing to communicate clearly. You have thought about the issues crucial to the installation and that is the point of artwork - dialogue and discussion.

Our minds are NOT computers; agreed. Nor are our minds "merely electrostatic discharges between synapses." The point of INPUT, as you remarked, is that "this is the label the machines have for the person running the avatar named "Miso Susanowa" but it is not ME, anymore than the sound of my name is me; these are labels.

The application of old-world computer metaphors of strict binary/dualistic processes echo the outdated thinking of Man-As-Clockwork-Orange theories that recur throughout history. We know now in computing as well as in biology that there is no sharp demarcation, no "dividing line" that can be applied to organic and cybernetic systems.

So the final lines in 'code dreams' refer to opposing forces in the same way a taijitu ('yingyang symbol' for you gaijin) expresses opposing forces, which in fact are an illusion and compliment each other to create a larger whole.

My life in code is a compliment to my life in flesh; neither one is "more real" than the other; merely... angles of view and perspective; only useful metaphors, not "the truth."

You mention "the codes and dreams ... are in difficult tension; perhaps the point is irony... or ambivalence." The approach/idea/conceit was to show these things as toys of the mind; toys to play with, to think about and dream about, but ultimately only toys; words to describe the wordless. It is the same theme stated by the initial Tripartite Key/Input area, where various labels and facts and characteristics applied to me are only fragmentary labels, not really "me." That a person is more than an assemblage of their facts and figures, in a database or in a casual stranger's eye. For the same reason, all objects in the room are phantom but for the Bed and the Poet (storyteller) - my worldview is subjective and not authoritative to anything but itself.

"when the codes become the background and not the focus of "code dreams," the work takes off." Beautiful! THIS IS THE ENTIRE POINT of the installation and you found it!!! The scenery, the objects are PROPS. The installation, like the rest of the Artbreaker pieces, is about SOUND. It is also about who i REALLY am, to myself; I HEAR. I make music which I hear in life, in objects and things and the rythmns of life. That is what is most "real" to me in my everyday physical life. The code is definitely supposed to be in the background; both sets of code, biological and computer.

"you could say that in music, "here's a note, here's another note, here are three at once" ... but you would be wrong. " You see? We are agreeing :) I apologize for stating my thesis in such a muddled way. Reductionist theory would have you break down Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' into quarter-, whole and half-notes, or even further to scratchings of ink on paper. But it would not tell you why it can make you cry, or make you think deeply about the man who composed that music, or what he is saying about the condition of Man everywhere, in every age, at some time in her life. It would not be music.

Thank you so much for such a thorough and interesting exploration of my world (the other gentle mock in the entire build; it is not so nearly neat as input/processing/output; it's messy, like my mind, like life itself).

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

- 'Wild Bill' Shakespeare


sororNishi said...

Wow, finished the pop-corn, where do I sign up...:))

Miso Susanowa said...

awww soror! *hugs* you poor thing! Torturing yourself that way :D

i know you are sposed to let some art-maven do this, not yourself :D

Wizzy Gynoid said...

kewl. this is very useful.

you go, miso!

Dividni Shostakovich said...

Really great post, Miso. It's tremendously helpful to hear how you think (yes, I said "hear"!) Now I'll have to visit "code dreams" one (or two ... or three) more times!

Miso Susanowa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miso Susanowa said...

lol typos, why can't you edit your own comments!!!

TY Dividni *hug* "Hearing how you think" is so good I am going to steal it for future use :D

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