Implementing digital deterioration by increasingly unstable nonlinear feedback networks: an exploration of phase transitions in dynamical systems

Hi all, this is Dario Sanfilippo. I have recently joined the rotting sounds project, to work on feedback systems that progressively become unstable to structurally and conceptually render the idea of digital deterioration.

The main purpose is to implement a set of relatively small networks with different topologies, feedback matrixes, and nonlinearities to microscopically explore the phase transitions of the systems by means of adaptive behaviors. The works will be exhibited at the Mold Museum of Sounds starting from April and the deterioration process will take place over a period of weeks.

Pure Data is the software that I normally use for my works, but the programming environment used for these networks is the Faust language, for double precision in the DSP calculations is a requirement given the very long lifespan that these networks need to achieve full deterioration.

The periods of the feedback loops in the networks, which may be chosen as prime, co-prime, or near-integer ratios depending on whether more or less spectral peak overlappings are desired, will be affected by one or more features of the environment where the works will be running.

The nonlinear functions will be a set of bounded saturators. These functions work in a way such that the wave shaping is directly proportional to the amplitude of the input signal, which can be used as a deterioration process for progressively growing signals.

Networks will start from the condition of marginal stability, that is a configuration of the nonlinear functions and feedback coefficients so that a constant energy stream is produced by a Dirac impulse. Over a time span of one or more weeks, the feedback coefficients of the networks will be increasing from the stability threshold to an arbitrarily chosen value outside of the stability range. The systems will soon become self-oscillating but the limiting effect of the saturators will prevent them from growing infinitely.

As the feedback coefficients increase, the input of the nonlinear functions will grow too, resulting in a stronger deterioration which in turn will produce richer spectra. With more frequency components, there will also be more interactions between signals and instabilities.

The output of the system is the result of recursively combined intermodulation phenomena – both at formal (beats) and timbral (sidebands) time scales – together with the iterated nonlinearities inherent in the DSP structure.

Phase transitions are particularly interesting and nontrivial states of dynamical systems, and the most profound aesthetic aspect of this work is the time-stretched exploration of such areas while going through different degrees of instability. This microscopic inspection will be realized by implementing an adaptive behavior that affects the growth rate of the feedback coefficients. Specifically, the detection of a phase transition will slow down the growth of the coefficients, while the detection of a stable state will increase it.

Of course, the detection and inspection process is something that may either trigger or suppress a phase transition, while the phase transition itself will, in turn, affect such process. In fact, the overall formal evolution is determined by this Heisenbergian relationship where the attempt to determine a state will influence the state itself, recursively.

Buffer Manipulations at Instruments Make Play

I represented RottingSounds at the festival/fair “instruments make play” that took place at WORM in Rotterdam, NL last weekend. I was welcomed with my “Buffer manipulation” setup in a very relaxed and informal atmosphere, in which many curious visitors stopped by to ask questions.

Table of curiosities at All About Audio 2018

Almut and Till spent some time last week to research on our project topic and eventually prepare and give a presentation at All About Audio at the FH St. Pölten. It was an intense time, yielding in very interesting and fruitful discussions and results.

We came up with (at least) two important elements for our research:

  1. the auralist — A fictional character that represents an aural culture (in the digital age) in which sound is considered the preferred medium, implying temporality (and hence decay) to be embraced. This was a rather good addition, we plan to further flesh it out and maybe turn the auralist into a true opponent that not only questions our visual/clean cultural approaches, but also our (project’s) research practice.
  2. the use of a large paper on the table — It served as note-taking and sketching medium as well as an archival container. We used the same paper for the four days and it helped us a lot to follow along all the different (but equally interesting) threads of our discussions. Many of our sketches you can find in the presentation pdf are photos from the paper.

Guests of the conference were quite interested in our approach and asked valuable questions leading into fruitful discussions.

You can find our presentation slides here.

1-bit audio printing at the University of Applied Arts Vienna

Today, we visited the gravure printing workshop at the Institute for Graphics and Printmaking at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. The staff around Veronika Steiner and Attila Piller showed us their printing procedure and the possibilities in terms of materials, size and achievable resolution.
Obviously, one of the important limiting factors is the quality of the rasterization which is usually done with a laser printer on transparent film. This film is used to expose the polymer printing plate with ultraviolet light. The non-exposed parts of the plate are washed away, making room for the print color.

On our quest for maximum resolution of the photomaster, we also visited Josef Schauer-Schmidinger at the workshop for Digital Photography. Although they specialize in digital photography, we will have the possibility to reproduce large-scale high-resolution ink prints (160 cm width) onto 8″x10″ film with an analog Sinar camera, once their darkroom is installed in a few weeks. The target resolution should be more than 2400 dpi.

Electroacoustic composition “residuals” at re_composed festival, October 31

At this year’s edition of the re_composed series, part of paraflows XIII, festival for digital art and cultures, i will present a new piece of acousmatic music, titled residuals.

The piece is re-composed solely of compression artifacts, originating from my piece Points of View, as performed at the same re_composed festival five years earlier. The new piece has the same 24 minute duration as the prior performance, and also the same 4-channel layout.

October 31 thru November 3, 2018
weisses haus, Hegelgasse 14, 1010 Wien, Austria

1-bit audio laser engraving

Today, we have gained new knowledge about laser engraving thanks to the great guys at Universal Laser Systems Vienna.
The laser engraving expert convinced us that a target resolution of 1000 dpi is not easily attainable due to restrictions of laser focus, positioning accuracy and, above all, material constraints.
Nevertheless, we will research further in this direction, since laser engraving allows the application of visual representations of audio on various interesting materials.

Call for participation: Workshop “sound-material-time”, November 8+9, Anton Bruckner University Linz

We will host the workshop “sound-material-time”, taking place November 8+9, 2018, at the Anton Bruckner Private University, Linz, Austria.

We are specifically targeting practitioners and theorists in music / sound art explicitly working with long time spans / obsolescence phenomena / explicit degradation.
In principle also other forms of time-based art are welcome if they are topical. Our focus is on digital media, but deviations are possible.

Since the workshop is within our artistic research project “rotting sounds”, its intentions should well resonate with your topic.
We would like to stress the fact that this is not a scientific workshop, but rather a gathering where we would like to discuss (personal) artistic practices and their contexts.

Central concepts are the following:

  • Interaction of material (physical, analog, digital) and time
  • What is “digital”? Where do physical and logical data interface?
  • Identifying and working with degradation processes/artifacts in the (digital) medium
  • What is the aesthetic impact of such processes?
  • Aspects of presentation, preservation, distribution of artworks depending on degradation

Each of the participants should bring along material things of their work practice which could be instruments, data carriers, objects of interests and passion. You should also give a short introduction about this practice.
Our intention is to keep the number of participants low (select 5-8 or so) and to zoom in on each practice individually.
All three core members of the research project will be present (Thomas Grill, Till Bovermann and Almut Schilling).

Within the group, we will develop questions and experiments on deterioration specifically for each participant.
We will also ask the participants prior to the workshop about specific topics they would like to have addressed.

The work schedule is 10am-1pm and 2pm to 5pm on both days, tentatively.
There will be a possibility for public presentation (concert format) in the evening of November 9.

The deadline for applications is Sunday, October 21, 2018.
Participation is free of charge.

Please direct your applications to info@rottingsounds.org, including

  • a CV
  • a few relevant examples of your work (artistic or theoretical)
  • a short motivation text about what you suggest to bring in and what you expect

Please distribute the call!

Rhyzopertha dominica feeding on digital audio

We are commencing experiments with organisms potentially feeding on digital audio carriers or circuits, therewith changing contents or functionality. Today we have observed and recorded several representatives of Rhyzopertha dominica. Usually they would feed on various cereal grains, but if those are not available, they instead digest also polymers and other technologically interesting substances. We are looking forward to having interesting sonic encounters with them.

First publication “Embracing the temporal deterioration of digital audio – A manifesto”

We are happy to announce that our paper “Embracing the temporal deterioration of digital audio – A manifesto” has been accepted for publication in the upcoming proceedings of the Politics of the Machines conference on the British Computer Society’s eWic platform.

This paper presents the fundaments and challenges of the Rotting sounds project and expresses the most important theses in the form of a manifesto.

Most of today’s media output, be it audio or video, is produced and stored in the digital domain. Although digital data are adorned by the myth of lossless transmission and migration, everyday experience does prove the existence of degradation and, ultimately, data loss in various forms. This pertains to the physical nature of storage media and playback devices as well as to media formats and software in the context of their technological infrastructure.
We have recently launched the project of artistic research ‘Rotting sounds – Embracing the temporal deterioration of digital audio’, funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Since degradation cannot be avoided by principle, we therein propose alternative perspectives on the nature and the implications of deterioration in theory and artistic practice, specifically for the domain of digital audio.
This manifesto shall represent an introduction to our endeavour, as much as it shall form a guideline for us carrying out the research.

Residency at Eden Project

Together with Katharina Hauke, Till will be on a journey to Invisible Worlds at Eden Project in Cornwall, UK. The residency resides under the theme … and then we see if we will be friends and is meant to be an invitation to all curious organisms and life-forms in and around the Eden Project to create sounds and improvised experimental music together (with us).

Small networked music making systems will be set up within the various sites of the Eden Project that feature differing degrees of self-sufficiency and interaction possibilities for both visitors and inhabitants.

We plan to adapt and extend our semi-autonomous platform fielding to both sense and provoke actions of the various actors, inviting them to explore emergent collaborative phenomena. Of course, the (obvious) connection to rotting sounds will be investigated within the residency and related material be collected over at friendly.organisms.de.

Hope to see you there in September!