Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Hard Edge, Soft Edge (Two pieces in the shape of a pear)

There is a world of difference between hard and soft, but in one sense, a mathematical sense, they are only a short step apart. They are as close as the difference between a sine wave and a square wave.

Three pieces in the shape of a pear
from Peter Henderson @ Systems Art on Vimeo.

In this recent piece, the only difference between the soft and hard components of the visuals, is the use of a sine wave to create the softness and a square wave to create the hardness.

The video has three elements (although like Satie's Three Pieces, there are actually seven parts) which are respectively soft then hard then soft.

The three components are

  1. Soft geometric waves
  2. Hard geometric waves
  3. Soft natural shapes transitioning to soft geometric waves
The intervals between the three components are identical soft geometric shapes.

The audio is also a combination of hard and soft noise, all played to the same pattern. This is a percussion pattern with intervals 4, 1, 3 ,2 ,2 ,3 ,1 ,4 where the timbres are chosen from natural sounds of clicks and roars, hard and soft respectively.

The same pattern that generates the audio also generates the visuals, where the transitions follow the same interval sequence (by and large). This creates the illusion of symmetry, like that obtained in contemporary dance.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Noise - It's not that simple

A noise ... annoys

said someone* ...

sometime ...


Even noise is music. You may not enjoy it, but you can use it ...

* Buzzcocks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMvIftbQ8Tw

Monday, 15 May 2017

More on sequences as patterns in music and visual art

Working on a mapping between music and visual art, based on the recognition of shared sequences.

Many artists have described their work in terms of music. Klee and Kandinsky are prime examples. When you study what they wrote about music, it is often the use of shape and colour that is considered to be the parallel with music. For example colour in painting may be considered to be similar to pitch in music and geometric shape to correspond to timbre (instrument, essentially).

However, there is a more fundamental correspondence between plastic art and music, and that is the use of rhythm. Music is first and foremost rhythm. Even when it is organised sound, rather than the conventional use of musical instruments, the sequence of beats (sound events) is what takes and holds our attention.

Corresponding to rhythm in music could be the arrangement of marks on a page, for example. Klee captured the rhythm of pieces by repeatedly overlaying elements that could be seen as a graphical score.

But the obvious visual equivalent of music is movement, whether dance or film or performance. The music (or sound event sequences, in the case of some typed of experimental music) has a rhythm and this can be matched by movement of objects in time.

Synchronisation is an important aspect of having the sound and vision enhance each other, although this synchronisation can be very precise, or syncopated, or purposefully orthogonal. When precise, the synchronisation confirms our expectation. When syncopated it confirms and enhances. When orthogonal ...

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Systems - Reverse Conceptual Art

When we discuss Systems Art, the very term itself is often the subject of disagreement. What do artist's mean when they refer to art as being systematic?

They might mean geometric, or minimal, or reductive, or developed by following rules, or by the application of an obvious Process.

It is too narrow, I think, to confine the use of the term Systems to its use in cybernetics to focus on feedback.

In general, what is meant is that the art is Systematic. That there are clear rules that have been followed in its construction, even if these rules are not obvious to the observer.

Let us take the term Systematic as the key to understanding Systems Art, or indeed all art from a Systems viewpoint.

Although Sol Le Witt wasn't happy to have his work classified in this way, much of his work is geometric and as a consequence systematic. One aspect of some of his work was that it was conceptual. It was the concept or the idea that was the art, not its realisation on the canvas (or wall, often as not). Le Witt wrote out instructions, which when followed would realise an instance of his work (which he might then certify).

This use of written instructions is clearly systematic.

It is very musical. In conventional music, the composer writes a score and instructions, the performers realise the piece by adding their own interpretation. In indeterminate forms (Cage) or improvisation (Jazz) the division between composer and performer shifts toward the performer. So too with Le Witt's conceptual art. The realisation has the essence of Le Witt with the interpretation of the performers (usually a group of artists).

The use of written instructions corresponds to our more contemporary us of computer programs or Algorithms or other mechanised processes.

Which brings me to Reverse Conceptual Art.

Much of art, when we look at it, speaks to us immediately of the processes by which it was formed. This is how the artist communicates meaning to us. We may look at the work (or listen to it, or watch it) in wonder, or in incredulity, or on shock, or in indifference. But something has been communicated.

We look at the work and try to appreciate the systems which constructed it. We try to reverse-engineer the concept which formed it. We try to write the instructions that a conceptual artist would have written in order that we could realise their work in their absence.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Sequences - Composition of Vespers

The systematic basis of many of the things that I make, or indeed that I analyse, comes down to determining sequences (of numbers, usually).

When I analyse another artist's work, I will normally be satisfied when I have worked out a sequence on which that work is based, as you may see if you look at some of my earlier posts. See for example my description of Mary Martin's Inversions.

Where do sequences arise in things that I make? Video is a good example. When making a video, one takes clips and arranges them in sequence. Audio too. Clips are arranged in sequences. In this short video (Vespers) there are three visual clips arranged in sequence and four audio clips.

Looking into the clips, we see that the internal structure is also arranged by sequences. The black marks and the white blocks in the video are a sequence. That sequence is matched by the sequence of tones in the audio. For example the piano tones are related in pitch, duration and attack to the four painted black marks. The clicking is proportional to the white blocks.

These sequences have a simple mathematical formulation.

There is another audio sequence, which I have left in even though it is not in synch at the moment. You can hear a swish made by the blinds that cause the shadows. That swish has been set to a slow but regular beat, rather than to the actual movement of the curtains. At the moment it neither matches the visual movement nor the beat of the audio track. I want it to be there, but I am not happy with it at the moment. I'll probably fiddle with that a bit more.

The point is that, as I designed this work, my notes comprised sequences of numbers representing components such as the duration of what you see or hear, or the relative positioning of marks and objects in the image. These sequences are (mostly) carefully adjusted so that a degree of synchronisation and balance is achieved.

This is a work in progress.