[-empyre-] Re: empyre Digest, Vol 23, Issue 8


First, thanks for this great board. I am learning more than I imagined possible.

I can attest to the synaesthetic media phenomena I believe we are witnessing. In fact, I never knew I was a synaesthete (?) until earlier this year. I thought it was just a thing that happened to me for being in tune with my whole self and for chasing often bizarre creative notions that somehow made their way into my head from whoknowswhere.

As an artist, I was very much based in the written word -- typically the PRINTed word. About three years ago, while writing my novel, interesting phenomena happened to me. I started hearing music (not as in familiar sheet music or lyrics, but a new tune, with a blend of woodwind and percussion, to be precise) and seeing images -- in lots of green, to be specific (This is interesting because I live in the black lands -- the anthracite region of northeastern PA). I was writing the novel via computer in word processing software and I had also been viewing many historic photos, which I used to trigger character actions and reactions in my novel.

The images in my mind and the music I was hearing, however, seemed new, not historic, just too modern ... a whole new twist to the novel was born, I made music (computer software) that turned out to be, at least by my ears, the plot of the story and I made photographs and digital images that brought the story to life in pictures. After all this happened, I sat back and asked myself what the heck it was all about, this new turf I was in. From there, it went to making non-linear textual connections in the novel and to finding hyperfiction ...( interestingly, Michael Joyce, one of our founding fathers of hyperfiction, talks about his experience of textual connections while writing a novel).

In any event, the hyperfiction, digital imaging, soundmaking stuff brought me to a-life art, where I find that phenomena happening in my head happens to many others. What you all are doing with it fascinates me.

The more I experiment with computer artmaking and read of a-life art, the more I believe that, at least presently, the way to move past critical embodiment issues, for starters, in our work is through a-life artworks.

Now, to make one ...


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Sent: Friday, December 10, 2004 8:00 PM
Subject: empyre Digest, Vol 23, Issue 8

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Today's Topics:

  1. "synaesthetic media" (Mitchell Whitelaw)
  2. Re: computer systems as sensual transducers (Komninos Zervos)
  3. synaesthesia (Henry Warwick)


Message: 1
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 15:31:30 +1100
From: Mitchell Whitelaw <mitchell.whitelaw@canberra.edu.au>
Subject: [-empyre-] "synaesthetic media"
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Message-ID: <5D1DA87A-4A64-11D9-96D1-000A95AFFB1C@canberra.edu.au>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=WINDOWS-1252; format=flowed

On 10/12/2004, at 2:14 AM, Nancy Paterson wrote:

"the most salient and vital aspect of interacting with computer
systems is consistently overlooked, that is, the importance of
computer systems as perceptual rather than conceptual tools. Insofar
as people interact with them, computer systems function primarily as
sensual transducers which I term synaesthetic media and not as
so-called cognitive-artifacts."

Great stuff - can we have the full reference to this research Nancy?

For a few years I've been observing new media / experimental music work
which explores exactly this function of digital media - their ability
to transduce signal / information between sensory modes. These works
are examples of "synaesthetic media" in the sense that they demonstrate
a kind of machine synaesthesia and evoke a human sensory fusion /
crossover. What interests me is that such work is evoking human
synaesthesia through a non-human process - via the particular
audio/visual crossovers offered by digital/analog media technologies,
rather than the crossovers generated in our neural structures. It's
interesting also that this evocation is powerful in spite of what might
be considered the "artefacts" of transduction - for example the 50Hz
hum that results from turning an analog video signal into audio. In
fact it's the properties of the signal *per se* which the works direct
us to...

Two of my favourite examples... both happen to be Australian (in
memoriam OzCo New Media Arts)

Robin Fox, Backscatter (DVD) - Synaesthesia Records, 2004. (see for eg
http://www.synrecords.com/synaesthesia/featured/ - I can't find any
video online!) This work is truly astounding: live generated digital
waveforms plugged into an oscilloscope in "polar" mode... Fox designs
sounds and gestures for visual as well as sonic results - staggering.

Andrew Gadow, INVERSION (2001). Again not online as far as I know.
Gadow generates video live with an old Fairlight CVI (digital video
"synthesiser") and simply routes the video signal out as audio.
Abstract, flickering, noisy, degraded video, sound similar, end result
is hardcore sensory fusion.




Message: 2
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 09:47:40 +1000
From: Komninos Zervos <k.zervos@griffith.edu.au>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] computer systems as sensual transducers
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

Content-Type: text/plain; charset=UTF-8

a very beautiful post, illuminating and virtualising. komninos

-----empyre-bounces@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au wrote: -----

To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
From: Nancy Paterson <Nancy.Paterson@senecac.on.ca>
Sent by: empyre-bounces@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
Date: 10/12/2004 01:14AM
Subject: [-empyre-] computer systems as sensual transducers

I have been doing a bit of reading (and thinking) about synesthesia lately,
and find this perspective, in particular, compelling.
Waterworthâ?Ts (1996) research considering relationships among human
perception, creativity and computer systems is based upon the idea that
â?othe most salient and vital aspect of interacting with computer systems is
consistently overlooked, that is, the importance of computer systems as
perceptual rather than conceptual tools. Insofar as people interact with
them, computer systems function primarily as sensual transducers which I
term synaesthetic media and not as so-called cognitive-artifacts.â?? An
argument might also be made for synesthesia as an example of pre-language
communication, as for many it involves signs and â?~constant formsâ?T.
Waterworth further argues that computers have evolved to be much more than
tools which advance the computational aspects of cognition. Rather, the
non-computational aspects of sensation, imagination, emotion, and fantasy
as well as more plausibly computational faculties such as mental problem
solving are now key factors in interface and softw
are design. It is where these factors intersect, at the juncture between
human reason and human sensation, that the potential for creativity is

_______________________________________________ empyre forum empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au http://www.subtle.net/empyre


Message: 3
Date: Fri, 10 Dec 2004 00:33:34 -0700
From: Henry Warwick <henry.warwick@sbcglobal.net>
Subject: [-empyre-] synaesthesia
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre@lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
Message-ID: <BDDE9F5D.A6B6%henry.warwick@sbcglobal.net>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset="US-ASCII"

I believe that this condition has plagued me for quite some time, but in a
very odd way. In fact, I'm not sure it's true Synaesthesia.

symptoms: one input in one sense triggers notions or memories in another

I don't pound a D flat minor and declare it Blue, (because we ALL know it's
actually Orange... right?) but so often, a chord or melody or an image will
spark some kind of a response, and not always a pleasant one.

I've been able to track some of these weird notions to memories, deeply
buried. But more often than not, I just have *no* idea what it means. It
used to freak me out, and I would be shocked or puzzled and try to "figure
it out" but after a while, (like 20 years) I stopped bothering, usually. I
think the harder ones might be that a stimulus might be triggering a memory
or linkage from a dream or something equally difficult to remember, like a
random firing of synapses.

That's why I agree with Chris Marker: memory is not the opposite of
forgetting, but its lining. It's not a binary, boolean, Manichean thing of
knowing or forgetting - it's a complex series of surfaces, places, and
inventive re-creations of mental activity.

Here's an example:

This Thanksgiving I spent in Bakersfield CA and the LA area visiting
friends. On the way back, we drove past cornfields, and suddenly I heard a
bit of John Cage's Fontana Mix -  blasting into my head. I don't use a
walkman or iPod - I can simply "plug music in" to my memory, and listen at
will, and am frequently humming or singing to myself. So to have some tune
barge into my mind is not uncommon, but this was strange, because of the
specificity of that song and seeing the cornfield. Also, I hadn't heard
Fontana Mix in a reeeeally long time.

We were soon stuck in truly hideous traffic, where the entire highway would
simply come to a dead halt, so I had a lot of time to sit and work it out -
Why was I listening to Cage? From a cornfield?

Then I remembered... finally...

When I was 15 some *cough* 30 or so years ago, my family visited another
family that were farmers. Corn Farmers. They had kids, and the eldest was a
girl, about a year younger than me. We didn't know each other, had nothing
in common, but we were so completely alien to each other, we had to grill
each other over "what's cool where you are" kind of teen stuff.

All she ever heard was country music, which I largely detest. She went to a
school with no minorities in it, which I found kind of sad. We walked
through the cornfield, and she asked me what kind of music do I listen to
"Back East". I told her I was into some *cough* European *cough* groups that
were quasi-popular at the time - King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, people who knew
how to play their instruments, and also more "hard rock" groups like the Who
and Black Sabbath. She thought Black Sabbath was a scary name - her parents
would disown her if she came home with a record like that. So I told her
about the music - simple, loud, rock music with depressing lyrics. I even
did a great "I AM IRON MAN" for her. She thought I was nuts, which is a
common response that I no longer find insulting. We laughed and wandered
back to the house. I never saw her or spoke to her again.

Many years later, I went to a Cage Fest in Maryland. All Cage All Day All At
Once. One room had someone who had completely re-arranged Fontana Mix to
include the sample from Black Sabbath: I AM IRON MAN. I noticed that this
was NOT the Fontana Mix I was familiar with. I kind of liked it better.

So, there was Fontana Mix in a cornfield.

That kind of obscure memory crap happens to me *all the frikkin' time*. I
find it frustrating sometimes. My wife says it's endearing and amusing when
I'll pull some weird memory out of nowhere from some obscure and tangential
tertiary reference. So, if she doesn't mind, I don't... too much...

But the above story is a very straightforward example - I was able to pin
the references within an hour or two. What is more common is this morning
when a bird chirped a certain chirp and all I could think of was flannel.
Yeah. Flannel. I don't think I even own anything made of flannel. I *really*
don't know about that one. I notice it happens more when I am not occupied
in a language activity. If I'm unloading the dishwasher or driving somewhere
or walking down the street, that's when I'm most likely to get it both
barrels. Not when I'm typing.

So, as I said, I don't know if bird chirping causing me to sense flannel is
synaesthesia or not. But it seems like it to me, or something very close,
and I've about had enough of it. I'm always worried that it's early onset
dementia or something like that...




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