Computational Arts

Session 10: More Crystal Growing, Digestion as Computation and Speech Synthesis

We began the tutorial with Jayson’s homework from the last session:

  1. Continue to experiment with Experiment with LEDs in the crystal growth structures and computer case – wax protection? Clingfilm?
  2. Send dissertation proposal and bibliography
  3. Send over the narrative of the space
  4. Speak to Theo about your concerns about computation relevancy

Since the last tutorial, Jayson sent the following images of his experiments:

He’s been experimenting with different chemicals: copper sulphate, magnesium sulphate and aluminium sulphate. Magnesium sulphate aka epsom salt tends to grow in a fairly “clumpy” fashion, see his mask experiment from the previous tutorial. Copper sulphate is is preferred choice. He feels like he’s got to a good level of knowledge now of what works and doesn’t. Both vaseline and cling film didn’t work as a method of keeping the crystals away from certain area of his sculptural objects, as the crystal solution needs to be hot initially.

Dianne suggested trying to use latex after Jayson’s further experiments with taping failed. He has a variety of scalpels that he’s been working with, but it’s a very delicate operation. Another problem he has encountered is that most of his objects float – he’s been having to use a combination of plastic forks and tape to hold things in the baths of solution that he has been preparing.

Jayson has purchased a container of de-ionised water to prepare his solutions with – the first he ordered sprang a leak in the post unfortunately. Tap water has lots of calcium in it which ruins the growth of other crystals. His next growing attempt will be using the PC case that he showed in the previous session. He’s going to document the process thoroughly.

Jayson spoke to Theo in general about his work, but I suggested that he needs to be specific about his final project and his concerns about computational relevancy.

In between sessions I found the upcoming event featuring Yesenia Thibualt-Picazo’s work on Craft in the Anthropocene. Jayson responded by stating that he isn’t so concerned about materiality – he’s keen for the crystals to appear mysterious and alien. He wants the exhibition to make people feel like they witnessing an intelligence of some kind emerge – that super saturation of information gives birth to crystals, in the same way that super saturation of chemicals does.

Jayson sent me his draft essay on Crystal Media Archeology, which has the following opening paragraph:

This essay discusses the process of crystal growth in relation to the development of computers, technology and network culture and how the process of crystallisation is inherent across all kinds of complex systems. Using a hybrid approach of looking at these developments through the methodologies of Variantology (Zielinski, 2006) and Media Archaeology (Parikka 2010), I will discuss a different way of looking at the history and evolution of computers and computational systems. I propose that computers and computational systems are a type of crystallisation that has continued throughout history, this global crystallisation process started with the coalescing of atoms and particles to create complex forms of matter in deep time has continued throughout the history of the universe and is apparent now in the rapid growth and increased density of technology and data.

He also sent me his notes on his Crystal Punk mythology:

In the early part of the 21st century the endless digitisation and quantification of information led to a supersaturation of data. At this point in history there was around 44 zettabytes of data which was stored on enormous data centres and cloud computing servers that stretched all over the world. In the same way that the supersaturation of matter in a liquid causes the crystallisation of that matter the huge amount of density of information caused the crystallisation of data into physical forms. What began in a cloud server farm in china and spread throughout the infrastructure of the cloud and all its connected technology, in the same way a computer virus spreads throughout the internet this crystallisation spread throughout the internet and crystals emerged on cloud servers, hard drives, personal computers, laptops and even memory sticks throughout the world.

Both are shaping up well. He’s going to go on a trip to China soon and was keen to gather more photographic content there – his narrative is that Chinese server farms is where these new crystal first emerge.

We moved on to discuss what he is planning to exhibit in his show:

  1. A screen playing a video of an explanation of his crystal punk mythology – i.e. crystals have emerged, why?
  2. A series of artefacts with crystals growing from them – a phone, a computer and USB memory sticks. I asked how they would be presented? Jayson said that he was going to research vitrines to protect the delicate crystal forms.
  3. A display of crystalmancy tools – drawing on the Hopi practise of using crystals to see the future. He demonstrated a text based game of life simulation, I suggested that this might be a good way of showing how people start to incorporate these crystals into their every day life and customs.

I set the following homework:

  1. Re-approach Theo about computational relevancy
  2. Continue with crystal growing around the computer case
  3. Get kit list worked out for show and consider the layout
  4. Ask the technician team about the availability of vitrines and plinths to display objects within
  5. Do some investigations about how light is cast through his crystals
  6. Continue to work on text based Game of Life simulation and how it can be incorporated into his show
  7. Look at museum displays for ideas on how to label his project and individual pieces

We then moved on to Dianne’s work, beginning with her homework from the previous previous tutorial:

  1. Continue to work on dissertation with Helen Pritchard
  2. Research Markov Chain’s specifically for use within her exhibition
  3. Send me her proposal for her dissertation and the bibliography for it

Since the last but one tutorial, Dianne sent me her dissertation proposal, which has the following title:

HUMANn2: Making Kin with the Aliens Inside


Disembodied Data: Decoding our Inner Ecologies

with the following description:

Using the human micro-biome as a lens I aim to question our understanding, coding and decoding of the complexity of life be it computational or biological, questioning what are the definitions of life that would apply to the human or a digital entity. Investigating the ever-expanding organic digital interface, referencing DNA data storage, slime mold logic circuits, synthetic biology, etc.

Dianne related her research on Hidden Markov Model‘s (HMM’s) – that they are used within bioinformatics to attempt to extract gene and pathway information from huge amounts of short DNA/RNA chains, which is what is produced from an attempt to sequence a metagenome (genetic material recovered from environmental samples). Researchers are attempting to make in-silico DNA to make a model of how the human gut works based on this research. All of her research on this research is going into her dissertation. Her proposition for the show is to re-imagine contemporary science practise (specifically molecular biology) around the micro-biome.

We discussed that aliens from another world might see humans as mere carriers or husks for our gut biome. Dianne referenced the ENCODE (Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements) project, and pointed out that they are using computational systems to understand life, which means that our explanations for life will be computationally based. Just like computers, genes have loops within loops, subroutines all within a bigger operating system (the body). Life is computation and computation is life. This brought up a discussion about her previous research into slime computing and the like.

We then moved onto a discussion of what her show would comprise of:

  1. A biographical introduction – starting with her mothers work as a microbiologist.
  2. A biological introduction to the gut biome
  3. Explanation of computational techniques for understanding the biome
  4. Explanation around computational aspects of DNA
  5. Exploration of the future of computation – that it will be biological. Could this comprise of artefacts? Might people eat something to compute it in the future and then poo out the results? Dianne has an idea about using silicon tubes to make a sculpture, but also echo’ing the look and feel of scientific conference posters – she’s recently made one for an art show she’s curating. I referenced the bone gun from Existenz:

I set the following homework:

  1. Think about the narrative of the show – what does she need to make?
  2. Send the poster for the show she is curating
  3. What objects or scenarios are you going to explore in the show? Inpill/outpoo? Could people encode information in DNA as a secure backup? What happens when people die with this information inside them? What happens when they kiss or have sex? Could these be future secure methods of data exchange?
  4. Continue working on dissertation
  5. Create diagrams for explanations using p5.js.

We then went onto Jules’ homework:

  1. Get going in speech
  2. Send me dissertation proposal and bibliography, as well as project proposal
  3. Get going in matter.js (less important)
  4. Keep chasing the technical team for projector resolution and borrow Android tablet
  5. Work on getting swipe interaction working via OSC using HammerJS and p5js-osc.
  6. Make a kit list for the exhibition

Previous to the tutorial, Jules and I spent some time refactoring her code to allow her to track down why her speech synthesis work with p5.speech wasn’t functioning. The refactor was successful, and by the end of the tutorial proper we had her software reading out parts of the conversations between people that she’s collected up to now.

We then discussed her dissertation proposal, entitled:

The Age of Technological Love

She’s going to start writing the dissertation in earnest immediately. We decided that working with matter.js wasn’t necessary for this project and so re-prioritised work on getting swipe interaction working with the Android tablet she’s been given by the technician team. She’s going to get tablet after this tutorial and begin working with it. She’s also made progress on the projector selection, but hasn’t finalised it yet. We went through a possible kit list for her exhibition:

  • Projector
  • Plinth for tablet
  • Mount for tablet
  • Computer for projection
  • Speakers
  • Signal interconnect for all devices
  • Power for all devices

I reminded her not to forget any necessary adaptors – especially for projector/computer connection.

I set the following homework:

  1. Continue working on speech interaction.
  2. Firm up projector and tablet models.
  3. Work on getting swipe interaction working via OSC using HammerJS and p5js-osc.
  4. Finalise kit list.