The Node Zero Gallery opening on March 13th went great!
Here's a little video I made of the night's events.
Music by Nine Inch Nails under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike license that the whole album is released under!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
Spot said he was "pleased and gratified by the experience."
Here's another installment from my interview with him (below).
Lisa: Now, when it sort of gets wispy for a minute, before it settles in on its next thing...
Spot: That's a "transition."
Lisa: What's going on when that happens?
Spot: Well, it's doing interpolation in this genetic space, and it uses cubic splines, so that everything stays smooth. The reason it gets maybe fuzzy or wispy is that it's kind of like noise or dissonence, kind of, in music. It's like, when everything is out of tune. It's like, highly structured geometry - like triangles and squares with sharp, straight lines - would be the equivalent of like pure tones, like sin waves, or a flute. You know, the visual equivalent of a flute sound in the metphor I'm trying to give - a line or a curve or a circle.
Lisa: So is that during the interpolation phase, because it's trying to figure out what it's doing?
Spot: Yeah because to go from one harmony to another harmony you have to go through chaos and disharmony, because you're going from one domain of organization to another domain of organization, and in between, you're disorganized. So that's the principle.
Lisa: This metaphor of virtual worlds in virtual worlds is one that comes up a lot lately. Are you saying that when somebody votes on a picture, that that information is stored somehow in this format, and then tallied up? Is that how that works? I'm trying to understand what information is expressed in the XML.
Spot: The XML controls the shapes, and the colors, and the motions. The votes don't get stored in there. The votes get transmitted to the server, and tallied up.
Lisa: The shapes -- like the way a vector-based format, like SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) works?
Spot: Nope. Are you asking about the renderer and the way the visual language works?
Spot: It's based on...what you're sort of seeing is the interference pattern between geometric transformations of the plane. So, you can imagine like, one map of the plane to a plane might be something like "rotation," ok. That's one transformation of a plane. Another transformation of the plane is like "scale," "rotate" and "translate," are the three basic linear ones. But there's also, non-linear transformations, like you know, you can imagine "bending" or "warping" the plane. So there are a zillion transformations of the plane.
Lisa: So that's what is expressed?
Spot: Yes. The XML is a list of transformations of the plane. And then, what the renderer does -- See, in order to actually turn the genetic code, the "genotype," into the "phenotype," you actually have to solve the equation. Just like, the only way to find out who a child is going to turn into, you have to let them grow up. It takes time, right. So, in order to draw the image, you have to do all these iterations, and so you generate billions of particles that move according to the transformations, and then the "interference"-- what you see as the particles move - the results make the pictures.
Lisa: So, particle systems are another thing that you hear a lot about in Second Life.
Spot: Right. This is like a custom particle system. One that generates so many particles, that everything you see, when you see a line here, it's not a line, it's particles that happened to have combined and ganged up to form a line. And so these particles are like intelligent dust, can reconfigure themselves into any of the shapes that you see, just by changing the rules that they're all following.
Wow this is really getting exciting. Seems like a lot of people are coming by tonight.
That's right! Tonight! - Thursday, March 13 - from 6-9pm at Atlas Cafe, San Francisco.
They have good beer, wine and food there! Just come by after work.
We'll be out in the back yard. It's bluegrass night inside - we'll be outside.
Spot will be there live - with his projector in tow.
Hope to see you there!
Join us this Thursday evening from 6-9pm as the Node Zero Gallery takes the Second Life art experience to a new level with its latest collection of interactive exhibits from 8 emerging new artists.
(Sponsored by The Wishfarmers.)
"Sheep Vortex" is digital artist Spot Draves' first Second Life art experience (3D Art & Design by Somatika Xiao - a.k.a. David Stumbaugh). Note: You will have to have version 184.108.40.206 or later running.
(Remember to click your "play" button, and have video enabled in your "Preferences" under the "Audio & Video" tab.)
In addition to Spot's creation, this Node Zero Collection features the work of no less than seven emerging new talents: Georg Janick, Feathers Boa, Bryn Oh, Adam Ramona, Aiyas Aya, Ub Yifu, and Crash Perfect. (Keep an eye on the Node Zero Gallery category for more interviews with the artists.)
I can't tell you how to interact with these ones yet, or I'd be giving it all away. I'll let the art pieces explain it to you themselves...
|Sp0t Schism (Spot Draves) in the Sheep Vortex|
|Cory Doctorow says: "This is a distributed rendering application that grabs its users' computers' idle cycles to create computationally expensive, vivid and beautiful animated fractals...The result is a breathtaking, psychedelic form of artificial life whose fitness factor is the ability to tickle the aesthetics of computer geeks."|
(and about Spot's DVD): "This isn't just trippy wallpaper -- it's not even just art. This is garage-band artificial life. Draves is cooking up a new species made of code, decision and cooperation, and this disc is a petri dish swimming with the organisms that deserve to succeed us here on Earth. I for one welcome our new a-life masters."
The main Node Zero Gallery is also always open.
(Note: Click on the big doors to enter the gallery after your teleport lands you in the front entrance area.)
Here's the first part of a multipart interview with Spot, where he explains some of the background and technology behind the making of these artistic marvels.
I'll also be interviewing a few of the other featured artists over these next few days leading up to the opening -- and taking you on tours through some of their interactive pieces.
BTW: Note that Spot and the Electric Sheep Screensaver are not affiliated in any way with the Electric Sheep Second Life development company.-- Just FYI. Everybody asks :-)
Keep an eye on my Node Zero Gallery Category for more interviews with artists all month long.
The interview below is the first of several parts. It took place on January 30, 2008.
Spot: I've been programming computers my whole life, and this is the distillation of all of that experience. So yeah, they're not supposed to look like sheep. They're not supposed to look like anything at all. In fact, I don't even really control what they look like specifically, because they are created by this Internet distributed cyborg mind, and they're created by everybody who's watching them.
The reason they are called the "electric sheep" is because it's the computer's dream, and not just your computer, but like THE computer, like the gaian All computers, on the internet, connected, and all the people behind them, as one entity.
What I did was, I wrote the software, and developed the algorithm. And it's based on a visual language, which is a space of possible forms. And then, all the computers that are running the software communicate over the internet to form a virtual supercomputer that then realizes the animations. It takes an hour per frame to render.
Now, the one in Menlo park is double the resolution and six times the bandwidth.
Lisa: This is something in RL that people can go in the physical world and see?
Spot: Yes. It's on a flat panel with a frame around it that hangs on the wall. A 65" plasma screen.
Lisa: Where does that live?
Spot: The company is called Willow Garage.
I designed the frame and had it built, and had it installed, and that one has some special electronics so that it shuts down when nobody is watching, to save power.
Lisa: So this running off a computer? (We are watching as he projects on to my livingroom wall.) So it's basically a screen that's hung on a wall that's then attached to a computer that's running the art?
Spot: That's right. And that one has a terabyte database. This one is 100 gigabytes.
Lisa: So it's always generating new art? Or is it sort of recycling through?
Spot: No. What it does is this. See, because it takes an hour to render each frame, and there are 30 frames per second and so this is far from real time. I mean, what is that, a factor of 100,000? So you can't generate it in real time, and that's part of the inspiration for the virtual worldwide supercomputer.
Lisa: Things the "hive mind" has already created.
Lisa: A snapshot, if you will?
Spot: Yes, and then I edit it. Let me tell you more about the process, which is multifarious and complicated. The bottom line is that it all gets stored in a video graph, which is on the computer, and played back. It's in 1000 pieces that play back in a non-repeating sequence. So it's infinitely morphing, and non-repeating, but you do have refrains. So images, sheep, do come back, but then after you see a sheep, it will go and do something else.
So like, watching the video, there's an algorithm that is running live, as you watch it. But the algorithm is like walking in a garden. Ya know, like an english garden with paths? As you walk along the path you see pretty flowers, and then you come to an intersection, and you have your choice of which path to take next. And so, more or less, if you wander at random, you will come back and walk the same path twice, and see the same thing twice, but, then you'll go and you'll do something different. So, that's cool because there are some parts of the garden which are really remote, and the only way to get to them is by a certain sequence of turns, and so there are some sheep which only appear extremely infrequently, like, ya know, the rare, special ones and so, in order to see the whole thing, you'd have to watch continuously for months.
So, this one, in this 100 GB one, there are 1000 clips. If you played those clips/sheep (I'm sort of switching back and forth on what they are called), if you played them all end to end, it would be like 18 hours. So as far as a human's concerned, it's infinite.
Lisa: You went to Carnegie Mellon right?
Spot: Oh yeah - It really affected me. That's Hans Morovec's Homeland. I was really immersed in those ideas when I was a student.
Lisa: You were a student in Artificial Intelligence there?
Spot: Well, I studied metaprogramming and the theory of programming langugages. So, what I did was I created languages for creating visual languages for doing multimedia. Basically, a special programming technique for doing multimedia processing -- like real time video 3-D computer graphics, with audio, and in particular, in a feedback loop with a human being.
And so, I didn't create a language. I created a language for creating languages, because I wanted to make it easier for everybody to create their own language. And so you'll get these towers of languages, and it's almost, basically like virtual reality, where you have realities within realities, where you can have languages within languages.
Lisa: And they all fit into the same architecture?
Spot: Yeah. So you can analyze these things coherently, and you can create programs which process and optimize these structures.
The genetic code is now in XML. The language, was the key innovation.
Lisa: Wow. What did you use before the XML? What else were you doing that with?
Spot: Before XML, for this genetic code, I just had some stupid text format which I made up myself.
Lisa: Ah. I see. But it was hard to do the kind of architecture you described, without having XML right?
Spot: So the visual language is the genetic code. It's the mapping from the genotype to the phenotype. And so each of the sheeps has virtual DNA that controls how it looks and how it moves. And everything you see is an expression in that language. And then, it's a continuous language. It has a lot of special properties, because it was designed to be able to do this. It's made with floating point numbers, and part of the idea behind this whole thing is that life and its existence is continuous.
To be continued...