Communion – An audio-visual (synesthetic) ecosystem

Currently on show at the La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris is an exhibition by Matt Pyke aka Universal Everything named Super-Computer-Romantics. In total, 12 pieces occupy the space, each unique dealing with the topic or anthropomorphism and computer romanticism.

Amongst the pieces is the “Communion”, a generative piece created by Matt Pyke (Universal Everything) and – Marcus Wendt and Vera-Maria Glahn. Music was written by Simon Pyke and plays an integral part in the piece.

The installation is in a rectangular room with 6 separate projection on the walls creating almost a 360º environment. The final piece includes an array or evolving creatures going through stages of development – evolution from simple to complex with human like properties with generative behaviours, deeply immersive and “a celebration of an audio visual synesthetic experience” – Marcus. Matt describes the process as..

Instilling living characteristics to the dancing forms, from simple cellular structures through to multi-limbed creatures. Although abstract and unfamiliar, the beings feel alive and part of a community and they express the wonder of nature, the creation of something from nothing, a unique ecosystem.

‘Super alive’ – 40 minutes long, 16 skeleton generators, 20 different dance behaviours, 10 different render styles, constant evolution through graphical shapes, from primitive forms – point clouds and  triangles, each form fighting another, getting more advanced. When the human is present they start evolving into human like shapes – they peak as white abstract shapes. As the music develops, gets more intense, so do the creatures, more fearless and predatory.

There are a number of apps running simultaneously. One of them runs world simulation, which is synced across all the machines connected to projectors. Here a lot of different patterns are run in a synced choreographed way across the entire room creating micro choreography such as a virus where its spreading at the bottom corner eating out all the others. These behaviours decide when creatures are alive, what dance it makes, what form and colour it takes and so on. Game of life was used, liquid simulations, gradients, painting the wall, shuffles, etc.. Music track by Simon Pyke controls the next evolution, triggering changes in environment that globally affect all the existing and future creatures. Whilst the markers are always int he same place, the effects of the changes are always different making the piece always evolving and almost impossible to find repetition.

Patterns is the world micro and micro is creating skeletons using space invader variations taken step further. Points are generated on a grid with 20 different rules to connect the points in the skeleton. This is also include an additional step thereafter to analyse generated skeletons and decides which is what element of the creature – such as which is left half, blue is the spine, which is the heart, hands, arms, etc. The next step includes a feature to allow request creatures to behave in a certain way, such as raise their arm and those that do not have an arm they get left out. At the end, behaviours were then again synced with the patterns.

Set-up, how things are mostly done at Field, includes a Cinder based app with fieldkit library for physics and other utilities. All the renders are c++ classes and inside the app there is a javascript context derived from v8 javascript engine. All of the animation, rigid body physics, fluid simulation, behaviours for the creatures are all written in javascript. What this allows is ability to invent a new dance, add it to the mix and get real time feedback in the creatures behaviour, no need to compile.UDP broadcast is used, so whenever you are on the system you can run as many clients as you want. If one application crashes it is set to relaunch again and others keep running. Marcus describes the process using javascript as “sculpting”, adding flow to development. Instead of constantly waiting for compile, Field now utilises live code in all of their projects enabling ideas to be tested and developed much faster.

The diagram below (PDF download) describes the process Marcus and Vera developed and how they thought about the structure of the development of these characters. It is interesting to see the similarities that exist in thinking about the piece as timeline and the actual build which resembles the same. The diagram thus not only helps the progress or development of the piece but it’s the artwork in itself and underlying structure of the end piece.

Marcus: When we started field we wanted to make things alive and this is one piece where this is most evident and we feel we have done it properly. We spent 1.5 months working on it, fully focused.

Working with Field brought this artwork to life; they developed the fundamental ecosystem which spawns the species variations, and the realtime choreography from primitive to advanced lifeforms. For me, the unique sensation of a fully immersive video environment; you cannot possibly see everything which happens. Beyond your field of vision, there are more species which you will never see. The concept becomes larger than a film, it lives within your imagination. Seeing kids and pensioners dancing and smiling in awe for 40 minutes, building empathy with these lifeforms. La Gaite Lyrique was the perfect gallery for this installation.

Matt Pyke

A creative collaboration of FIELD and Universal Everything.
Original music by Simon Pyke, Freefarm.

Super Computer Romantics
Matt Pyke & Friends
22 April – 27 May 2011, La Gaîté Lyrique, Paris


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