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|belinda barnet: machinic heterogenesis and evolution: SONICFORM|
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - <firstname.lastname@example.org> is the temporary home of the nettime-l list while desk.nl rebuilds its list-serving machine. please continue to send messages to <email@example.com> and your commands to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. nettime-l-temp should be active for approximately 2 weeks (11-28 Jun 99). - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii" Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 17:51:46 +1030 To: nettime-l@Desk.nl From: belinda barnet <email@example.com> Subject: machinic heterogenesis and evolution: SONICFORM Acknowledgements: This work was produced as part of Deep Immersion: Creative Collaborations, an initiative of the Australian Network for Art and Technology. The project has been supported by the Australia Council, the Federal Government's Arts Funding and Advisory Body. Keith Netto's "Sonicform" project, an evolving sound environment produced for Deep Immersion, can be found at http://www.anat.org.au/projects/dicc/index.html Machinic Heterogenesis and Evolution: Collected Notes on Sound, Machines and Sonicform. Belinda Barnet. ____________________________________________________________________________ I write for a species that does not yet exist (Nietzsche 1968:958). IV. Imago Machinae Machines speak to machines before they speak to man, and the ontological domains that they reveal and secrete are (Guattari, 1995) Guerilla dance, Guerilla musicality, coming from anywhere, taking what is needed. (Two Fingers and Kirk 1995) Can you hear them? Can you hear them speak to us? Their voices (Cixous, 1989) are a system of interruptions or breaks. These breaks should in no way be considered as a separation from reality, (Deleuze and Guattari, 1994) as there is no clear distinction between divergencies and the body from which they emerge. There are different orders of complexity, and the limits of the machines which give rise to these. The distinction shall be (?, 1999) between different types of multiplicities that coexist, interpenetrate and change places--machines, cogs, motors, and elements that are set in motion, forming an assemblage that sounds (Deleuze and Guattari 1994) like a heartbeat that can make the body throb in time to the machine. (Virilio, 1995) This is a multiplicity of levels that are all connected, none of which may claim to have preeminence. (Prigogine, 1984). Can you hear them? (Cixous, 1989) Computer-assisted forms of thought are mutant and arise from other kinds of music, other universes of reference... [this process of creation] is inextricably temporal (Guattari, 1995) and time implies degradation and death. (Prigogine, 1984) Be ready to die and form new compositions. (Lispector) III. Note On Self-Organisation and Selectionism. According to your mainstream brand neo-Darwinian biologist, natural selection is the stuff of which evolution is made, the First Principle of life. There is nothing in the natural world which cannot be explained by random mutations within the genome and subsequent selection of the fittest form by the natural environment. Beyond the constraints set by the period of waiting for mutations to occur and external conditions, there are no limits to this system, and an organism forms from scratch to a furry crawling thing in a gradual process reliant on external factors. There can be no internal feedback from the body (phenotype) to the genes (genotype). There is no self-organising adaptive order: all emerges from the process of selection and adapts over eons. As the Darwinian critic Arthur Koestler pointed out, natural selection is hence the only process found in nature which is devoid of feedback. Neo-Darwinian theory is both unfalsifiable and all-pervasive; it is easy to forget that it is a theory which has not yet been proven beyond doubt by paleontological fact, and that Darwin himself suggested there may be processes other than natural selection at work in the unfolding of life. It is also a model which is readily plucked from its original context and transplanted elsewhere, namely, to a computer. There are a couple of rogue biologists and a-life crazies, however, that don't believe the Selectionist hype. They are not suggesting that natural selection is a dud theory, but simply that there might be other factors involved, and that the really interesting questions don't just concern life as a Darwinian competition between furry, crawling things, but the interplay between structure and chaos at the basic levels of the system which might give rise to it. Neo-Darwinism is an attempt to reconcile two theories which are quite simply at odds with one another: Mendelian genetics, which claims that organisms do not change with time, and Darwinism, which claims that they do. This is usually done in a mathematical way, with natural selection as the linchpin of some creative equations. Biologists such as Brian Goodwin and Stuart Kauffman take issue with this, claiming that an understanding of life should begin at a more fundamental level than tree diagrams and zoology--molecular biology, biochemistry, complexity theory. This is the 'language' of life: the way that structure spontaneously emerges from chaos. And the equations here are a lot messier than your average cold-cut genetic algorithms. Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould looked at the fossil record a few years back and decided that there is no proof that one species turns into another slowly: the mathematics of the Neo-Darwinists relied upon the idea that species took hundreds of millions of years to evolve eyes and ears and legs and wings, branching off into other species in the manner of a tree diagram over billions of years. What Eldredge and Gould found was that species seem to spontaneously emerge fully formed: there is minimal variation going on. A species emerges rapidly, it lasts for a time (often a short time), and then it dies off. The in-between period, the period of mutation and selectionism, is largely unaccounted for by the fossil record, especially considering the importance of such transitory phases to the neo-Darwinists. There are many 'missing links' in the record, and nothing to explain how such high levels of order emerge so quickly in the first place. For cells and organisms to work at all, there would have to be an extraordinary amount of selection to get things to behave with reliability and stability. It's not clear that natural selection could ever have gotten started without some pre-existing order. You have to already have a certain amount of order to select for variants (Kauffman, 337). Kauffman is one of these rogue biologists. For over twenty years, Kauffman has been going on about what we might call a Second Principle in evolutionary biology: self-organisation. He argues that natural selection alone is not enough to explain the relatively short timescale on which life arose. Some other ordering principle is necessary, which he locates in the ability of complex systems to self-organise (Hayles, 241). A self-organising system involves the heresy of internal feedback and internally-produced constraints. A particular system (an organism, a chemical composition, a swarm of bees) will not continually diverge from its own self-consistency but will also tend towards a structure or pattern which keeps it poised between infinite variation and order: the edge of chaos. In other words, Kauffman's paradigm predicts that living creatures would converge upon certain forms as much as diverge from them due to the influence of mutations caused by cosmic rays, wild chance and external factors. Creatures will not just evolve over billions of years due to selection, but will appear in a more concerted and spontaneous manner. Systems will seek their own order. The heresy in this (as far as neo-Darwinians are concerned, but not all evolutionary biologists) is located in the fact that such enabling constraints emerge from within the system itself. Consequently, natural selection is not the only force at work in evolution. The system is its own material of expression, and can generate its own tendencies and limits. Kauffman calls this process antichaos, or "order for free". One can sense that such a theory would be objectionable to biologists: there is nothing distinctively biological about this explanation, which in fact borrows from physics and complexity theory, and it explores living organisms, chemical compositions and non-biological aggregates alike as systems, privileging no particular machine. Kauffman for one seems less interested in what biological life is than in the physical properties of systems common to both animate and inanimate worlds and how they transform themselves via evolutionary mechanisms. A 'complex system' can be anything from the stockmarket to a flock of birds: the concept has even been extended by certain biologists to encompass the entire globe (in a holistic sense) as an ecosystem. We might note here a similarity with virtual artist Keith Nettos' Java-based sound system, Sonicform, whose evolving sound structures can be found at the ANAT website (http://www.anat.org.au/projects/dicc/index.html): the divide between living and non-living is not the issue. As Keith puts it, "it's an echo of that Descartian dichotomy between mind and matter. Do such distinctions help us to know ourselves better? I'm not sure that they do". Sonicform is more a world of Newtonian discovery than Shakespearean creation. Self-organisation works on a generative systemic level, and is a prerequisite more so than a defining quality of life or evolution; it is necessary but not sufficient to characterise an organic system. The computer is the perfect environment in which to explore the confusion and commonalities between animate and inanimate systems, and in that confusion, reveal something of the processes underlying the actual generation of self and order in the universe. Information-processing, and life, require a certain type of complexity. The system must be dynamic, yet allow for novel patterns. The computer emphasises the logic as well as the mechanics of life, the emergent order and logic of systems, which are then honed and honoured by the more familiar conception of natural selection. The divide between living and non-living, to me, is just an expression of that sublime universal mystery of islands of order existing in the swamp of entropy... one difference between living and non-living systems is based upon the notions of pattern, structure and process (Keith, on Sonicform). IV. Machinic Heterogenesis. Self-organisation is the natural consequence of simple components (cells, people at computer terminals, dollars, units of sound, air molecules, genes, elements) interacting via equally simple rules. Patterns and forms emerge from the collective raucous, and these forms give rise to other forms. The components in such a system are bimbos: they have no idea what is going on in the greater body, and don't care. Granting that natural selection is also operating, these components interact and develop the characterised properties of a complex system, determined by the mode of aggregation of their constituent entities (Boden, 147) and the associated limits of such an aggregation. In other words, a complex system emerges from lots of small but well-chosen components interacting in a rule-governed way, developing a larger behaviour or pattern which cannot be predicted or divined from these constituent parts. Random mutation and selection will act upon such a system--this is how Selectionism fits in: forms will not just evolve from scratch via selection, but will spontaneously emerge from within the system, working in conjunction with the First Principle. In the Sonicform system, the components are 'sound fragments', the samples attached to the abstract images in the top left-hand corner of the screen at startup, and also the people seated at terminals who interact with these fragments. Although it might seem to be stretching the concept of systemic components to include the user population, the fact that the emerging pattern is dependent on these users to evolve renders them part of the system. When one considers the machinic assemblages which technical machines constitute with human beings, when one considers that the evolving structure of the sound in Sonicform is literally produced by the ears, eyes and choices of its listeners, this much seems obvious. The organisation of a machine has less to do with its materiality than with the inter-relations of its components. And the formation of a sustainable pattern has less to do with the materiality of the components than with the balance between their internal constraints or rules and infinite variation. The rules in Sonicform are the 'sound controllers' located on the right-hand side of the screen, containing basic instructions such as "play sound", "loop sound" and "stop sound" that control the sound fragments and consequently limit the structure of the emerging acoustic pattern. These rules and sounds are combined by users into a time-based system known as a 'transform'. A transform consists of four separate channels, and sound controllers are placed at various points in each channel, organising the behaviour of the sounds over time. Because sonicform is linked via the net to 'sonicserver' and consequently the multiple versions of itself which are being executed at any point in time, any changes that a user makes (eg: attraction towards a particular kind of sound or a particular chain structure) are detected by sonicserver and fed back into the primary chain structure (more about this presently). This is the formative basis of sonicform's 'evolution': a selection of internal behavioural constraints generated by its constituent parts. As users, we are constituent parts. Keith has pointed out that if we view the Sonicform system as part of a different material order to the 'external' environment of users, then we don't have a self-organising system in Kauffman or Varela's sense of the term. Although this was the original motivation for his work--to give people the feeling of being part, of being immersed in something that was alive and evolving--if we view the computer as something separate from our own animate order, this won't happen. I'd like to bring my own (preformed) opinions about technology into play here and credit Keith with realising his original intentions. If we abandon strict neo-Darwinian conceptions of evolution as a simple competition between individuals and inherited conceptions of technology as a rarefied 'tool' which is separate from ourselves, that is, if we stop policing the boundaries between technical and organic, we become part of the emerging system. There is no distortion going on here. Rather, as I have been trying to illustrate in this paper, the distortion is viewing technology as a mere artifice or extension of ourselves. The heresy in theories such as Kauffman's is the implication that both biological and technical systems are capable of self-organisation and evolution, that both are constellations of universes which are capable of autonomy and complexity (and 'life' as a certain form of complexity). This is not anti-humanist. It's not even post-humanist. Ideology is a human concept which is brought to bear on technology. We're talking a different register altogether. Technical machines, organic machines, conceptual machines: each will beget the other, each will inscribe its own pattern on the process, each will redefine the limits of such connections. It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. Everywhere it is machines-real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections (D+G, AO, 1). 'Machinic heterogenesis' is a mode of being and production: a term to describe the way that the machines which populate the universe connect with each other, mutually affect each other, exchange segments and then bifurcate into new machines. Collective existential mutation. When we sit at a computer screen, we are connected with the computer's universes of reference through the circuits of sight, the play of fingers across the keyboard, the conceptual and logical limits of the exchange laid down by both parties. There is a certain synchrony going on across the zone of intersection and compromise to the limits of this exchange. In other words, the limits of the medium define the exchange and what we are becoming as we connect with it. When working with a medium I guess one should try to uncover the "ness" of that particular medium - what gives it it's characteristics how to engage it in a way that is unique to itself ie what has bought you to single this material out from the available spectrum of matter you have to express yourself in. I wanted to find what it is that you can do with the net (it's now hard to conceive of a computer as anything other than a node on a network, for me anyway guess i've been listening to Sun's PR too much - the network is the computer...hohum) that is not possible without it... the limits of the environment are ultra important to me. (Keith, speaking about Sonicform, 11/2/99) What is the 'ness' of the computer medium, and what are the possible universes of exchange which extend from this? Sonicform explores this exchange through sound, and through a system which explicitly invites us to be a part of an evolving structure. The use of complexity theory and evolution in sonicform makes explicit the rethinking of machines which we have been doing here in general: machines speak to machines before they speak to Man, and the ontological domains that they reveal and secrete tend towards pattern in an innate way, determined by the mode of aggregation of their constituent parts. In other words, Sonicform rethinks technology in terms of evolutionary, collective entities, rather than being closed in on itself and seen as separate (or at most, a simulation or artificial extension of) the 'natural' world. And this rethinking allows for the particular qualities of the medium itself, its own characteristics, its own unique interpretations of our model of evolution, to express themselves. Here I might note something: evolution cannot be naturalised and reified as an entity independent of the conceptual, technical and scientific machinery of its production. In the eagerness to import biological models to the computer in a-life, we sometimes forget that from its very origins, the human species has been constituted by technical evolution, and that it is the mediation afforded by technics which makes "it impossible simply to describe evolution in terms of a self-contained, or monadic, subject that passively 'adapts' to an object-like environment" (Pearson, 4). Similarly, we have produced our various models of evolution by analysing the 'natural environment' through the mediation of technology. Technology has always enjoyed more than just the position of a neutral tool to locate and test Nature, and has its own unique limits and qualities to contribute to anything we produce with it. Technical machines, organic machines, conceptual machines: each will beget the other, each will inscribe its own pattern on the process, each will redefine the limits of such connections. So this will be the beginning of our rethinking. Constellations of universes colliding, machines exchanging particularities, components that retain their autonomy and yet can collect and self-organise into complex systems, even life. "The ideas that we have been devoting space to here--instability, fluctuation, complex systems--diffuse into the social sciences", in the words of Ilya Prigogine (312). And also into virtual art and a-life. Sonicform makes explicit this diffusion of ideas. Evolution is not imported to the computer as a model to reflect nature: the computer, the program, we as users are components of a larger system, interacting via simple rules to give rise to unique patterns. With respect to self-organising systems and complexity theory in particular, this is no mere metaphor or philosophical trick. Philosophical acrobatics occur after the fact: if we can create an evolving complex system on the screen which we ourselves are components of, we tend to rethink the interface between nature and technology. What does it say about the "reference point" of the natural world when creatures whose entire function consists of weird acoustic dances across computer circuitry begin to self-replicate and exhibit the signs of open-ended evolution, resulting in formations which no longer have analogues in the 'natural' world? I'd like to hesitate a start here. Biology is its own material of semiotic expression. Techne` is its own material of semiotic expression. Music is a collection of Acoustic Gods. All of these are machines; constellations of parts, affects and functions which are constantly (re)producing their own universes of reference, and can answer to no original perfection. To address the interface between nature and technology, we need a philosophy of cells, flocks, patterns, components, motors, and elements. We need a philosophy that will create an interference pattern across the zone of intersection. Evolution is not just conflict, competition, selfish genes, tree diagrams, living and non-living systems. It's not just something furry, crawling things do. It's music. It's a dance. Poetic-existential. Hybrid subjectivities. And all the wor(l)ds in between. VII. Evolution. Music and Sound. As we have just explored, the formative basis of sonicform's 'evolution' is a selection of internal behavioural constraints generated by its constituent parts. As users, we comprise some of these constituent parts. Sonicform implements a threshold-triggered feedback loop to graft the choices made by users back into the sound stream. When a particular chain reaches a certain length (for example, five 'nodes' comprising constituent sounds and their collection of rules), this chain is fed back into the continuous chain structure being built by sonicserver, which then updates the user population. For the energetic user, new sound fragments can be created, sent in, married to sound controllers and integrated into the basic componentry or transforms can be built and linked into the chain structure. For the more passive point'n'click user, there is the option of just pressing "play" for the chain they wish to hear. In Keith's words, "the basic connectivity of the net, the data manipulation and observation capabilities of the computing resources that it links to, are thus combined to form a single net-spanning entity which, while responding to individual touch, evolves according to collective will". XI. Evolution. Music and :::Time. And How They Relate. Music and time. Music as a temporal thing, as something which must be experienced in each unfolding instant, as an experience which one cannot transcend and view from a distance with the circuits of sight, as in a static map of a particular landscape. Music is time-bound and the cumulative experience on the ear and body is irreversible, inextricably corporeal. Each noise is experienced in a contingent fashion, and will not have a reducible, causal ::: connection with the sounds preceding it, and although we might say that the pattern is caused by the aggregation of constituent sounds, we cannot say that the experience is reducible to its constituent parts. When listening to or composing music, it is simply impossible to take an indifferent epistemological stance toward time. We might note the similarity here with nonlinear thermodynamics: the irreversible laws characteristic of statistical approximations that govern complex systems. I am not saying that music moves in the same way as fuel in a combustion chamber, but I am saying that unlike the more domesticated realm of images and animation, music cannot be reduced to a series of still-frames which can be shown to interact in a dynamic fashion, which are time-reversible or transcendable. The experience, and especially the pro duction, of music is nonlinear :: i want to write to you about possible futures. about sound which treads the interface between being and becoming: the edge of chaos. sounds which skid in and out of existence as quanta in a photon chamber..... : : organic: ephemeral: evanescent.................: : : :.......careful: :......you might miss them. sounds that vanish into past. sounds that break temporal symmetry. music which issues as a gasp, a rupture, a stuttering. a small fluctuation in the track which plays across the consciousness and emerges as an acoustic pattern [the disquieting strangeness of it all] you can hear them only if you bring your face up to the screen and open your mind wide. if you take leave of yourself. singularities of sound: signals emerging from the flux and flus of technology. a microscopic physics of. fucking with :the meter of consumerised crap. remixing, rewriting, deconstructing : :....................... : this unfolding now.: : : :........... : : :...........i want to write to you about. incomprehensible incantations which reverberate, ramify, intensify across the acoustic landscape and move you............ [hesitant sounds which issue from a child's lips as she struggles to form her first word.] : quanta of sound that exist as entities, lifted from alternative worlds and superimposed on the space of. 4 minutes. bits and bytes. and i want to write to you about technology. about a relationship with technology which is neither liberatory nor Luddite, but pragmatic and : singular. a microphysics of sound : : ephemera..................: signals from noise. : :sniglsa morf oines..: sound particles that issue from the speakers, as if for the first time, stuttering, gasping: haunted by the ephemeral nature of technology. sound which acts as a beam-splitter: intersecting the path of mainstream music and spinning it into wild whorls and eddies, producing an interference pattern across the docile culture of consumerised tunes. oh, the disquieting strangeness of it all.. [possible worlds] : :.......................................can you hear them colliding? : : : : : signals from the flux and flus of technology....................: so many possible permutations. so little time. fucking with the arrow of time. carving samples up into smaller and smaller worlds and shaking them like snow globes then. writing to the dancefloor, to the loungeroom, to the bastard offspring of the baby boomers. can you hear them colliding? surface surfeit. here now now : O. Bibliography Boden, Margaret A. The Philosophy of Artificial Life. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Cixous, Helene. Foreword in, The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector. University of Minnesota Press: 1989. Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, 1994. Guattari, Felix. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Power Publications, Sydney, 1995. Hayles, N. Katherine. How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics. The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Kauffman, Stuart. "Order For Free" in Brockman (ed.) The Third Culture. New York, Touchstone Press. Pearson, Keith Ansell. Viroid Life. London and New York: Routledge, 1997. Prigogine, Ilya and Stengers, Isabelle. Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature. London, Bantam Books, 1984. Virilio, Paul. The Art of the Motor. University of Minnesota Press, 1995.