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belinda barnet: machinic heterogenesis and evolution: SONICFORM

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Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 1999 17:51:46 +1030
From: belinda barnet <>
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

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
(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.

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

	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
( 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

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

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



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: 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

	[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

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

	a microphysics of sound

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


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,

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.