Mapping Your Creative Territory

An essay by Joel Ryan in the context of the "Mapping Your Creative Territory" masterclass.

Music with eyes closed
Though I have seldom surrendered to the desire to visualize music, the emerging possibilities of computational graphics are difficult to resist. My audio autism has been pretty water tight, coming from a belief in the uniqueness of musical experience. Probably this phenomenological monism is just another version of the idea of "absolute" music, but mine is not so much a dogma as desire, a desire to create compelling music.

Descartes Dream
The rationale for this opening, is that I take geometry to be the formalization of specific kinds of personal imagination. I spend a lot of time visualizing when I write musical code. Visualizing models for the flow of sound and models of processing, visualizing relations of musical parameters and control structures. Computational Geometry is creating a competing locus to our internal visual imagination in mathematical simulation, allowing rich mathematical ideas to be more easily shared. The fact that this is a place where musical and visual representations can meet is truer than it has ever been. Their having common generative grounds in computation is exciting in that it is so easy for ideas to migrate between media.

Fear of Flying
There is also a negative motivation. That is to untangle the knots we tie ourselves in, in weaving our intricate digital instruments. I find the explosion of parameters to be difficult to cope with in performance. Since I can not separate the composing of music from musical practice I feel that this has a negative impact on our ability to make our technology musical. (i.e. if you cant play it, it"s not music; music without real access to the dynamics of performance is often just librarianship). If there is help available from new work in sci. vis. we should take a serious look. Certainly much practical work these days in applied and theoretical science is completely dependent on viz driven tools. We should look at how this works and try to imagine a way to attain useful tools for composing and performance.

Navigation Aids
The high dimensional state space of the music engines we architect are almost impossible to navigate except by dead reckoning, swimming from one point to the next, crossing seas of nearly unchanging predictability and occasionally encountering the Trinidad's and Tahiti's of fabulousness. Its easy enough to save their coordinates but not so easy to see the big picture Ecco, I found it, but in fact where am I? In spaces of higher dimensions the connectivity is rich and opportunities for warped trajectories abound. We rapidly lose ourselves in the process, and this is partly what is musical focus. But while I can enjoy the slow incremental search, I feel audiences deserve a more rapid and elegant crossing. Map makers from Genoa or Antwerp are not much help. The experience of the overwhelming richness of possibilities for synthesis and signal processing includes the equally overwhelming lack of interesting representations. Methods for scaling and rendering multi dimensional data have expanded greatly recently to match the increase in computational power. Display graphics and animation have made the topological insights of the last 150 years available for the imaginationally impaired.

I propose we survey geometric and computational ideas being deployed in scientific visualization, that we enjoy the search and hopefully that we find opportunities for collaborative design of the particular tools we desire.

Joel Ryan, 2002



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