Environment for the Interactive Design of Emergent Art

[intro | paper | pictures | slide show]

In Robb Lovell's garden there are no roses, hibiscus, tomato plants or sweet basil, nor any insects! In this garden there are only three distinct species or types of life carefully balanced to insure long term coexistence. Lovell's Garden is a cyber-reality comprising the core of the EIDEA project (Environment for the Interactive Design of Emergent Art). The first installation of EIDEA took place this summer at Deep Creek School outside Telluride Colorado, as part of Arizona State University School of Art's summer program.

Dan Collins, director of Deep Creek School, was interested in how the EIDEA artists "could come up with as far as interacting with the natural environment of Deep Creek."

EIDEA is a direct response to this challenge. In this work composer John D. Mitchell and computer scientist/dancer Robb E. Lovell draw on their experience in creating performer activated stage environments to create an installation based on gathering input from natural phenomena. They then use this input to drive an artificial

Mitchell and Lovell have been creating sensing systems at the Institute for Studies in the Arts for the past four years. Dan Collins observes that "While their work stems from a desire to advance sensing systems in general they are involved in virtual theater environments that can enable a performer to influence music, video, lighting, and other theater elements from the stage space. Ultimately, they are interested in giving artists tools to create new metaphors.. Their work inverts the paradigm of a performer following a set script, choreography, or program and creates a situation in which a performer initiates events. The stage becomes a highly responsive instrument with which to perform."

Collins continues, "The emergent world idea came from their work in controlling the graphic output of the sensing system. They began to understand that this graphic output was, in and of itself, an ongoing dynamic event."

According to Lovell, " EIDEA exists in cyberspace as a mathematical plane floating in a vast space. Three artificial entities exist on this plane; birds, wolves, and trees, and interact to form a closed ecosystem." Trees in this world grow, reach maturity in ten years (y-units), bear fruit and live to an expected 100 years. Birds in this world eat the fruit of the trees, behave in a flocking fashion, breed and create offspring that then join the flock. The predator in this world, a wolf-like creature called a turoid (after computer scientist Allen Turing), feeds on the birds and has its own breeding and life cycle. Lovell explains, "Trees are formed by an L-system, creating a fractal shape. Trees grow slowly, some 100 times slower than the other creatures, and over time bear fruit for the birds and wolves to eat."

"Artificial life is a study into the inner workings of nature through the use of technology," says Lovell.
"In the past, artists used simple technologies to recreate nature, using music, painting, dance, and sculpture to capture the static or semi-static forms of living things. As technology improved, man's models of nature progressed and became more complicated.

Over time more and more complicated mechanical systems were devised, such as levers which converted circular motion of a cam into linear motions. This provided the means for the creation of complicated mechanical automata which looked and acted like real animals or humans[1].

The invention of the multipurpose modeler, the computer, allowed the blooming of the modern incarnation of Artificial Life. John von Neumann was one of the first pioneers to formulate a computational approach to the generation of lifelike behaviors. His idea was to formulate an automaton capable of reproducing itself, and he proved that machines could be formulated with the capability of self-reproduction [2].

Many other experiments have been carried out since that time which recreate elements of life as computer models. Cellular automata, L-systems, and genetic automata are some of the technological tools of the artificial life modeler. This tremendous advancement in the technology, as used to observe nature, has given the artist the capability to not only represent nature in static states, but to recreate it dynamically."

In EIDEA, animals breed through a process of natural selection. Each animal has a genetic make up which determines how well it survives in the EIDEA environment. Some genes include: intelligence, strength, comeliness, dexterity, perception, and constitution. Less fit animals tend to die off; more fit animals are selected for mating and their genes continue to the next generation. Mutation is a part of the model in order for the world to maintain adequate genetic diversity."

The animals' behavior or movement is modeled to give them unique characteristics. "Animal motions are determined through two types of algorithms; one for bird motions, and one for wolf motion" says Lovell. "Birds behave according to a flocking algorithm [3]. Each bird is bred to avoid predators (wolves), stay within the boundaries of the world, and fly close to the center of the group of birds immediately closest to it."

Wolves, on the other hand, "are much more independent, moving alone and in a pattern specified by their own genetic code. Specifically, they move according to an inherited Turing program, which consists of a list of motions and ordering of those motions."

This type of artificial reality usually exists completely within the confines of the computer, but in EIDEA the cyber world is actually able to interact with the outside world. A weather station links the computer-generated creatures to local temperature, wind speed/velocity, barometric pressure and relative humidity. In the same way that cosmic forces influence the weather of the earth, and eventually our own day to day existence, local weather has an impact on the behavior of the cyber-entities and on the development or evolution of their world.

Again Lovell remarks "The weather of our outside world influences the behaviors and abilities of the creatures in the artificial world. Wind velocity causes the birds to have some trouble flying, actually blowing them around at times. Creatures hunt and eat more during warm weather. More breeding occurs when the weather is cold."

This artificial ecosystem is also capable of exerting some influence on our environment. Within the context of the installation, the artificial world interacts with a soundscape and a visual mural, to provide an ongoing record of its activities and a comment on its own existence.

Mitchell's quadraphonic soundscape is completely generated from a combination of external weather data and information from the cyber-world. In this way the sound becomes an intermediary or kind of crossing point between cyber reality and the natural world.

Weather data such as temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, and humidity are mapped directly to the soundscape, causing changes in the tempi and structure of various sound components.

These components are structures or algorithms mapped to a 48 tone equal temperament and finally on to sampled sound sources within the computer.

The mechanisms for generating pitch sets, according to Lovell, are "nonlinear chaotic functions such as, xi+1=rxi(1-xi), that Mitchell Feigenbaum used when formulating his theories on chaos while working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico [4].

Other features of the interactive sound score include the spatial mapping of the flock of birds as it moves in 3D space. One aspect of the sound follows the birds, simulating their motion in the quadraphonic environment. Sound level or loudness is affected, as well as the overall complexity and mix of instruments in the score.

The mural, created as a history of the creatures' movements, is "constructed as a record of the motions of the animals math space. The ground records the passing of animals and then samples a set of images based upon the animals genetic makeup. These colors are then recorded in the mural for display," says Lovell. These images are projected as they manifest becoming a visual aspect of the installation, providing another link between the viewer and cyber reality.

Working at Deep Creek school provided the artists with the inspiration of a beautiful natural setting. The challenge of "bringing the rocky mountains into the computer" was an important element in the first performance of EIDEA.

"This builds upon work done in previous years in which students and visiting artists have created works that respond to the local conditions--particularly Deep Creek itself" says Collins. "Mitchell and Lovell's discussions and interactive environment were enthusiastically received by the students and faculty. "

The artists plan to continue the development of EIDEA and to seek other opportunities for presenting the installation.

[1] An example of such an animal is Jacques de Vaucanson's duck, circa 1735, which was described as "an artificial duck made of gilded copper who drinks, eats, quacks, splashes about on the water, and digests his food like a living duck". One wing of the duck contained over 400 articulated pieces.

[2] Von Neumann, J. (1966) Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata, edited and completed by A. W. Burks, (Urbana, IL: U. Illinois Press).

[3] Reynolds, Craig W., "Flocks, Herds, and Schools: A Distributed Behavioral Model", Computer Graphics, V21, N4,
pp. 25-34, July 1987

[4] This function is used in the interval where r is in the range from 0 to 1 and chaotic when r is > 0.86 and x starts as a low value. To generate a series of notes, an initial x value is fed into the equation and a new x is generated. This new x value is then scaled to match an audible MIDI note range and played. The new x value is then fed back into the equation generating a new note. The process continues at a certain metronome rate creating a melodic line. During the generation of new x values metronome speed and the r constant can be changed which forces the function to travel into new chaotic fields and structures. In the EIDEA system, numerous chaotic functions playing various instruments are used to create a thick texture and complex interactions."


J. D. Mitchell, R. E. Lovell, "Environment for the Interactive Design of Emergent Art", International Symposium on Electronic Art, Montreal, Canada, September 17-21. pp.

Eidea Pictures

The World











Pictures created by the animals: