diffraction TAG, The Hague 2010-11

From kinetic to digital art Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence 2010 © Clementine Crochet

diffraction TAG, The Hague 2010-11


'All sound is an integration of grains, of elementary sonic particles, of sonic quanta.' _ Ioannis Xenakis (1971). 


The project title ‘particleSynthesis’ names the two principles informing the audio-visual installation: the sonic technique of granular synthesis and the visual one of particles, known through 3D technologies. Both technologies consider a shape, a form or a sound as the result of many interacting elements which, individually would be neither visible nor audible. The fusion of the parameters of these sonic elements called ‘grains’, and visual ones called ‘particles’, constitutes the synthesis. 


In the beginning of a composition no predetermined shape or sound exists. In accordance with the principles of generative art, where out of the multiplication of simple elements instructed with simple rules emerges complex behaviour, here each grain is the carrier of a tiny program defining its behaviour and evolution in space and time. The variation of any parameter defining the physical behaviour of grains/particles leads to a global change of the visual and sonic synthesis. All of these introduce the construct of “scale”, from the “elementary” to the “whole”. The visualisation of the process gives these very abstract principles an astonishing concreteness.


Based on this technological framework different audio-visual compositions are created and can be executed by a flash card at system boot. From this perspective, the installation is an ‘infra-structure’ presenting the different generative compositions. Its hexagonal shape translates sonic and spatial specificities: six networked computers, each rendering 60 degrees of the scene, are boxed in a transparent Plexiglas case containing a speaker. 


The speakers and screens are oriented towards the centre of the installation offering the visitor inside the ring an immersive experience, 360 degree vision and surround sound, whereas the ‘external’ view gives an overview of the scene. This principle is also present in the design of the hardware, from outside the spectator sees the ‘stripped’ electronics through the transparent boxes, whereas from the inside only the screen image remains visible. Once the spectator accepts the invitation to enter the installation, they take part in the visual and sonic space; as such the spectators’ ‘act’ shifts the status of the installation from an object (external perception) to a space (internal perception). 


The ‘particle synthesis’ installation generates audio-visual organisms based on emerging behaviour, displaying them in a coherent manner. 



In computer graphics particle emitters refer to a technique to simulate certain fuzzy phenomena, which are otherwise very hard to reproduce with conventional rendering techniques. Examples of such phenomena which are commonly replicated using particle systems include fire, explosions, smoke, clouds, fog…or visual effects like glowing trails, magic spells, etc. These tiny elements are special rectangular surfaces, billboards always facing the camera and dynamically evolving over time. Particles contribute strongly to the overall visual appearance while requiring little CPU/bandwidth amount.


Granular synthesis:

Granular synthesis is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the micro-sound time scale. These small sound snippets are called grains and, with a typical duration of a few milliseconds, they near the threshold of human hearing. The continuous control of these grains, discerned as one large sonic texture containing the granular synthesis characteristics, combines time-domain information (starting time, duration, envelope shape, waveform shape…) with frequency-domain information (pitch, amplitude…) The result is no single tone, but a soundscape or texture, the so called ’cloud’. A simple granular 'cloud' may consist of only a handful of grains, but a sophisticated 'cloud' may be comprised of a thousand or more. 


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