Spontaneity and Humanity in Generative Art
Hi. I'm Leo, a generative artist and musician based in Austin, Texas.
I've been showcasing some of my work on my Instagram page (@leovannmusic) and have seen myself, friends, and the community as a whole grow tremendously in recent years. Here I am to do my part.
My early childhood was littered with musical influence, my father exposed me to the likes of Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Dave Matthews Band, among others. Car rides were almost sure to be accompanied by a small me shouting the lyrics to my favorites from "In Rainbows", sometimes ending up on an old voice memo with sniffly, baby-voiced renditions of timeless tracks.
Nearly 4 years ago to the day, thanks to a chance YouTube recommendation, I heard Radiohead's Lollapalooza performance of "Idioteque". When the rigid drum loop gave way to four gigantic synth pad chords, I recognized that I was hearing and feeling something completely foreign to me. As soon as I heard the pad come back in towards the end of the track, I was hooked. I had to know what that sound was.
I went home, installed a trial version of Fruity Loops, and went beat by beat in its built in sequencer until I had the Idioteque drum loop. I obsessed, intricacies of the track, learning the basics of music production along the way until I had a complete cover.
Thus began my obsession with electronic music, surreal soundscapes, and then, generative art.
What's The Point?
Since the first time I covered my favorite song to my most recent generative art set, I've always worked around spontaneity, trying to realize small ideas and getting lost in the ensuing rabbit hole, only to come out with something completely and totally unrelated. That ”flow state”, wherever our creative hunches come from cannot be undervalued. I see a trend specifically in the digital/generative/code art community that places far too much emphasis on the objective rather than the subjective. Tutorial files and blocks of code are only tools, only the canvas, but the end goal - that "wow", the surrealism of an audiovisual experience, the awe of a crowd at a fulldome installation, all of the feeling that these things invoke - and specifically recognition of this by artists is something I see forgotten all too often.
While in such an abstract and harshly digital environment as say, MaxMSP, TouchDesigner, or Three.js, there is no way around reading documentation, understanding the mechanics of coding, the intricacies of instancing, or the headaches of troubleshooting an all but perfect line of GLSL code. It's just a fact that an understanding and mastery of the little nerdy details are not only essential to the end result but also, for many, much of what draws artists to this environment. It's fun to patch, it's fun to code, it's fun to see incomprehensible amounts of patch wires and nodes filter out into a beautiful, startlingly emotional piece of art.
With this said, a message that stuck with me after a short conversation with (in my estimation), one of the most masterful generative artists, Alex Guevara is one that myself and so obviously many others struggle to understand and apply. It's the idea that our desired results, our most important and meaningful work comes from spontaneous exploration.
Okay - so, perhaps reposting your export of the seven thousandth tutorial file on YouTube isn't the best way to express something meaningful with creative code. Taking little ideas and letting whatever it is that we call creativity guide us is. Great! Well - maybe it's not so easy to open up a MAXPAT or TOE and just do it. To help with this, I've provided two TouchDesigner project files, skeletons of patches that I think will help promote the spontaneous, flowing workflow I've described above. Here they are.
Patch 1 is simple - it generates a geometry (by default a sphere), provides multiple ways to mangle and shape it, and some post processing effects corresponding to emotional states. Think of your feedback opacity and saturation as 'intensity", the camera movement and noise amplitude as "chaos". (You can double click the emotional state COMPs to see the nitty gritty if you'd like).
Patch 2 is a bit more complex, with multiple geometry generators, audio reactivity, and post-processing . It revolves around the same "emotional state" concept introduced in the first.
When all is said and done, each decision any artist makes during the creative process has an tangible emotional effect on their audience. That's, as far as I'm concerned, what we're all after. A feeling. An engineer may choose to boost the low end of a kick drum for more aggressiveness, or run a vocal through a hot preamp for grit and heft.
However nerdy, fine, or subtle the decision, it's all chasing a feeling.
In the world of Generative Art, the harshly digital and objectively nerdy details are what separate it from many other forms of art, but can make it easy to lose sight of the big picture. I wrote this in hopes of helping fellow artists push beyond the technicalities and see the process in a more human way.
I do sincerely hope that this insight can help fill the world with just a little more special. If so, I've done my job.