01-31: Begin Again / Time



Attempts to mark time stretch back many thousands of years, with some of the earliest timekeeping technologies being gnomons, sundials, water clocks, and lunar calendars. Even today’s standard representation of time, with hours and minutes divided into 60 parts, is a legacy inherited from the ancient Sumerians, who used a sexagesimal counting system.

The history of timekeeping is a history driven by economic and militaristic desires for greater precision, accuracy, and synchronization. Every increase in our ability to precisely measure time has had a profound impact on science, agriculture, navigation, communications, and, as always, warcraft.

Despite the widespread adoption of machinic standards, there are many other ways to understand time. Psychological time contracts and expands with attention; biological cycles affect our moods and behavior; ecological time is observed in species and resource dynamics; geological or planetary rhythms can span millennia. In the twentieth century, Einstein’s theory of relativity further upended our understanding of time, showing that it does not flow in a constant way, but rather in relation to the position from which it is measured—a possibly surprising return to the significance of the observer.


Questions from 1/26 Exit Ticket

  • I’m curious to learn more about the process artists go through to make generative art – what do their initial sketches look like, what kind of decisions do they make as they (loosely) turn that intention into code?

I’m working on hunting down some process write-ups for you. In the meantime you might enjoy these.

  • How did you become interested in computer art?

I think like many of you, I was artistically inclined, but also technically-minded. It was difficult to discover what I was interested in (i.e, what it was called), because the World Wide Web did not exist until just after I graduated college.

  • I kinda disagree with the idea of allowing surprises in art-making. Say, artwork can have from 0% surprise (random noise) to 100% surprise (deterministic code). The more surprise there is in the artwork, the artist has less control over the artwork. As the percentage approach 0, at some point, the artwork should not be considered the artist’s.

Hold that thought. We’ll have a lot more to say about this topic soon, when we discuss generative art.

  • I’m really curious about what makes Perlin noise special beyond that every point is related to its surrounding points

Not much. It’s cheap to compute and was popularized comparatively early (1983). There are many other noise functions, such as Simplex (2001), Worley/Cellular (1996), Gustavson, etc., that produce correlated randomness on a lattice. These algorithms all have different advantages.