his book "An Approach to Cybernetics" (1961) Gordon Pask presents
"learning machines". Pask designates "Eucrates" (1955)
as "simulating a pupil-teacher system". 1 The
model reconstructs the behaviour of "real neurones" and their
"`absolute refractory period´". 2 The
reactions of the "motor-elements" to the input are varying because
of a shifting threshold: The threshold increases after the first input
with the consequence for learners that they have to wait with further
inputs until the threshold falls. "`Memory´-elements"
react to the output of the "motor-elements". The "`memory´-elements"
are constructed following the example of "the synaptic connections
of a neurone" 3: "Now it is obvious that various
modes of activity and various forms of interaction [between a pupil and
a teacher or the learning machine] will build up the network." Pask
writes this sentence after a short explanation of possible "interconnections"
between "motor-elements" and the learning activities within
the "network". Capable of surviving within the "network"
are only the connections which "mediate a favourable behavior".
Pask, Gordon: Solartron EUCRATES II, ca. 1956 (Pask: Approach 1961, pl.I 8(i)).
"Musicolour" (1953-57, built in collaboration with Robin McKinnon-Wood)
was a reactive system for theater productions. The system´s analogue
computer was transported from performance to performance.
Pask, Gordon: Musicolour, Boltons Theatre Club, South Kensington 1954.
Left: Stage with a projection screen for Musicolour.
Right: Moon-Music, playbill (Rosen: Control 2008, p.139).
If a musician
produced input via a microphone for "Musicolour", then the system
reacted with visual output "a predetermined vocabulary of
visual symbols". The "visual vocabulary" could be modified
from performance to performance. 5 Pask describes the
system´s procedures as including "a rudimentary learning facility"
6 being capable to modify the sound-image relation in
the course of the performance. If the music stopped then the system reacted
with a growing sensitivity to each kind of sounds. In practice, this growing
sensitivity had to be moderated by an "arbitrary gain control circuit".
"Musicolour" reacted for a while to "repetitive input"
with a constant output before it stopped to react. The musician was forced
to change her/his performance to get again the visual output. A musician
could follow the reactions of the machine and could try after "several
gambits" 7 to modify the audio input and to develop
ways to control the audio-visual correlations.
"Property filters" select sounds following
different and modifiable criteria. On the one hand the storage units of
each filter can memorize the filtered sounds and these sounds can be utilized
to influence the visual output´s "power level". On the
other hand the filtered sounds can be processed with "averagers"
and "adaptive threshold devices" with "internal feedback
loops". The "threshold devices" install a lower limit causing
a suppression of too weak input. The conflation of the processed and stored
sounds influences the visual output that in turn inspires the musician.
Light projections direct the visual output to a projection surface. The
light is emitted through color and pattern filters constructed as controllable
wheels or reflectors. 8
Pask, Gordon: Musicolour, 1953-57, projection wheel
controlled by a servomechanism (Pask: Comment 1971, p.81, fig.27).
For light modifications an "electro-chemical
display" is developed for "Musicolour" between 1954 and
1957. Bowls are placed on rotating supports. The bowls contain electrolyte
solutions and indicators: The pH of the solutions is changed by electrolysis.
These changes activate electrodes mounted on the bowls. The activated
electrodes in turn navigate the projections of colour patterns. In his
description of the "display" Pask doesn´t refer to the
learning system mentioned above. 9
the musician as a "converse participant" of the "learning
mechanism" of "Musicolour". 10 Machine
and musician should accomodate to each other: Both sides `learn´.
11 How redundancy is avoided by modifications depends
on one side from the "Musicolour´s " changing ways to
react 12, on the other side of "the observer´s
[resp. the musician´s] frame of reference" 13:
Musicians explore the "Musicolour system´s" capabilities
to react and conclude how they can create their next actions.
Pask´s "Musicolour" offers a "responsive
environment" 14 being integratable as a partial
system with participant into wider performance systems. With "Musicolour"
Pask became a pioneer of computer art.
II.3.1.2 Nicolas Schöffer´s "CYSP
In 1956 Nicolas Schöffer realised "CYSP
1" as a mobile kinetic sculpture. Round and rectangle aluminium plates,
each unilateral colored and structured by geometric forms, rotate in a
steel structure meanwhile its basis drives in the space either of an exhibition
or outdoors. Little engines move the plates. The basis contains electric
motors for movements on four rubber wheels in two speeds, accumulators
for the electricity supply and an "electronic brain" («cerveau
électronique», vacuum tube based) by Philips organizing the
navigation between obstacles and the rotation of the aluminium plates.
The "electronic brain" includes a random
generator organizing the self mobility. If the kinetic sculpture´s
self navigation around the obstacles of an environment is overstressed
then observers can intervene from a control desk being connected with
the sculpture via radar. This description of Reuben Hoggett is contradicted
by Jean-Noël Montagné who was involved in a recent restoration
of "CYSP 1". Following Montagné the first version of
"CYSP 1" had an antenna. It was used for experiments with a
"capacitive sensor" "but the electronic has too many natural
and in-board parasites". Montagné describes the control of
"CYSP 1" as either "autonomous" or by a "remote
control" connected "by cable". 16
Schöffer, Nicolas: CYSP 1, 1956. Left: exhibition,
Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1960.
Photoelectric cells and a microphone
are used as sensors registrating changings of light intensity, colors,
and sound volume. These sensors supply with the input for the navigation
of the moving parts. The "electronic brain" organizes the simultaneous
control of the speed of the plates´ rotation up to "stroboscopic
effects" and the movement of the basis. 17 The
"electronic brain´s" coordination varies the reactions
of "CYSP 1" to external events by "disturbing parameters"
18 and avoids predictability.
Jacques Bureau, the developer of the "electronic
brain" integrated in "CYSP 1", and the artist use Ashby´s
terms "homeostasis" and "homeostat" (see chap. II.1.5,
II.2.1) for the capabilities to move and adapt to external events featured
by "CYSP 1". 19 The system moving itself by random generators
and the limited adaptability to environmental conditions are capabilities
common to Ashby´s "Homeostat" and "CYSP 1".
Schöffer creates not only a moved three-dimensional object as kinetic
art but constructs cybernetically a relation to the environment using
an adaptive system with self-navigated movements.
The "electronic brain" of "CYSP 1" transfers the
sensors´ input caused by several external factors in a program for
navigation and movements. Meanwhile the "Homeostat" is an experimental
arrangement with controls turned by humans to cause disturbances, they
are caused in "CYSP 1" by changing environmental conditions.
The internal balance of the "Homeostat´s" four subsystems
reacting to each other is in "CYSP 1" replaced by an electronic
control system. After the self navigation of William Grey Walter´s
robots (see chap. II.2.3) follows in "CYSP 1" a self navigation
controlled by programmed electronics.
II.3.2 "Cybernetic Serendipity"
II.3.2.1 The Exhibition in London
Jasia Reichardt followed a suggestion
by the German philosopher Max Bense when she started in autumn 1965 the
preparations for the exhibition "Cybernetic Serendipity". 20
From August to October 1968 the London Institute of Contemporary Arts
exhibited predominantly examples for the uses of computers in art, literature,
and music. Following Reichardt 60.000 humans visited the exhibition on
"The Computer and the Arts". 21 Beside Schöffer´s
then twelve year old "CYSP 1" cybernetic sculptures of Edward
Ihnatowicz and Gordon Pask have been exhibited for the first time in "Cybernetic
Serendipity". In 1968 they demonstrate the development status of
three-dimensional works reacting to visitors´ actions.
The catalogue of the exhibition and two publications
later edited or written by Reichardt document the development for the
art for and with the computer. 22
II.3.2.2 Edward Ihnatowicz´s "SAM"
Edward Ihnatowicz´s "Sound Activated Mobile", in short "SAM" (1968),
reacted to more quiet sounds. A sound reflector made in fibreglass contained
four microphones in a cross-shaped configuration. The eight hydraulic
controlled vertebrae cast in aluminium constituted a mechanical backbone.
The vertebrae rotated and directed a reflector to the input of the microphones.
The microphones were mounted in pairs, two vertical and two horizontal
to each other, and each of the pairs were connected with their own analog
system. These two systems measured the time intervals between their microphones
and used this measurement to `recognize´ the direction out of which
a sound event came. "SAM" then used the hydraulics of the backbone´s
vertebrae to direct the reflector to these events.
Ihnatowicz, Edward: SAM, 1968, exhibition "Cybernetic
Serendipity", Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1968.
John Billingsley developed the analog circuit for the measurement of
the audio input, meanwhile Ihnatowicz realised the `backbone´, its
hydraulics, and the analog computer being hidden in the socle and used
for the coordination of the motions. The technology of the hydraulicservo
system was based on biological prefigurations. The reflector looked like
a four-leaved clover, a flower or a head.
Ihnatowicz, Edward: SAM, 1968 (Ihnatowicz: Cybernetic Art 1986, Cover).
Ihnatowicz entertained the visitors with the surprising
skills of an environmentally sensitive system. It was not his main interest
to present a model of human intelligence, as William Grey Walter understood
his robots (see chap. II.2.3). 23
In his catalogue contribution
to "Cybernetic Serendipity" Ihnatowicz announced a "large
structure" "to be operated by a computer." 24
Ihnaotwicz prepared at that time The
Senster. In September 1970 it was installed on a round basis in the
foyer of the "Evoluon", a technical museum at Philips´
factory site in Eindhoven. Until December 1973 it reacted each day to
the visitors´ motions and sound productions. From September to December
1970 Ihnatowicz stayed in the Evoluon to program a computer Philips
P 9201 in assembly language for an input via punch cards. He used
the visitors as test persons. 25
Ihnatowicz, Edward: The Senster, 1970, in Evoluon,
"Senster" was a tubular steel construction on three static
legs carrying a mobile structure. The steel tubes of this part were moved
by six independent electrohydraulic servo systems. The tank and the pumps
of the hydraulic systems have been installed under the basis. The computer
controlled hydraulic cylinders and the potentiometers
of the servo systems. The mobile structure largely overhanging in the
direction of the visitors orientated itself by following the input of
its sensors. These sensors were installed on a mobile part mounted on
the overhanging end of the mobile structure.
Ihnatowicz, Edward: The Senster, 1970, in Evoluon,
When Ihnatowicz constructed the joints he was inspired by lobster claws
because they are able remarkably easy to move with six simple swivel joints.
The artist constructed "Senster´s" mobile structure as
a big lobster claw. He substituted the claw with a mobile fixing of the
radar units were mounted on arms overhanging on the left and right side
of the microphones. These units recognized the visitors´ actions.
The pair-by-pair configuration of the four microphones between the Doppler
units enabled the technical system to recognize the direction of a sound.
At first "Senster" moved these microphones into the direction
of sound events, then in the case of longer lasting sounds it moved the
mobile parts of the tubular steel construction to the sound sources, too.
Loud noises and fast body actions cause retreating movements of the mobile
structure. "Senster" reacted to body actions below the threshold
for the relevant audio- and radar input by turning itself into directions
offering stronger input. Following Ihnatowicz the observers´ actions
were not determined by "Senster´s" form but by its moves.
Ihnatowicz, Edward: The Senster, 1970, four microphones.
Visitors of the Evoluon were diverted by sounds produced
by other visitors exploring the "Senster´s" capabilities.
Without consulting the artist the Senster´s" program was changed
and, finally, in 1973 the now uninteresting cybernetic sculpture was removed.
Meanwhile Ihnatowicz developed in "SAM" and "Senster"
programs for machine bodies reacting with motions to the environment and
did with the work as an object isolated from its surrounding nothing more
than to modificate the established delineation between art space and environment,
Gordon Pask (see chap. II.3.2) and James Seawright (see chap. II.3.3)
realised new concepts of the integration of observers into the work space
in installations being able to react to observers´ operations.
II.3.2.3 Gordon Pask´s "Colloquy
Gordon Pask´s "Colloquy of Mobiles"
was an installation offering the visitors of "Cybernetic Serendipity"
to use torches as means in interactions with the motions of its five parts.
Five hanging objects navigated their motions mutually via beams of light
and light reflexes. Three organically formed objects hung at the truncated
corners of a triangle hanging horizontally at the ceiling. Between these
objects two mobiles with inorganically formed elements hung on a further
element mounted on the big triangle and rotating under it horizontally.
These five objects hung on vertical axes that were rotated by electric
motors. Pask designated the mobiles with inorganic formed elements as
"Males" and the three organic elements clad with fibreglass
bodies as "Females". Yolanda Sonnabend drafted the semitransparent
fibreglass bodies illuminated from inside. 28 The "Males"
constituted an inner rotating system with the "Females" circulating
Pask, Gordon: Colloquy of Mobiles, 1968, exhibition
"Cybernetic Serendipity", ICA London 1968 (rear right: Schöffer,
Nicolas: CYSP 1, 1956) .
The "Males" and "Females"
are programmed to relate themselves to each other by contacts produced
by light rays and light reflexes. These contacts cause the rotating objects
to change their motion sequences. The motion sequences of the "Males"
and "Females" are controlled by a computer located outside the
installation. The installation is connected to the computer by cables
laid from the static horizontal element to the ceiling. 29
The "Males" contain photo cells and elements emitting orange
and dark red light. Light reflecting objects are fixed in the "Females´"
openings. The "Males" come closer to the "Females"
by rotations of the mobile horizontal element and by their own motions.
In some positions a "Male" is only able to follow its goal by
hampering the other "Male". 30
Pask, Gordon: Colloquy of Mobiles, 1968, exhibition
"Cybernetic Serendipity", ICA London 1968 (Pask: Comment 1971,
After phases of inactivity the fibreglass bodies
of the "Females" are illuminated by lights from inside and the
"Males" start to emit light rays that can hit mirrors in the
openings of the "Females" fibreglass-bodies. Some light interactions
provoke the "Males" to change the light colour and the rotation
speed if the "Females" redirect the light rays of the "Males"
to their photo cells. In the course of such light interactions both sides
send sound signals. Sound signals emitted by the "Males" are
received by a cooperating "Female" and replied by a corresponding
sound. 31 After this audio cooperation a sequence with
visual cooperations can follow.
elements pursue "goals" for example the heterosexual
cooperation in one of both rotation speeds 32
in a system organizing the cooperation on several levels: The "goals"
are compartmentalised in "sub-goals". The "Females"
and "Males" pursue "goals" independently of each other.
They are not only able to compete with each other, but also to prohibit
themselves in pursue of their "goals". 33
Pask, Gordon: Colloquy of Mobiles, 1968, ground and
vertical plan of the mobile elements (Pask: Comment 1971, p.90, fig.34).
The mobile elements need memories for their cooperations to be able to
store which element corresponded in which action phase with their "goals".
The actual cooperation phase until the next phase is stored by the "short-term
memory". The "long-term `memory´" stores elder cooperation
experiences and learning processes. Potential partners are able to memorize
the different preferences developed by the mobile elements and to adapt
themselves to the preferences. 34.
Visitors of "Cybernetic
Serendipity" could intervene in the "aesthetically potent social
environment" 35 using flashlights or mirrors and
producing sounds. Visitors were enabled to influence the interaction between
"Females" and "Males" by interventions and to use
the system´s reactions in investigations of the programming. 36
Obviously "Colloquy of Mobiles" was capable to react in a sufficiently
complex manner to attract observers for a longer period of time. The complexity
of the system-internal capabilities of the five moving objects was the
precondition to react to system-external changes and with it
to interventions by the visitors.
After Ashby´s "Homeostat" (see chap. II.1) Pask offers
a further model for the "law of requisite variety" (see chap.
II.1.5) postulating the system-internal (system/system relations) differentiation
as precondition for the system/environment relations. The "Homeostat´s"
four subsystems constitute the environment mutually: The "Homeostat"
is enabled to react to certain environmental conditions by a subdivision
in internal system/environment conditions. The "Colloquy of Mobiles"
features comparable relations. Not only learn the internal elements of
"Colloquy of Mobiles" from each other, but also the installation
is able to learn from external operations of observers: The work reacts
to external events in the same way as it organizes the actions of its
Pask´s model includes the learning capability based on machinic
memory missed by the participants of the ninth Macy Conference in 1952
in their discussion of Ashby´s "Homeostat" (see chap.
II.2.2). The segmentation into several internal, separately and autonomously
operating subsystems and the structuring in "short-term memory"
and "long-term `memory´" constitute the "requisite
variety" of the computing processes offering relations reconstructable
for observers by the installation´s audio and visual manifestations.
The interface between human and machine consists of the light and mirror
actions as possibilities for human input as well as of the actions to
be seen and heard as machinic output. Observers can recognize the possibilities
for human input by reconstructions of the machinic `conversation´
between mobiles that can be interpreted as a rudimentary model of social
interactions. The model is rudimentary as a test case for communication
because it operates on the level of signals starting functions, not on
the level of symbolic interactions.
II.3.3 Light and Sound Installations by James
Seawright and Vladimir Bonacic
In 1968 artists and musicians like Stephen Antonakos,
Terry Riley, Charles Ross and Robert Whitman realised installations producing
light and sound events for the exhibition "The Magic Theatre".
James Seawright constructed "Electronic Peristyle" 37:
an uncommon work for an uncommon exhibition.
He installed "power supplies" in a base under a sphere. The
sphere was made of transparent plastic and contained 12 photocells. A
"cylindrical metal box" with 12 "light beam projectors"
was mounted underneath the "plastic sphere". The electronics
in this vertical structure with round segments "was either digital
(the earliest family of Motorola RTL logic chips)" or it contained
"conventional analog transistor circuits." These electronics
controlled the generation of sounds by "electronic synthesizer modules".
These modules were developed by Robert Moog. He integrated his analog
equipment in Seawright´s installation.
Seawright, James: Electronic Peristyle, 1968, exhibition
"The Magic Theatre", William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art,
Kansas City/Missouri 1968. Photo above: Larry B. Nicholson (Davis: Experiment
1975, p.96). Photo below: James Seawright.
The vertical element with the "plastic sphere" was placed
in the middle of a circle built by 12 steles coated with black resopal.
In the circle with a diameter of 21 feet (resp. 6,4 m) the visitors walked
on an elevated second floor hiding the steles´ support structure
constructed of steel and the technical equipment ("multi conducted
cables"). The light beams sent from the ring underneath the "central
sphere" to the steles hit there on photocells except visitors on
the heightened floor interrupted the beams. Photocells paired with mirrors
constituted the steles´ "receptors". The mirrors reflected
the light beams. These reflexes recorded the photocells within the "plastic
sphere". The "shift register" reacted to the photocells´
input produced by the mirrored light beams and their interruptions, as
they were caused by the visitors. In the "plastic sphere" the
"circuit boards" of the "shift register" are mounted
behind the photocells.
This register shifted its "twelve data bits" "at varying
rates" "clockwise" "around the twelve stages".
The "shift register´s" "12 stages" were "connected
in a circle". A "12-bit binary number" was "shifted
"by a pulse" in the "circle" from "stage"
to "stage". The "stages of the shift register" corresponded
with the 12 steles. The "numbers" of each "stage"
were "read out by sound synthesizer modules" developed by Robert
Moog including "two 8-bit input voltage-controlled oscillators, two
6-bit voltage controlled amplifiers (envelope generators, intermodulators
and a voltage controlled filter)."
The data generated by these modules "could be patched into the shift
register outputs in a wide range of possibilities": For the programming
of a "permanent setup" one of the technical possibilities was
selected to coordinate the "shift register" with the "synthesizer
modules". The "12-bit binary numbers" circulating between
the "stages" resulted in "digital values" causing
"the outputs of the synthesizer modules to assume appropriate values
-- differing pitches in the case of digital oscillators, different loudness
values in the case of amplifiers (or level controls) and so forth, including
the timing intervals of the shift register's shifts. A digitally controlled
filter could alter overall timbre, etc." before the "mixed audiosignal"
was "sent out" to the steles´ loudspeakers. By walking
on the heightened floor visitors could listen to "...the constantly
changing data decoded into a melodious, background of sound".
Meanwhile the "central sphere" produced sounds the light beam
interruptions caused by visitors were recorded by the steles´ photocells
and thus started further sound productions: Slowly louder growing "low
frequency tones" were emitted by the steles´ loudspeakers into
the circle with "a few Hz differences to each other so that the sounds
`beat´ against each other". If these sounds "reached a
sufficient threshold" then "the tone generators" were switched
off. This switch activated "ventilation blowers" in the steles
producing "a gentle breeze" in the height of the visitors´
The "composite audio output" sent from the "central unit"
to the steles was mixed "in each stele" with its "low frequency
tones". These mixes were made audible by the loudspeakers of the
The light beam interruptions produced by the visitors and registered
by the "photocells" within the "plastic sphere" "change
the state of the data bits in the stages of the shift register":
In a technical sense the data circulation between the "stages"
was produced system internal by a "pulse" as well as system
external by visitors. But spatially these visitors don´t act from
outside, they move in the circle of steles: They act and react to the
system´s output from within the environment.
"A rotating scanner atop the plastic sphere overrode the data currently
in the shift register once every two minutes" to avoid with a "fresh
start" that all "twelve bits" of this register were "set
to all ones or all zeros" and could thus cause "a `lock-up´
In the plastic sphere pairs of yellow and white lamps indicated "the
instantaneous state of each stage of the shift register". The upper
yellow lamp "lighted to denote a state of `1´ and the lower
[white lamp] to indicate `0´." For each "state" a
lamp pair indicated with "1" or "0" if visitors activated
the coordinated "photocell" in the "plastic sphere"
("photocell" "state" "lamp pair").
Furthermore the pairs of lamps marked the changes of the "states"
effected by the "shift register". "Other sets of [green
and red] lamps denoted the states of the digital inputs of the audio synthesizer
Seawright integrated the visitor into the installation
by offering her/him only there to disturb and activate the functions for
wind, light, and sound. Visitors could use the "changes of the audio
program" and the lamps in the "plastic sphere" to control
if the system reacts to their motions between the steles and "the
plastic sphere". 38
Seawright, James: Electronic Peristyle, 1968, "central
unit" removed from the installation. The transparent "plastic
sphere" is divided by a "metal band". In the lower half
"the circuitry of the sound synthesizer" is visibly installed.
Above the "metal band" the 12 photocells are recognisable, "looking
a bit like little cannons". The "black metal drum" contains
the lamps indicating states of the "shift register" and the
"audio synthesizer modules". Above the "metal drum"
are the cables of the "patch panel". The "rotating scanner"
is located on top of the "plastic sphere" (photo and quotes:
Vladimir Bonacic used minicomputers
early. In 1969 he and Miro Cimerman started in Zagreb to use the computers
of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and SDS
930 of Scientific Data Systems with "self built electronics"
to produce "pseudo-chance-transformers and generators" via Galois
fields. 39 The calculated polynomial equations (of Abstract
Algebra) were "implemented into the electronic circuits of a control
unit" 40 producing light sequences on grids with
sometimes different coloured elements.
In "G.F.E. (16,4)"
(1969-71) visitors could modificate light sequences by using cotrollers
and a remote control (via radio waves). Three Galois field generators
produced the sequences on 1024 light elements with 16 colour hues. The
light elements constituted a "dynamic object" measuring 1,78
x 1,78 x 0,20 meter. 41 64 sound oscillators produced
sounds by interactions with the Gallois field generators. The sounds became
audible by two stereo amplifiers. As indicated by Bonacic the "dynamic
object...was capable" to produce "1 048 576 different configurations"
by different adjustments from the most rapid in six seconds to the slowest
in 24 days. "Each image" was accompanied by "a specific
Bonacic, Vladimir: G.F.E. (16,4), 1969-71.
Compared to Seawright´s "Electronic Peristyle" Bonacic
developed the light and sound variations to further differentiations,
but neglected the integration of observers into the installation´s
space by uncommon interfaces and arrangements of the material elements.
In 1971 Seawright´s "Network III" was installed at the
Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. If visitors walked on pressure-sensitive
elements then they produced patterns on a grid of overhead lights placed
directly above the sensors. "6 x 6 arrays of pressure-sensitive mats,
normally used to control the opening of automatic doors" were hidden
under " a 20´ x 20´ [6,09 x 6,09 m] square of industrial
carpeting". On the ceiling 400 lamps were mounted "at the intersections"
of "a grid of web-belting" "at an 11´´ [28
The input of the floor sensors was prepared by a minicomputer PDP
8-L. It executed programmed algorithms structuring the lights to build
patterns. The computer, hidden under a white box, could control each light.
To the moves of one or two visitors the program reacted
with light patterns. Seawright programmed in the "PDP 8 assembly
language" "a circle about two feet [60,96 cm] diameter"
with a "blinking circle" as its variant. "A cross or plus
sign" could appear as "rotating", too. Furthermore a certain
sensor´s input caused "a solid square box" as an output.
If three or more visitors entered the carpet, then the program shut down
with "a spectacular blowup". The "processing speed and
memory capacity" of the minicomputer were insufficient for algorithms
enabling the system to react with light patterns to more than two persons.
The program identified the persons on the sensors as "target 1"
or "target 2" and assigned to them different "overhead
patterns". If both visitors moved to "adjacent" sensors
then the "overhead patterns" for "target 1" and "target
2" "would superimpose, but when either one moved to a new location
their identities (the coordination visitor target) would sometimes
be exchanged." 43
Seawright, James: Network III, 1971, Walker Art Center,
Minneapolis 1971. Photo: Eric Sutherland (Davis: Experiment 1975, p.195).
Seawright anticipated interfaces of computer-aided
installations of the nineties (see chap. V.1) in "Network III"
with its pressure-sensitive floor sensors and the location of the visitors
between planes for in- and output. In the nineties Seawright´s patterns
for sounds and lights are substituted by digital simulations of three-dimensional
spaces and interfaces like floor panels are used as opportunities for
observers to switch between real and virtual spaces. 44
II.3.3 Nicolas Negroponte, the Architecture Machine
Group and "Seek"
In 1967 the "Architecture Machine Group",
directed by Nicolas Negroponte and located in the Urban Systems Laboratory
at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge/Massachusetts),
developed the computer-aided design system "URBAN5" for architects
to be used as a means to ameliorate planning procedures. Planners could
operate with the system via keys on a console and a light pen for the
activation of functions on the screen. Cubes were the basic elements of
the graphic system. For Negroponte "URBAN5" was not complex
enough for a change of planning strategies. 45
The Architecture Machine Group: Urban 5, 1967.
Meanwhile "URBAN 5" was not capable to
integrate the environment into planning procedures 46,
"The Architecture Machine" was a learning system with a mobile
unit containing photocells. The system was able to recognize environmental
conditions and a robot arm developed by students could move stereometric
elements on a table.
developed at MIT could recognize stereometric elements. It was a result
of a research to transfer the contours of a constellation of bodies on
a table into a data landscape. The data were processed by the minicomputer
Interdata Model 3. The parameters of a learning robot should "develop
its own conditioned reflexes" 47 in interactions
with an architect. This was the research goal of the project being oriented
to "architectural intelligence". 48
Minsky/Papert Eye, M.I.T. (Negroponte: The Architecture
Machine 1970, p.106).
In 1970 Jack Burnham curated the exhibition "Software"
in the Jewish Museum in New York. "The Architecture Machine Group"
realised in the installation "Seek" an environment for 500 gerbils
enclosed in a glass container open at the top. An arm was mounted on two
rails on the top of the glass container. The arm moved a magnet to replace
blocks. Via sensors reacting to pressure the system used an Interdata
Model 3 computer to control mouses moving the blocks out of the grid
structure. Then the computer activated the moving arm placing the blocks
into another structure following the right angle of the grid. 49
The Architecture Machine Group: Seek, 1970, exhibition
"Software", The Jewish Museum, New York 1970 (Negroponte: Architecture
1975, p.46, fig.1).
"artificial intelligence" 50 provoked expectations
that the arm and its computer-controlled navigation reacts directly to
the mice´s actions. 51 The Architecture Machine
Group´s contribution to the catalogue points to the still existing
gap between "Seek" and the project of "artificial intelligence":
"...`Seek´ deals with elementary uncertainties in a simple-minded
The Group presents with "Seek´s"
relation between animals and machine a rudimentary model of a social system
reacting with a machine-controlled flexibility to the creatures´
motions within the system. With that model The Architecture Machine Group
anticipates the model of a flexible architecture as it became an ideal
for many architects in the seventies and was realised in projects like
Cedric Price´s "InterAction Centre" (Kentish Town, from
1976 to its demolition in 2003) and the Centre
Pompidou (Paris, 1977) by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. Meanwhile
these buildings first of all offered possibilities for a flexible use
by elements displacable within a supporting structure, in 1976-79 Cedric
Price, John and Julia Frazer designed the "Generator Project"
with sensors to whose input react four computer programs, and a mobile
crane installed permanently to move flexible elements. The crane shall
be a means for the execution of propositions for modifications planned
by computers. These propositions react to the sensors´ input containing
data on the use of the flexible elements. According to John Frazer the
computer programs shall offer better propositions for the users of a house
than their own plans: Gordon Pask´s "Learning machines"
(see chap. II.3.1.1) and "The Architecture Machine" with its
concern to the environment´s changes caused by its use become model
examples for the further development of flexible architectural structures.
In the sixties the project of
an expansion from sculpture to the environment and to action has been
realised in different ways. The development of "responsive environments"
as a forerunner to a "responsive architecture" 54
was shaped by the possibilities of computer-aided organization procedures.
Limits of art are transgressed by demonstrations of non-realizable architectural
concepts. The model "Seek" installed by the MIT in the exhibition
"Software" anticipated more extensive future-oriented projects
and implicated research tasks. The experimental status of the animals
in "Seek" was controversial for art critics and provoked them
to express doubts about the research goal. 55
Dr. Thomas Dreher
with numerous articles on art history since the sixties, a. o. on Concept Art and Intermedia
7 Pask: Comment 1971, p.80. Cf. Pickering: Brain 2010,
Pask: Comment 1971, p.78 on the musician: "The musical performer
(who may, incidentally, be replaced by a small group or band) must first
be able to see the visual display and second be able to modify his performance
according to what he sees. The latter condition can be satisfied in various
ways. At one extreme, the performer has a (usually memorized) score and
he modifies his performance by giving a different interpretation to the
piece. At the other extreme, he improvises in a fashion that is only constrained
by canons of music and his own disposition." back
8 Pask: Comment 1971, p.78ss.; Pickering: Brain 2010,
p.314, fig. 7.2, p.316; Rosen: Control 2008, p.136. back
9 Pask: Comment 1971, p.86.
Gordon Pask´s "electro-chemical display" is a part of
a research investigating the relations between "stability and variety"
in "self-organizing systems". In the course of the research
Pask began to develop "chemical computers": "Chemical computers
arise from the possibility of `growing´ an active evolutionary network
by an electro-chemical process." (Pask: Approach 1961, p.105) On
the insights in emergence that Pask was able to win within the research
project: Cariani: Emergence 1991, p.789; Cariani: Ear 1993; Pickering:
Brain 2010, p.334-343; Whitehead: Metacreation 2004, p.223. back
11 Pask: Comment 1971, p.86: "From the performer´s
point of view, training becomes a matter of persuading the machine to
adopt a visual style which fits the mood of his performance. At this stage
in the development of the rapport, the performer conceives the machine
as an extension of himself, rather than as a detached or disassociated
12 Pask: Approach 161, p.48: "A system is `self-organizing´
if the rate of change of its redundancy is positive." back
13 Pask: Approach 1961, p.48. In this case the musician
is the "observer".
Pask describes "observers" as "men, animals, or machines
able to learn about their environment and impelled to reduce their uncertainty
about the events which occur in it, by dint of learning." (Pask:
Approach 1961, p.18) "Some simplified abstractions from the real
world" can be falsified in their character as fundamentals for predictions:
"Any observation of the real world is fallible..." (Pask: Approach
1961, p.19) Learning became a presupposition to obtain sufficient "requisite
variety" (Pask: Approach 1961, p.51ss.; see chap. II.1.5) for adequate
reactions to environmental events. back
15 Bruinsma, A.H.: Practical Robot Circuits. A Philips
Technical Publication. Quoted in: Hoggett: CYSP 1 2009. Jean-Noël
Montagné in 10/27/2013 in an e-mail to the author.
The name "CYSP" is an abbreviation. It consists of the first two letters
of «cybernétique» and «spatiodynamique»
(Cassou/Habasque/Ménétier: Schöffer 1963, p.50).
On a justified criticism of the term "electronic brain", published
in 1951 in the leaflet of the Science Museum in South Kensington for the
"Festival of Great Britain" in London: see chap. VII.1.1 on
"Ferranti NIMROD". back
16 Hoggett: CYSP 1 2009; Schöffer: Apparitions
2009 and Jean-Noël Montagné in 10/27/2013 in an e-mail to
the author. Following Montagné "CYSP 1" was self-navigating
and "not programmable...but there were 2 speeds possible for the
main moving motors". The external control is not illustrated and
only indirectly described in Cassou/Habasque/Ménétrier:
Schöffer 1963, p.50-57,137. back
17 Without author: CYSP 1. In: Reichardt: Cybernetic
Serendipity 1968, p.45: "...the sculpture consisting of combined
travel and animation. For example: it is excited by the colour blue, which
means that it moves forward, retreats or makes a quick turn, and makes
its plates turn fast; it becomes calm with red, but at the same time it
is excited by silence and calmed by noise. It is also excited in the dark
and becomes calm in intense light." back
18 Nicolas Schöffer talking to Hans-Jürgen
Buderer in 30.9.1983. In: Buderer: Kinetische Kunst 1992, p.191 (cf. Buderers
comment, ibid., p.127s.).
Cf. Jacques Bureau´s "Annotations of the Philips Company..."
(1955). In: Cassou/Habasque/Ménétrier: Schöffer 1963,
p.45: An "indifference cell" causes an "uncertainty factor"
(Cf. Cassou/Habasque/Ménétrier: Schöffer 1963, p.50,60,136).
19 Buderer: Kinetische Kunst 1992, p.124s.,190,193s.
(Schöffer 1983, see ann.18); Schöffer: Spatiodynamisme 1955
(I thank Jean-Noël Montagné for the tip about that text).
Bureau presents the "electronic brain" in "Annotations
of the Philips Company..." (see ann.18) as "homeostat"
(Cassou/Habasque/Ménétrier: Schöffer 1963, p.45s.).
20 Klütsch: Computergrafik 2007, p.198ss.; Mason:
Computer 2008, p.101-110; Prince: Women 2003, p.3s.; Reichardt: Serendipity
1968, p.5. back
21 Reichardt: Cybernetics 1971, p.11. In contrary,
according to Michael Kustow, the former director of the Institute of Contemporary
Arts, the show attracted 45.000 visitors (Usselmann: Dilemma 2003, ann.4).
"Cybernetic Serendipity" was a travel exhibition shown in 1969
in the Corcoran Art Gallery (Washington, D.C.) and in the Exploratorium
in San Francisco, too (Henning: Museums 2006, p.87ss.; Mason: Computer
1968, p.212). back
25 Philips P 9201: clone of the minicomputer Honeywell
DDP-416 (since 1967. See Zivanovic: Technical Info undated; Zivanovic:
SAM 2005, p.4). The computer was located in view beside the round base.
27 Mason: Computer 2008, p.91; Zivanovich: SAM 2005,
p.5. Further writings on "Senster": Benthall: Ihnatowicz 1971;
Gardner: Elephants 1983, p.143-146; Ihnatowicz: Forty 2008, p.114s.; Zivanovic:
Technologies 2008, p.100-107. back
28 Realisation of the fibreglass bodies: Pip and Adele
Youngerman (Rosen: Control 2008, p.167 with ann.128). back
29 Pask: Comment 1971, p.97 with fig. 40, p.98. Electronics:
Mark Dowson. Electromechanics: Tony Watts. The computer was constructed
by Pask, Dowson and Watts using "electromechanical relais and simple
electronics " (Rosen: Control 2008, p.168 with ann.129). back
36 On the problem to inform visitors about the system´s
fundamentals to enable them to reconstruct the programming of its functions
by activating its machinic reactions: Rosen: Control 2008, p.172 with
ann.136. Cf. in contrary Pickering: Brain 2010, p.360 on visitors interacting
with "Colloquy of Mobiles" for several hours without preinformations.
37 Group exhibition "The Magic Theatre",
William Rockhill Nelson Gallery, Kansas City/Missouri 1968. Later exhibited
in the art museums of St. Louis/Missouri and Toledo/Ohio. In: Davis: Art
1973, p.75s.,156; Ehrlich: Magic Theatre 1969. Permanent installation
of "Electronic Peristyle" since 1997: New Jersey State Museum,
Trenton/New Jersey. back
38 Quotes from e-mails sent by James Seawright to the
author in 9/28/2013, 10/7/2013, 10/10/2013 and 17/10/2013.
Writings on "Electronic Peristyle": Kostelanetz: Soho 2003,
p.153; Light: Peristyle 1997; Seawright: Art 1970, p.89,91ss. back
39 Rosen: Maschinen 2007, p.50. The SDS 930 was programmed
in FORTRAN and assembly language (Frits: Work 2011, p.51). back
41 Bonacic: Mensch 1973, p.216: "The dynamic object
GF E 16-4/69-71...was constructed with 1024 quadratic aluminium tubes.
Because of the tubes´ different length the object constituted a
relief. At the end of each tube a transparent glass in one of 16 colour
hues is mounted (antique glass made in West Germany). Each tube contains
a lamp for a control independent of the arithmetic unit of the computer."
42 Bonacic: Mensch 1973, p.217. Cf. Fritz: Work 2011,
p.52s.; Shanken: Art 2009, p.67. back
43 Quotes from e-mails sent by James Seawright to the
author in 10/6/2013 and in 10/10/2013.
Seawright about the programming:
"The programming was all mine, with considerable advice and hand-holding
from computer professionals and hackers. The language was PDP8 assembly
language. The program was coded in ASCII on paper tape, and read in using
the teletype which came with the computer. Loading or reloading the program
took over 4 hours!"
Seawright expanded the program for the installation in the group exhibition
"The Responsive Environment", New Jersey State Museum, Trenton/New
Writings on "Network III": Davis: Art 1973, p.156; Goodman:
Visions 1987, p.142; Kac: Telepresence 2005, p.176s. back
44 Cf. Weibel, Peter: On Justiying the Hypothetical
Nature of Art and the Non-Identicality within the Object World, 1992 (see
chap. V.1); Rogala, Miroslav: Lovers
Leap, 1995. In: Druckrey: Lovers Leap 1995. back
45 Negroponte: The Architecture Machine 1970, p.70-99.
46 Negroponte: The Architecture Machine 1970, p.63.
47 Negroponte: The Architecture Machine 1970, p.100-117.
"The M.I.T. Minsky/Papert eye": Negroponte: The Architecture
Machine 1970, p.105ss. At the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab Marvin Minsky
and Seymour Papert developed among other things "The Logo Turtle"
in 1969 (Hoggett: Logo Turtle 2010), using "LOGO" to develop
further William Grey Walter´s robots (see chap. II.2.3). "LOGO"
is a computer language developed in 1967 and is based on LISP ("LOGO"-developer:
Wally Feuerzeig, Seymour Papert).
On Papert, Minsky, Negroponte and "The Architecture Machine"
as documents for relations between art and "artifical intelligence":
Burnham: Aesthetics 1970, p.111-114. back
49 The Architecture Machine Group: Seek 1970 (students
at M.I.T. constructed "Seek" as members of the "Architecture
Machine Group"); Davis: Art 1973, p.101s.,107; Goodman: Visions 1987,
p.40s.,43; Hess: Gerbils 1970; Montfort/Wardrip-Fruin: Reader 2003, p.247;
Negroponte: The Architecture Machine 1970, p.104s.,112s.; Pickering: Brain
2010, p.376s., fig. 7.27. back
50 The Architecture Machine Group: Seek 1970. back
51 Davis: Art 1973, p.102; Goodman: Visions 1987, p.40.
52 The Architecture Machine Group: Seek 1970. back
53 On the "InterAction Centre": Mathews:
Agit-Prop 2006, part 2 and 3.
On the "Generator Project": Pickering: Brain 2010, p.372s.;
Steenson: Cedric Price 2007. back
54 Grünkranz: Phenomenology 2009.
On the art expansion in the sixties from the isolated object to the environment
and to architecture: Claus: Expansion 1970, esp. p.54-109; Krauss: Sculpture
55 Davis: Art 1973, p.107; Hess: Gerbils 1970; Goodman:
Visions 1987, p.43. back