wp_db_version = 7558; ?> Thoughts on process archive at Madeleine Flynn & Tim Humphrey

new work- emerging in rehearsal

August 5th, 2008

We are working on the material for the first public performance of our Synapse-ANAT-Garvan patch/piece as part of our new work, This Map is Not to Scale. This new piece is as yet untitled.

The works for This Map is Not to Scale are arising from our investigations between traditional and electro-acoustic instruments. It seems a good spot to place our first outing of sound from the materials we have been working with at the Garvan.

The performance is part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival.


MFTH, August 4, 2008

Intercultural patch development

July 28th, 2008

During the past week, we have been working on a creative development of a new work with Singapore based theatre company, The Necessary Stage. As part of this development, we worked with the soundpatch that we have developed so far for the Garvan Synapse project. We find this sort of cross-modal, intercultural ( culture both of disciplines and countries) development very useful in our work. The collaboration with TNS foregrounds ideas of translation- subtitling for us, in addition to considerations of culturally iconic sound indicators/references. This week working on our Garvan Synapse material in Melbourne, will be informed by the considerations of the past week working with the team from Singapore. This seems particularly pertinent as Filter is published in Singapore this week at ISEA.  Wish we were there too.


Questions about data

July 24th, 2008

These past couple of weeks have been reviewing techniques for data analysis, especially the time-based analyses that are indicators of process, and have been investigating the Affymetrix Gene Probe Database just to familiarise ourselves with the meaning of the codes for each probe set.

There are many thousands on each chip, randomised throughout the space of the chip — we need to know more about these to poll our data intelligently (?!).

Also investigating a neural network type of weighting analysis using some of the readily available analysis software that can plugin to the software that we are using.

Our patch is now completing a kind of loop in that we are finding it helpful to map specifically the gene probe label to the particular sounds we are hearing (and easy text read). We are also placing this expression (?!) of data back into the laboratory using the images that we collected on our last trip to the Garvan.

As this is a live render, its a little difficult to represent on this blog site but please stay tuned.

Time-frames and Hierarchies

June 20th, 2008

A focus of our visit this week has been to record literal sound and vision as possible sources for our composition.

The abstract quality of the data that we have been streaming has belied the intense and present physicality that the hard-working scientists associate with those little numbers so literal recording seems like one way to represent this “attachment to data”.

While many of the machine sounds are based on cooling fans and the hum of electric motors, their rhythm, in some cases the regular heating and cooling cycles that enable the propogation or “amplification” of genetic material have very particular sonic identities that we can map in some kind of referential (if not reverential) way when the time comes.

Even the time frames themselves are becoming more central to our thinking – genetic processes are complex time-based chains of events that will have a analogue in the proportions of our musical mappings.

It has been interesting to be exposed to the workings of the Institute over a longer, more intermittent time-frame. This has allowed us to realise or appreciate the time frames over which results become known – the experimental process for a biology that is measured in nano-seconds, has a rather longer time-scale, several months, or even years.

Of course, the pace of experimental result has been accelerating at a very fast rate over the very recent past, such that increases in orders of magnitude in terms of the number of processes that may be investigated at once are now possible within a far shorter time-frame.

Which leads to another interesting parallel between the interpretation of data and music compositional sensibility: The navigation of hierarchies of interpretation, In the dynamic data interpretation we are concerned with “levels of specificity” that allows more or less focussed views.

We are sometimes concerned with broad and sometimes with fine-grained or detailed structures. But in data, in life and in music, we are concerned that each level, each layer, is functionally connected to the next. Eg the gene ontology groupings of our data provides another way of phrasing the musical material.

Madeleine and Tim

The Field of Sound

May 3rd, 2008

Recently we have thinking about the way that the material we are sonifying is presented in physical space, and how this presentation reflects the material and allows the affect of scale to be experienced.

Alternatives we are currently imagining: a very large indoor space, with a single small object in the centre of the room (some kind of sound field speaker). This setup allows the audience member to walk through the sound as if in a field: the metaphors of scale-space allowed to co-exist within the sonic experience.

Our reflections on, and experiments with cultural meanings of transduction and enclosure as visual icons that cradle constantly re-forming sound objects continue.

The size of the Duomo in Florence, the people who move amongst it, the sound of their voices under the dome.

Choices of meaningful attribution of sound to data remain the topic of discussion between us. (Yes, in this collaboration there is the tension and collaboration btn MF and Th as artists, and between us and SG as the scientist- an extra layer of collaborative complexity.)

Pitch relations in music have both horizontal and vertical relationships. Timbral considerations engage these relationships in a much denser timescale. Rhythmic- attack/decay/silence- relationships are perhaps the freest from acquired cultural associations. ( We do not come from the major key equates to happiness school of thought.)

What sound material/kernel makes the most sense to attribute to the data?

Any thoughts?

MF and TH

Some Tentative Numbers and Sounds at last

April 14th, 2008

We move on these last two weeks to formatting the sample/dummy data files sent to us by the Bio-informatics Department at the Garvan. We are experimenting with calibrating number streams from the multi-dimensional data arrays to suit the relevant sonic mappings. Our mappings so far are pretty basic: varying partial content in an additive synthesis framework (back to the analog synthesis era!), and perhaps in a more contemporary vein, using the data streams as varying co-efficients for spatial representations.

It is gratifying to at least hear some sound (sorry not for public consumption just yet, please allow time for craft)

We are now hoping (thanks to correspondence with Alex Stahl from California) to building a spherical speaker array to play our realisations, when they have reached the stage of approaching music. It seems reasonable to present the realisations in this way, creating an amplification of process towards a social scale, from something mind-bogglingly small.

So we could walk around within a represented genetic function.

It is interesting to consider the whole style cache that seems to have accompanied “genetic”-like explorations in past and contemporary practices. Genetic programming is a familiar and large area of computer science, and has in the past been used in computer music, but this is some distance from what we are exploring. Rather than seeking musical mechanisms from analogy or metaphor with the processes, we are perhaps closer to exploiting the meaningful possibility of a direct link between data and compositional process (which is really a trivial mapping) that tries to honour the meaning of the whoel scientific endeavour.
We haven’t as yet, solved our ethical dilemma (see previous posts), but soldier on with data of a similar form to the real stuff, which may end up coming from us.

The easy part is linking data to sound — the difficult part is honouring the link through sensitive and relevant compositional mappings.


Timbre and timescales-Feldman and Messiaen

April 1st, 2008

Thinking about the implications and generative impulses behind making choices for timbral association with the genetic process data.

Instrumental western canonical groupings of the orchestra, chamber ensemble, wind ensemble, brass band, string quartet- these collections of instrumentations/timbres are central to the western canon of composed music, and bring with them associated group behaviour, understandings, associations as well as particular sound elements.
Timbral choice made via frequency…sine tones, spectral morphologies emerging.
Timbral choice made via sounds that the human body can make…vocal and percussive.

Messian’s timbral colors with birdsong.
And then the timescales. Western forms of large time scales as investigated by Feldman.

MF and TH

Emerging dilemmas and progress for our second phase in Sydney

March 31st, 2008

Synapse Garvan Institute Residency: Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey

We have been back in Sydney this past week working with data importation and also spending quite a time in discussions around outcomes, interests and some new ethical dilemmas.
We are working two strands of the project during this time:

  • Looking at de-commissioned machines that will be the vehicle for an installation of sonified data. The Institute relies on a large number of highly-specialised instruments that are constantly upgraded as new knowledge makes new experimental processes possible. We want to use a de-commissioned machine that we will then transform into an “instrument” for musical meaning. We are reflecting on the profound smallness of the material for research, ie. DNA mRNA strands and their component biochemistry, and the profound largeness of potential outcomes in the scientific research, in terms of impacting on millions of people across the world. Within this reflection is the consideration of scale:timescales from nanosecond to evolutionary eons, and physical scale of the extrinsic and intrinsic spaces in and out of the human body.
  • The above leads into considering the explicit mappings within our sonification patch. This patch becomes the score for our musical interpretation as we work on appropriate analogies to the issues of scale, and responding directly to what input data is coming into our patch (not only the kinds of variation of data, but also the source of the data, which originates from the bodies of humans (us?) (see below).

We have begun to discuss the ethics of working with data that arises from medical research, and have very quickly reached an “ethical crunch” whereby we will not be able to use real medical data in sonifications, and must then resort to using other material. Real medical data in this lab is collected from tissue that is released with written consent from family members.

Our options for other material are either our own, which raises other ethical implications about access to data, or rodent genetic material, which gives a different source to the project.

With our own genetic material, there are considerations concerning reading the data, which with the specialist knowledge available in the lab will be able to discern pre-dispositions towards various hereditary life threatening illnesses. As a participant in this derivation of genetic material, we would need to decided whether or not we wanted this information, or indeed whether this information should come to us. Private information for public performance. A knot which we have not yet undone.

What is interesting for us is an emerging line between artistic and scientific practice. It is a proven course (though not without complexities) to establish an ethical basis for research using human tissue for the purposes of researching/curing human medical conditions. It is quite a different matter to think about deriving music or other artistic outcome from data obtained in that way.

On the Cell Trail with the FACS machine

February 11th, 2008

Well, we are on-site here at the Garvan Institute for Medical Research in Sydney, having arrived in the midst of a lab. relocation from Floor 10 to Floor 7. It felt especially welcoming to receive a special pink Garvan polo shirt as we went through the door.

The number of separate labs doing a variety of research programs that are housed at the Institute is quite impressive, as is the helix-inspired staircase, the free coffee machine and the number of glass vessels arrayed on laboratory shelves. Apparently the stairway isn’t quite the correct curvature to accurately reflect DNA, an oversight in a building bulging with genetic scientists.

Our initial focus, apart from getting to know the dedicated staff, which also included lugging a few items between floors for the relocation, has been thinking about how some of the experimental processes could be transduced to a musical realm.

The laboratory that we are resident with is concerned with research into the genetic functioning in endocrine “islets” within the pancreas (and so aiming towards a “cure” for various types of diabetes). We want to understand at a basic level some of the mechanics of the genetic research going on here. But we are also seeking inspiration on a more literal sonic level from the many process tasks that are involved n the complex experiments carried on here.

For example, there are machines that are “genetic amplifiers” which go through many stages of heating, cooling, marking and repeating that seem like compositional gifts for the organisation of found sound (the sound of the machines themselves are obvious sources).

The data from some of the processes is typically presented as a visual grid of fluorescence for various genetic fragments. A multitude of data sources and outcomes, on a grid then offers ourselves, as sonic artists, the option of a simple spatial sonification that varies sonic intensity (loudness) or some other auditory category, in a diffusion array, or even in a conversion using spatial formulae such as ambisonics, to stereo representations.

We have been investigating these possibilities with dummy data streams in the Pure Data software environment prior to arriving at the Garvan Institute.

Of course, being research that has the possibility of profound human importance, especially for sufferers of diabetes, a cultural and very human musical reflection is foremost in our minds.

But this is the first stage of our Residency, which not only includes the experience and encounter with this leading-edge research institute, but periods of reflection away from the intensity of the site and back in our own compositional “laboratory”.

By the way, FACS stands for “Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting”.

Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey

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