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Meandering through memories with a hallucinating AI

An AI-rendered image from The Limits of Abstraction by Tim Murray-Browne

What we understand but could never explain

How do computers change the way we think? How does our sense of who we are and what we’re capable of become shaped by the digital tools we live with? What new forms of thinking might be unlocked by different forms of computational interaction. These questions have shaped much of my thinking in the past few years.

In February, I shared Sonified Body, a research project where we translated the live movements of dancers into sound. But most exciting for me about this project, is that we didn’t program how exactly that should happen. Instead, we used AI to allow a movement-based interface to emerge from observations of how a body moves.

The next step is The Limits of Abstraction: a video of the hallucinations of an AI model trained exclusively on my personal collection of tens of thousands of photos taken over the past 20 years, right back to when I was a teenager shooting on 35mm film.

The music to the video is a track I composed one evening in 2018 when I lived in Bucharest. I came across it while searching for a soundtrack and was struck by the sample of Alan Watts I’d dropped in the middle:

Because, after all, if I talk all the time I can’t hear what anyone else has to say, and if I think all the time—and by that I mean specifically talking to yourself subvocally inside your skull—if I think all the time, I have nothing to think about except thoughts. And so I’m never in touch with the real world.

Now, what is the real world? Some people have the theory that the real world is material or physical. They say it’s made of a kind of stuff. Other people have the theory that the real world is spiritual or mental. But I want you to point out that both those theories of the world are concepts. They are constructions of words. And the real world is not an idea, it is not words.

When we interact with the virtual, be it editing document or viewing a social media profile, we do so by manipulating virtual objects, abstractions usually designed initially to represent something from the real world, such as a paper document or a living person. As our lives become ever more integrated with digital systems, we spend more time thinking and acting through these virtual abstractions.

Both Sonified Body and this video above are interactive systems that aim to sidestep the need for the human to think like a computer. Instead, the computer thinks a bit more like a human. With Sonified Body, this was by teaching the computer to see a body in terms of how it moves in reality, rather than as a set of body parts floating in space. With the visual hallucinations above, I’ve shaped the language of abstraction around the many thousand of photos that capture what I find special when I look at the world.

Now if you find AI learning about how you move and see to be more terrifying than exciting, then I’m with you. This is not an apolitical project. I have a lot to say on this topic, and I’ll return to it in future updates. I haven’t totally arrived at a name, but I think I may end up calling the whole project The Limits of Abstraction.

An AI-rendered image from The Limits of Abstraction by Tim Murray-Browne

And as well as the art, there is the science:

I recently published a paper with my collaborator Panagiotis in the peer reviewed journal Applied Sciences to explore these ideas in a more detail. The paper considers what is lost through the use of abstraction within digital interfaces and speculates on alternatives. It’s available open access: Emergent Interfaces: Vague, Complex, Bespoke and Embodied Interaction between Humans and Computers. I’d guess it’s most likely of interest to those into the philosophical realms surounding computer science and embodied cognition.

For those who work on very similar things to me, we also published a short paper at the New Instruments for Musical Expression (NIME) conference which describes how the Sonified Body system works and what we think is special about the approach. That is here: Latent Mappings: Generating Open-Ended Expressive Mappings Using Variational Autoencoders.

And finally, I’m planning to share a prototype for a new IRL interactive piece as part of this project at an event in Glasgow on 27 November 2021. Watch this space for updates.

As always reply if you have any thoughts or feedback you’d like to share.

Tim Glasgow, 4 October 2021

Newsletter: Sonified Body at Present Futures

Hi everyone

I hope your 2021 is allowing a bit of optimism to creep in behind the curtains. I’ve been burrowed away for most of 2020 working on a few projects.

The first of these, a AI-driven audio-dance project Sonified Body launches this Saturday – please see below for your invitation to the online live event. (TLDR– See note below about ticket sales which close at 1pm on Saturday)

The second, which I really hope is a cause for optimism, is that in a few hours longstanding project Cave of Sounds will once more open as a physical exhibition.

Divine Tasinda dancing in the studio with Sonified Body during a research and development lab

Sonified Body – Live online event this Saturday

This Saturday at 8pm I’ll be sharing a new work Sonified Body as part of the online Present Futures festival.

Sonified Body is a system to the moving body into sound in real-time. Together with old-time collaborator and AI research Panagiotis Tigas, we’ve been exploring the use of unsupervised AI models to automatically analyse how a body moves. Throughout the process, we’ve been exploring ways to relinquish intentional outputs and instead allow elements of the work to emerge as a kind of negotiation between the body and the AI model. We haven’t told the model what kind of movements should be considered interesting or beautiful, but simply trained it by having it watch me improvise movements in the studio each morning.

This Saturday we will debut the new system with a number of improvised performances that we’ve recorded with dancers in an exploratory residency. This will be alongside a talk about the work and a Q+A.

Sonified Body is my first large scale project in about four years. We’re about 6 months in and this is very much a work-in-progress demonstration but I’m excited about our results so far. It would be lovely to see you there.

Time: Saturday 6 Feb 2021, 8pm GMT More details: http://presentfutures.org/sonified-body Tickets: http://presentfutures.org/tickets

As it’s part of the festival, tickets are for the day (£4/£6/£8 based on what you can afford). Please bear in mind that day ticket sales close 2 hours before the first event of the day, i.e. 1pm on the Saturday. Drop me a message if you’d like guestlist (which in today’s world comes in the form of a Zoom link 🤩) but I recommend checking out the festival programme as there is some great looking stuff.

Sonified Body has been funded by Creative Scotland and created in partnership with Preverbal Studio. It is produced by Feral and mentored by Ghislaine Boddington.


Cave of Sounds - interactive sound installation by Tim Murray-Browne and members of Music Hackspace, exhibited at Athens Science Festival 2018. The interactive sound installation is shown here with many participants playing the different instruments. Photograph by Anastasia Alekseeva. (c) 2018 Tim Murray-Browne.

Cave of Sounds IRL exhibition

I’ve been in discussions with the Museum of Discovery in Adelaide, Australia about exhibiting Cave of Sounds since mid-2019. We had originally planned to travel and build the work in May 2020 for exhibition from July 2020 to Feb 2021. This was already an engineering challenge as the work is full of electronics, bespoke software and opportunities for people to poke and prod things. We’ve always had a maintenance team on standby when showing it previously.

When the reality of the pandemic started to hit last February/March, we were well underway with production. To their great credit, our friends in Adelaide stuck with us and have scheduled the exhibition to run from 2 Feb 2021 until Nov 2021, but with the added challenge of doing the install without anyone present who had even seen the work in action before. It’s been a lot of work, but so far everything has gone to plan.

It’s a gentle opening as there are plenty of social distancing regulations (something Cave of Sounds happens to be compatible with due to its octopus-like shape). And we sadly had to drop the mask from Joker as controllers that touch your face are still not happening again for a while.

I have no idea when the borders will open for Australia, and I don’t think many people on this list are in that vicinity, but if you know anyone in Adelaide then drop them a line.


I’ve been quiet in my online communications the last year, such as this newsletter. Maybe there just seemed to be enough going on online anyway. But more things are afoot so watch this space. And if you’re into Top 10 lists, then here are mine from 2020.

Tim Glasgow, 1 Feb 2021

Cultural highlights of 2020

A wintery rural landscape in Greenock, Scotland.

The edgelands time between Christmas and New Year’s is my favourite period of the year for switching off and then reflecting on the year. Our Christmas plans were cancelled at the last minute due to the upgrading of UK covid restrictions, which gave more time for this (as well as wintery walks, pictured above).

Among the many things to emerge in the review are my Top 10 lists of the year. I love reading other people’s Top 10 lists at this time of year, so here are mine.

I’ve actually gone just top highlights rather than top 10. I’m not sure I even made it to 10 exhibitions in the year anyway, and it was quite a film-heavy year as you might expect. Also, these belong in 2020 because that’s when I first experienced them. Only some were actually released in 2020.

Films

  1. Uncut Gem
  2. Jojo Rabbit
  3. Parasite
  4. Collective
  5. Midsommar
  6. A Personal History of David Copperfield
  7. Knives Out
  8. The Lighthouse
  9. Qoyanaaski
  10. Hail Caesar
  11. The Mangrove Nine
  12. Rear Window

Short films

  • Algo-Rhythm by Manu Luksch
  • Clowns by Hofesh Shechter (part of Cinedans online festival)
  • Wilkie Branson – TOM
  • Operation Janewalk (part of Glasgow Short Film Festival)

Books (fiction)

  1. Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust vol. 2: The Secret Commonwealth
  2. Hilary Mantel – The Mirror and the Light
  3. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
  4. William Gibson – The Peripheral
  5. The Sunday Times 2020 short story awards compilation

Books (non-fiction)

  1. Peter Pomerantsev – This is not Propaganda
  2. Chris Voss – Never Split the Difference
  3. Graham Harman – Object Oriented Ontology, a new theory of everything
  4. Joanne McNeil – Lurking
  5. Jaron Lanier – You are not a Gadget
  6. Cal Newport – Digital Minimalism
  7. Tim Wu – The Attention Merchants

Music (albums)

  1. Four Tet – Parallel
  2. Burial – Tunes 2011-2019
  3. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D Minor, performed by Gyorgy Sandor
  4. Childish Gambino – 3.15.20
  5. Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, performed by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
  6. Bartok’s String Quartet No. 1, performed by Alben Berg Quartett
  7. Jan Gabarek, The Hilliard Ensemble – Officium
  8. Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
  9. Rioter – I-XI
  10. Clap! Clap! – Liquid Portraits
  11. Jon Hopkins – Meditations
  12. Funki Porcini – Motorway

Music (other individual tracks)

I keep track of music that’s ringing for me throughout the year in a sporadic series of Spotify playlists. This year’s tracks are in Mixtape #26 (mar ’20) and Mixtape #27 (dec ’20).

And a few special highlights fromt the year:

  1. Chitose Hajime – 豊年節 (Tim Hecker Remix)
  2. Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt, performed by Kun-Woo Paik
  3. Jamie xx – Idontknow
  4. Kyle Eastwood – Pink Panther – Theme
  5. Crazy Doberman – An Interrupted Prayer

TV

  1. Rick and Morty
  2. The Plot against America
  3. I May Destroy You
  4. Fleabag
  5. His Dark Materials
  6. Devs
  7. Homecoming
  8. The Armando Ianucci Show
  9. The Boys (season 1)
  10. Avenue 5

Exhibitions

  • Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics and other major works (Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow)
  • David Hockney drawings (National Portrait Gallery, London)

Live music

  • Nixon in China (Scottish Opera)

Online events

  • Frankenstein (National Theatre production, shown on YouTube)
  • The Delegation (Coney, interactive Zoom play)

Sonified Body call out: Dancer collaborator

Post-Truth and Beauty - interactive light and sound installation by Tim Murray-Browne in collaboration with Aphra Shemza. Light and 3D sound change in response to the viewer's head position. Exhibited here at We Are Robots festival at Old Truman Brewery, 11-12 Nov 2017

TIM MURRAY-BROWNE
CALL OUT: DANCER COLLABORATOR

Artist and Creative Coder Tim Murray-Browne is seeking 2 solo dancers to participate independently in a 2-day research and development lab for his latest performance work Sonified Body.

Sonified Body is a research project using artificial intelligence to create an instrument that transforms the moving body into sound in real-time. The project’s primary aim is to create a system that feels intuitive, and responds holistically and continuously to the entire body.

During this research and development lab a pilot technical system designed by Tim Murray-Browne in collaboration with artist and AI researcher Panagiotis Tigas will be set up that tracks the body using a camera to create an instrument controlled by movement. The purpose of this lab is to explore the potential of this technology both in terms of the experience of the person interacting with it and in terms of its artistic potential within a performance context.

We aim to produce video documentation of each 2 day workshop which could include a short performance. We want to build a relationship with a dancer for future development of the project in 2021.

This residency is supported by Preverbal Studio, Creative Scotland, CCA, Feral and Present Futures Festival.

ABOUT TIM MURRAY-BROWNE

Tim Murray-Browne is an artist and creative coder from the UK creating interactive installations and performances. His work explores how our sense of self is formed through our lived, embodied experience. It includes ensembles of bespoke musical instruments performed by the audience, audiovisual landscapes generated by the movement of a dancer, interactive light and sound sculptures that respond to the viewer’s position and immersive one-on-one performances to transform an individual’s memories into calligraphic images. It has been exhibited around the world at venues including Tate Modern, The Victoria & Albert Museum and Berkeley Art Museum.

timmb.com

ROLE DESCRIPTION

  • The selected dance artist must be available to participate in the 2 day lab at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow during either Mon 14- Tues 15 December or Wed 16- Thurs 17 December, 2020 from 10am to 6pm.
  • We’re looking for a dance artist to participate that is comfortable with improvisation and bringing their own choreographic language to the rehearsal room. We will be working with an experimental technical system and are interested in connecting with dancers working in varied styles (e.g. hip hop, butoh, contemporary dance, ballet – anything goes) provided they have a strong basis in improvisation.
  • The dancer should have a familiarity with somatic practices, e.g. moving in response to what is felt in the body, and how the body is being affected by the sound and dialogue that emerges from interacting with the system. Experience working with creative technologists, and an interest in how the body and tech work together are also desirable.
  • We’re looking to create a collaborative atmosphere of exploration so we are looking for collaborators with a strong sense of openness, curiosity and communication.

FEE

£400 (2 Days x £200 per day) + a limited travel stipend if you are based outwith Glasgow.

HOW TO APPLY

To apply please send:

  1. A ‘Note of Interest’ which should include a short introduction to yourself and why you are interested in taking place in the research and development lab. ‘Notes of Interest’ can take the form of either a cover letter, voice note or a video recording.
  2. A video link to an excerpt of you dancing in a piece you have choreographed or improvised.
  3. An overview of your practice to date this could include either a CV, personal statement or a link to your website.

‘Notes of Interest’ should be emailed to sonifiedbodycallout {_art_} timmb {_dort_} com by Mon 2 Nov 2020. Prospective collaborators will be invited for an informal conversation with Tim Murray-Browne about the project which will take place on Mon 9 Nov 2020. We plan to hold conversations over Zoom but please let us know if this presents any accessibility issues (e.g. disability or limited internet access) and we can discuss how best to support your requirements. Successful candidates will be notified by Mon 16 Nov 2020.

COVID 19

CCA and Tim Murray-Browne will have COVID 19 risk assessments and recovery plans in place to ensure the safety of all collaborators whilst working in the building. These plans are available if you would like more details. The planned activity is subject to COVID 19 restrictions and in the event of any further lockdown or a change in Government guidelines the scheduled labs may be rescheduled or cancelled.

Post-Truth and Beauty at Sonica Glasgow 2019

In September I relocated to Glasgow, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to exhibit Post-Truth and Beauty here. The audio-luminescent installation of shifting worlds and fragmented perspectives will exhibit at the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA) as part of Sonica festival.

Dates: 31 Oct – 10 Nov Times: 11am – 6pm Free entry

I’ll also be joining fellow exhibitor Navid Navab on a panel talk Science as Art, chaired by Colm McAuliffe, Sunday 3 Nov at 1pm.

This work I originally created with Aphra Shemza in 2017, in the aftermath of the Brexit and Trump votes. Here’s a bit more about it:

Twelve glowing rods intersect between walls, floor and ceiling, as if they were exposed elements from a much larger structure. In front, there is a ring of speakers into which a visitor is invited.

Once inside, the visitor is immersed in a soundscape of slowly evolving textural sounds. The installation tracks the location of the visitor’s head. It combines this with the 3D speaker ring to create the illusion that each sound is floating in a fixed position. This creates a seamlessly accessible interaction, drawing on our natural ability to spatially locate sound.

Each sound is paired with a colour palette, which takes over the LEDs in the rods as the sound is approached, flickering in time with the sound’s oscillations. Light and sound combine to create the sense of a reactive, living entity.

Sound is transformed from a temporal medium into a sculpture – uncovered with the active agency of a mobile observer. Together the sounds construct a rich harmony but only partial combinations can be heard at once.

The work invites viewers to consider perspectives other than their own, as they move through a space in which visual and musical elements are fragmented. Only by considering the work from many angles can a broader sense of the whole emerge. With debate online and in real life becoming ever more polarised, Post Truth and Beauty aims to remind us of the dangers of retreating into silos and disregarding other points of view.

If you are in town or visiting then drop me a message. I’ll be around for the festival apart from 4-7 Nov when I’ll be in London. There, I’m taking part in the QuestLab residency on creative technology and choreography at Studio Wayne McGregor. Watch this spot for updates.

Cave of Sounds nominated for the STARTS Prize

I have exciting news today, which is that Cave of Sounds has received a nomination for the 2019 STARTS Prize.

Also – new video material of Cave of Sounds at Athens Science Festival, Post-Truth and Beauty at We Are Robots Festival and a new audio-visual performance commissioned by UNESCO.

Cave of Sounds - interactive sound installation by Tim Murray-Browne and members of Music Hackspace, exhibited at Athens Science Festival 2018. The interactive sound installation is shown here with many participants playing the different instruments. Photograph by Anastasia Alekseeva. (c) 2018 Tim Murray-Browne.

Read more…

Who is that voice in your head speaking to?

Photo of a tree and a lake. (c) 2007 Tim Murray-Browne

There seems at first something a bit pathetic about spending your time rehearsing conversations you might have with people. And yet, I recently observed that this seems to be how my thinking process operates. My internal monologue, the inner voice of the mind, is near exclusively in the form of an imaginary conversation with somebody. I have a hunch that this might be quite common. After all, it took me a while to admit this to myself, let alone broach the subject with others.

It gets worse though. At that time I was often listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, and I observed that a fair few of these imaginary conversations were with him, as if I were a guest on the podcast. How embarrassing – whiling away the hours fantasising about being on a geeky self-development podcast. Why him?

I began trying to observe who my internal interlocutors were, these select few individuals that I’ve unconsciously chosen to imagine listening to my internal monologue. In doing so, I became aware of the impact they were having on me. This was not obvious to me. After all, while my imaginary interlocutor listens to my ramblings carefully and tirelessly, they rarely seem to have anything to say themselves (hence ‘monologue’), so much so that it took me a while to realise that there was anyone listening at all. But the effects of whom I choose to speak with are more subtle. They are fundamental to how I think, how I select which ideas will be attended to among the sea of possibilities. Read more…

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