Re: regarding innovation

Subject: Re: regarding innovation
Date: Wed Feb 16 2005 - 12:27:08 EST

I used to write pop songs and hymns and fingerpicking guitar pieces and
stuff like that. I think it's safe to say I was pretty ordinary. I had the
first year of college music theory (with some very good teachers). Then I
got into computer music and found it suited me to a T. Everything I do is
some form of algorithmic composition, and I compose by writing programs.

I completely agree that programming to make art is very different from
programming to solve an engineering problem. From a philosophical point of
view, this is apparently because the "problems" in art are NP. Therefore,
one is not going to "solve" the problem of producing a good work of art.
What I find, however, is that the computer provides a very efficient (and
very beautiful and interesting, too!) tool for exploring various
formalistic approaches to making works of art.

In the first place, the computer simply speeds up the process of exploring
one's materials and media, generating sketches, and so on. Already, this
has an impact on the creative process.

But beyond that, the computer enables one to create virtual worlds, worlds
in which one can, as it were, stimulate the system to produce results that
are not predictable, and yet are heading in the direction that one desires.
Chaotic dynamics, fractals, etc. are an obvious example of this but many
uses of the computer have this effect.

In other words, algorithmic systems are faster than the human mind, produce
results not foreseeable by the human mind, yet are somewhat under the
control of the human mind and thus much more efficient than sheer

Original Message:
From: Ross Bencina
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005 16:28:43 +0100
Subject: Re: regarding innovation

Of David's psychological perspective on innovation (thanks David!), Michael
Gogins wrote:

> I think this kind of understanding of these issues is interesting up to a
> point, but most of the really interesting issues are well beyond that
> point. Kind of like the relationship of the eye muscles to written
> literature. If they didn't work, we wouldn't have it, but they don't have
> much to say about it.

Right now I'm not directly concerned with the literature (music) itself but
rather with the process of making it. I'm specifically interested in the
notion of "programming as a medium", by which I am referring to a practice
which engages with the methods and abstractions of computer science and
software engineering as a creative process with creative outcomes. In the
limit I see this as quite different from engineering per se because it's
simply a process of envisioning a creative outcome and engineering a
solution as if following a functional specification, but rather a process
creative dialog with a medium (programming) where some (not all) of the
materials are data structres and algorithms. You can consider these
materials just as Miriam sees her tools in the world of built software:

> then there's the sort of tools i work with - brush and paint.
> ProTools - where i have a blank canvas that i can throw my sounds onto
> into a visual pattern (literally) and play with my brushes and palette
> (effects).

That said, I think it is clear that even in a creative practice, some
software development is more-or-less traditional engineering -- you need a
tool that does a specific thing, and you create it -- functional
leads to functional outcome. I hypothesise that programming as a creative
practice is not just engineering, and that to think of it as such is
limiting, primarily because one runs the risk of seeing everything as an
engineering problem with functional requirements -- a view which may not be
conducive to creativity (certainly in my experience I don't find it
conducive), not to mention the other biases it's possible to pick up from
computer science and engineering thought.

The above lead me to think about what might motivate the aspect of
practicing "programming as a medium" which isn't just about solving
functional requirements. One thing that came to mind was the tendency
towards innovation, and how I could ground this tendency in a broader
context which considers other people's creative practice, and practices
which don't involve software.


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