Noise, pattern and the chaos in-between

July 4, 2007

In ‘Untitled Iterations’, Ben Bogart writes on generative art, consciousness and perception in a straightforward and useful way.

    Consciousness is the process of turning noise into pattern. When we look around the world and listen we do not see or hear the cascade of unimaginable amounts of interacting particles, from waves of light scattering off objects to the molecules that carry the sound we hear; rather, we see a defined, understandable structure of our world. We do not see the world as science defines it. We instead collectively participate in the process of creating the structure that comprises our world.

It’s easy to forget the infinite amount of raw data the human brain filters and processes every day. Without getting into perception or philosophies of consciousness, (something I know little about) it’s clear that the human brain has an amazing ability to find pattern and structure in chaos. A perfect example – noise rock.

    Noise and pattern are not two concepts that are mutually exclusive. In fact, noise and pattern are markers at two ends of a single continuum that classify all types of structure.

For example, we could place Sunn o))) with their sub-bass drones of distortion fairly concretely and deeply into the noise side of the spectrum.

We could place a minimal, repetitive electronic number (something I again, know little about) closer to the pattern end.

Brisk, the band I’ve chosen to ‘visualise’ won’t settle on its place on the spectrum. ‘Hell or High Water’ dances up and down it at will. Six instruments all screaming at once, generally in dissonance, turns to two guitars playing a pleasing melody. Sometimes with, and sometimes without a typical song (verse/chorus) structure. Generally adhering to the laws of rhythm, sometimes barely, sometimes with overlapping time signatures and complex polyrhythms. It’s possible, for the few who are entertained by this toying with chaos that the kick is in decoding the chaos. Or to use a cheesy analogy; possessing the correct, obscure codec.

From Australian academic Paul Carter’s ‘Material Thinking’:

    We pointed out that, in ancient Greek thought, chaos did not have its present-day meaning. It signified ‘the yawning, or gaping open of time and space to permit creation … Greek chaos imagines the interpenetration of lines, a crossing that does not cancel out but mutually transforms.

Bogart considers, ‘the vast area between noise and pattern as chaos.’ So, this is what I’m getting at:


Interesting is the computer’s struggle to successfully interpret and create pattern from raw audio data. Picking up even the simplest of patterns; a beat, even in wild, heavy music is a straightforward task for any person but beat detection is still, to this day, an unreliable technology.

Compared the rich abilities of the ear and brain, asking a computer to visualise music seems a strange concept. The question is – can applying structure, systems and process to music full of confusion, noise and chaos reveal new qualities? Enhance this process of creation, creating a new space of interpretation? Or at least create a worthwhile viewing experience? I’m hoping so in the context of the video clip.

I’ve just installed a bigger hard drive in my Xbox and put most of my music on it. XBMC comes with a variety of visualisers and when faced with the choice of which one, I chose none. It’s not the way I generally want to experience music. My media centre screensaver is now a black screen…


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