Wandering the savage garden…

Art and Noise

I’ve been thinking more about the role of art and self-control (as referenced by Self-Control and Art, if you can imagine.)

I thought to myself, “I wonder if this can be illustrated somehow?” and the answer, of course, was “yes.” As an artist and musician, there’re countless ways to illustrate such a concept.

Since I’m primarily a musician, I thought of cranking up a MiniMoog and recording a sine wave (as an example of “full control”) – such a sine wave would be a horribly dull sound. Then I’d introduce other things, like perhaps a LFO that affected the note or the wave (creating warbles or beats), with the variations eventually degenerating into pure noise.

That’d work, but to really illustrate the point I’d need to introduce some other toys into the mix, and by the end of it you’d have a soundtrack that evoked Wolfram Alpha’s music generator.

The problem with that is that Wolfram Alpha is exactly contrary to the point I’d like to focus on: Wolfram Alpha generates music that sounds random and is certainly complex, but is actually deterministic in nature – it’s fully and tightly controlled, and can sometimes sound beautiful, but it’s not art.

So then I got the idea that I’d use something a little more visual – which would be more appropriate for the web, in any event.

That means I got to play with a tool I’ve used only in passing: gnuplot.

So let’s see what we get, trying to illustrate self control and art as a mixture.

It’s not going to be perfect – and I wouldn’t call it beautiful (or, really, “art”) but it certainly gives a better idea than just a rough explanation.

First, let’s look at total control. Here we have a rather ingenious graph, which plots y as a function of the square root of the absolute value of x. (In gnuplot, the command was plot sqrt(abs(x)).)

Now, is this “beautiful?” Well, it’s certainly sort of… regular. It has some aspect of beauty, especially to mathematicians.

Now let’s look at something where the control is less managed – or, well, not managed at all:

This was created with a gnuplot command of plot rand(0) which means there’s no correlation whatsoever between… anything. It’s a line where the vertical point is entirely random.

This is “irregular.” It may qualify as “beauty” to some, especially those who find beauty in randomness.

But it’s not “art” either.

Let’s try one more, and with this one, let’s use some imagination:

Here we have a bit of a mix between the two original processes. The gnuplot command was plot rand(0)/sqrt(abs(x)); this means we’re following our original (“controlled”) formula, except adding a bit of a jagged edge to it. (And inverting it, to boot.)

Now we have something… unique, at the very least. And if you wanted to see something in it – the Tower of Barad-dûr, for example – you could see it as a tower reigning supreme over a mountain range.

It may not be good art, but I’d dare say it’s more artistic and meaningful than the random noise image, and more meaningful also than the “fully controlled” image.

The use of control gives it structure and the ability to have meaning.

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