The article below provides background to two recent Stduio pieces, both writ and scripted in elementary HTML5. To hear and see them, you will need to load the corresponding hyperlinked pages in a recent version of a non-iOS web browser. Currently, results are optimal in Chrome or Safari. (Firefox comes second best; I did not yet check their performance on Android.)
1024 re-visits the endless random walk through the ookoi's early sonic universe, previously released on DVD. The interesting observation by a casual listener that 1024 suffers from a serious lack of... violins, inspired a double random walk on a grid of 1024 violin sounds.
We call it Kris Kras.
But all of our friends call it Alaska.
It is keeping the devils away.
july 03, 2013.
During April's at the New Art Space Amsterdam, Jochem van der Speck provided a gentle introduction to the impressive possibilities of use of the HTML5 canvas element. It reminded me that but little over a handful of years ago, when teaching web history and languages in Paris, I was telling my students time and again that the history of hypertext markup had come to an end with the HTML 4.01 specification of December 24th, 1999, and that the future of markup was XML.
This was not really false. My claim was backed by the authoritative proceedings of the W3C, and the arguments for 'deprecating HTML' were very reasonable. The world wide web's sudden booming made it the most used markup language in the world, but originally HTML had been an ad hoc solution, thought up on the fly by Tim Berners-Lee for use with the first hypertext browser annex editor - WorldWideWeb - on his NeXt workstation at the CERN, and reflecting hardly anythinh other than the basic structure of scientific research articles and reports.
But it also wasn't really true. The consortium's words are not the web's law. In the field, HTML's development continued, with or without the W3C's consent. It had not come to an end. In this year of the web's 20th anniversary, the ever stronger presence of a next generation HTML as the 'soon to be' standard for web interactivity is the living proof.
Jochem's introduction at was a great opportunity to finally try out some of HTML5's possibilities. And in view of Y's numbers-theme, it was sort of obvious to pick the ookoi's 1024 as a guinea pig.
Back in 2006 we wanted to provide an overview of the ookoi's fast growing collection of various audio recordings (made over the two, three years before) by means of a set of 1024 extracts from a subset of this archive. The chosen formal constraint was that each of the extracts was to last precisely 7 seconds. A self-imposed technical challenge was to present the resulting set of samples in a specific physical format: we set out to release 1024 as an endless random playback from DVD. Finding a solution to the problems that this posed took us quite a bit of head scratching, as the DVD-format was never intended to serve such purposes. It is limited to, basically, 99 accessible 'movies' and lacks the usually pretty much trivial scripting option that one would need to implement an infinite random path through a finite set of whatever elements. But through stubborn experimentation and a number of devious tricks, in the end we did arrive at a satisfactory approximation of an endless random playback on DVD of our 1024 mini-audio files...
In view of the simplicity of the basic idea (an infinite random walk through a large but finite set of samples) the 1024 DVD was a pretty heavy hack. Even before the DVD was released, I made a web version of the work in (then still Macromedia's) Flash. Though that version lacked the fine visual touch (with disc and cover images provided by Rob Scholte), the - infinite and random - audio playback was much smoother than playback from DVD, which does put quite a bit of stress on the mechanics of a DVD player. The laser reader may have to be moved to another region of the disc possibly every seven seconds or so.
But we never did and never will make that Flash version public. Flash already then felt like ancient history - sóóóó 1990's ;) - and something to avoid whenever possible; even though in that same period with the ookoi we did some 'Flash art' for the web site of one of Holland's leading dailies; and 'back in the early days' I did quite a bit of Flash work, both in a personal 'art brut' way and as the artistic director of a Parisian web agency that went bankrupt around the time the web bubble burst.
It was an intuitive decision to 'hold back the 1024 Flash'. And it was a good decision. For now, six years later, HTML5 provides a far more interesting browser based way to re-visit the ookoi's sonic random walk.
There is only one drawback: it is 'browser wars' all over again, and precisely how HTML5 has been implemented varies quite a bit across the plethora of, mobile and other, platforms that are currently in use. On your lap- or desktop computer you will of course need an up to date browser. As a diehard Mac user, I do not know how HTML5 based web apps behave in today's versions of Microsoft's infamous Internet Explorer, but Chrome, Safari and Firefox come with the HTML5 support you need (which for 1024 is very basic indeed). Firefox, however, appears to be slow in updating the canvas (in Chrome and Safari you will see this happen in real time). On the audio side, Firefox does not support playback of the proprietary mp3 format. One needs to serve Firefox the ogg format. As the original set of 1024 files, that I used for the Flash version of the work, were in mp3 format, I had to make a duplicate set in ogg in order to satisfy Firefox. (The 1024 DVD uses uncompressed audio. Along with the packaging, this might for some be another major reason to get hold of one of the few copies that are still left.)
I also have yet little idea how HTML5 web apps, including 1024, behave on Android based mobile platforms. And as far as iPhones and iPads are concerned: Apple, annoyingly and unreasonably, disallows autoplay of streaming audio with the HTML5 audio element. As a result, at the time of this writing 1024 will not work on your iThings.
But if you read this text on your lap- or desktop, in Chrome, Safari or Firefox, clicking this link will do the job...
Your window will show you a real-time visualization of the 1024 random walk on a somewhat wobbly 32 x 32 grid (because a 'wobbly' grid is visually more interesting than a perfectly rectangular one). It would be easy to let this go on forever, like it does on the DVD. The piece then would only stop when you close the browser window, run out of battery, or loose your internet connection.
The current version, however, has been instructed to stop when the 1024th in the set of seven seconds ookoi samples has been played.
The probability that the random walk will not have reached this sample after playing for 7n seconds is (1023/1024)n. So there is a chance of 1 in 1024 that 1024 will play for only 7 seconds; a chance of 1 in about 10 that it will last more than 12 minutes; there's a 40% chance that it will all be over in less than an hour and a probability of a little over 8% that, even after 5 hours, 1024 is still going strong. Yet it is very unlikely indeed that playback will go on for more than the double of that...
Here are a number of screenshots of complete plays of an earlier version of the 1024 web app, with increasing duration. As you can see, the shortest one lasted a mere 21 seconds. It played back only three of the 1024 samples. I don't know the precise duration of the longest one, but from the look of the image I guess that it lasted between 1 and 2 hours. Not all vertices were reached (playing each of the 1024 samples exactly once will take a little less than 2 hours), but some of the samples were played back more often. Unlike, for example, the 'shuffle play' of your iPod, the 1024 playback algorithm does not check whether a given 'song' already has been played. Most random walks therefore will cross the vertices in a decent subset of the 1024 possible ones several times. This repetition is an important part of the game: repetition - in its many guises and senses - is at the heart of what makes 'sound' into 'music'. And 'music' into 'meta-music' ;-)
Each time you launch the web app, you will be given one among the astronomical number of possible projections of 1024. Every time you launch it, 1024 will be different. Though in a way, of course, it will also always be the same.
Contrary to the physical realization on DVD, its rendition in HTML5 brings to the fore that 1024 basically is a 'playback script' that one can apply in many different ways. I like to think of it as the formalization of a Raudio channel (which have no pre-set number of tracks and no fixed track duration).
Making all sorts of variations on this basic pattern is child's play.
A curious incident two weeks ago led me to indeed make such a '1024 variation'...
On Sunday mornings I often spend a couple of hours on the terrace of a brasserie on the corner of the nearby Saint-Mandé market place. The market, just meters away, on sundays fills the place with endlessly varying bubbles of colorful images and sounds. They let the outside world in, but at the same time lock it out. It makes it a perfect spot to sit and work.
Over the years I became acquainted with some of the brasserie's regulars. In a nodding French - Bonjour! Ca va? Bèh ouiah, ça va, ça va - sort of way. One of these regulars is a sad looking woman in her mid-forties. She always emerges from the crowd of market goers around 11h, carrying three linen bags filled with vegetables; she always sits down at a tiny round 'one person' table, in one of the terrace's corners; and she always drinks three pastis, one every fifteen minutes or so. Then she picks up her bags, exits the brasserie with a Bonne journéé, and dissolves in the crowd.
That Sunday two weeks ago I was sitting at a table next to hers, where I had begun writing this very article. 1024 was playing, silently, in one of my browser windows over the brasserie's WiFi. Every now and then I brought it to the foreground of my laptop's screen, to see how the random walk progressed. The straight red lines of varying lengths and directions that were whimsically parading across my screen, caught my neighbor's attention. I noticed her looking and looking and looking. By the time the waiter had served her a second pastis, she leaned over and asked what it was that she saw going on there.
I explained that it was a little sound piece, and that the lines actually connected dots that each corresponded to a sound being played. A sound that we could not hear just now, as I had turned the volume off. But I then asked her whether she fancied to have a listen. That proposal brought a smile to her face, something that I had never seen on there before. So I pushed the laptop in her direction, gave her my little iPhone earbuds, and turned up the sound.
The woman listened attentively for several minutes, concentrating, with an edgy look and her eyelids squeezed into narrow stripes.
Then she removed the earbuds, took a zip from her pastis and shook her head. "There's a lot of guitars," she said with a soft and somewhat shaky voice. "Too many electric guitars. You should have put in violins. Only violins will keep the devils away."
For some reason this was not a thing that I could laugh away, even if I wanted to. And the remaining part of that Sunday and most of the next day, with but very little sleep between the one and the other, I spent back home making Kris Kras, a double random walk on a grid of 1024 violin sounds.
The basic sonic ingredients for the piece I got from a wonderful pack of 246 single violin tones (consisting in six sets of the same 41 tones played in six different manners: arco non vibrato, arco vibrato, pizzicato non vibrato, pizzicato vibrato, tremolo and spiccato), performed, recorded and made available by a professional violinist, that I only know as user ldk1609 at freesound.org. The piece takes ldk1609's single tones as they are, but I also used them to make sets of derived sounds. Among these, most notable to the ear will be a set of tritones, and a number of 'tritone sequences'. Of course! Diabolus in musica : "'mi against fa', which the ancients called the 'Satan in music'..."
Unlike the samples used in ookoi's 1024, the violin sounds do not have a fixed duration. The durations vary, from less than a second to seventeen seconds. Each of the two random walks - on the canvas one is represented in white, the other in black - thus follows its contingent course in its own time, unrelated to that of the other. Sometimes chance will make the two voices clash. Sometimes it makes them sing out in seemingly intended harmony, only to hear them diverge again mere seconds later.
The black walk stops in the lower right corner, when the 1024th sound is played. The white walk ends in the upper left corner, when the 1st sound is played. When both black and white are walking, playing will stop when they meet, i.e. when the two flaneurs hit upon the same sound at (approximately) the same time. In the screenshot above the two, very short, walks meet in the upper right corner of the image. That is were this particular play of Kris Kras ended. The screenshot below shows another play. This time the black walk ended far earlier than the white one. For a very long time white continued its criss crossing alone.
The final image is icy like a lonely violin playing its highest notes senza vibrato.
All of my friends think it's Alaska.
tags: Y, ookoi, 1024, HTML5, Flash, violin, tritone
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