Swarm Synth

- a series of interactive audiovisual installation

John Cage's most well-known music piece 4'33", composed in 1952, instructs the performers not to play their instrument during the entire duration of the piece. It consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed, which distinctly insists his idea, that any sounds may constitute music.

Contemporary music scene has probably the most significant diversity in history and definition of music might be as diversified as the different genres of music. If it is one of the substantial matters for a contemporary composer, to determine how to organize sound beyond the classical discipline of music, it would be one of the casual ideas in digital age, to employ computational algorithms. My series of work started from the idea, to let self-organizing complex system organize sounds to create its music and to explore new esthetics of sound art.

Several years ago at the university I attended the seminar about swarm intelligence, where we sought for usages of Boids algorithm as the solver of complex problems. Though my trials merely produced different kinds of visual effects, I noticed that some new sorts of variations could be suggested in addition to the conventional and intuition-based range of options.

At the beginning of this series I could solve the technical problems quite easily from my former experience with the same algorithm, but the alien sound of the results drove me to research mathematical backgrounds of musical harmony.

The secret of harmony and proportions in scales are built up through history of music in different cultures in astonishingly systematic and mathematical way, so that composers could even create a piece of music simply by following those numeric rules, as for instance in Mozart's musical dice game.

If all the musical rules are based on human sense of esthetics, the aim and the methodes of my experiments with swarm intelligence shouldn't rely on those established systems, but rather explore purely logical order created by self-organising artificial intelligence.

While I prefer to use the most basic sine waves as sound source, since they are the most unique and pure form of electronic sound, which cannot be represented by any analog, accoustic instruments, the overlaying and detuning them helped make more unpredictable and variable sounds. The dynamic movements of swarm offer rich parameters to be applied to define pitch, duration and volume of the layered sine waves.

Although these setups can be defined by the intention and intuition of the author, the interactive yet indirect control on the swarm behavior and emerging dynamic patterns give us open amount of possibilities and make the installation to a playable musical instrument. As we learn and practice playing the piano or guitar, one can practice to control the swarm of Boids to create desired pattern of sound and create one's own music.

"… if the word music is sacred and reserved for eighteenth- and nineteenth-century instruments, we can substitute a more meaningful term: organisation of sound."
John Cage, The future of music: Credo

Silence: Lectures and Writings, John Cage, 1961
Birds Flocking Simulation, Claig Reynolds, 1986
The Nature of Code, Daniel Shiffman, 2012
Harmonograph, Anthony Ashton, 2001
Die Mathematik der Musik, Savier Arbones & Pablo Milrud, 2017

related project:
swarm synth III
Swarm Synth I

Bum Suk Ko, 2018

Flocking Simulation

Claig Reynolds, 1986


Anthony Ashton

Boids Study

Bum Suk Ko, 2009

Basic rules of Boids algorithm

Claig Reynolds