Seaquence is an on-line project developed by Ryan Alexander, Gabriel Dunne and Daniel Massey during an art residency at Gray Area Foundation For The Arts (GAFFTA), San Francisco, a non-profit organization dedicated to building social consciousness through digital culture.
It is a platform that, through a biological metaphor, allows the online user to build sequencers visualized as micro-organisms, whose form changes according to the audio processing parameters. Assembled in virtual Petri dish cultures, sequencers are synchronized with each other creating simple but very evocative rhythmic compositions. Seaquence is a work of digital art that offers its users the opportunity to experience a free and fun synthesis and sequencing, learning changes on the audiovidual flow produced by some basic parameters (such as waveforms and duration).
Because of the speed and breadth of the expansion of new technologies creative applications, such tools reveal themeselves to be very important for basic training and, at the same time, can help to overcome the fear that many people still feed on this subject. In this sense, Seaquence refers to projects that have made the history of media design and electronic art. In particular, its Petri dish cultures remember the Soda Constructor’s machines galleries, the Java game which revolutionized the interface design a few years ago and which is still today one of the most interesting case study concerning learning through online games.
The other immediate reference is to Tenori-on, the hardware interface developed by Yamaha along with Toshio Iwai: using a grid of LEDs (which closely resembles the one used by Seaquence), Tenori-on allows you to manage a sequencer samples in an easy, fast and extremely intuitive way.
Sequence combines many features of these (and other) distinguished predecessors, recombining them in a more audio-visual and synaesthetic way through the ruse, simple and extremely effective, of a micro-biological metaphor that almost seems to suggest a world of small artificial intelligence forms.
For those who are dealing with basic media design training, Seaquence is a teaching tool; the simplicity of the interaction between sound and video, as well as the synesthetic relationship developed by the authors (sine wave = blue ; square wave green, etc. ) are very useful in developing educational considerations about the design of audio-visual objects. In particular, Seaquence seems to be particularly useful in discussing the possible methods to develop vocabularies of complex synaesthetic relationships from primary simple elements .
Seaquence is also an interesting project on a completely different level. Gray Area Foundation For the Arts (GAFFTA) in San Francisco is emerging as a leading institution concerning the promotion of educational and cultural projects of electronic art that can interact with local communities. It’s an interesting example of how technological innovation can relate with social innovation, in a virtuous circle involving public, private and third sector stakeholders.
By placing themselves in a continuous and structured dialogue with a variety of other actors, GAFFTA opens a communication channel between culture and urban environment. In this sense, the cultural center makes a major step towards the more common policies still widespread among other art institutions (addressed or not to electronic art), using culture as a symbolic elite marker between what is educated and what is not.
Seaquence is used by GAFFTA as an innovative fund-raising tool aswelll: through a donate-to-play process, who wants can also donate an amount of money to the cultural center for each microculture of audiovisual organism created. By the time of me writing this, more than $ 15,000 have already been collected in this way.
We wanted to know more about that having a chat with Josette Melchor, executive director and co-founder of the Gray Area Foundation For Arts (GAAFTA), curator for some important designers and research centres such as C.E.B. Reas, MiT Senseable City Lab, Robert Hodgin, Institute of Computer Sound and Technology and also community organizer for the GAFFTA’S Digital Arts Center and City Centered project, programme which works on the possible relationship between the artists and designers involved in the data visualization and the cities.
Bertram Niessen: Seaquence can be seen not only as an artwork and a game, but also as a powerful educational tool to teach the basics of electronic music; this may have consequences on the way we conceive educational technologies, and on the relationships between artists, programmers and cultural centers like GAFFTA. From this point of view, what kind of developments do you expect for Seaquence in the next future? Are there other projects in the same direction?
Josette Melchor: I consider Seaquence to be Gray Area’s depiction of digital art today. When we began this project–we began by considering the smallest addressable screen element the pixel-itself. Imagine a single pixel on a static page that represented a person in the digital arts community. Now imagine that the static pixel was able to be remixed by another person online. The project is within the gray area between gaming, design, sound, and visuals.
With little promotion, we have watched as the project has been shared online to hundreds of thousands of people since last fall. It’s been interesting to obseve how people have reacted to the project. One blogger stated that he was teaching his child electronic music using Seaquence. The education aspect of the project was not planned, but we are extremely pleased to see that it’s been useful in more ways than we had imagined–We wanted people to have fun, share, and create digital art/music. We hope to continue to develop features based on community-feedback and participation.
Bertram Niessen: During the last years, some crowd-sourced art projects (like The Sheep Market by Aaron Koblin) created a hot debate about the authorship of the artworks as collections of works by others. 3) How do you handle the individual authorship issue in Seaquence?
Josette Melchor: The Sheep Market is a smart project that makes a cultural statement about the society we live in today. A world wherein through digital tools, humans can be persuaded to act as a machine themselves. If I remember The Sheep Market correctly there was a built-in message on amazon that stated that the workers retained no rights to their work. So although there was a cultural debate it’s apparent that the work was paid for even if only .02 cents.
The idea of authorship of the work created through Seaquence is an interesting question and one that we hadn’t really considered. When people save their creation on seaquence.org it goes into a database of all of the other creations. You get a link to share online and you are also allowed to remix other seaquences and rename them when you do so.. At this point the seaquences are all anonymous beyond the works that have been donated to http:s.gaffta.org In the future I can imagine that linking social profiles to creations would be a way to credit the contributor.
Bertram Niessen: You are using Seaquence in what can be seen as an innovative way to finance an art foundation. Instead of offering the software on-line for free, you chose a “donate to play” strategy. On a broader level, this choice poses new issues on the concept of “free” in social and on-line tools. What are your expectations from this point of view? Are you planning new experiments in this direction?
Josette Melchor: The idea to add a donate feature to http:s.gaffta.org was something that we planned for even before we started the project. You can always create using http://seaquence.org for free. We are experimenting with ways for digital artists to create revenue. The physical gallery for digital art does not make sense so we have designed a way for millions of people to see the work and contribute to the digital arts movement. We are continuing to develop a model for digital arts to be supported through online contributions.
Bertram Niessen: On your website, you state that the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts stakeholders include “neighborhoods & municipalities, digital artists, communities touched by the data we analyze, urban planners & planning officials, community non-profits (and) local service organizations”. It’s an interesting attempt to create a bottom-up process of cultural governance centered on digital arts social transformation power. How do you manage it? Which are the main obstacles you are facing? How is it related to the cultural economy of San Francisco?
Josette Melchor: We have begun more and more to focus on producing “hackathons” and “data hack days” that bring together diverse groups to collaborate over a period of time to conceive of projects and define social issues together. The idea of mashing up different groups and genres is what Gray Area is striving to do within the urban environment. We hope to create urban projects through our hack days and project research that will be supported by cities and citizens.
As with any organization our program is only as strong as our network so we continue to focus on community outreach to ensure that we have a broad range of people involved in what we do. I have been in San Francisco for 7 years now and over that period of time I become aware of many disparate cultural sectors. Some of the biggest industries we have here are creative, art, and technology based. I think the greatest service that GAFFTA provides to our city is the framework we have provided for interdisciplinary research among those fields.
Sequence main site: http://seaquence.org/
Seaquence donation site: http://s.gaffta.org/
GAFFTA page about Seaquence: http://www.gaffta.org/our-work/projects/seaquence/
GAFFTA main page: http://www.gaffta.org/
Tenori-On page: http://tenori-on.yamaha-europe.com/uk/
Soda Play main page: http://sodaplay.com/
Ryan Alexander page: http://onecm.com/
Gabriel Dunne page: http://www.quilime.com/about/
Daniel Massey page: http://www.oddsympathy.com/
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