The Futurist's War Dream

picture picture
Video 1 (80MB AVI)
Video 2 (98MB AVI)

"every 5 seconds siege cannons gutting space with a chord ZANG-TUMB-TUUMB mutiny of 500 echos smashing scattering it to infinity. In the center of this hateful ZANG-TUMB-TUUMB area 50 square kilometers leaping bursts lacerations fists rapid fire batteries. Violence ferocity regularity this deep bass scanning the strange shrill frantic crowds of the battle Fury breathless ears eyes nostrils open! load! fire! what a joy to hear to smell completely taratatata of the machine guns screaming a breathless under the stings"

-the poet Marinetti, in a letter from the trenches of Adrianopolis to Luigi Russolo.

The Experience

The Futurist's War Dream is an interactive video and audio piece that pays homage to the Futurists and their relentless obsession with noise. It is meant to be a performative piece where the performer hits a percussive instrument of the Futurist fashion, like a metal pot, that is attached to the computer via an acoustic drum trigger. Every time the pot is hit, a spinning spiral is generated on the screen and noises are synthesized from the spiral's coordinates. The more spirals that appear, the more noise there is, eventually leading to an epic and painful buildup of visual trails and digital distortion. The performer stops playing at this point, exhausted, and as the last spiral spins out of existence we hear a soothing release from the vicious yet delicious wall of noise.

The Implementation

The Max/MSP patch starts by generating all the coordinates of the spiral for each animation frame and storing them in a Jitter matrix. Then all the spirals are randomly initialized to have a color and position, and their audio sawtooth generators set to have a frequency range based on their vertical position, a pan value based on their horizontal position, and a rhythmic duration of each note. Each time a trigger is sent (either by a drum trigger or the spacebar), the poly~ object picks an available spiral to display and sets it going. The spiral reacts to sound by growing downward and changing color according to amplitude of the input. It will spiral outward and generate sound for a certain duration until it fades out and waits to be called again.

Added to the spiral animation is some video feedback with cellular automata. The cells grow out from the spirals and then slowly fade away, all while changing hue slightly, to give a nice depth effect.

The Future

Eventually, the patch will be wired to a drumset with a full array of acoustic triggers. Each drum will trigger a certain colored spiral in a certain position. This is meant to be played in a band setting (with the noise on or off, depending on the situation), so the spirals will also react to the music of the rest of the band. Through the duration of the piece, different effects (like cellular automata rules, or hue rotations) will switch around to keep it interesting and hopefully flow with the music.