ZKM Karlsruhe, the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, and the Berkeley Center for New Media present:

supraliminal

a sonic and visual portrait of Alan Turing's Morphogenesis for immersive video and iPads by Paul D. Miller and Greg Niemeyer, 2017

From Waves to Forms

In 1945, at the end of WWII, Alan Turing devised a natural speech encryption machine called Delilah. Although never used in the field, the prototype is the first instance of digitized speech. Delilah recorded a voice wave signal with a microphone, normalized this signal to a range of 0.0 to 1.0, and added a key wave signal to the voice signal. This key signal scrambled the voice signal and made it sound like static noise. The scrambled wave signal was transmitted, along with the key, to a receiver.

The receiver subtracted the key signal from the voice signal, and the resulting sound was clear speech, just as recorded on the other end.

In 1953, Turing introduced this same idea of wave synthesis in a radically different context. In "The Chemical Basis for Morphogenesis" Turing formulated a theory of how waves of concentrations of chemicals inside growing organisms could define the form of the organism. Defining two types of chemicals, an inhibitor and an actuator, and proposing slight variations of the concentrations of these two chemicals, he could describe in theory how a plant decides where to grow leaves. Later work by different biologists showed that the theory worked in practice, and that so-called Turing patterns existed in many different organisms. Simple waves give rise to more complex forms.

Paul D. Miller and Greg Niemeyer see in Turing patterns and the wave synthesis an exciting option to perceive the world in waves. Instead of forming a category of what some thing looks like, and seeking a token to match that type, the wave view of the world allows us to see forms as the results of underlying waves colliding. For example, dinner time at home is a result of three waves: The wave describing the work cycle, the wave describing hunger, and the wave describing who has time to shop and cook. When all three waves peak, the result is a fine dinner. All other times, the same waves produce different forms.

Supraliminal is the team's effort to celebrate this wave view of the world, where things and creatures are not defined by categories, but rather by the waves that give rise to their forms. Visually, supraliminal shows waves colliding graphically. In the existing supraliminal installation, viewers watch waves collide and produce new forms in an immersive video installation. In the upcoming supraliminal app, users can design and launch multiple waves which produce both visual and sonic effects. As the simple waves collide, they produce more complex sounds and images. The resulting network of waves is a rich audiovisual landscape, and perhaps a gateway to a new way of seeing things.

HD Video Version

While the original version of supraliminal was created for the ZKM Panorama Lab with a spectacular 360˚ projection, we present a more accessible HD version for Stereo and HD screen presentation. For smaller installations, we also made a version for 4 channels of sound and 2 HD screens.

Symposium

ZKM is hosting an international conference on the science and art of Morphogenesis on January 26, 2018.

Interactive

In the Fall of 2018, ZKM will release an interactive version of "supraliminal". A small demo of wave synthesis on a ring is linked here.

Still Images

This gallery includes still images and Turing Portraits from various versions of supraliminal. They are available as prints or tapestries. For more information, contact gregniemeyer at gmail dot com.