Thomas Nückel – Cellular Sounds Project. A Sonic Experimental System Based on Cellular Automata

The heyday of cellular automata (CA) in the 1980s was driven by their visualization on graphical interfaces. The ocular-centristic discourse (Volmar 2015) therefore unfolding around CA and the dominance of the visual in that field have remained unquestioned up until today. Projects where CA were used to create sound instead of stills or moving pictures are few and were essentially motivated by aesthetic considerations (Miranda/Kirke, Xenakis, Wolfram).

CA can be located inside a conceptual triangle: First, cellular automata are non-­human agencies acting on their own terms and conditions, subverting human thresholds of perception by the massive speed of the hardware they are computed on. Second, they are phenomenotechniques in the sense of Bachelard. They are man-­made instruments, artificial products of the Anthropocene, not designed for investigating the “natural” nature, but used recursively on themselves (Chua, Mainzer, Wolfram). Third, it is not enough to look at the output of CA, as they have to be regarded as a subset of discursive storage, calculation, and material transmission systems (Fuller 2005).

Inspired by Fuller’s analysis this lecture intervenes in the media ecology of CA, trying to subvert the deadlock of the ocular-centristic discourse by transposing sets of CA into another realm of perception. Therefore the sonic experimental system CELLULAR SOUNDS PROJECT has been developed at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, using the programming languages Python and Supercollider. This acoustemic (Volmar 2015) tool will be used in the lecture to present and discuss superpositions of specific automata with particular sonifications and algorhythms (Miyazaki 2013). The investigation is guided by the following three questions: What happens when the axis of the transposition from visual to auditive intersects with the subset of CA? Can any insights be drawn from including the term “ecology” in the conceptual triangle sketched above? Does the sonification of CA serve as a proper field of application to experiment with technical and algorhythmic listening?

Thomas Nückel is studying and working at the Faculty for Media Studies, Humboldt University Berlin. His research interests include the concept of computability (based on the Turing machine), Kurt Gödel and Martin Heidegger, the „Mediatheater“ of Samuel Beckett and cellular automata. Together with Johannes Maibaum and Dr. Stefan Höltgen he organizes the seminar »Medienwissenschaft in der Praxis« at the Media Archaeological Fundus.

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