Software as Art: The Lost Art of Screaming

“Software art” is an ambiguous phrase. It could mean art of some kind made with software, like making a drawing with Photoshop, with the mouse as the pencil. It could mean taking all those old floppies and CDs full of code and melting them together in an artful, tasteful way with a hot poker or a soldering iron. Suitable for framing, of course, or mounting on top of a pedestal made from a chainsawed wood carving.

And it could mean, as I want to explore a bit here, that the software itself is art. That is a slightly wierd notion. What could that mean?

One attempt: “Software art means a shift of the artist’s view from displays to the creation of systems and processes themselves; this is not covered by the concept of ‘media.’ ” (Florian Cramer, Ulrike Gabriel)

There’s a tension here, and if you look around at what is called software art on the Web, this can be confirmed: a tension between the “output” or product, and the process that gets you there.

At one end of the spectrum, which has a pictorial or musical result, say, is a program like Dreamlines. I’ve mentioned this one before in a comment to another post, and it remains one of my favorite programs of this type.

mountain sky face4Type in a few words like “mountain”, “sky”, “face” and the program searches the Web for related imagery and starts to stack it in an altered, wonderfully ambiguous way in the display frame.

The program builds the image, pauses, and then constructs another layer. The author describes what this software is doing this way:

“Dreamlines is a non-linear, interactive visual experience. The user enters one or more words that define the subject of a2007-12-01 161510 dream he would like to dream. The system looks in the Web for images related to those words, and takes them as input to generate an ambiguous painting, in perpetual change, where elements fuse into one another, in a process analogous to memory and free association.”

This is one example of what can be called generative art.  Philip Galanter has defined it as: “Generative art refers to any art practice where the artist creates a process, such as a set of natural language rules, a computer program, a machine, or other procedural invention, which is then set into motion with some degree of autonomy contributing to or resulting in a completed work of art.”

I have to stick another one in here called Scribbler, an automated process to create interesting line drawings.  You make your own little sketch with this “generative illustration toy” and then let the program go to work.  You can try it with a variety of settings.  Although it might not seem like much at first, take a look at the gallery to see what scribbles people have produced.

On another tangent, Nio is an interesting example of a sound-based interactive toy, rather than a generative system, although its author calls it The Art of Interactive Audio.  Stacking up rythmic choral sounds with gyrating graphics is fun, I find.  Groove it up slowly…

But moving back towards more typical “software art” is a project called The Dumpster. Using a database based on scanning millions of blogs, the artist has set up a graphic interface which visually portrays specific romantic relationships in which one person has “dumped” another. The visitor can surf through tens of thousands of entries where jilting did occur.

The main part of the Dumpster interface is used to show Breakup Bubbles. Then you can read the text excerpt associated with each bubble, like: “Larchie thinks Bad Religion is better than Fugazi, so I broke up with her. Then she played Sublime.”

Why breakups, of all things? Golan Levin, the artist, says: “In the Dumpster, my colleagues and I have turned our attention to perhaps the most computationally intractable kind of worthwhile information: matters of the human heart.”

The unfortunate result, as least to me, is to see how this painful occasion for many people, fraught with extremes of emotion, is so often expressed with such banality. But there is something intriguing about it nevertheless, not least the effort expended by the artist to bring it to us.

Here’s a more interesting one: Dreamlogs. It’s called an idea association engine. You type in a short sentence or phrase, perhaps add another word or so to amplify your interest, and let the engine run. The program searches for related text fragments on the web. You can click on any of the text in the list created and a new list forms.

Christophe Bruno, whose concept this is, says: “At the end, save your journey through the space of discourse and you will see the dreamlog that has been generated. The initial idea of the project was to obtain paths as large and as “non-local” as possible. Otherwise you can just enjoy wandering in the space of discourse.”

I like that phrase: space of discourse. It’s evocative of openness and inquiry, which is the best part of the internet.

I’ve had some fun with this one: onewordmovie. Put in a word, and the program will search the web for images, and join them together as a kind of movie. Apparently you can save them somehow, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

Carrying on the generative theme, with J B Wock we have a blog written by a script… A recent post: “Immaterial are insult discussion kinds of Homicide: crying unjustified ill-favored and praiseworthy.”

This elicited the following comment from the reader: “Big deal are offense flap kinds of homicide: overt untenable objectionable and praiseworthy.” If this sounds like the same kind of machine-written word salad, that’s because the reader is an “autonomous virtual entity” that randomly comments on J B Wock’s blog.

Now there’s a blog that requires a lot less effort than this one, and may be just as rewarding…

This site proclaims: “More poems, less effort.” It’s called CAP… computer aided poetry. It’s not a completely mindless “poetry” generator like some you can find on the Web. You can shape and edit your creation as you go.

Another text oriented program is called Open Wound. The author, Matt Butler, describes it better than I can:

“Open Wound is a language mixing tool developed in the same spirit as a DJ’s set of turntables, albeit with a much different interface. By running two copies side-by-side, an artist is able to tag one text’s grammatical parts-of-speech and graft it onto another text. Additionally, a word frequency filter is available to leave common words untouched, preserving structure and coherence. The resulting text mash-up can be used for a variety of purposes: conceptual blockbusting, experimental writing, buzzwords, or fun.”

I found I get results with this that are mostly incoherent rather than intriguing or insightful, but perhaps I didn’t use the right kind of original text to start with.

The spectrum of software art runs much further afield, and wierder, than what I’ve room to indicate here. If you look on software art sites like, you can find projects like this one: “Evil Pinball by David Kasdan — the iconic Windows 3D Pinball game meets Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Evil Empire” speech – and pinball becomes a tool for generating rap.”

Or: “Scream is a software application to facilitate screaming. Scream sits quietly in your computer’s system tray and automatically springs into action when it detects a scream. Scream disturbs your Windows interface. But it isn’t aimed just at computer frustrations. In a world where “anger” is paired with “management,” Scream encourages the return to prominence of the lost art of screaming.”

Another lost art reclaimed… also has links to a variety of software art projects and sites.

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6 Comments on “Software as Art: The Lost Art of Screaming”

  1. okay, so this is the coolest stuff ever! i love dreamlines–thanks for this! a new way to see/make/play with art. excellent. :-)

  2. fencer Says:

    Yes, dreamlines is great… quite addictive!


  3. forestrat Says:

    Fencer, thanks for blogging about this stuff – very interesting. One could really waste some time fiddling with these things.

  4. fencer Says:


    Yes, I can vouch for that!


  5. Eliza D Says:

    Fencer, thanks. Dreamlines and Scribbler sound tempting – I will not give in until my assignment is over though. :-)

  6. fencer Says:

    Hi Eliza,

    Don’t give in, but do try them when you’re able…


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