Open Circuits

BJ Best and Joel Matthys

Trust (2019)

Interactive media
Joel Matthys

Swipe your card to start the show!

What card? Your student ID will work. So will a Buffalo Wild Wings gift card. Your gas card. Maybe even your credit card! Take your pick.

I’ve created a personalized melody just for you! But you have to swipe your card to hear it.

What’s the matter? I would never use your data to create a database to sell to advertisers. I wouldn’t do that.

Don’t you want to see the show? Go ahead: swipe your card! Who cares if your data isn’t private anymore. It’s worth it, believe me. It’s a good show.

It’s not like I’m recording all of your data and selling it on the dark web. I would never do that!

Or would I?

No, of course I wouldn’t. *

*Or would I?

(No, really. I wouldn’t.)


(Or would I?)

Second Person Shooter (2019)

Video game
BJ Best
Sound Design by Joel Matthys

“Do violent video games cause violence?” seems to an evergreen question, especially after a mass shooting when politicians and the media need a scapegoat. But this game seeks to make the question more personal. Rather than shooting some nameless unknown enemy, the game asks what happens if you shoot the one you love most: yourself. It employs a webcam to make a real-time feed of yourself the target you must destroy. With an excess of 1980s aesthetics, the game prods you to shoot yourself enough to become a Top Killer, when you’ll be rewarded with a high score screen and your photo in rotation for all others to see. Or you could just quit, you loser.

High Score Screen Burn Slow Burn (2018)

Video game
BJ Best

Does a video game need a player? HSSBSB argues no, being the first zero-player game for the Atari 2600. It is experienced by watching a square randomly traverse an endless map of mostly empty screens. Occasionally, an abstract item appears on the screen, and the square might collide with it, earning points. And so the game continues, the score creeping ever higher. The game runs on a cartridge and original hardware.

ArtyBots (2017-19)

Computer generated images on canvas
BJ Best

ArtyBots is a family of programs that use Twitter to tweet algorithm-generated artworks that “make hell a more pleasant place,” according to one commenter. Each bot follows an algorithm to generate or manipulate its images in a unique style. This exhibited work shows a sequential conversation among all of the ArtyBots members, and the canvases are hung in order from left to right, top to bottom. In order, the participants are:

  1. @ArtyAbstract takes random mathematical equations and paints a picture, using the equations to determine the red, green, and blue values for each pixel.
  2. @ArtyMash pulls a random creative commons image from the photo-sharing site Flickr and superimposes it with an image it receives, often altering the colors of both.
  3. @ArtyNegative returns something similar to the photographic negative of an image it receives.
  4. @ArtyTiles reduces an image to a tiled mosaic based on colors it finds within each square.
  5. @ArtyPolar generates simple random equations and uses polar coordinates to remap an image it receives.
  6. @ArtyLetters is perhaps the strangest member of the family. It divides the image into a grid, evaluates its overall colors, assigns a letter based on its calculations, then writes that letter in a contrasting color.
  7. @ArtyEdit is like a child who has access to standard controls of an image editing program: brightness, contrast, enlarging, and various types of enhancing. It randomly tweaks those settings.
  8. @ArtyCrush reduces an image to the eight colors possible by turning either on or off the red, green, and blue values for a particular pixel. The possible colors are black, white, red, green, blue, cyan, yellow, and magenta.
  9. @ArtyShapes superimposes random simple shapes such as rectangles and triangles on top of an image, again modifying its colors.
  10. @ArtyPetals makes a kaleidoscopic image by taking random walks from the center. The program takes a pixel from the center of the original image and copies it to a new one, often mirrored and copied. It then moves to the next pixel in a random direction. The result is a winding of trail of pixels that only ends when the trail hits the edge of the image.
  11. @ArtyTriangle is the sibling of @ArtyTiles, tessellating an image into triangles.
  12. @ArtyWinds behaves as if each pixel is a grain of colored sand that could be blown across an image.
  13. @ArtyCurve uses a mathematical translation to bend an image into curves.
  14. @ArtyImpression paints thousands of small semi-transparent circles and ovals to repaint an image in an impressionistic style.
  15. In addition to generating original images, @ArtyAbstract can also create abstract works from images it receives based on recursively generated mathematical equations.

All of these bots are active on Twitter, where they are constantly conversing. Users can also submit their own images to a particular bot and it will reply with its alterations.

Seven Broken Mysteries (2019)

Interactive Multimedia
BJ Best
Sound design by Joel Matthys

This piece combines the old and the new, exploiting the tension between them. A 1949 Silvertone radio has been modified to house a microcomputer inside it which supplies digital data from three of the radio’s knobs. These knobs control words on a screen that create brief two-line poems. These poems are then sent to AttnGAN, and after about thirty seconds show the corresponding art is shown. The words selected also guide the soundscape created via the Freesound project, an online repository of creative-commons licensed sounds. The sounds, of course, are played back through the radio’s original speaker.

Torch Sung (2019)

BJ Best and Joel Matthys

What kind of art might artificial intelligence make? This multimedia exhibit features art mediated by algorithms. The starting point is poems created in collaboration with AI. Best took all of his poems from the past twenty years and fed them into torch-rnn, an AI model that has no previous knowledge of language. Instead, it studies a source text and learns to create words by studying the patterns of their letters. The resulting output is similar to the original, writing words that the program has determined might exist but that often have tenuous syntactical connections and meaning. Best then edited the resulting texts into poems somewhat more sensible. Those poems were then fed into AttnGAN, a different AI program that paints quasi-realistic pictures based on a text description: here, the poems. Data gleaned from these images are then fed into a program written by Matthys to create music. The program reads the image from left to right, taking the averages of hue, saturation, and brightness for four vertical bands, and uses that information to generate sounds. Finally, Matthys created 3-D printed sculptures based on the mathematical concept of attractors, counting the ratio of vowels to consonants in each line of the poems, and using those numbers to generate the final objects. The overall effect is one of transmogrification, how the same data can produce surprisingly different results.

Listening Box (2012-2019)

Live Processed Audio
Joel Matthys

The music we make is intimately tied to our bodies. Rhythm is an expression of our heartbeat; melody comes from our voices; phrases are born of our breath. But a computer has neither heart nor lungs. Left to it’s own devices, what kind of music would the computer make?

All of the sounds in this piece are generated live by the computer, without input or control from a human operator. There are no predetermined rhythms, or pitches, or timbres. The computer listens to its own body, through contact microphones on its case. The input sound is analyzed, filtered, and arranged into gestures according to timbral and dynamic similarities.

The computer is placed in a plexiglass box to shield it from the sounds of its environment. It has only its own “body” to listen to, though if you tap on the box, you’ll certainly discover that it hears you.

Will intelligent computers make music that sounds like this?

Tectonic Shift (2016)

Live computer projection and sound
Joel Matthys

Tectonic Shift is a portal into ritual and communication across cultures. The computer is processing a live video feed, looking for patterns, connected blobs of movement, trying to make meaning from its input, just as we the observers try to make meaning of the protection. The location of objects within the frame trigger triggers sounds: synthetic wind chimes, African-style drumming and recorded audio from rituals across the globe. You are invited into a ritual space through the medium of the computer’s vision.

Color Life (2019)

Computer graphic on canvas
Joel Matthys

The images from Color Life are stills from a digital simulation of evolution, a process known as cellular automata. In this piece, each pixel has an identity defined by its color. Pixels that are surrounded by similar pixels are more likely to survive and reproduce. Eventually they form into complex organic shapes as they compete for space.