Trans Terra Form:

> Liquid Architectures And The Loss of Inscription


Marcos Novak

Marcos Novak, "MathCaveBlockHR"

The Pantopicon: Centrifuge of Noise
Centrifug(u)e: the shift from the society of the centripetal panopticon to the society of the centrifugal pantopicon is already well underway. Until today, Jeremy Bentham's panopticon expressed the now obsolete desire to see everything from one place, to focus the world on an axis mundi, or, better yet, a punctum mundi. It revealed an archaic impulse to enhance presence by choosing a special vantage point from which to survey the horizon, like the Dauphin, a will to assert power and singularity in the concentration of being-here, an urge to bring the mountain to Mohammad. A new condition is upon us, or, perhaps, a new desire has overtaken us. That desire is manifest in the construction, everywhere, of the pantopicon.

I coin the word pantopicon, pan+topos, to describe the condition of being in all places at one time, as opposed to seeing all places from one place. The pantopicon can only be achieved through disembodiment, and so, though it too speaks of being, it is being via dis-integration, via subatomization of the consciousness, rather than by concentration or condensation.

What were once centers are now sources. Centrifugal vectors, vectors of dispersal and diaspora propagating spherically, like sound, are everywhere multiplied. Inevitable collisions of concepts and percepts amplify dispersion into diffraction, as each point of collision becomes a new front, a new contribution to noise.

Disembodied Proximities: The Random Access Self
While the panopticon describes a condition that is one-to-many, the conditions brought about by the pantopicon are both many-to-many, and one-as-many-to-many. We have reached a stage where all synchronic and diachronic knowledge is equally accessible. Distance in space-time is collapsing, and everything and everyone can enjoy an unparalleled, if disincarnate, proximity.

This collapse of distance is not limited to what we immediately experience as ordinary space and time, but includes complex arrangements of knowledge, behavior, values. and social structures. A massive worldwide effort is being invested in encapsulating knowledge in hardware and software, diminishing the distance between expertise and ignorance. It is no longer necessary to understand the complex operations of, say, stereometry, it suffices to access the required knowledge in the form of a command on a menu. If anyone solves a difficult problem, everyone thereafter can, in principle, have access to the methods of its solution, with little added effort.

Behavior is likewise expanded, the full spectrum of possible lives becoming both more accessible and more acceptable under increasing display. 'Random access' becomes a way of life characterized by precise and instantaneous affiliation, coupled with the once pathologic 'rapid cycling' of traits and moods, appearance and roles. Previously disaffected values are in turn encouraged. Thousands of virtual communities are forming on networks everywhere, united by common, if often obscure, fascinations. Explicit advice on the piercing of body parts once considered private can be found as easily as detailed information on the edge of inquiry in dynamic systems research. Under the assumption of common interest, and the mask of indirect contact, a new sense of trust has developed that paradoxically contains both doubt and indifference concerning the identity of those whom one trusts.

Disembodied proximity implies the extension of random access to progressively larger parts of our experience, until the clusters we call reality and self are themselves rendered discontinuous. Discontinuity, however, is only the naive evaluation of surface appearances. Deep structures, twice hidden because reconfigurable, hold together what seems discontinuous. The evanescent threads of links and pointers that string each temporarily autonomous pattern together can at will restore a static, solid self, but to do so for any time longer than an instant is to negate the advantages of random presence, random access, noise.

The Loss of Inscription
Disembodiment is the loss of inscription; dis/embodiment is the agile shedding of one inscription in favor of another.

To inscribe is to write in, to place the mark of one thing within the fabric of another. Carving is the prototypical kind of inscription, though every other kind of writing partakes in this modification of one substance by another: the particles of ink lodge themselves within the roughness of the paper and will not leave without a trace. Even invisible ink enters the pores of the paper upon which secrets are trusted. Visibility itself is not a measure of inscription, modification of the substratum is.

Digital writing celebrates the loss of inscription by removing the trace from acts of erasure. What is undone is as if not ever done. Thus digital inscription is of another order than any previous inscription, closer to speaking to another without the presence of a third as witness, than, even, to the passing of a ciphered note.

Liquid architecture, understood as principle and not just as artifact, is to structural inscription as variable is to number, or better still, as variable function is to variable. Throughout the history of things we can see the gradual substitution of liquid patterns of change for structures of stillness. If liquid architecture were mathematics, it would search for families of functions whose very form was themselves would be functions of time, open to change, interactive.

Hence, liquid architecture is the tectonics of behavior, affiliated with perpetual becoming, emergence, life, artificial and otherwise. Like a creature leaving tracks on the sand, it will readily erase its engraved tracks for the sake of continuing to write its life's course. Digital spaces offer a natural habitat, but not the only one. Perhaps more than anything else, liquid architecture is a habit, a way of life, a liberating and confident openness to discontinuity.

Architectures Beyond Inscription
Computers as we know them, and consequently the liquidity they support, are presently based on photolithographic printing processes, permanent inscription. Everything that is written and transmitted via electronic media is erasable and ephemeral unless stored or reinscribed, but the microchips that enable this liquidity are still just immensely compactified books, active yet permanent, carved enduringly in silicon. In recognizing the need for an architecture that learns from the variability of software, we come to the conclusion that the architecture of computers themselves must absorb the same lesson: they must eventually abandon their reliance on permanent inscriptions within silicon or other material substrates, and reach for erasable, liquid materializations. Steps in this direction are already visible: erasable-programmable memory chips, hardware implementations of neural network algorithms, parallel distributed processing, optical and biological computing. These are all attempts to arrive at configurations of hardware that are less and less 'hardwired' and that can modify themselves as needed. Clearly, at the far end of the path we have taken are computers whose own architecture will learn to dance, like that of the brain, only faster; clearly at the end of that path are interfaces that perceive nuance, the liquidity of intonation in expression in the rewarding conversations of old friends, only much faster; clearly, at end of the path, there are communications as liquid as the global chatter of cities, only much, much faster. Leibniz would be pleased. Compactification, reduction of instruction-set complexity, emphasis on an awareness of qualitative difference, space made entirely of relations and perceptions, all this constitutes a technological construction of an immense transterritorial Monadology.

Marcos Novak, "Voice3=4Maze.Blue"

TransTerraFirma: After Territory
Territory: an area of limited political rights; contested ground of animal altruism and animal agression, but also a device for limiting aggression; play ground, mating ground, holy ground; area of jurisdiction, vital interest, prized resource. Terrestrials as we are, we find the notion of territory embedded within every concept we can utter, and in every concept territory figures ominously large.

Our understanding of territory is undergoing rapid and fundemantal changes: within the scope of pragmatic experience both space and community are rapidly becoming non-local. At the level of advanced theories concerning the nature of space and time, we already live in an astonishingly different place than any other culture on earth has imagined. In either case, what Virilio calls the 'big optics' of media communications at the speed of light result in a collapse of the horizon, divider of earth and heaven, or, to be more literal, demarcator of the borderline between the concrete and the abstract.

Another horizon, this one less evident, has fallen: in the creation of a navigable electronic non-place that nonetheless can be experienced as a fully dimensional space, we have breeched a new frontier with a new instrument: we have opened our inner worlds to ourselves and to each other through architecture as interface to the imagination. We have invented the esoscope.

As our horizons shatter, new spaces open within their fractured razor's edges: the places of neither here not there, or both, or other than both: the hybrid territories. Into these territories we will now bring all our social instincts, animal and human, for better or worse.

Hybrid territory and hybrid territoriality: hybrid terror to reality, territoReality.

Extreme Intermedia
Under the condition on the pantopicon, and the changes brought forth by technology, a series of unprecedented new opportunities arise. Combining a known medium with its opposite in ways that do not compromise either, but that heightens both, we arrive from the familiar medium to the extreme intermedium, into realities of supreme challenge to our existing conventions.

Extreme Intermedium One =3D Liquid Architecture
First step: "What is liquid architecture? A liquid architecture is an architecture whose form is contingent on the interests of the beholder; it is an architecture that opens to welcome you and closes to defend you; it is an ar chitecture without doors and hallways, where the next room is always where it needs to be and what it needs to be. It is an architecture that dances or pulsates, becomes tranquil or agitated. Liquid architecture makes liquid cities, cities that change at the shift of a value, where visitors with different backgrounds see different landmarks, where neighborhoods vary with ideas held in common, and evolve as the ideas mature or dissolve."1

Extreme Intermedium Two = 3D Navigable Music
Second Step: What is navigable music?
Music has exceeded both sound and time, and it has been permanently altered by the introduction of space and inhabitation into its range of speculation. Music has been previously understood as something that occurs in linear time, that can be understood as a single object in time. It has a beginning it has an end, you can graph it, as a score does, and you can draw its plan or section as you might with architecture. While there are a few examples of twentieth century works that approach music combinatorially, even these compositions are performed so as to give a large number of people the same experience. For any performance, the music remains a singular object in time. This observation leads me to think that it is possible to stop seeing music as singular, as a street between point a and point b, and to start seeing music as multiple, as landscape, as atmosphere, as an n-dimensional field of opportunities. If music is a landscape then it is possible to extract as many types of conventional music as there are trajectories through that landscape. The new problem for composition is to create that landscape.
Navigable music is not an organization of sounds in time, it is the organization of a matrix of sonic, visual, behavioral, and other possibilities. Actions within that matrix may contain every aspect of conventional music, because what is experienced within this landscape depends entirely upon the user's individually selected, unforeseen, interest-driven trajectory. If I prefer a beat, I remain within the part of the landscape where I first encountered a certain rhythmic pattern. If I leave a phrase, I can always return to it. I can choose extreme monotony, by remaining in one place, or extreme variety, never returning to the same place.

Extreme Intermedium Three =3D Habitable Cinema
Third Step: What is habitable cinema?
Several of the world's most respected filmmakers have spoken against the notion that a film leads to a climax, and tells a single story. When Kubrick spoke of wanting to 'explode the narrative structure of film' in 'Full Metal Jacket,' I think he anticipated the new creative problems implied in the idea of Habitable Cinema. Tarkovsky makes a similar point. Compared to theater, cinema allows artificial and discontinuous environments to be woven into a single, linear experience. Image, sound, and several other cues for understanding are intertwined into one object in time. This multimodal weaving is good, but the singularity in time is something we have exceeded. Habitable cinema dislocates cinema in the same way that navigable music dislocates music. It states that the cinema of the future will be a landscape or matrix or n-dimensional manifold of opportunity. The filmmaker of the future will be a worldmaker. His or her role will be to invent matrices of opportunity which will combine liquid architecture and navigable music and other dislocated and extended media into situations we can inhabit.

Extreme Intermedia : Assessment: The changes described above establish a trend in the media I have examined: each medium is being driven to the opposite extreme of its traditional understanding: architecture, heaviest of the arts, is becoming liquid; music, the art of composed, as thus, so far, fixed intervals in time, the art which has so far required us to listen in stillness and silence, now invites us to navigate through a sonic landscape; and beyond even that, is being transformed into an art of time beyond sound; and cinema, like music, a medium fixed in sequence, once closest to program music, having shaken its ties to the plot and narrative structure in the works of Kubrick, Tarkovsky, and others, now becomes interactive, habitable, a world to enter that has no plot, only potentials for chance encounters. The same explosion can be seen in each nameable art form: no longer is painting 'painting;' no longer is sculpture 'sculpture.' The form of a poem is no longer something given, and a play is not a 'play.' Perhaps the most vivid change is coming in the art that is the closest to the human body: dance. If dance is the art that is the most embodied, dependent intimately on the state of the body, and if the thesis I am proposing is at all true, and each artform is heading for its opposite, then the future of dance must be found in disembodiment.

Intermediation : The Dual
The extreme intermedium, the medium between two media, equally far from both, is precisely neither one nor the other. If we were to draw a network of familiar media, connecting every one to every other, we would have a depiction of the conventional relational structure of media. If now we placed,at the center of each region between media a new medium, located equally far from its neighbors, and we did this for all the spaces in the network, we would have a good rendition of the state of affairs we face. It would still be incomplete, however, since, no sooner had we drawn this new arrangement, than we would be compelled to apply the same operation to it, transformaing all the locations once again, and inventing ever more hybrid arts.

Extreme Intermedium Four =3D Disembodied Dance
A dancer loses physical agility long before s/he loses mental agility. It takes years of training to create an all too narrow window of dance opportunity. Within this slim aperture, the body seems to overcome difficulty and achieves a grace that defies its meat-origin. Sooner or later a dancer must become a choreographer, relinquishing the actual performance to other, younger bodies.

Liquid architecture, navigable music and habitable theater are all grouped together under the umbrella of 'worldmaking,' but the odd one out is disembodied dance. Consider this: a world has been created where everything is synthetic, and into which it is possible to project one's self. Since it is a defining characteristic of this world that everything can be changed, the Self itself becomes subject to alteration. Liquid architecture, navigable music and habitable theater are about that world. Dance is about the being in the world. Disembodied dance is about becoming in the world. The Body Without Organs. Identity now becomes liquid and navigable and habitable. Not only that, identity becomes possibly multiple and distributed. I can begin to have the sense that by distributing processes that modify my perceptions of the world, I can actually distribute my being. In the end the sum becomes not a single thing but a cluster which is scattered that can return sense information from distant locations. I can be at many places at one time, or at many times in one place.

Action: The Dervish Dances, And the World Spins
What to do? Dance with the Virtual Dervish.
"Dancing With The Virtual Dervish: Worlds in Progress" is a multimedia/multiworld cyberspace project I recently created at the Banff Centre For The Arts . It began with the observation that virtual reality allows us to share visions. Consider the image of a 'whirling dervish': a sufi mystic blind to the world but spinning in a secret vision. We can see the person, we can see the spinning, but we cannot enter the mental universe within which she dances. Now, compare the image of the dervish to that of a person donning the late-twentieth century's version of the mystic's robe: the head-mounted display, the dataglove, and a tangle of wires. Confined to the narrow radius of sensor-reach, joined to the ceiling by an umbilical connecting brain to computer, eyes blind to the world, this spinning person is also lost in a vision. The parallel is strong, but there is a key difference: this vision is constructed, and can thus be shared.

'Dancing with the Virtual Dervish' involves several concurrent interactive performances at remote sites. Numerous different 'worlds' are intertwined: first, the 'stage' world where dancers and a performers in VR gear interact with projections of a virtual reality and with the audience; second, the 'tele' world of remote performance spaces (in Paris, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Austin, Banff, Delphi...), where parallel, interconnected events are taking place, affecting each other via optical data transmissions that alter the course of events in each site; third, the 'virtual' world within the computer, accessible through head-mounted displays and video projections, and consisting of interactive architectural spaces that become increasingly liquid, and occupied by intelligent agents and objects that correspond to the themes of body, book, and architecture; fourth, the 'cyber' world, existing as a kind of 'nature' to the virtual world, much in the same relationship to it as what we consider the 'outdoors' compared to the 'indoors.' Fifth, from within the cyberworlds, as video windows open back out on to immediate and remote physical worlds and reintroduce them into cyberspace and projectors colorize reality with an externalized cyberspace, 'video worlds' are created that combine all the threads of wordmaking into an animated fabric of multipresent transterritorealities. Everything in these worlds forms a visual and spatial music: ArchiMusic.

The virtual and cyber worlds form a continuum. A ever growing series worldchambers, appearing most solid and familiar at the entry to the virtual world, rapidly become less and less material and static, until they dissolve into a cyberspace of interactive spatial music : ArchiMusic. The chambers themselves, and the objects within them, are algorithmically controlled. Some are completely autonomous while others respond to the user's actions. The chambers and objects are derived from aspects of 'body' become 'architecture', aspects of 'book' become 'passage,' and aspects of 'architecture' become 'liquid,' as the piece explores issues of disembodied experience. The space itself contains 'warped' regions that simulate hyperspheres and other higher-dimensional phenomena, making chambers at once finite and infinite, depending on the manner in which they are approached.

What is the difference between 'virtual reality' and 'cyberspace'? One description is that virtual reality is the enabling technology and cyberspace the 'content.' This description gives an adequate initial sense of the differences, but suffers the same weaknesses that any view that tries to divide the world into form and substance is prone to: in the end it is impossible to maintain the distinction between body and spirit in any kind of rigorous way. There is something of what we call cyberspace in virtual reality and something of what we call virtual reality in cyberspace. Once this is understood, the distinctions can be seen to be distinctions of emphasis and quality, locations along a continuum that runs along several dimensions. At the one end of the continuum are those worlds that are most similar to the world we are familiar with: examples would include virtual environments such as architectural walkthroughs or flight simulators. Buildings and vehicles are subject to constraints we are familiar with, and they represent situations that can, and perhaps may, be realized. Their scale is already familiar to us, and we can draw on our associations directly, in order to comprehend them. Someplace near the middle of the continuum are those environments that are still within the laws of our physics but that are inaccesible to us for one reason or another. Microscopic or macroscopic environments, the interior of the body, the surface of Mars, the Chernobyl nuclear plant, are examples of virtual environments that are still of this world, but which are inaccessibe to our full sensorium without virtual reality technologies. Farther toward the cyberspace end of the continuum are those environments that are at the juncture of theory and fact: the Big Bang, black holes, wormholes, the worlds of quantum mechanics or of higher dimensions. These worlds are at the cusp between the actual and the imaginary, and their constraint is an allegiance to the world as we know it; they are subject to empirical validation using other technologies that extend our senses: scanning-tunneling microscopes, particle accelerators, carbon dating, satellites and space probes. At the far end of the continuum are the worlds of cyberspace. These are the 'possible worlds,' the worlds of our invention. They are no less rigorous than any of the previously mentioned worlds, but like the most abstract mathematics, or the most expansive view of the study of artifical life, they ask what it is that makes a world in the first place, what kinds of worlds can there be, where does this world fit in the scheme of possible worlds, how would this world appear from the viewpoint of another world? Here the physics are invented, the singular can be replaced by the multiple, the solid by the fragmented, the insular by the permeable, the closed by the open. Time, space, energy, and consciousness may not be the fundamental or only organizational principles for all possible (whether conceivable and inconcveivable) worlds. Cyberspace is thus always the 'exterior' of virtual reality, because it always reserves the additional space of possibility, in contrast to actuality. Possibility is the fundamental characteristic of everything that is 'other,' since possibility always contains the unknown.

The sound of the dervish worlds are a music composition conceived as a landscape: the actual sound heard depend on the trajectory taken through an invisible musical terrain, realizing my concept of 'navigable music.' All interactive music posits a 'space' of possible sequences of sounds, only a few of which are realized by each manifestation. Navigable music takes this idea to its limit and attempts to reconsider musical composition as the making of a world into which the audience can be invited to enter. Coupled with virtual reality and cyberspace, as described above, this world becomes one that can be literally inhabited and shared in numerous ways. Every traversal by every visitor through the parallel landscapes explicit and implicit in the piece is another sequence of sonic and visual events, and the music created by these traversals can be heard concurrently, for example, as the music of a virtual city, or in sequence, by reenactment of actions of someone else.

Visually, sonically, and behaviorally, 'Dancing With The Virtual Dervish' is textured to create reminiscences of the body, of skin, of materiality, growth, and decay. Central to it are two related ideas, immersion and interactivity, that reverse the core assumptions of several art forms. Architecture becomes liquid, music becomes navigable, cinema becomes habitable, dance becomes disembodied. As distant as these new options seem from their origins and from each other, they are related to one another by what can only be called 'worldmaking.' Worldmaking is, in my estimation, the key metaphor of the new arts.

Circumnavigations: Worlds in Progress
How is it that our imaginations can so easily oustrip the real and the pragmatic? Why are we not limited to straightforward foresight and anticipation? How is it that we can shift our attention and concentration from the pressing questions of the ever-burning, inevitable present, and focus instead on the chimerical future? What mechanisms allow us to enlarge the scope of our concerns beyond the narrow confines of our needs and times?

'Dancing With The Virtual Dervish: Worlds In Progress,' in its present disincarnation, consists of a series of interconnected cyberspace 'chambers.' Each chamber is a world unto itself, but each chamber has portals to every other chamber, forming a fully connected lattice. As a work, it is non-hierachical, non-teleological, and inherently open-ended. A person navigating through these chambers is free to explore a series of landscapes and to discover their apparent or hidden features. It is unlikey that anyone, myself included, will ever exhaust the variety of subtle algorithmic wonders that may be encountered, since they are intimately related not only to the logic of their programs, but to the unforeseeable circumstances and patterns of each person's passage through the spaces.

The architecture of these worlds spans the continuum between the solid and the ethereal. Each architectonic manifestation has been algorithmically composed, and all have been chosen to be unbuildable in the physical world. At one end are spaces whose boundaries are solid and whose forms are constant; farther along the continuum are spaces and forms that have been 'grown,' using a combination of 'L-systems,' algorithms that simulate the growth of plants, and musical algorithms; beyond these are forms, still static, that are 'isosurfaces, ' three dimensional contour-surfaces of sculpturally considered mathematical functions. All these 'architectures' challenge what we understand as architeture, and how we proceed in conceiving and making spaces, but they are just the beginning. Beyond these are architectonic manifestations that are no longer static, but that move interactively or autonomously. Here the architecture becomes a field of elements. One such field, consisting of a constellation of hundreds of rotating octahedra, remains calm when the viewer is near the center of the world, within the eye of the storm, but rotates increasingly rapidly as the viewer loses touch with that center. Another field, this one consisting of a cubic grid of diagonal lines whose lengths grow and diminish, comes in and out of existence, like the spatial heartbeat of subatomic particles. More subtle still is the the intelligent fog that changes color and density according to the viewer's orientation. Farther still is the 'navigable music,' the invisible but audible interactive soundscape that creates music according to the viewer's trajectory in space.

One chamber stands out: it is, to the best of my knowledge, the world's first immersive experience of the fourth dimension. By this I do not mean time as the fourth dimension, but a fourth spatial dimension. A series of proto-architectonic four dimensional objects rotate (in the fourth dimension, of course) around a vestige of the cartesian coordinate system. All their vertices have four coordinates, all that would appear to us as planes are, topologically, cubes, all that would be cubes, hypercubes. Projected into three-space, their shadoows are three-dimensional objects that enjoy a complex but graceful transformational dance. Walls advance gently toward the viewer, pass right through, and continue. With time, one learns to read the shapes, and when they are aligned correctly, can actually see recognizable 'proto-architeconic' figures. One who has lived in the desert may not at first appreciate the advantages of living in a more hospitable climate; one living in a temperate zone may not compehend the richness of life in a harsher clime. It is hard to know, harder still to communicate what we may make of these worlds. For now, envisioning these worlds is enough; we are at the beginning of a long journey, and these spaces are to what will come as biplanes are to spacestations. Still, I am heartened when I read, in science after science, ways of understanding the world that rely increasingly on spatial conceptions of more than three dimensions. Perhaps, without forgetting the body, architects can return to housing the mind. Bibliography