Writing Machine

Signification as endless chain of transitions ighlights the différance and not the signified. The chain is reflected by the geometric shape of the circle. A poriferous circle, however, which  acts as a system of consumption: The ubiquitous writing machine of the television is deconstructed into an uninterested database—ignoring all ideology surrounding its interpretation (what Derrida calls "metaphysics"). Phrases are constructed from this database which drift over time, forming ever new significations.

On the First Instance

The arrangement is that of a laboratory experiment—a tableau of petri dishes, put into vibration by piezo electric elements, and displaying heaps of graphite powder, the disintegrated mineral which borrows its name from graphein (to write). The realtime composition builds up a trace of the phrases which it generated, and in intervals exhibits them simultaneously as a spatially differentiated motion.

The «Writing Machine» is based on the broad notion of “grapheme” as formulated by Jacques Derrida: The grapheme is the manifestation of the process of writing-as-trace, an infinite chain of signification (and an absence of “presence” or re-presence of an original signified). What I am interested in is to consider both the process of composition of a sound piece and its algorithmic unfolding in the performance as two interrelated forms of recursive writing-as-decision-making.


meta: true

author: hhr

artwork: WritingMachine


The difference is that we do not seek a final sound, and the interesting moments originate exactly from the imperfection of the reconstruction. The imperfection is the contrast agent for the spatial and temporal unfolding of the recursion. While in the area of automatic sound design and texture generation, repetition in the choice of matching sounds might be seen as a problem, we found here that they are one of the most recognisable peculiarities of our system, as the repeatedly chosen sounds are layered slightly off the target sound’s position, adding to the palimpsest’s clarity. On the other hand, a notable characteristic of the Writing Machine is that the database is constantly drained, so each sound chosen has a certain chance of being removed from the database, making space for refilling—and with the live signal, the material is never exhausted.

compositional details

There are two iterations: One describing the algorithmic cycle of departing from the previous situation or phrase, choosing parts of the phrase to be overwritten, then looking for “suitable” materials in the database and overwriting those parts, in other words re-writing the phrase. Multiple piezo elements are grouped together to form channels, and the phrase, whenever it is restated, advances to an adjacent sector of the physical tableau, performing thus a spatial rotation over the course of a few minutes.

The installation is much more “process” than “product”, although this distinction may conceal the more interesting question of decision making. Indeed if we carefully follow the implications of the idea of grapheme, we see that ultimately Deciding (Forming) ⇔ Writing ⇔ Observing ⇔ Tracing.

Everything is controlled by motions which are basically ultra-low frequency step wise oscillators or random walks. There is a motion for the duration of the fragments overwritten, for the position of the fragments within the current phrase, for the cross-correlation length when looking for similar sounds in the database, and so forth. The procedure is quite similar to the approach taken in concatenative sound synthesis.