Transpositions [TP]: Case Study 2

deep inelastic scattering

Common Muon and Proton Apparatus for Structure and Spectroscopy (COMPASS) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Geneva.

Scattering describes the process in which a particle with high energy called a beam collides with another, the target. In the deep inelastic scattering the energy of the beam is so high that the target breaks apart, revealing its constitutive elements. Usually, in physics, the collection of the smaller, potentially simpler, parts that something can be broken into is said to be its "spectrum". This is very much like speaking of the spectrum of a sound when we calculate which sum of single frequencies it is equal to.

At the COMPASS project at CERN, physicists are interested in observing and understanding the characteristics of the spectrum of the proton, a primary building block of atoms and of all the matter with which we can interact. A very high energy beam of elementary particles called muons (a type of heavier electron) collides with the target protons that breaks into its spectrum, the quarks. These spray into the 50 meter long spectrometer, where they cause effects which can be detected.

In opposition to the somewhat childish but seemingly effective strategy of analysing something by breaking it into pieces to see 'how it works', in this case the products of this breaking apart actually remain ineffable. This touches the very essence of the problematic mode of existence of the quantistic world, bound to remain in a state of spatial and temporal uncertainty. To illuminate how the indeterminacy of these processes seems to infect the whole apparatus of the COMPASS experiment is the focus of this case study. We intend as 'apparatus' not only the spectrometer as a measuring device, but the whole aggregate of scientific theories, technical tools and social interactions in which the experiment is embedded. In particular we observe how the "reconstruction" process, mediated by multiple steps of re-interpretation and interpolation of the data, is not only a necessary step of analysis, but also a generative transformation which produces new forms.


We are provided with data containing approximate time and position of detected particle passages through the detector. These space-time positions are called hits. A set of hits is contained in every detected collision event, recording the passage of the fragments of the broken proton. Our data set contains thousands of these events.

We are left alone with this material, a collection of points placed in a four dimensional space that is mostly void. To bridge the gaps and navigate through the emptiness, a rule of relationship is inferred; a rule of "causality" defining which points are interdependent with each other. This rule is an assertion, emerging from of the uncomfortable situation of not knowing where and when things are. It results in a function which joins points, interpolating between them, structuring a space: its reiterated application is a generating function that produces coherence and form. 

The transposition constructs figures as well as finding them in the material to which it is applied. Therefore, even if it is an isomorphism, its action is not neutral: this characteristic —which affects all transformative functions — becomes evident when it departs from canonical i.e. accepted interpretations of what lies "behind" the data, or how it should be read.

Each hit is connected with a line to the nearest other along each of the 8 directions in the four dimensional space-time. The process is repeated for each event. 

Eventually a series of thousands of figures are drawn which collect the traces of the application of this function of the data. 

This is the projection of the x-t plane of the figure generated for the event 5252 in spill 198.


Our experience of working together with CERN's researchers bears some particularities. 

The utter specialisation and compartmentalisation of the research causes an extreme fragmentation. As with the fragments produced by the collision events, it is difficult to get a hold on concrete and definitive statements. In conjunction with the marked competition between the different research groups and even within the same group, the reconstruction of how analysis and interpretation processes are used, and what significance these have on the data, is too complex a task. Most data conditioning and analysis algorithms are used as black boxed functions by the researchers.

The spatial and temporal sensibility of the instruments, which are almost required reach into Heisenberg's uncertainty regions of space-time, seem to drag not only the instruments' themselves but also the research more generally into a grey zone of existence: it seems impossible to know exactly the wheres and whens of things. Included are, for example, the positions in space and time of the particle collisions passages, the positioning of same detectors within the spectrometer as well as the organisation of the research.

Uncertainty and abstractness are not only a quality of quantistic processes, they permeates every dialogue. Extreme caution is taken in order to avoid formulations which might reveal too much confidence. 

Only a statistic of inquiries will produce a measurable response.

The impression one gets is that the qualities of the phenomena effect the ways of thinking and working of the researchers studying them.

The COMPASS Experiment at CERN

The Standard Model of fundamental Particles

How a Detector Works↗

The Particle Zoo




Event 4: DA TA Rush. Transpositon not Exhibition. A research event by Gerhard Eckel, Michael Schwab, David Pirrò and Artemi-Maria Gioti. Angewandte Innovation Laboratory, Vienna/Austria, May 13-17 2016.


Event 5: Transpositions Lab. Exploring DA TA rush with interventions by Paulo de Assis and Lucia D'Errico. Angewandte Innovation Laboratory, Vienna/Austria, May 14-16 2016.

Event 6: Symposium. Is a meaningful dialogue possible between research practices in the arts and in science and technology? A one day symposium organised by philosopher Cecile Malaspina. Angewandte Innovation Laboratory, Vienna/Austria, May 17 2016.


Event 7: Seminar. Transpositions Artistic Data Exploration at the COMPASS Analysis Meeting at CERN, October 13 2016.

Event 8: Exhibition. DA TA rush Graz. In the context of TRANS - Denken in Klängen at Kulturzentrum bei den Minoriten. Graz/Austria, November 12–25 2016.

Event 9: Lecture. Transpositions [TP] Artistic Data Exploration a talk by David Pirrò in the frame of the conference "A Cosmos of Data", at the Arts Santa Mònica Centre in Barcelona, November 17 2016.

Event 10: Imperfect Reconstruction is an Exhibition and an Audio Visual Installation at the ESC medien kust labor, in Graz. November 25 2016–January 17 2017. 


Event 11: Interpolations is a workshop and a micro-symposium that aims at bringing together researchers and artists in order to identify their different approaches to and perspectives on the algorithmic. The workshop took place on the December 2 2016 in the context of the Exhibition "Imperfect Reconstruction" in the ESC medien kust labor in Graz, Austria.


Event 12: Michael Schwab (Ed.), Transpositions. Aesthetico-Epistemic Operators in Artistic Research 1, Orpheus Institute/Leuven University Press, in preparation.


Event 13: DA TA. Art catalogue.


Event 14: Transpositions: From Science to Art (and back). Final research event. Stockholm, October 4–8 2017.

 play sound 

 pause sound