Of animation, coding, and digital sound

Slumbering in the background of my thinking for a few years now, and slamming to the surface  in the last twelve months has been the idea that

• as an artist who whole-heartedly strives to create culturally relevant contemporary art that is both of the moment and as uniquely mine as possible — reflections of my essence, my outlook and my epoch

• as an artist very interested in technological advances in art

• as a scientist who has the capacity to learn new technological systems easily

I need to go beyond drawing, painting, Photoshop, photography, and digital printmaking. I need to be creating my own tools, writing programs to create my work rather than just using programs; I need to branch out from two-dimensional art to include the dimension of time, via animation and sound.

This realization has been expressing itself in the past year as an obsession to “learn to code.” Or, better, to re-learn to code; to learn to code in modern languages and with modern practices; to work towards fluency and the use of code as second nature. My progress towards these goals has been accelerated by my discovery of the multitude of learning resources now available on the Internet, starting with Google’s Python course (see previous blog), followed by dozens of courses and mini-courses on Codecademy and Codeschool; Coursera’s Learn to Program: The FundamentalsAn Introduction to Interactive Programming in PythonComputing for Data Analysis; Stanford U/Class2go’s Introduction to Databases ; UC Berkeley/edX’s Software as a Service.

I branched out a few months ago to also start covering the sound aspect. I started with Coursera’s Introduction to Digital Sound Design and familiarizing myself with Apple’s Logic Pro in combination with Native Instruments’ AbsynthKontakt, and FM8. (I first bought the Native Instruments software package in 2010, but was then too intimidated to succeed to get anywhere with it.) Eventually I want to work with sound in a broader context than music, incorporating nature sounds, mechanical sounds, and so on, into soundscapes. I would also like to work with algorithmic, generative composition, as well as interactive sound.

My first project of animation accompanied by sound was put together in honor of my mother’s birthday. For sound, I took as my starting point the Bartok violin duets that I used to play with my father. I reworked them into layered compositions using multiple synthesized and sampled instruments for each violin part. For the animation (using Processing, the Java-based programming language for visual/new media arts) I started with the lines symbolizing the codification of information, from handwriting and calligraphy to drawn traces hinting here at writing and there at representations of sound waves, described in my previous blog posts here and here, and added interactivity and colorful imagery working with simple geometric and semi-organic forms in transparency. The initial web-based version of the project was presented via Internet on my mother’s birthday this May, with my mother in Italy and I in Canada; she was delighted. I continued the project in the form of a local-computer-based application, incorporating the layering of rectangular snippets of photos and scans rather than simple rectangles of one color. Since the load times for the initial web version are already long, the newer version, with higher resolution and involving a data folder of many relatively large image files, is not appropriate for a presentation via the Internet. Here, however, are some screenshots from the application:

artwork-1349s artwork-0737s

Here are a couple more images composed afterwards in Photoshop combining a couple screenshots each:

artwork-2279ms artwork-1556ms

As well as my interests in coding for my personal work, I serve as the technical advisor of Voix Visuelle, a non-profit contemporary art exhibition space in Ottawa. I hope to develop (along with my husband Ahmed Omran) a web-based application to automatize the clerical work associated with receiving and getting artist submissions ready for review by jury. Presently, Voix Visuelle receives its submissions on CD/DVD, on paper, or by Email; the administrators must then laboriously enter each artist’s information in an Excel database, and collate the image files into file folders to give to the jury for review. The application should not only do all this work automatically, but also automatically verify the submissions and coach each artist in making a complete submission with no missing information. (At present, the administrators must often contact artists by telephone or Email to ask them for information they have inadvertently omitted).

This application will be developed partly as a volunteer effort and partly funded by a grant graciously provided to Voix Visuelle by the Association des groupes en arts visuels francophones (l’AGAVF).

Our progress in this project will be greatly facilitated by our participation in the Summer Academy of HackerYou, an intensive full-time course in web development using Ruby on Rails, this upcoming July and August in Ottawa.

While I both enjoy self-directed learning and generally progress well with it, I feel that Summer Academy is a notable opportunity for me to re-experience a less isolated learning/working environment. I greatly look forward to interacting both with other students and with the HackerYou team. Also, while I feel fairly comfortable self-studying many programming-related topics (particularly those that are more strictly mathematical), I have so far felt clumsy and ill-prepared in my attempts to learn Ruby on Rails, the model-view-controller software architecture pattern, Git, and so on. I feel therefore I would benefit significantly from a systematic, from-the-ground-up coverage and practice of this material. While front-end development is somewhat more likely to be a future focus for me than back-end, I feel the need for a good general understanding of the whole development process. Also, I believe that handling databases with Rails will come in handy for some of my projects: particularly administrative ones such as the artists’ submissions app mentioned above, but also purely artistic projects involving data visualization and sonification.

Python: 24 ao?t 2012

(probably the last post written last year which I never got around to publishing)

Well there was a flurry of activity in processing, and then grant proposal written and submitted. Before and after the grant proposal, have been learning Python from the Google Python course. This evening I worked on the exercise of taking Social Security’s baby name data (popularity ranking of boy and girl names for the US, for each year http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/) and writing a Python program to use regular expressions magic to convert the html pages into cleaned up simple text files containing only:

Aaliyah 91
Aaron 57
Abagail 895
Abbey 695
Abbie 650

Most of the work is done by the line

(please select english version; I can’t get the formatting right on both copies at once…)

thus ignoring all the chaff, zeroing in on the lines of form

(please select english version; I can’t get the formatting right on both copies at once…)

and converting them to (1, ‘Michael’, ‘Jessica’) tuples and the like.

Then in the command window  one can enter

  python babynames.py –summaryfile baby*.html

to convert many files all at once. The instructor (three cheers for Nick Parlante! ) then suggests seeing patterns over time using shell commands:

  grep ‘Juliet ‘ *.summary

gives an output in the command window like this:

… baby2007.html.summary:Juliet 519
baby2008.html.summary:Juliet 453
baby2009.html.summary:Juliet 318
baby2010.html.summary:Juliet 285
baby2011.html.summary:Juliet 252

showing the evolution of the rank of Juliet as a baby name per year. I was inspired to download the baby name rank files for the top 1000 names for the last 100 years (saving each year’s file one by one by hand as I haven’t learned how to automate such a process yet; it took 20 minutes), and then write another python program that would, for a given name, give a text file with the summary

2007 519
2008 453 etc.

I then turned to Processing since I do not yet know a quick way to deal with graphics in Python, and similarly used Photoshop as the quickest way to add labels. I found to my surprise that Paula, which I thought was an uncommon first name, actually was at rank 38-100 in the years 1943-1974. It has declined greatly since then though. Juliet (my mother’s name), which I hadn’t realized was a rare name, was much more uncommon than Paula through most of the 1900’s, but pulled ahead in this century. Ahmed (my husband’s name) first appeared as a top 1000 name in the US in 1974, and also pulled ahead of Paula around 2000. Finally, for some time around 1980, Misty (our cat’s name) was the most popular of all. Unfortunately, neither Paolo (my father’s name) nor Tortoiseshell (their cat’s name) were ever in the top 1000 in the US. Here is the graph:


Another thing that would be interesting to do is to integrate this information over time, to see, over a century, the popularity of names. One couldn’t do it with the data I have used so far, since how do you aggregate when you know rank, not number of ppl with each name. However, I have revisited the site, and found that in addition to the top 1000 ranking data, they also release the yearly data (in one nice zip file with all the little files from 1880 thru 2011 neatly packaged together, with far cleaner formatting… oh well, nice exercise Nick, but this is much nicer data) of NUMBER of people for each name, for all names with at least 5 (for privacy reasons; and apparently this accounts for about 70% of the population) ppl in that year. So in that case Paolo’s appear (85 in 2000, for example) tho still no Tortoiseshell’s…

Images couleurs avec Processing — 24 juillet, 2012

(again, a post written last year which I never got around to publishing)

Color images created along the same lines as discussed in the previous post:

jul24Var1Sample jul24Var2Sample jul24Var3Capture1

Dessins avec Processing: 18 juillet, 2012

(again, a post written last year which I never got around to publishing)


Lately I have been revisiting Processing (http://processing.org/) and reading and thinking about generative art (see for example




and making a concerted effort to get to the point where I am including generative art in my work. For the moment I am working on « expressing the codification of information, from handwriting and calligraphy to drawn traces hinting here at writing and there at representations of sound waves » (from my new artist’s statement). The idea is to first come up with algorithms to create these lines computationally, and then to see where the new medium takes me. Here is another screen shots from today’s work, where I am starting to create some graphically interesting interaction between the lines, by drawing a series of circles between each pair of lines.


Here are a couple snippets from a few days ago, where I was exploring the production of various forms of lines:

jul4b jul6

Matrices 2012 Budapest: 18 Juillet, 2012

(Posting a few posts I wrote last year but never got around to publishing)


A few days ago I created my images for an international art competition in Hungary. From the announcement:

The aim of the organizers is to give the opportunity of presenting small-sized electronic artworks created by foreign and Hungarian artists, making a survey of diversity and presenting their works at Hungarian and international level, within the size of 20 x 20 cm. We expect special technical solutions synthesizing new procedures, original ways of expression, raising topical techniques and contents, high-standard works: electrographs composed on different layers, digital installations, virtual and 3D creations, objects showing the artistic potentials implied in computer technique.

I made some new compositions because

(a) most of my pieces are meant for much larger formats (and aren’t square, which would be ideal if not required here)

(b) I wanted to submit pieces that were markedly « electrographic » (more layering, etc, than usual).

They are layerings of:

— a night office building photograph, with dream catcher in the window

— a macro shot in transparency of a leaf

— a greatly enlarged scan of an engraved plaster plate

Together the series is titled: Dream of Life

These pieces were exhibited in a group show by the Hungarian Electrographic Art Association, under the title MATRICES 2012 International Electrographic Artworks of Small Forms /3rd part/, from 10-28 December 2012, at the MTA (Hungarian Scientific Academy) Jacobin Hall, Budapest, Hungary.

dream2 dream3 dream4

© Copyright Abstract Digital Art | Estampe Numérique Abstraite – Paula Franzini