Vortical Filament draws its inspiration from a number of historical sources. The photographic series: Geometrie Experimental by the early scientific photographer Etienne Jules Marey, German physicist Franz Melde’s famed experimental device to demonstrate standing waves on a string, and the lost tradition of the Baroque Tornitori (the craft of turning).
Through the phenomenon of persistence of vision and the natural oscillation of rotational fields, the piece seeks to create a field condition of immaterial and ghostly waveforms in constant search for equilibrium within a seemingly unstable system. Vorticose appears as a grotesque / ornamental and somewhat biological presence resulting from a play between a simple logical control of motors and the physical consequences of material, gravity and rotational physics. It has very little planned logic and a minimal electronic program. Vorticose expresses a simple modulation of both behaviour and geometry through the oscillatory movement of a field of motors. The entire system, (structural, electrical and logical) is designed to be in a condition of potential oscillatory movement yet sensitive to even the most minor of perturbations through the compounding of waveforms through tensile structure and movement. It is proposed that a complex natural field, can be delicately perturbed by minimal adjustments in sound, luminosity, movement and time.
Technically, Vortical Filament works with the simplest of principles. A weighted string is suspended from a small motor. As the motor turns, the string contracts itself into a standing wave form. As the motor changes speed, the wave form moves from a chaotic disruption of the change in frequency to find its own equilibrium in a three dimensional standing wave. The piece has been described as a field of three dimensional oscilloscope readings of frequency oscillations.
While the recipe for this piece is simple: voltage, a motor and string, several minor tweaks and perturbations build dramatically on its behavior. The contraction and expansion of the waveform are highly sensitive to the motor speed, so the slightest change in voltage (speed) will dramatically change its vertical position. As the string is lightweight and compressed, its behavior is that of a highly responsive spring. By carefully selecting lighting conditions and luminous materials, the waveforms have a liquid presence of a ghostly object that is barely there.
The sound is generated directly from the piece as well. As the lightweight string rotates at a high speed it generates a delicate sound of rushing wind. These are numerous and acoustic, rather than amplified. They are modulated by the speed of the motor. In addition, the vibration of the rotations are also amplified and processed through a series of noise gates and tremolos to create an ongoing score of complex variation (see video for sound)..
Vortical Filament has two levels of interaction.
This piece is highly responsive and interactive. Most importantly, its interaction is with the physical engagement of the oscillations themselves. Because it is a simple string, participants can move through the piece easily. Although the waveforms have the ghostly presence of objects, they can be delicately manipulated, modulated and even gently caressed.
As the motors are controlled digitally, there is an opportunity to address each oscillation specifically in response to light, presence and sound. The field may have several states (sleep, agitation and fear) that are a direct response to sensor data. Local photoresistors (for each oscillation) can create individual responses to presence.
The piece thrives on the desire for equilibrium within a network of constant disruptive perturbations. The oscillations have a determination towards the stability of a standing wave and will achieve this state despite the disruptions of manipulation, changes in speed and natural disruption of the string behavior. The dynamic nature of the piece is in the visualization of the physical behavior of the oscillations as they make their transitions from the disrupted state to their equilibrium in a standing wave. Depending on the nature of the perturbation, this transition could take minutes or could be close to immediate. Its only true period of equilibrium is in its sleeping state (a very slow oscillation) when no one is in the piece itself.
The piece also questions several assumptions about electronic art. We are conditioned to understanding that the hidden mechanisms of electronic media are delicate and fragile. Programming, highly sensitive circuitry and complex systems found in many interactive pieces tend to create a condition of fragility that is usually hidden from public view. Vorticose, is robust, simple and easily maintained. Its fragility is openly presented as an invitation for engagement. It is intended to provoke a delicate response of interaction rather than a passive observation. The risk of failure is obvious and in the hands (quite literally) of the participant rather than hidden deep in the fallible lines of code of a microcontroller or max patch. While there are programmed safeguards that deal with possible entanglements in the piece, the responsibility of interaction is returned to the participant as a gesture of trust.
The piece also questions and challenges the visual representation of the electronic medium. Upon first entering, most observers assume that the field of oscillations is a projection. As they move through the piece, the second assumption is that the piece is somehow holographic in nature. The piece exploits the persistence of vision and our phenomenological capacity to create presence by creating an object that is hardly there or only present in its temporality. At rest it is no longer an object, it is only a string.