[ISEA97] Paper: Insook Choi – On Composing a Medium


When we speak of technology we often focus on tools and techniques. They are easier to refer to, due to the conventional ways of making references by turning to the nameable objects and well-defined methodologies. However the primary inquiry of technology is in forming questions, generating cases, and creating problems that may not fit in existing paradigms. It is this aspect of technology that makes it an open discourse in a broader context in which scientific and engineering practices can be revisited. Technology includes “illiterate” practitioner’s inventions as well as theories. For example, as Harding pointed out, the people who invented the compass were illiterate, meaning in the domain of practice of the compass as a tool, they were not scientists. The word illiterate is applied to people here. Let’s note the term also applies to the practice for which descriptive language is not yet available. When the practice is indescribable we are illiterate to the need for the solutions to the problems. When we are illiterate to such problems, we call them ill-defined problems. Bringing ill-defined problems to well-defined problems is a beginning of an involvement with technology, necessarily involving our linguistic practices. With this aspect of a technology, we wish to examine the issue of the composability of medium in works of art. The term, medium, has specific implications associated with old technology such as mass media, where the term presup¬poses a quality of being transparent and a premise to simply mediate with no interference. Through the observation of mass media practices we have learned the implication of such premises is no longer feasible for supporting any medium as an objective representation tool for the world. Similarly, we wish to revisit whether any medium can be an objective tool for artistic expressions. One might say it doesn’t matter what an artist uses to create a work of art as long as he or she gets the result. The conceptual ground for such premises is irrelevant for practitioners and artists in a computing environment particularly when one faces the machines that take nothing for granted. Can a compositional idea be independent from the medium it predicts? We notice how tools shape our final results; tools leave a trace in a work of art and this is not necessarily undesirable. It simply means the composability of the tools has to be taken into compositional criteria and this is desirable. This desirability may open to other layers of discourse with practical distinctions between “a composition for a medium” and “the composition of a medium”. Necessary distinctions include physical modeling of musical instruments, and physically-based modeling of an object, its environment, and their interactivity. Undertaking computational processes in composition/performance practices extends what it means to compose a medium other than assembling off-the-shelf tools, and extends how competence may be built among interacting agents in performances with technology, through the well-defined language of computability.

  • Insook Choi, USA, composer-in-residence at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and Researcher in Human-Computer Intelligent Interaction for the Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, has created numerous pro­jects integrating computing environments into perfor­mances for artistic venues. Her research directions include sound synthesis with nonlinear dynamical systems, real-time control strategies for high-dimensional models, and auditory display in virtual environments. Choi’s research papers are often coupled with compositions and presented across the fields of engineering, art and music.  insookchoi.com