Guest Post, Denton McCabe: Data-Saturation in Cross-Disciplinary Art

Denton McCabe Bio PhotoData-saturation as an aesthetic practice emerged from the late 20th-century media practice of working with partitions, fragments, multi-samples, and frames, (exemplified by the commercial advertisement, the audio loop, the film montage, the remix, and so forth). Current advances in editing software have enabled the fragmentation of any digital file to occur down at the levels of the tiniest pixel, frame, or multisample. For Deleuze, the montage was a means of releasing the appearance of linear and sequential time from the movement-image, that is to say that editing imbued film with the illusion of a linear timeline. In terms of audio applications, Karlheinz Stockhausen generated entire soundscapes from singular patterns of electronic pulsations; utilizing these cyclic pulse-patterns as material that could be subsequently transposed to other frequencies of any duration; this action resulted in the creation of singular timbres within his compositions Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. Today, in our cultural wasteland, which is littered with moving images and audio, a wasteland literally saturated with infinite variegations of data and their technological transformations; this state has enabled the artist to rupture with past forms, conceptions, and materials in the creation of an artwork.

Traditionally, the creator of a work of art has implemented a top-down design; the creator defined the whole shape of a work of art beforehand, then began partitioning the work off into smaller sequences, movements, or edits. The privilege with which technology has gifted the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is the ability to work from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This is not to say that the artist is only just now blessed with the ability to work with the conception of an isolated fragment of a larger image (for example, a flower petal that would ultimately belong to a field of flowers) or an analogous fragment in any other discipline (a word, or a harmonic interval, a close-up, etc.); with the aid of modern developments in software, the artist can now begin working with not only the frame or partition as a generative material, but this is the initial detail that will eventually reveal the form of the whole working. Beginning with a kernel of some type (a series of pulsations, a shot, a number sequence, or any other raw data) the artist can implement a bottom-up design paradigm; which means creating the micro-details of a work of art firsthand. After individual components are built from scratch, so to speak, these can be unified under the umbrella of a larger creative conception; with multiple creations being unified further into a specific body of work.

This would inevitably lead to, and in some disciplines it already has lead to the development and normalization of a type of aesthetic hebephrenia. This hebephrenic state is beyond the abstractions of modernism and the integration of pop culture in postmodernism (both of which have concerned themselves with beginning from a preconceived whole and then working down to the last finished detail of a work). Working from raw data will almost always lead to chance, or at least unintentional juxtapositions of imagery, sounds, and symbols; all organized with the aid of computing technology. What we are currently witnessing as a culture is that inevitable decline of the artist as an exponent of a singular and clear-cut style of expression in one particular medium; and the inevitable reassignment of the role of the artist to that of a producer of cross-disciplinary statements and non-statements, each with their own singularity of form and content. The traditional approach of working within the framework of the preconceived formulation of a definitive narrative structure, or within the limitations of a hierarchy of elements, has now passed into obsolescence. What needs to be explored is the emergence of a singularity within the actual creator, who can now serve cross-disciplinary roles within herself (author, composer, visual artist, computer programmer, and so on). In fact, the trend towards collaborative effort is not the signifier of the emergence of a new art futurism; this collective effort is an indication of the saturation point of obsolete modes of production cross-pollinating between creative disciplines. The banal progression typical of outmoded production, from concept and form down to partitioning and sequencing; and the final procession towards the arrangement of objects within those prefabricated partitions and sequences (the forms of which, in a sense, already exist and are often immediately recognizable to the spectator or consumer) has become obsolete in the sense that contemporary art has become another matter of flirtation and seduction occurring within the limiting confines of socio-economic and socio-political trends, concerning itself only with the conveyance of a message to consumers, rather than a matter concerned with the exploration of aesthetics and forms. The arts (writing, music, theater, film, and visual art) have become the desperate moral expression of a society of consumers suffocating in the climate of their own decline. Working with data-saturation allows art to return to a purity of aesthetics, unfettered by the sociopolitical issues of our day while still retaining social integrity.

In terms of aesthetics and form, there is a lesson to be learned from Stockhausen’s concept of the morphology of time. Stockhausen’s utilization of microcosmic time-structures that reflect the macrocosmic whole of a work is something that needs to be revisited in a cross-disciplinary aesthetic environment. One revolutionary capability of computing technology is that of data bending; a radically inclusive utopia of interchange and manipulation of file formats that occurs between audio, visual, and text editing software. The results of the data bend are often unpredictable and serendipitous; however, the process of data bending reveals the nature of code and computing technology, which is that the machines are functioning in a universe of pure abstraction, which is an alien reality of form and concept for humankind, and it is humanity that has superimposed the sensate inventions of text, image, audio, video and the accompanying social rules of those playing fields over the raw data of the indifferent machines. Stockhausen recognized the potential for working from kernels, with formulas and their variables; the next step in aesthetic evolution would involve crossing the streams between artistic disciplines at both the microcellular and macrocosmic levels, allowing a fragment of data to become an image file, an audio file, a video, and so forth.

This type of work goes beyond the mere mixture of media or the act of transferring the structure of one medium to another; what needs to be explored in addition to the crossing of disciplines is the mixing of forms. The contemporary mixing of forms would involve the mixture of individual approaches to aesthetic criteria and formulations of aesthetic criteria; which would extend beyond the mere radical juxtaposition of genre that was seen in postmodernist music, such as ‘hip-hop’ with microtonal serialism. A mixed-form work of cross-disciplinary art could include a composition generated from serialist theory and aleatoric operations applied to a series of miniatures for typical hip-hop instrumentation of turntable and digital sampler; this composition would serve as the score to a stop-motion animated film made from sequentially applied glitches and edits of stills generated from original 2D and 3D art as source material. One could then take the score a step further by re-editing the material for digital sampler with sound material culled from the procedure of data bending the images into waveforms. The resultant narrative would be of no importance due to its inevitable nonexistence and irrelevance; what would be significant would be the mixture of audio processing and mathematical forms with chance forms; juxtaposed with the electronic forms of stop-motion animation and glitch; and the forms of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and sculpture; all of which could be further integrated into a larger whole, designed with the utilization of a bottom-up paradigm.

Working with the saturation of data would enable the artist to treat all elements as an infinite series  placed inside a vacuum, subject to endless mangling and manipulation and distortion and abstraction; resulting in a complete aesthetic promiscuity; radical in its inclination towards the negation and obliteration of conventional narrative and rational forms of social discourse; leading towards the eventual implementation of a simulation that could blur the hypothetical boundaries between hyperreality, mythologies and traditional and iconoclastic forms. The beauty of data saturation is its relative freedom and accessibility, which makes a contradiction of rendering everything and nothing as its own instrument, its own frame, its own image, its own sound, its own emotion, its own experience, its own obscenity, its own intrusion, and its own grotesqueness; with the requirement that it is first reduced to code, reduced to a pure state of abstract nullity or abstract validity, rendered completely void of the social.