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Turbulent Forms

The Hidden Universes of Dan Tapper

Turbulent Forms

The Hidden Universes of Dan Tapper Turbulent Forms is an exhibition of new work by artist and composer Dan Tapper. The works explore the universe through chaos and cosmology, inspired by and derived from data gathered by space organisations and physicists as well as using thought experiments, illustrative techniques and imagination to create parallels and appreciation of complex, abstract and theorised concepts. The first iteration of the exhibition took place in 2016 at the Factory Media Centre, Hamilton as part of the Hamilton Art Crawl - this exhibition gave Dan the opportunity to curate a show that combined three separate strands of his work: working with electromagnetic sound recorded from space and the earth’s ionosphere, producing procedural and generative art made with custom software and exploring data as a creative medium for visual art and sound composition. In his 2016 solo exhibition Dan presented a selection of works from his back catalogue alongside a new film work called Heliosphere, journeying from the surface of the sun to the outer reaches of its influence through a series of creative data sonification and visualization techniques. The work presented in Turbulent Forms: The Hidden Universes of Dan Tapper is a development and extension of this 2016 show applying the narratives and ideas touched upon to an entirely new body of work, research and discovery. The current exhibition contains work closely aligned with core concepts and data found in space exploration and cosmology, created through a vigorous process of research, development and experimentation as well as a strong aesthetic methodology. This highly interdisciplinary practice creates stunning pieces derived from the cosmic microwave background, gravitational waves, sunspot activity and all the supernovas in history. The exhibition is made possible through funding from the British Council and Arts Council England and co-presenters The Canadian Music Centre and New Adventures in Sound Art. Turbulent Forms runs from August 1st - 31st at the Canadian Music Centre, 20 St Joseph Street, Toronto, ON


New Adventures in Sound Art

Dan Tapper

Dan Tapper explores the sonic and visual properties of the unheard and invisible. From revealing electromagnetic sounds produced by the earth’s ionosphere, to exploring hidden micro worlds and creating imaginary nebulas made from code. His work uses scientific methods alongside thought experiments resulting in rich sonic and visual worlds. Dan’s work has been presented internationally by organisations and publications including ACM Siggraph, Wired, New Adventures in Sound Art, InterAccess and the Creators Project. His work in the field of generative art as Code Poetry features over 800 unique artworks with 10,000+ subscribers and has featured in biennale events such as the Wrong Biennale - the world’s largest display of digital art. Information and contact: All work, text and images unless otherwise stated created by and copyright © 2017 Dan Tapper, design by Dan Tapper

A History of the Universe in Noise A History of the Universe in Noise applies the process of generation loss - the loss in quality between repeat copies of data - to images of the cosmic microwave background recorded by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP). The source image is processed physically and digitally through custom code and photocopier technology. Over multiple iterations the source image is degraded and expanded creating new relationships, patterns and information. The process of degrading and expanding a clear source file is analogous with the reduction and expansion of radiation found as part of the cosmic microwave background left over from electromagnetic radiation emitted in the early stages of the universe - also known as “relic radiation”. The two images present different techniques for creating generation loss: • •

Digitally saving and re-saving a file hundreds of times through custom software. Using a photocopy machine to repeatedly reproduce succesive copies of an image.

Each process of generation loss has a zoom factor which in the instance of the displayed pieces details the processed pixels of a small portion of the original image. The sound composition is created from material that focuses on the myriad types of noise and distortion - including custom software that performs elements of generation loss and bitwise operations to create compression artefacts and distortions in sound files, feedback loops set up between acoustic instruments and amplifiers and a series of different generation methods for white noise and chaos.

Process Example

Generation Loss - 1 iteration

Generation Loss - 30 iterations

Generation Loss - 90 iterations

Image of Cosmic Microwave Background WMAP before generation loss

Image of Cosmic Microwave Background WMAP before generation loss - 100% zoom

A History of the Universe in Noise from Turbulent Forms: Photocopied output after 20 iterations

A History of the Universe in Noise from Turbulent Forms: Digital Output after 100 iterations

Gravity Waves Gravity Waves creates a simulation of two black holes affecting and distorting the other’s orbit and eventually colliding. The piece is inspired by binary black hole mergers which are a major source of gravitational wave disturbances. These disturbances were initially predicted by physicists such as Oliver Heaviside, Henri Poincaré and Albert Einstein and discovered only recently through observations carried out by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). The simulation models the lifecycle of a merging binary black hole system: • Inspiral - an initial distortion and shrinking of the orbit. • Merger - a plunging orbit where the two black holes eventually merge. • Ringdown - the merged black holes oscillate between a distorted sphere and a flattened spheroid. The gravity wave simulation connects the orbiting bodies via coloured lines determined by a proximity threshold - weak connections highlighted in blue and strong connections highlighted in yellow. The released gravitational wave energy is highlighted in purple. The sound composition is created using software that plots the path of each black holes orbit and applies this information to a selected set of sounds arranged in a cluster pattern. These sounds range from sonified information representing gravity waves created by LIGO to snatches of radio static and more melodic material.

Gravity Wave - process 20

Process and Development

Simple orbits

Introducing chaos

Introducing connections based on proximity and orbit attraction

Gravity wave sound map

Gravity wave output data in CSV format

Gravity Waves from Turbulent Forms

Gravity Wave - process 4

Gravity Wave - process 27

Solar Maximum Solar Maximum maps 26 years of sunspot activity into a system that models magnetic attraction and repulsion. The magnitude and frequency of sunspots is taken at selected intervals from data provided by Sunspot Index and Longterm Solar Observations (SILSO). These values are used to control attraction and repulsion levels acting on a particle system creating a quantitative and abstract portrait of the solar maximums over the last 26 year period. This period was chosen to operate as a solar self portrait of sunspot magnitudes occurring over the artist’s life. The accompanying sound composition processes the material by drawing data from the regular intervals at which sunspot information is recorded and using this as a repeating rhythmic motif. Volume and filter cutoffs are controlled according to the strength of sunspot magnitudes and a direct sonification of all sunspots recorded over the 26 year period is incorporated into the background of the piece alongside an ongoing drone created from averaged electromagnetic emissions recorded from the sun. Melodic motifs are drawn from sunspot periods of the highest magnitudes and mapped into a repeating pattern in the audible range. Solar Maximum also features a live performative element where a live particle system is deformed, repulsed and attracted by each recorded sunspot magnitude - triggered by a repeating rhythmic element. This will be displayed as part of the NOVA concert at the Canadian Music Centre on August 8th, 2017.

Sunspot performance particle system

Sunspot magnitudes over 26 year period

Sonified sunspot information

Solar Maximum from Turbulent Forms

Drifting Scales - Digital magnetic repulsion and attraction test

Space Gardens Space Gardens is a series of generative works inspired by the hypothetical works of physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson - specifically Dyson Trees, genetically engineered plants capable of growing in a comet. These trees would grow out from the comets nucleus and produce breathable air and energy allowing humanity to populate areas of the outer solar system such as the Oort Cloud. Space Gardens are created by populating a three dimensional space with a series of nodes. These nodes connect to each other through weaving tendrils of colour. As the piece progresses color and form become more vibrant and complex with the system eventually spreading petal like objects into space like a cosmic pollinator.

Space Garden from Turbulent Forms

Space Gardens from Turbulent Forms

Space Garden

NOVA Installation


Nova maps all the supernova events recorded in history into an audio-visual installation distributing the information through light and sound. The information is laser cut into board and diffused as light using several overhead projectors. The data is mapped with the oldest recorded supernovas occurring at the top of the visualisation and supernovas recorded most recently placed at the bottom. The visualisation reads year in the x axis and month in the y axis, the size of each rectangle reflects the recorded magnitude of each supernova. As we move towards the present and improved methods of supernova detection the recorded supernova events become increasingly common with supernovas of low magnitude being recognised more frequently. A spinning dream machine is used to split the light from the two overhead projectors and create a stereoscopic pulsing effect viewable from certain angles. The diffused light is accompanied by sonified data of each recorded supernova which is output as sound and visual though a CRT display. The sonification is complimented by a constantly evolving generative soundscape that takes subtle cues from the data stream to create changes in volume, pitch and speaker diffusion.

Early version of NOVA

NOVA installation from Turbulent Forms - multiple views


Workshop and Concert The tools, techniques and methodologies used to create the work in Turbulent Forms were presented by Dan Tapper at the Canadian Music Centre in the form of an all day workshop taught to composers and artists Allison Cameron, Bekah Simms and Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh. The purpose of the workshop was to explain and investigate the methods of artistic inquiry and creation used in Turbulent Forms and allow the composers the opportunity to use these methods as a lens to inspire their own creation. The works created during this workshop ranged from composed work to improvised material and pencil sketches, these works were presented as part of the NOVA concert on August 8th.

Allison Cameron - Sea Tomatoes An improvisation around material recorded and processed in the Turbulent Forms workshop lead by Dan Tapper. The improvisation involves processing sound files recorded by NASA alongside a pre-recorded soundscore created from a prepared piano. The final performed piece features an additional improvisation of ambient drone material by Dan Tapper and live cracklebox from Allison Cameron.

Bio Allison Cameron is a professional composer, performer and improvising musician in Toronto. She has been commissioned in Europe and North America by many ensembles and festivals. Since 2000, she has also been an improviser performing on electronic keyboards, ukulele, banjo, piano, mini amplifiers, radios, crackle boxes, cassette tapes, miscellaneous objects and toys. Allison has been celebrated in Musicworks Magazine, the UK’s The Wire Magazine, I Care if You Listen and a variety of other online publications. Her reputation for writing compelling compositions for contemporary music ensembles is international.

Bekah Simms -String Pulse Using a NASA recording of a pulsar as a starting point, this work interweaves processed sounds of space with electric guitar recordings from my personal library. There is a serendipitous synergy to these two seemingly disparate sounds - electric guitar seems to live easily amidst sometimes grainy, sometimes rumbling recordings of stars, planets, and other galactic objects. Various interpretations of “pulsar” are used throughout the short work, from the recording itself to granulation in the shape of Carl Sagan’s pulsar map to regular flashes of short, bright guitar harmonics.

Bio Bekah Simms is a Toronto-based composer originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland. With work described as “deliciously disorienting” and possessing “a tremendous ear for foreground, background, blending and instrumental colour” (CMC Listening Blog, Nick Storring), Bekah’s music consists of a highly varied output using a wide variety of media, including solo works with electronics, chamber music, opera, wind ensemble, and orchestra. Bekah’s music has been performed from coast to coast in Canada, a dozen American states, and in Italy. She is the recipient of over twenty composition awards, prizes, and call-for-scores selections, and was recently chosen as one of six representatives for the ISCM Canadian Section to World Music Days 2016 in Tongyeong, South Korea. She is also featured in the Canadian Broadcast Corporation’s 2016 edition of 30 Hot Classical Musicians Under 30 in addition to being named the winner of the 2017 Toronto Emerging Composer Award. Bekah is Co-Artistic Director and cofounder of Caution Tape Sound Collective, a performance and composition collective that has commissioned 20 pieces from emerging and mid-career Canadian composers and presented Toronto-area premieres of underserved and rare repertoire from living international composers.

Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh - Drones for the Cosmic Background Drones for the Cosmic Background, was inspired by reading about the cosmic microwave background. Collecting astronomical graphs on this phenomena, I created the music to be inspired by the patterns found in them, mixing sounds collected by NASA on different digital programs. Furthermore, as a current student of Deep Listening, I attempted to combine different modes of its practices while creating the piece. Two accompanying pencil sketched were also made using inspiration from astronomical graphs and sound spectrograms of the Cosmic Background.

Bio Mehrnaz Rohbakhsh is an interdisciplinary artist based in Toronto, who focuses on visual art and sound. Her work focuses on the mathematical connections between music and astronomy. She received her BFA in Drawing and Painting at OCAD University (in both locations, Toronto and Florence) - in which she has exhibited in Canada and Italy. She is currently a student of the Master of Visual Studies program at the University of Toronto.

Images on opposite page from left to right:1. Workshop reading materials and audio equipment, 2. Workshop lecture 3. Workshop improvisation 4. Concert 5. Concert, 6. NOVA installation

Turbulent Forms

Factory Media Centre, 2016 Turbulent Forms is an exploration into the increasingly interdisciplinary work of sound artist Dan Tapper. From early works revealing the hidden world of Very Low Frequency (VLF) natural radio recorded with handmade devices to generative art created in dialogue with machines, inspired by naturally occurring patterns. These works are presented alongside documentation for Dan’s latest work Heliosphere, an ongoing project investigating space through sound, data, text, image and imagination. These three sections combine key elements of Dan’s work in sound and digital image alongside more recent areas such as data visualization, sonification and analogue image creation through photographic techniques such as long exposure light painting and hardware units such as oscilloscopes. Recurring throughout the exhibition are themes of the boundlessness of nature, the incomprehensibility of scale between micro and macro, turbulent worlds with ephemeral moments of equilibrium. The works presented act as snapshots in time capturing form found in the midst of chaos and noise. Images captured from generative systems, moments before collapse, sonic onslaughts of electromagnetism revealed from the London Underground. Turbulent Forms presents a sensory world of sound, image, chaos and beauty.

Images on opposite page from left to right: 1. Heliosphere, 2. Heliosphere 3. Turbulent Forms prints, 4. Turbulent Forms prints 5. Changing Signals, 6. Changing Signals Turbulent Forms, 2016 invitation

Heliosphere Heliosphere is a creative exploration of the solar system through sound and image. The piece involves a variety of techniques to creatively reinterpret information gathered from space – sonifications and visualizations of planetary orbits, controlling synthesizer LFOs and cutoffs using the electromagnetic emissions of a pulsar, creating impulse responses from the earth’s ionosphere and building a makeshift model heliosphere from a balloon and string of lights – used to resonate sound and perform audio reactive light painting. By combining audio synthesis, image creation and composition with data sonification techniques, Heliosphere explores the creative elements that are present in the choices made in the representation of sound and visual data from space - much of which has been edited, sonified, visualized or approximated by researchers and organizations. Heliosphere is part of an ongoing research project exploring space through sound, data, text, image and imagination in a form of bedroom cosmology.

Light painting from Heliosphere

Oscilloscope pattern from Heliosphere

Transit of planets from Heliosphere

Visualization of sonifcation of planetary orbits and rotations, bounced off the moon as part of Seeing Sound, 2016

Turbulent Forms Turbulent Forms presented 20 images of generative art inspired by information from space, cosmology and physics. These were sorted into 5 sets of 4 images: • • • • •

Force Fields Magnetic Forces Reactive Systems Space Gardens Turbulent Forms

Force Fields, Lightning Strike from Turbulent Forms, 2016

Magnetic Forces, Sunspot.3 from Turbulent Forms, 2016

Reactive Systems, 50Hz from Turbulent Forms, 2016

Space Gardens, Zen Garden from Turbulent Forms, 2016

Turbulent Forms, Hyper Nebula from Turbulent Forms, 2016

VLF Works Turbulent Forms, 2016 presented a selection of works created from Very Low Frequency (VLF) recordings and information. VLF is a radio spectrum in the range of 3 - 30kHz. This is mostly below the range of manmade broadcasts. The signals in this band are produced naturally by the earth’s ionosphere and include lightning strikes and the Northern Lights and can include information from further afield such as sunspot activity and Jovian radio emissions. Technology also emits signals that fall into the VLF range. An example of this is a low constant hum at around 50Hz produced by power grids. VLF has been a key element in Dan’s work since 2013 through a series of creative and research projects including the educational publication VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide which has been used as a teaching tool by Dan and others globally. The VLF works on display in Turbulent Forms, 2016 were: • Recording the Spirit Level, 2012 - VLF composed work. • A Machine to Listen to the Sky, 2013 - Aerial VLF installation performed at the American Museum in Britain. • Changing Signals, 2013 - Audio visual film working recording the unheard electromagnetic sounds of the London Underground. • Some Call it Noise, 2016 - VLF radio documentary and quadrophonic sound. piece. • VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide, 2013, 2016 - VLF educational guide and artist journal.

Changing Signals, 2013

VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide, second edition, 2016

VLF: A Sound Artist’s Guide, first edition, 2013

Some Call it Noise, 2016

Recording the Spirit Level, 2012

A Machine to Listen to the Sky, American Museum in Britain, 2013

Experiencing Tu r b u l e n c e A Conversation with Dan Tapper by Matthew Fava

Matthew Fava: What was your initial motivation to settle in Toronto? What strikes you about the community of artists you have met here compared to the UK? Dan Tapper: I first moved to Toronto in 2014, I picked the city partly at random - it was between Toronto and Montreal and due to my lack of French and partly because I liked Scott Pilgrim I chose Toronto. I was more interested in cities towards the East Coast of North America as I had been living and traveling in West Coast America where everything is very spread out. The fact that I can travel from Toronto to different states and provinces quickly was appealing to me and also the wide range of arts, culture and education situated in Ontario and Quebec.

Nuit Blanche, 2016

I actually had some difficulty adjusting to the city at first but what won me over was a really unique and exciting calendar of events and activities. From my perspective I have found there to be a lot of interesting niche art communities - I have also found a lot of cross pollination between these groups which has benefitted my interests and has inspired me to explore new fields such as small gauge film making and cameraless image making techniques.

Hand processed film, 2017

Bacterial cultures applied to film, 2013 project for +- Magazine with Juna Abrams

Matthew Fava: What are the origins of Turbulent Forms? How does it build upon your previous works? Dan Tapper: Turbulent Forms was first developed in 2016 when I was given the opportunity to put together a solo show as part of the Hamilton Art Crawl. At that point I had been working on sound (specialising in recording electromagnetic sound produced by the Earth’s ionosphere as well as man-made electromagnetic activity), generative art made from code and I had an ongoing interest in collecting and working with data and exploring the creative licenses that are often taken in the representation of data. I had been working in each of these areas in a quite compartmentalised way but could see correlations and crossovers between each practice - particularly an ongoing fascination with physics, space and chaos. Turbulent Forms gave me the opportunity to create a show drawing from all my work and curate it in such a way that the correlations between each piece were clear. I also developed a new film work called Heliosphere which was my first piece directly connecting sound, digital art, moving image and data - journeying from the surface of the sun to the outer reaches of its influence. This show was a great platform for me to apply for funding from the British Council and Arts Council England to develop it into a more cohesive exhibition featuring Heliosphere 2016, light painting with entirely new work created from a process model resonating heliosphere of research and development combining all the areas of my practice that were previously separate. Matthew Fava: How are Turbulent Forms and NOVA connected? Is it the creative method, inspiration, something else? Dan Tapper: NOVA and Turbulent Forms are connected in several ways. To me they inhabit a shared universe of ongoing research, development and artistic creation. As pieces of work they stem from similar methodologies harvesting information from space and creating physical experiences to explain phenomena and inspire engagement with a subject or idea. The pieces are presented in very different Nova prototype ways however - the images from Turbulent Forms are navigable by an audience who can engage with the image and audio works in a self-lead and personal way (through headphones and accompanying documentation). NOVA is a new work where I am experimenting with immersive experiences that can be explored from many angles - mapping the history of recorded supernova activity through light and sound.

Matthew Fava: How do you think about audience in a space? One of the striking things about the presentation of some contemporary music is the desire to strictly control the listening experience. With an immersive installation, as you point out, the audience has a different level of agency. How does this inform your decisions in regards to arranging objects and sounds in space? Dan Tapper: I think a lot about how an audience navigates a space in terms of what will draw the eye and ear. The Turbulent Forms works exhibited in the CMC building are static with accompanying compositions and sound works which can be engaged with in any order and as long as each audience member wants. Positioning certain pieces at specific points in the gallery allows me to set up a sort of flow and add narrative and order to the experience. I like the point that you make about agency - in this exhibit I bizarrely feel that the NOVA installation is more strictly controlled in terms of audience experience than the Turbulent Forms works which invite a lot of self direction and agency to explore. The installation is in a space of its own and this allows me to direct the Audience navigates light, sound and physical experience in more specific ways installation in Physical, Media, Matter, 2016 there are many ways to view and navigate the installation each creating a different impression but by placing the audience in a very specific, possibly unusual space I am attempting to create a scenario where people can step outside of themselves and approach the work from a view point drawn from immersion. Matthew Fava: You have always struck me as a rather curious figure: someone who easily navigates a range of spaces and communities devoted to experimental art making. Whether that is through your involvement with InterAccess, New Adventures in Sound Art, Cinecyle, or living with choreographers and dancers. That fluid relationship with experiencing and making art runs counter to the totemic and often exclusive nature of artistic disciplines. Can you comment on how you define your artistic practice, and how your practice mingles with artists outside of music and sound? Dan Tapper: In some ways I think that this is one of my strengths as an artist, while in other ways I have found it to be detrimental - as a young artist I have sometimes found it hard to market myself as what I do cannot always be defined under one category. I wouldn’t particularly claim to be an artist practising in a number of different areas - I see it more as being an artist working through a particular viewpoint or viewpoints and applying this to my interests. I feel that although my work tackles a lot of different styles and subject matter there are common underlying themes - these themes often

are me trying to understand a particular process or idea or explain an abstract or mathematically complex concept in a poetic way. This underlying thread has always been something that I have been able to see in my work but I have been systematically working towards creating projects such as Turbulent Forms that combine these ideas and present them cohesively to an audience. Matthew Fava:Tell me more about your Farside residency from earlier this year. Dan Tapper: I proposed an interactive sound installation called Threads, this was granted a residency at Farside as part of the FAIR (Farside Artist in Residence Program) and made possible through a grant from the Ontario Arts Council. The idea behind Threads was to build a musical interface that grew over the structure of an architectural space meaning that the audience had to interact with the installation just by traversing the studio. The piece was inspired by mushroom Mycelium which is a mass of interconnected thread like structure called hyphae and how these interact over an organic network. For the duration of the project I held open studios and public performance sessions where people could see the growth of the instrument and interact with it.

Performing Threads, 2017

Threads multichannel visualization detail, 2017

Improvising in Threads installation with James Bailey, 2017

Matthew Fava: Apart from the printed images we will see as part of Turbulent Forms, you also make your own prints by hand—lino cuts, I believe. Visually there seems to be a recurring interest in geometric patterns, and movement within a physical space represented two-dimensionally. Are you interested in tackling a creative question from various angles, or am I trying too hard to impose some equivalence here? Dan Tapper: I have explored making woodcuts and Lino cuts using my generative art images as source material. I make the print plates by etching my blocks with a laser. I find this process exciting because I have never been particularly dexterous with a pen or chisel and this allows me to form very detailed and complex patterns. What I’ve done so far is quite far away from being exhibit-able but it’s something I find very enjoyable and allows me to experiment with more traditional art making techniques such as block printing. The images I choose to use come from my work and there is an ongoing interest in pattern and the distortion of geometric grids.

Laser software window etching wood

Laser etched wood

Matthew Fava:Can you tell me more about the Clangers? Is there any way that your current interest in space and cosmology does not derive entirely from that lovable show? Dan Tapper:The Clangers is a children’s television show from the 60’s that follows the lives of a group of knitted mouse like creatures called the Clangers. They live on a tiny planet far away from earth and their food is administered by a soup-guarding dragon. The Clangers communicate solely through sounds made by a slide whistle. I came across it in my late teens—although I had been vaguely aware of the show as a child. What struck me about it was the beauty and care that had gone into world building and creating a soundscape for that world. Music is a really important part if the show with the Clangers harvesting water from musical clouds or exploring off world with DIY flying machines that also operate as music boxes. I also responded to the fact that although a children’s show its message was not dumbed down using language that is complex and tackling deep and pervasive themes such as alternatives to capitalist societies and human greed. I would say that it is very much a formative influence to me in terms of how I try and communicate my work—trying to tackle deep issues conceptually or investigating scientific processes and communicating this in a simple to understand and accessible way. Matthew Fava is the director of the Canadian Music Centre, Ontario Region. The interview took place as part of the Turbulent Forms exhibition, August 1st - 31st at the CMC.

Woodblock and vinyl cut prints made by hand based off generative art designs

The Clangers, 1969 *note copyright is owned by the BBC and the show’s creators. It is reproduced as part of this publication for illustrative purposes.

Turbulent Forms  

This publication documents Turbulent Forms, a solo exhibition of Toronto-based British artist Dan Tapper’s work exploring chaos and cosmolog...