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Printer Friendly Version Event-Scenes: e129
Date Published: 11/18/2003
Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, Editors

Net Baroque

Christina McPhee

Inside the screen is a phenomenological space of indeterminate dimensions. The space of the net as an intelligent, or neural, soundscape is a point of allegory that leads to some reflections on place and sound mapping in the net. The cyborg online becomes a playful recursion inside a sonically resonant, fluid place. is an online net art project in Flash and Shockwave/Qucktime.

A moving sense of place gathers its momentum and definition on the fly, like a continuous improvisation that is not entirely responsive to human use and reflection. A poetics of that place, both virtual and physical, in the mixed volumes of fluid media, might give rise to baroque polyphonies. Imagine the paratopias of spatialized and interactive image and sound as a conscious architecture, within and through the net The space and sounds of the net become a baroque topology.

I. inside the sonic landscape of dissolve and shift


Under the spell of eros and memoria, an internet search for mimetic collisions and catastrophes under the surface of the media skin-- a search not coded in Google -- opens up to a view of a dark field, like some Piranesian view of Rome.

The pictorial space of painting in the Baroque, like its musical styles, concerns bridges, leaps, highs, lows, extremes of every kind. Layers of polyphony crash and burn and reformulate recursively, as if to challenge every move within a countermove, or to seduce new patterns in recombinant waves.

Recursions, sets and resets at the peripheries of the screen, makes you believe you might just glimpse and hear the roar of chaos at the edge of the battlefield. You ask yourself how to take measure of those disclosures; how to negotiate the barriers from screen to inside the screen?

The techno body of the net-based self is imagined as cyborg: her memory stretches and slips, sets and resets elastically through a neuro-sensual landscape of death and transformation, inside a world city whose eyes, ropes, relays, snows, shifts and smashes are transpersonal portals of repression and desire. Transpositions of sound slipstream towards entropy, then catch themselves and call out in layered voices. Interactive panoramas trigger themselves like elastic membranes, the radiant skin of a net-Aphrodite, whose movements and gestures are subliminally felt but remain off screen.

image from "bloodellipse"

The space of net art makes use of sound mapping to make a spatial phenomenology. Interactive music is a form-sensing tool. As if we have come to a new level of neuro-sensorial integration as primates at the very moment that we leave the purely human realm of meaning, and begin to connect with the cyborg's realm I think we want to hear the cyborg and explore her mind. She is the Other, the repressed reflection, the Persephone buried in Hades.

Sonic Persephone

I wonder if neural structures that generate memory of musical threads aren't borne of a linear process at all, but rather, of a quasi-visual live feed that continually reconfigures itself playfully. Strangely, since the net is such a visual medium, the subliminal presence of interactive sound fugues move you past the visual into random patterns -- of micro-distillations and trace distortions, left like marks or stains on the 'wall' of the screen.

Sonic Persephone makes sound slips between the cracks in the wall. You could say the sound slips. Through the interstitial spaces between one present moment and the next present moment: a hyper now. In this 'now' the cyborg is adumbrated as felt landscapes. Sound is felt as well as heard.

The sound functions as if to move through an emotional archaeology like the "mystery and melancholia of the street" in a painting by de Chirico. Imagine the cyborg moving through urban darkness, evading death, seeking escape. In the alleys and passageways, sound loops shatter and reconfigure within a dark screen space. Your only way to communicate with and reach her is to move the mouse around. Although the sound triggers memory and mouse moves in the user, the feedback loop of iterative forms creates a situation in which we never arrive at a conclusion. Place and identity in the realm of the cyborg remain outside the realm of the user.

Even text resolves into nonsense palindromes. This is text the way the cyborg might read it. Her screen text recalls subtitles for an impossible cinema. As net art, Sonic Persephone looks like a trailer for a film that will never arrive.

Net art desires a paradox of space, time and memory, or no-memory. Multiple events dissolve into one another as soon as the simultaneity is noticed, like play, like paradoxes of fictions. You can never go into just one net place, or into one time. You can never find your way to the end of the thread, or to the end of the trail. You can never say, "meanwhile, back at the ranch," because "back at the ranch" is dissolving. Entropy is matched only by a nonlinear logic of play.

the play of memory

Net art shape-shifts as it engages in the interaction of events and is emergent in that interaction as a third, fourth or nth integer event); its motion tend, towards the absolute zero, the event horizon, a digital sublime. Entropy recurs, as we try to set and reset the boundaries of things, fix things, set coordinates, or sail to the island of the day before, to paraphrase Eco.

The kinds of meaning constructs capable of flourishing in the baroque atopias of the net are creatures of our narcissistic regard, but also echo our desires for the erotic and the sublime, beyond range of surveillance and control. The technobody presence of a net art work is a double memory package. Joyce's Anna Livia Plurabelle cries: "mememorme!" Is this "me me more me"; or is this "(re)member me!". Luckily it is both/and. A cyborg subject is a reflection of ourselves: is both a self and a non-self, dissolved in the river of media. She calls "mememoremee" -- is it also "(re)memory"? -- a sybiline call, whose primal tone is a verb: to shift.

II. inside the poetics of space on the net : death and life spaces

break up the space

Paul Virillio predicted surveillance saturation as an absorption of urban topographies and architectures into, literally, pure vision: vision creates vision by the machine, for the machine. Out of sight, if not out of mind, is a pandemic, nomadic paralysis: when you can be seen anywhere, you have no place to go. The psychic topology of violence is claustrophobic. The abusive environment wants to maintain a frozen or unconscious status and immobility. The panopticon of surveillance structures, like all utopias, is untenable, because it fails to take into account a gash in the perfect surface of its media-skin. The rupture is caused, inevitably, by change. The regimes of hyper surveillance in public spaces want to freeze-frame, in film still doses, all transient visual, haptic and acoustic content like sequential projections into a grim theatre of paranoia. Still, a first impulse of artistic practice within a culture of digital terror is to break up the space, to smash it open, to revive it by using surveillance technique as a generative medium for a human centered aesthetic. Like an archaeological dig through debris of anesthesia and amnesia -- the culture of forgetting -- the smashed ruins of a panoptic city may be a new ground, even an unimaginable agora saturated with conversation and energy, contretemps, against time. Building reiterative experiential archives, tracing terrains, and integrating recursive polyphonic spatial imaging with in live space, creates a dynamic and critical subjective presence, a conscious architecture.

data and polyphonies

Imagine interpolation of data emulation into live space as a dialectic or set of interface patterns between paratopic, polyphonic, and polychromatic volumes. We might imagine interpolation and superimposition, like montage, but as virtual and physical spaces, using layers of content that are expressions of hidden data through a semipermeable membrane, or data transport mode. Maybe time becomes metabolic: it gives rise to a productive structure, composed of intelligent units, or affective artifacts in continuous movement and states of disclosure. What I want to study is the possibility of mapping a generative code structure to a visual and acoustic grain that is scalable and has the integrative geometry and immanent temporality of the Mobius strip. The visual grain is so varied that, from small to large, it maintains a sense of its own scale no matter what size it is. A mixing, or mixed reality, incorporates the hard edge of the pixel and the soft edge of the depth of field. Hence we may arrive at a multidimensional volumetric surface/not surface as an infinite, extensive Mobius strip that has a continuous surface moving away and towards a depth of field, in a semi permeable, elastic and unstable motility that becomes architectural in terms of a 'built' topology, phenomenology, and cultural imagination.


One formal continuum in relational aesthetics moves from film into architecture by spatialization of time based media within built volumes. Another conceptualizes topologies in architecture as musical/mathematical recursive structure. A third wants the built volume to remember, as a trace of kinesthetic human memory, the touch of remembrance of things past. An interactive space in virtual construction is cyberpresent at the confluence of at least these three functions. The human/machine active interface, an elastic response, almost like a 'tuning fork' at the functional confluence, becomes an architectural site: it locates a certain kind of cyberpresence as a place that smashes or dissolves between data expression in a constant flow that moves in a fugue like structure of open sequencing. Constellations of paired functions transpose, as hidden to exposed, closed to open, opaque to transparent, inimical to immersive, discrete to engaged, monadic to multiple on one 'visible' side of the strip; while on the other' side', i.e. the dark space of architecture, exposure is moving into absorption, openness into ambient hierarchies, transparency into translucency, and immersion into description and distancing.

image from "bloodellipse"

first and last questions

Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the word "inscapes" towards a sense of generative relations between image, the sound/sense of language, and ontological states of being. "Inscapes" aspired to a condition beyond representation and emulation. of inscape as a phenomenological perception. Inscape becomes a mediated actuality, in excess to, or alongside, mimesis.

Imagine interpolated virtual and actual spaces thrive and decay, die and live in a riparian zone, watered by pervasive computing. How can we set in motion a generative theory around a drama of the sense of place that derives from the mixed reality of the virtual and the actual? What are the formal dynamics of virtual spaces? How are these dynamics analogous to biological processes? Are these dynamics scriptable as interactive time based entropic cycles? Might the condition of nomadic paralysis in media space, as frightening as it may feel, be the precursors of a new poetics of (an)architecture, where space, smashed between cyber and physical, shifts into a hyperbolic super-present?


Christina McPhee, a transmedia artist, lives in California. She works in painting, drawing, sound art, and performance cinema installation, most recently at the San Francisco Performance Cinema Symposium (September 2003). Her digital print series, Slipstreamkonza, won a James T. Phelan Award for Printmaking from the San Francisco Foundation in 2003. In 2002 physical installations of showed at Convergence, New Media Centre for Cybersonica, Institute of Contemporary Art, London; and at FILE Electronic Language Symposium, Sao Paulo; as performance installation, Naxsmash/Memoires of a Cyborg showed at California Museum of Photography, University of California-Riverside and California Polytechnic State University Architecture Media Lab. She is a 2003 collaborative artist for Lounge|lab at the back_up festival, Weimar (November 2003)

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