Spring 2022, CMAC/ISS/VMS 290-S

Artificial Dreaming

For one week in fall 2018, passersby of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles would’ve witnessed something quite peculiar—the blending of years upon years of media from the LA Philharmonic’s digital archives projected upon every surface of the concert hall. To the untrained eye, it would’ve looked like an odd compilation of music footage, but to its creator, both human and machine, it is much more. It is a dream, the creation of something new from old. It is living, changing, hallucinating.

Media artist Refik Anadol uses machine learning and intelligence to create art. By feeding a computer algorithm exorbitant amounts of data, Anadol can produce stunning visualizations. The machine transforms media–combining, morphing, and manipulating it to produce unique interpretations of the data it was given. In a way, the machine is dreaming. Similar to how humans dream by altering past memories, Anadol’s algorithm learns from its “memories”—the data it’s fed—and alters them in a similar fashion.

Machine learning, the use of algorithms and models to recognize patterns in data, is used to develop computer systems that can learn and adapt to new situations without explicit instruction from humans. Said algorithms are fed “training data,” countless examples of certain situations. By analyzing said data for relationships, similarities and differences, the machine draws connections between objects and concepts and attempts to apply its previous knowledge to new situations. Similar to a child growing and learning from observations, the machine learns from data and grows by analyzing new “experiences.”

The Walt Disney Concert Hall projection was a part of Anadol’s WDCH Dreams project, a collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in celebration of their centennial season. The visualization brings over 45 terabytes of data: 40,000 hours of audio from over 16,000 performances, the “memories” of LA Phil, to life. Combined with the fact that the WDCH is LA Phil’s home base, it is as if the building itself has come to life, sharing its memories and dreams of the symphony’s evolution throughout the years.

Anadol’s take on art—human creations from a non-human being—embodies critical making in every way. The use of “new” media: artificial intelligence, machine learning, and to a lesser degree the data “memories” to create unique and ever-changing art. Anadol’s art is constantly pushing the limits of media & technology, exploring and experimenting ways in which he can manipulate various real-world information to produce creative visualizations of data. Oftentimes, his work represents the concept of “the medium is the message.” With the WDCH project, the input, output, and message are all the same: the LA Philharmonic.

And yet, his products are not entirely composed of new media. Anadol oftentimes uses old media: arts, architecture, etc as an interface. But the effect goes both ways. Instead of viewing it as old media creating new media, his art can be thought of as a mutual supporting of two equally important aspects of media. While the old is an interface, or creates the new, the new is also augmenting the old. A building is no longer just a building, but an entirely unique piece of artwork itself.


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  1. Molly Honecker

    This is an incredibly stunning piece for the eyes and ears, thank you for sharing it. I enjoyed reading your points about how the artist incorporates and intertwines new and old media, particularly the use/transfiguration of the concert hall itself into an art piece. This leads me to wonder, can contemporary buildings/architecture be viewed as new media? Buildings and the way they look and feel can change so much about how we interact, but I wonder to what extent they would need to innovate or change accepted architectural norms to be “new” enough to be a new media.

  2. Rebecca Uliasz

    I am really interested in your analysis of AI as a creative medium– there has been much written and created by artists and theorists exploring this topic! Joanna Zylisnka has a book on AI, for example. It is an interesting debate around whether AI itself is truly “creative”, or whether this is simply a medium, much like digital and analog mediums before. In regards to the architecture– I wonder about how this building was made? Its parabolic shapes maybe hint that there was some kind of 3d modeling software involved in its creation, planning, and fabrication. It seems interesting in your example that the digital and analog , or the “new” and “old” really become impossible to separate.

  3. Noelle Garrick

    I love your description of this piece!! On top of the idea behind the work itself being just stunning, the way you describe the machine in a delicately personified sense as “dreaming” really characterizes the feedback loop development of this display. The generative nature of artificial intelligence media always raises questions about the “ownership” of the products. This piece’s sense of spanning across time and being a collaboration between audio and visuals of two different teams subverted that initial idea- I wanted to appreciate the piece without needing to know who it belonged to.

  4. Ameya Rao

    Thanks for sharing this stunning piece! AI-generated art is super fascinating and this reminded me of a trend going around Twitter to create art using song lyrics as training data. (Here’s an example I saw recently: https://twitter.com/strawbyoongi/status/1467322637735153664?s=20&t=60hUbRPaPqayHUug6vytTg )
    I wonder how this type of new media can be used in a way that resembles social critique or reflection and fit Matt Ratto’s definition of critical making. I imagine that the video Alistair showed in class with the poem or the Max example of the presidential debates both give a peak into what that might look like!

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