CompArts Week 4

Hello followers and subscribers! All one of you (shoutout to James 👋). Week 4 of CompArts is drawing to a close, and it’s time to do a blog update.

There’s some good news, which is that I have engaged with (read: understood) the material a little bit more than the last couple of weeks, so there’ll be a little bit more substance (I hope) in this update. I’ve also been dealing with some really intense stuff in my personal life, which has required a massive amount of introspection and vulnerability — which means I think I’ve been more reserved and cold on this platform than I would like to be, purely because I didn’t have much left to give. So hopefully, with the coupling of understanding the material more and being slightly more capable of sharing my thoughts and feelings it will lead to one killer blog update 😎.

What really excited me this week were Theo Jansen’s Standbeests. I thought they were so damn cool. The aesthetics alone are stunning…they look like something straight out of DaVinci’s sketchbook! I’ve watched a number of videos about them since the class on Monday — it’s all so interesting, and the PERFECT example to illustrate the passage from An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith that Yuk Huy quotes in the reading for last week’s class.

In the first fire-engines, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder, according as the piston either ascended or descended. One of those boys, who loved to play with his companions, observed that by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut without his assistance, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his playfellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour. (Smith [1776] 2005, 13)

Theo Jansen’s Strandbeest being based on a couple of core concepts that seem to create a reciprocal transfer of energy with little (if any? No…surely some…must be) being lost. The first is the Pipes — which he refers to as “The Muscle” in The Neural System video we watched in class.

“A Muscle is nothing but an object which becomes longer, or shorter, on command”.

And the fact that shortening the Muscle on one side, lengthens the Muscle on the other, is the perfect example of “transforming the linear execution of his labour into a mechanical execution”. Thank you Mattia, I have thoroughly enjoyed this example.

Another one of the core concepts The Switches. Pictured below.

A series of valves, who’s job it is to flip an Open valve, to a Closed valve. When arranged in odd numbers, create a “Dynamic System” (it changes all the time). Seeing these switches, and hearing how he talks about them (as switching “Zeros and Ones”), is just so interesting in terms of seeing a physical representation of the coding practices we are learning about on the course. In a TED talk Theo gives, he refers to these Switches as:

“…the beginning of the Brain — so they can count their steps, so they can count their steps away from the sea, so they know where they are on the beach — and also time mechanisms which run parallel to the Tides, so they know in advance when the sea will come up”.

You can just so clearly see the programming based thought process that has informed the invention of these things, and I find that really illuminating and exciting. The blurring of the lines between the software and hardware, the linear and complex — which, as I type it, it precisely what we’ve been talking about in class almost this whole time. So…it turns out, it has piqued my interest!

Another thing I found incredibly interesting was the mechanism he created for the legs — this ratio of thirteen lengths (which he refers to as “The Holy Thirteen”) of tubing which make up the legs, and enable the creature to Walk.

The goal of these specific ratio of lengths is to keep the animal at the same level/height throughout the step, and also that the “feet” remain in contact with the flat surface of ground for as long as possible, to have maximum propulsion. In the picture above there is a pencil attached the bottom of the leg and you can see specific shape of the curve created by the movement of these pipes.

So yeah, I’ve talked a lot about these Strandbeests — in fact, I’ve talked exclusively about them. They just seemed to perfectly capture my interest in relation to all the concepts we’ve been discussing (read: I’ve been observing others discuss). I really particularly enjoyed looking at them as a physical representation of programming techniques— I feel this is an area and idea that I will be investigating further in this module, and hopefully in works of my own.

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Oliver N Blake

Oliver N Blake

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Diary of a Computational Arts student and Former Musician 🙃