Compact – Let there be lines

Proudly presenting the latest version of the ‘Verdichting’ i.e. ‘Compact’ drawing tool that I started working on this week. Inspiration for Compact came from doing an interview where my interviewee mentioned that the Netherlands might be becoming ‘a bit compact’.

Enter the question of how to research ‘too compact’ using visual means – I decided to have a go at it using generative drawing. My Letmotiv: if this drawing represents the Netherlands, when is it full enough?

Click here for the video. Not interactive on this video (the actual app can be stopped and restarted), but it gives an idea of how Compact moves and sounds.

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Now how did this happen? As a starting point I took Substrate, an open-source generative drawing based on Processing which is “a flexible software sketchbook and a language for learning how to code within the context of the visual arts.” What’s not to like? Processing has been on my retina for quite a while. Credits for Substrate go to Jared Tarbell.

Tarbell:But in reality, you can break the world down into these very simple rules that interact on orders of magnitude beyond what we’re capable of imagining. It’s a result of this phenomenon, this emergent phenomenon. I don’t know if it describes everything. In fact, I kind of don’t believe it does. I think there still are some very spiritual, mysterious elements to the universe. But certainly, thinking about problems computationally, you can get pretty far in understanding what’s actually happening.”

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I love working with software. It can also be quite frustrating – forget one semicolon and the thing goes up in smoke. I started small – just drawing one line with brush, and added functionality as I went along. As usual, a lot of guesswork and happy accidents happened, too.

To start with I had to make the lines behave the way I wanted them to behave – start with one line, at the top of the image, then branch out from this first line in a random manner. Then I wrestled with the brushstrokes. The software had its heart set on mono-color brushes, but I wanted each brush stroke to be multicolor – but just a little. A whole world of tryouts in those words ‘a little’ – getting the brush strokes just right was a pain, but I persevered. And am happy I did. Brush palette is taken from a Mondriaan – randomised, of course … Then I solved the problem of the brush stroke having a sinoid-like pattern – which I did not want. Then I added sound. Boy, mixing he just-right kind of sound was an undertaking. The ear is even more unforgiving than the eye! Then …. well, I was pretty much lost to the world these last few days.

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As we speak I have produced the fourth version twenty-fifth iteration of Compact. Drawing is totally automated and randomised. The viewer can interrupt – via mouseclick – when he or she finds that the ‘too compact’ stage has been reached. An image of this particular ‘too compact’ point is stored for research purposes. On mouseclick the drawing starts all over again. Compact also loops every 24 hrs, so at the beginning of the day we will start blanco. And say “let there be line”. If that is God-like – yes, it is!

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