Saturday, April 16, 2011

High Tech Hallucinations

When I think about it, it seems like a lot of energy was expended in the second half of the last century trying to get high in one way or another.


Drugs, literature, art, music. Choose your poison. A lot of it came down to the pursuit of that wow man, far out, sort of experience. Jimi Hendrix playing an electric guitar with his feet, Jackson Pollock splattering canvases with house paint, Philip Glass droning on with his repetitive rhythms and harmonies, Phil K Dick blurring the boundaries between the real and the hallucinatory, movie directors translating those visions to the screen, quantum physicists seeking the cracks in the fundamental laws of nature.


There was this sense that we were constantly on the verge of something fantastic and abstract and mind expanding. Much of the time, this something didn’t seem like it could come from outside, in the world. It was just waiting to burst out from within us, if we could just find a way to give it permission. If only we could nurture our inner child and rub the right crystals and find the reiki practitioner with a light enough touch.


Well, the quest goes on, I suppose. Because, well, let’s face it: if we find these moments at all, they never last. That’s why the addict always needs another hit, and why yesterday’s paintings don’t evoke the same response the second or third time we’ve seen them.


Fortunately, there is this: the portals into these sorts of experiences seem to be everywhere now, and most of them are a good deal safer than the pills and needles so many resorted to in the past.

I just lost a couple of hours messing around with a few free gizmos on my PC which I hadn’t even been aware I had.  I’ve long used Winamp, for example—it’s a far superior media player to the toxic ITunes disaster that Apple foists on the world—and I’ve used it to rip, play, and organize my audio files for years. I just hadn’t bothered to click on the little “Visualizations” button before. Which, in a moment of idleness, I did today.


At which point these images you’ve seen here started cascading across my monitor, in full high definition, at a rather dizzying 30 frames per second, and pulsing and dancing in sync with the music. Screen edges crumpled, vortices spun, fireworks launched, fractal ferns swayed, clouds and stars fought for dominion of the moon.

It helped that I was listening to Ludovico Einaudi, who tends to be fairly meditative and soothing. But the program transformed my easy listening background music into something utterly captivating.


And I thought, hell, any one of these frames puts to shame anything Jackson Pollock ever threw against a canvas. The Evernote screen capture utility did a nice job catching a few of the stills, since I had the odd compulsion to grab some of this stuff that was being generated on the fly. But after a few minutes of doing that I just sat back and listened to the entire two-disc album.

Far out, man. The things I’ve seen. And it’s nice that I didn’t have to drop acid or otherwise put my neurochemistry at risk to do it. William Burroughs should have been so lucky.


  1. Very interesting post, and I really do like the abstract images.

    Makes me wonder about the authorship of such images; like, if you attempted to print and publish these, say in a gallery, would Bill Gates' lawyers come after you, claiming prior ownership? Does the writer of the software that generates random visual images own said images?

    Aaaaanyways, a post that gets me thinking early on a Sunday morning is a good post. Well done.


  2. Thanks, Joe.

    I was rather wondering about the authorship angle myself. Who owns the copyright to these images? The Winamp people? The people who programmed the visualization plug-in? Perhaps the answer is in that long license agreement. You know, the one we click on every time we install a piece of software? Not that I'm going to go combing through it.

    And also, what does it mean for abstract art and artists, that software algorithms can produce such evocative patterns on the fly?

    Perhaps this will precipitate a return to more traditional art, which requires technique more than it requires pretense and salesmanship.