Artist Statement


Whorld is software that fuses two recent digital technologies: visualization, and VJing. Whorld generates real-time animation of sacred geometry, but the visualization is interactive and controlled by the artist(s) as a live performance. Whorld explores art and technology through the development of highly specialized tools that maximize freedom of expression. top

Project description

Whorld is a free, open-source Windows program that offers a unique approach to creating live digital art. Whorld generates real-time animation, but unlike most visualizers, it's designed for performing, and includes MIDI support and other features more commonly found in clip-based VJ programs. Whorld animates sacred geometry, and distorts it according to parameters that can be adjusted manually, or automated via programmable oscillators. The result is a mesmerizing, ever-changing composition that responds immediately to user input.

Whorld can be controlled by as many as three individuals simultaneously. Each person controls a particular subset of Whorld's features, using their own controller, which is optimized for that purpose. In the typical setup, one person uses a trackball or virtual reality glove to control global properties such as origin and zoom, another person uses a keyboard to trigger patches and apply effects, and a third person uses a MIDI control surface to tweak individual parameters.

Whorld can record movies, using a compact vector-based format that allows many hours of full-screen animation to fit on an average hard disk, with no loss of resolution. In the proposed installation, Whorld's output will be continuously recorded, and the most inspired segments will subsequently be made available for download on In addition, attendees will be able to capture still frames from the animation and print them on an ink-jet printer, to take with them as souvenirs. top

Integrating diverse technologies

Whorld is a fusion of two fundamental technologies for creating real-time visual displays: visualizers (e.g. GeForce) on the one hand, and clip-based VJ software (e.g. VJamm) on the other. Whorld's rendering engine is structurally similar to a visualizer's, but its interface architecture is inspired both by VJ software, and more importantly, by music production software, particularly Reason and Ableton Live. The artist is truly a performer, and controls every aspect of Whorld's visualization in real-time, using various MIDI devices, including a virtual reality glove. In addition, Whorld allows group interaction: up to three people at a time can control the animation, using different controllers. In contrast, most visualizers are watched passively, and VJ software is typically controlled by one person. Whorld points towards a new paradigm in digitally-created visual art, one that's not only participatory, but also collaborative. top

Goals of the project

The artist is exploring the boundary between art and technology, through the construction of highly specialized tools that are designed around the needs of the artist, rather than ease of development. The artist does not ignore recent innovations in software technology, but asks, "how can these innovations benefit artistic creativity?" Techniques must be derived from the domain of art, so that the resulting tool fits the artist's hand, and becomes a transparent, empowering extension. Common software interfaces and algorithms often contain hidden ergonomic assumptions which limit creativity; such assumptions must be exposed and challenged. Existing technologies are rarely used "as is", but are radically altered to the fit the artist's vision, or replaced with entirely new inventions if need be. The goal is to conceive and realize new forms of art that take advantage of technology, without being defined or limited by it. Whorld is successful to the extent that it removes constraints, and increases the artist's freedom of expression. top

Technical innovations

Whorld's core innovations are in software architecture, and can be divided into two categories: the rendering engine, and the interface design. The rendering engine uses ring-based polar geometry, but with parameter modulation via programmable oscillators. Innovations include:

  • The animation is a synthesis of 2D and 3D: the rings are 2D, and have a graphic design or collage feel, but they exist in a 3D space, allowing perspective and hidden surfaces.
  • Parameter adjustments only affect new rings, and therefore propagate through the animation gradually, like ripples in a pond; a digital delay has a similar effect on an audio signal.
  • Many unique mathematical distortions of the basic geometry were developed, and often required the coining of new terms, e.g. Star Factor, Pinwheel, Trail, Pucker, etc.
  • The artist-friendly HLS (Hue, Lightness, Saturation) color model is used throughout Whorld, for intuitive color control.
  • Whorld achieves 2nd derivative change by crossfading ("tweening") between two settings of the parameters and their oscillators. Sub-clock interpolation allows rendering to remain accurate even at high birth rates, when multiple rings are created for each frame.
  • Whorld can render portions of the image using a mixture of drawing modes, including lines, surfaces, outlines surfaces, and translucency.

    The interface design exposes the rendering engine's capabilities to live control, and provides dynamically configurable automation. Innovations include:

  • All parameters can be both controlled directly, or automated by modulators (oscillators), which themselves can also be controlled manually or automated. As a result, the distinction between manual control and automation is not discrete, but has an infinite number of gradations.
  • Familiar interfaces were specialized or adapted to Whorld's functions, while preserving their inherent ergonomic worth; Whorld can be effectively controlled using a wide variety of MIDI and non-MIDI devices. top

    Attendee experience

    As you enter the space, you're mesmerized by a vibrant landscape of geometric shapes that continuously transform themselves in subtle ways. The effect is psychedelic, not in the crass commercial sense, but in accordance with the true meaning of the word: distortions of perception. Gradually you become curious about the source of the imagery, and notice that the artist is apparently controlling the presentation, via an array of control surfaces, including a virtual reality glove. The artist invites you to take a turn, overcomes your initial shyness, and prepares you with a brief explanation. You take one of the controls in hand, and after a period of adjustment, your enjoyment increases exponentially: no longer a mere observer, you have the delicious experience of directing the flow, controlling the transformations, and creating live digital art. Two more attendees volunteer to manipulate the other controls, and the artist steps aside and watches, as the work becomes an impromptu collaboration.

    Experience length: A few minutes or longer depending on preference.
    Initial equipment setup time: One hour or less.
    Space requirements: Enough for a reasonably-sized projection; 10 x 10 is ideal.
    Infrastructure: Electricity, a few chairs, and something to project onto (e.g. a
    vertical flat surface, or some way of hanging or mounting a screen). The artist will
    provide all other equipment.
    Staffing requirements: One or two people.

    Prior work

    Whorld fuses elements of existing works, as described above. An exhaustive search failed to discover any prior works with Whorld's particular blend of geometric visualization and performance-oriented real-time control. Whorld differs from most current visualizers in that its animation is derived from geometry, rather than an analog waveform, but it has at least one element in common with a visualizer called Zone Rings: they're both based on rings.

    In outline mode, Whorld has a posterized, cartoon-like quality that evokes 60s-style animation, e.g. Peter max. In fill mode, it can develop a sharply banded, symmetrical appearance reminiscent of Frank Stella's parallel lines, or a gaseous, glowing look that Mark Rothko might have enjoyed.

    The artist has previously developed a suite of software applications for live composition of electronic music. Like Whorld, these applications explored the boundary between art and technology, and consistently made use of novel interfaces that were precisely adapted to the unique needs of the artist. These music applications were developed and used by the artist over a period of many years, resulting in a substantial body of highly idiosyncratic work. The artist's music was discovered by the famous German DJ Hell in 1997, and has since been distributed internationally via Hell's label, International DeeJay Gigolo. As a result, the artist has enjoyed a successful career as a composer and touring electronic musician, in addition to being a full-time software architect. The artist has also worked professionally at the forefront of software design for over 20 years, and is currently employed as a consultant by Z Corporation, designing object-oriented embedded firmware for 3D printers. top

    Vision for the future

    The future of visual art lies in electronically mediated performance, but many implementation problems remain. How do we make interactive tools that liberate and empower rather than constrain, tools that strengthen intuition rather than rationalization? Can tools encourage shared vision and community instead of detachment and alienation? Whorld is one answer. Whorld couldn't exist without technology, but it differs from typical commercial applications of technology in an important way. Whorld isn't intended to be marketable, or even useful; it's intended to be inspirational and transformative. Could Whorld help rekindle popular interest in aesthetics, and contribute in some way to a much-needed reconciliation between science and art? We hope so. top

    [For information on proposed enhancements to Whorld, see On the Horizon.]

    Referenced works

    Reason (interface architecture), Mixere (ambient sound collage automation software, author's work), Zone Rings (freeware visualizer), Pythagorean and Euclidean geometry, algebra, trigonometry, infinitesimals, polar coordinates, set theory, boolean logic, structured programming, object-oriented design principles, Visual C++, DirectX, MIDI, HLS color model, Frank Stella, Mark Rothko, Peter Max. top