Existential Friday Newsletter

v66: Generative Art Series 9 of 13 . . . Randomness and the Middle Road

Sound Wave Visualization Generative Pen Plot p5.js

Data visualization is powerful because it can change the way you see an issue. A simple visualization can reframe a question in a way that numbers in a table can’t. A good visualization communicates more quickly, effectively, and looks pretty too.

Even though data visualization is interesting, randomness and noise seem more interesting (at least to me). At the same time, using randomness to draw is just data visualization. We’re asking the machine to produce a bunch of numbers and those numbers inform a picture. We might have a foggy idea about what will come out, but we don’t know exactly what we’ll get. Does anyone else see the strong parallel with Forest Gump here?

In some ways, the uncertainty in randomness parallels nature and the real world. There are rules that govern things, like gravity and such, but life evolves in unexpected ways. Similarly the life choices and paths we take are often influenced by subsequent events that we can’t know when we start out.

However, there’s a middle road. The middle road takes a concrete observation and manipulates it using some random number or Perlin noise. The images this week build on the images from last week and are an illustration of the middle road.

Last week we looked at this visualization of sound plotted horizontally. The sound recording was a few seconds long and captured the sound of waves crashing on a beach.

Here’s a reminder of what that looked like:

FFT Sound Wave Visualization Pen Plot p5.js

Rather that present the sound linearly, I thought about nesting the rows and plotting them out in a circle. What’s interesting is that the shape looks something like a shell. The reason for that is that each line reflects low, mid, and high tones. When one of those sound ranges is lower, the values are lower, and visually you and up with something that more closely hugs the circle.

Here’s the digital image:

Generative Art Sound Wave Visualization p5.js

And a slightly simplified version for the plot:

sound wave visualization pen plot p5.js

Sound Wave Visualization Generative Pen Plot p5.js

In an effort to make the image more circular in nature, I decided to bookend the sound. Basically, I took the values and plotted them for one of half the circle and then plotted the second half of the circle as a reflection of the first. It resembles one of those inkblot images in a Rorschach test.

That resulted in an image that looks like this:

Sound Wave Visualization Generative Pen Plot p5.js

And the plot:

Sound Wave Visualization Generative Pen Plot p5.js


I am not familiar with the concept of not knowing what to make. However, this article from Adam Savage might help if you feel like you want to make something and don’t know what to make.

It’s interesting to realize that cigarettes basically came into favor in the late 1800’s and have essentially fallen out of favor roughly a hundred years later. This video on cigarettes in art is a great historical overview.

You know what it feels like when you’re on a long bike ride and your thoughts start to wander. Is it just me or do Simon and Garfunkel sound like how that feels?

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