Report on the book:

"Ars Electronica 96: Memesis - The future of evolution"

Springer Wien New York

Ars Electronica Center URL:

Prix Ars Electronica URL:

What Is Ars Electronica Festival?

Ars Electronica was founded in 1979 by the Brukner House in Linz and the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF) studio in the Province of Upper Austria.
In 1986 the ORF's Prix Ars Electronica was created: a competition for computer artists.
In 1996 the Ars Electronica Center has been opened: a center of competence for new, interdisciplinary knowledge at the interfaces of the arts, culture, technology and society.

Content Of The Book

Pre-Festival symposium with invited speakers and open to public partecipation (many-to-many approach).

Symposium with the same invited speakers of the Netsymposium (one-to-many approach).

Hardware and software installations for man-machine-environment interaction and/or man-machine-environment generated art.

Electronic art events: computer controlled/generated art; in some cases there is also a man-machine interaction (where man could be both person from the audience and an actor).
Event is conceived as a real-time performance. I think that it is important to stress as many Events could be considered Installations, i.e. that they could append at any time and with only one person in the public and with no human actors on the stage/scene. Some Events are a hybrid where there is no dimension and localisation of the stage and/or of the public and where the actions of the actors are effected by the choices of the interactive public.

This section presents mainly works based on the use radio broadcast: traditional radio, Internet radio, and also how to built your own illegal radio station. Th famous is also part of this section with its live audio broadcast of the entire Ars Electronica Festival.

Same as Installations.

Main Ideas of Ars Electronica 96

Memesis - a hybrid composed of Richard Dawkins' meme [coined by analogy with gene] and "genesis" - is the watchword of the 1996 Ars Electronica Festival.
Memes: - cultural information units, cognitive behavioural patterns that propagate themselves and replicate through communication, a paradigm of a "culture-based history of development".
Media memory - a memory which is shaped by media, or the collective memory and experience of humanity externalised in world-wide networks. What history will be perpetuauted on the other side of the media filter, in cyberspace?

At the heart of the debate are the conditions which will increasingly determine our cultural self-conception and thus our thinking and acting, above all with the establishment of communication spaces for data and telematics.

About the Netsymposium

The on-line symposium preceding the "real life conference" was introduced as follows by Geert Lovink: "...We would like to get away from the usual panels and presentations and see the getting-together in Linz, early september, as a place to continue and round-up ongoing discussions. Of course it is not that easy to simply blow up the entire concept of the 'conference' and its rituals, although it is already imaginable to host a festival entirely in cyberspace. At least at this moment certain hierarchical ('one to many') modes can be modified through an open discussion in the phase of preparation.... So far there is not much experience and expertise in the orchestrating of net-based public debates on technology. It didn't make much sense to confront the technophobic with the technophile. At this stage we are leaving the era of the introductions on the nature and implications of new technologies (and the role of artists in this process) and find ourselves in the middle of controversies around topics like copyright, privacy, war on standards, cultural biases, public access, censorship and other 'old patterns' in 'new media'.

We would like to invite you to participate in the discussion between the other artists and critics we have already invited to send their first statement.
'The Future of Evolution' should not only attract meme-experts, cyberartists and bio-engineers. Recently we have witnessed a shift in the definition of 'evolution' from biology to culture. Artists are actively appropriating the term 'evolution' and are working on their own models of 'cultural viruses', robotics, artificial life, knowbots etc. But to what extent are these models actually promoting ideas like 'survival of the fittest information', cynical socio-biological elitism; racist images of the cyber body and neo-liberal market philosophies? Or is it 'just' technology?
The concept of the 'meme' seems to be objective and neutral. After the fall of the Berlin Wall certain aspects of the communist tradition (for example) could metaphorize into 'memes' in order to continue their travel through history. And why not? Or is this just a silly idea and will we face a so-called 'natural order' in order to reduce diversity, complexity, noise and resistance? And is the meme-concept useful if we want to study the way collective memory is formed? Will the Holocaust memory emigrate with us in cyberspace? Digital culture is a voyage into the realm of the artificial, borrowing metaphors here and there, with little or no reflexion on the implications of the cultural patterns in which interfaces, databases and gadgets are shaped. Both private obsessions and political correctness have stopped the media-art community to raise (and reject) all these questions. Now, in the middle of the 'digital revolution', it is time to look for unspoken permissions and organize a lively, open debate."
As I could understand from the summary of the first six weeks of the discussion on the Net, the quality of the discussion has been of a low level, or, in other words, the theme of the debate was misunderstood. As a matter of fact the artist Perry Oberman (invited speaker) claimed that "If we are going to use a term, we ought to have a reasonable understanding of it".

About Some Proposal in the Events Section

The Brain Opera (Tod Machover - MIT Media Lab)
The author states that "technology should respond to human intentions, rather than simulate or replace them", and he started developing hyperinstruments at the MIT Media Lab in 1985. In Brain Opera the audience - live and via Internet - is involved in contributing to, performing, and helping to create the piece itself: a set of specially designed hyperinstruments lets people play with different aspects of music (Rhythm, Melody, Harmony, Timbre, etc.). Brain Opera was designed to stimulate audiences to reflect on Marvin Minsky basic questions: "Why do we like music? Why do we spend so much time with an activity that has little or no practical benefit? Why does music make us feel? Why do we spend so much time with an activity that most deeply unifies our complex selves?" And also to achieve Glenn Gould prediction that "in the electronic age the art of music will become much more viably a part of our lives, much less an ornament to them, and that it will consequently change them much more profoundly".
Brain Opera is structure in three movements as a classical music composition, but each movement has its own structure. In Movement 1 the original sample sounds are mixed with the actual sound of the audience. Movement 2 is completely composed by the artist, but lot of room for interpretation is left. In Movement 3 Internet players can control and improve the composition by way they manipulate online instruments; Internet players are soloists.

Liquid Cities (Michel Redolfi)
Liquid Cities is a series of sound installations in which swimming-pools are transformed into three-dimensional, fluid and interactive spaces. The participants moving in the medium of weightlessness explore a transparent city which exists only via the sounds they make.
Music is generated by the bodies of people swimming in the pool and also by internauts who registered their name in the WWW site of Liquid Cities. These names are than synthesised into the water of the pool. In this way people of the Internet "acoustically populate the pool".
Two digital cameras pick up movements of the participants (visitor, swimmers) and translate them into the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) music code: each visitor has a different chromatic identity given by the colour of the bathing-cap and her/his movements are detected by the changing of luminosity of the cap. Movements are then translated into sounds.

Pictures become sounds, and sounds become a picture again using MIDI: a software for graphic animation in real-time is controlled. This visualisation in also retransmitted as feedback to the WWW page.