image: Bill 
Seaman

From Recombinant Poetics to Pattern Flows

-> Curriculum Vitae (download .pdf file)

Short Bio:

Seaman's work often explores an expanded media-oriented poetics through various technological means— Recombinant Poetics. Such works often explore the combination and recombination of media elements and processes in interactive and generative works of art. Seaman enfolds image/music/text relations in these works, often creating all of the media elements and articulating the operative media-processes involved. He is self-taught as a musician/composer. Early on he discussed his notion of Structured Improvisation, employing specific fragments of his own improvisations and musical constructions as a compositional method. Initially explored via tape loops and layering processes in the 80's, he now facilitates this compositional methodology using the computer, in particular using the audio program Ableton Live.

Media Research - Recombinant Informatics and Neosentience
Seaman has been interested in meaning production and has explored ideas around computational meta-meaning systems— systems that enable a user to become mindfully aware of how meaning is arising and changing through their interaction. He is deeply interested in new forms of computation, learning systems, the concept of creating an electrochemical computer, as well as the concept of Computational Creativity – both using the computer as a creative tool, as well as articulating the future of creative potentials as explored via computational devices – the creativity of creativity. He has won a number of awards including two awards from Ars Electronica in Interactive Art; Intel Research Gift (3 years); Awards in the Visual Arts – Rockefeller Foundation; Fulbright Distinguished American Scholar (Senior Technological Specialist); International German Video Art Prize; NEA Fellowship; Semens’ Stipendium; and Leonardo Award for Excellence, among others. He has been commissioned on a number of occasions including William Forsythe and Ballett Frankfurt (Sleepers Guts) for video/set design; the Museum of Image and Sound - MIS Museum, Sao Paulo, Brazil – Architecture of Association (with Daniel Howe); Tanz_Performance Köln – Inversion (with Regina van Berkel); Vision Ruhr — Exchange Fields (with Regina van Berkel); National Gallery of Canada — Red Dice | Des Chiffré; Greatwoods & Leonard Slatkin, Guest Conductor Pittsburgh Symphony — Pictures at an Exhibition (video for live performance); and the Contemporary Art Television Fund (CAT) – The Water Catalogue.

More recently he has been exploring notions surrounding Recombinant Informatics — a multi-perspective approach to inventive knowledge production. The work The Insight Engine explores interactive Koestler-like bisociation processes for the exploration of crossing disciplinary boundaries and stimulating unconventional thought in research. This generative experimental search-engine work was funded by the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences and Bass Connections – The Brain and Society. Seaman is currently working on a series of art/science collaborations — poetic installations and scientific research papers. The book Neosentience | The Benevolence Engine with Otto Rössler has come out through Intellect Press exploring the future of AI and Robotics. Ongoing discussions with Rössler and a new book are in the works exploring Rössler's entire research career. He is also collaborating with artist/computer scientist Daniel Howe on multiple works exploring AI and creative writing/multi-media and has completed an album of experimental music with Howe entitled Minor Distance. He has developed a series of new generative works and is undertaking interface research with Todd Berreth. He has also collaborated with Craig Tattersall from The Boats / The Humble Bee, The Remote Viewer et. al. They have finished a large audio work (over 7 hours) entitled Light Folds (working in part with Ciompi Quartet at Duke) and are working on a new album. He also collaborated with vocalist Marissa Bergmann on a new series of sonic works - A solo album called f (noir). Seaman is a member of the Fitzpatrick Institute for Photonics at Duke and is working on a collaboration with Tuan Vo-Dinh, the Director of the institute, on a project called the Light Data Domain exploring multi-modal sensor transductions and speed of light data transfer. He is a member of the Duke Institute For Brain Sciences. He co-runs The Emergence Lab with John Supko, Media Arts + Sciences at Duke University. Seaman and Supko's album s_traits exploring AI collaboration was discussed in the top 10 for new Classical music in the New York Times in 2012. Seaman and Supko are currently working on a major new collaboration exploring image, music and text relations. Most recently Seaman has also worked with K. Leimar on a series of audio deconstructions - The Pale Catalog; and a new double album that will be out in the spring 2016 - Deformations. Seaman has also done a series of new linear video works to accompany some of the linear audio compositions.

Seaman studied at Rhode Island School of Design (Foundations, Video and Sculpture), The San Francisco Art Institute (Scuplture, Performance, Installation), MIT (Master of Science in Visual Studies), and the University of Wales (at the Center for Advanced Inquiry in Interactive Art) for his PhD. He is currently working on a new book – From the Architecture of Ideas: The Life and Work of Ranulph Glanville, Cybernetician.

Historical Narrative:

Bill Seaman has explored text, image, sound and interface relationships through diverse technological means since 1979. Seaman is self-taught as a composer and musician. He studied video, performance, and installation  at the San Francisco Art Institute, BFA 1979. He holds a Master of Science in Visual Studies degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1985. At MIT he first began exploring the potentials of computer-based media. His Ph.D. is from CAiiA, the Centre For Advanced Inquiry into the Interactive Arts, 1999. 

Certain early works stand out as precursors to his interactive oeuvre. One simple yet interesting early work was entitled Device for Architectural Inversion (1979). The work was facilitated by the simple technology of a pair of glasses that had two mirrors affixed to the front at 45 degree angles. When a participant wore the glasses, it appeared that they were walking on the ceiling. Thus a strange conflation of actual space with a displacement of actual space was facilitated. The participant experienced an uncanny sense of architectural displacement.

A set of early performance/song works were presented. These included Curve-O-Inverted Curve presented in two different clubs in San Francisco , and P.L.A.N.E.S. presented at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation in NYC. In these works Seaman sang with tapes that he had produced using a 4 track tape recorder, 4 track loops, cassette tape loops, a multi-speed Uher reel to reel and multiple (noisy) overdubs with a wonderful $25 Radioshack 4 track mixer. He had a series of experimental (self as band) projects including Otic-Info-Set, and Sp.op.cit. Self taught as a composer and musician, this early music paved the way for later midi sequenced works and current computer-based compositions. 

The work .apt.alt. (1981) explored the creation of a generative text system. For each element in the periodic table of elements three words were designated. The notion was that any compound could be used as a kind of algorithm to derive new poems, repeating relevant lines in relation to the chemical formula. Thus the system created a form of compound poetry exploring the periodic table of elements in a literal and metaphjorical manner.

Another early “recombinant” text is One Pulls Pivots at The Tip Of The Tongue (1981) [not to be confused with the later works Passage Sets]. This text took elements of Seaman’s musings (his own original Book of Notice) and drew them randomly from a hat, colliding textual fragments…

A second early work entitled Architectural Hearing Aids, a collaboration with the now deceased artist Carlos Hernandez, explored the relationship of actual architecture to sound, text, sculptural and performative elements. One might call this an early example of "Augmented Reality" Or "Locative Media" A series of sound systems were installed in a Cherokee Chief wagon including a speaker on the roof of the vehicle. A one hour and fourty minute tour of San Francisco and the Marin headlands was driven on 21 evenings. Three participants per evening were driven onthe tour. Seaman had composed music to augment and/or qualify the meaning of the architecture. Many architectural landmarks and vicinities in San Francisco were included in the tour including tunnerls, the swerving Lombard st., the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of fine arts were just of few of the building observed. Seaman described the work as an "Inverted Film." The music qualified the viewing of the environment which was being treated as a massive Duchampian readymade. Seaman provided a live mix from a series of tape recorders in the front seat.

The next period in Seaman's oeuvre employed video as a poetic technological vehicle, exploring sound, image and text relations within a slow pulsing hypnotic video space. Both linear tapes and video installations were produced. The tapes S.He (1983), Telling Motions (1986), The Water Catalogue (1984) (commissioned by the Contemporary Art Television Fund), Shear (1986), and Boxer's Puzzle (1986) with Ellen Sebring were produced in this period. (Still available through Electronic Arts Intermix in the US or 235 Media in Germany) Central in all of these works was the artist's voice, delivering the text in either spoken or sung form. Two significant installations were produced - Water Wheel (1985), a seven channel installation presented through a circle of monitors, incorporating material from The Water Catalogue, and The Design of the Grip (1989), a nine channel video/sound installation with written related text. Significant in this installation was the concept of the "sound pun" - where one sound was used as "folie" for 9 different simultaneous images. In these early works film was shot and transferred to video exploring particular qualities of light, as well as choreographed landscape and architecture. Often texts in the work explored puns, word plays and poly-valent language. The material qualities of both film and video were manipulated for these works exploring slow motion, precise rhythmic editing and pulsing stop motion techniques. Painterly aspects of film grain (digital blow-ups) and specific qualities of light abstraction as brought about through the mediating technology, were also central to the works.

The first major interactive work was entitled The Watch Detail (1990). Video images, sound and text that addressed the subject of time were explored interactively. This work employed Macintosh Hypercard media, that was used to control an interactive laserdisc. Thus the work became a meta-media time piece. A large database of time-oriented images, and texts could be navigated, juxtaposed and/or re-oriented in time. The media-time of the image could also be explored where a participant could move forward, backward, stay still, as well as move fast forward and fast backward. An elaborate poetic text made of short individual observations about time was made available to the user of the system. The participant could juxtapose any of the video and still material, move from chapter to chapter, edit segments, trigger sequences of encoded database material in relation to chosen selected textual criteria, view a set of still images with text superimpositions, or view material in a linear mode. A linear video also exists with this title.

The second major interactive installation was entitled The Exquisite Mechanism of Shivers (1993). It should be noted that many of Seaman's works were shown in different states and /or alternate contexts. Each version of the work informs other versions in varying ways i.e. this work appears as an interactive installation with a single projection, a 10 screen video wall version, a Japanese/English Version - Ex.Mech (1994), 30 minute linear video as well as a CD Rom version that was published in Artintact 1 (1994). The work explores the construction of an audio/visual sentence with 10 segments. Each segment has a related piece of music, a specific spoken piece of text and time-based section of video. The template of the work has 33 variables for each modular section of the audio/visual sentence - thus the linear work is comprised of 33 sentences. Interactive versions of the work enable the user of the system to substitute different modular variables and generate new audio visual "sentences". These substitutions always facilitate the generation of a grammatically correct sentence. Because each of these modules is poly-valent in terms of their meaning, the work is always emergent. One can also use automated chance methods to derive new audio/visual sentences. A linear video also exists with this title and date.

Passage Sets / One Pulls Pivots at the Tip of the Tongue (1995) is an interactive installation that functions as an elaborate navigable audio/visual poem. Seaman worked with Chris Ziegler as the programmer for this work. Three projections comprise the installation, where one video and two data projections are presented as a triptych. The central projection enables the participant to navigate through a 150-image panorama with text superimposed over the images. The participant can navigate spatially by moving over the surface of the images - move left, right, up and down through an image grid presented on the central screen. Each image is tied to a related section of video, music and text that can be triggered (presented on the right hand screen). This video presents a spoken version of the same text that is scattered over the surface of the image. The user of the system can also select words and/or phrases from the image which lead them to a poem generator. All of the language from the work is included in four scrolling lists that enable the participant to build new poems or generate random selections. Each of these selections can be used to navigate back to the context of the panorama that they are drawn from. The user can explore meaning in relation to shifting contexts, thus both emergent meaning as well as the experiential observation of meaning alteration is observed in the work. A third screen shows the computer constantly generating new poems lines, drawing from a related poem generator list to the one presented center screen. A German Version of the work has been and is in the permanent collection of the Medien Museum, ZKM, Karlesruhe, Germany. A related work entitled Red Dice / Des Chiffrés (2000) was commissioned by the Canadian National Gallery and is now in their permanent collection. Seaman again worked with Chris Ziegler on the programming of the work. The work presents a text by the Poet Stéphane Mallarmé - Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard, Dice Thrown Never Will Annul Chance, and an interactive audio/visual meta-text by Seaman.

The World Generator / The Engine of Desire (1996-present) marks an expansion of Seaman's work into the realm of virtual environments. Seaman collaborating with the programmer Gideon May authored a complex virtual world generator that enables users of the system to construct and navigate virtual worlds by making choices from a spinning virtual interface of container wheels, from a physical interface table. These container wheels house a series of different media-elements and processes including 3D objects, 2D images and poetic texts, musical loops, and digital movies as well as processes relevant to the entire world. The user of the system can also explore a set of built-in chance processes to construct worlds. Participants can also do what Erkki Huhtamo calls "World Processing," enabling them to edit and alter the virtual world. One can also attach behaviors to the media-elements, apply still and movie texture maps, as well as make the media-elements transparent. When the participant navigates through the virtual world, a new sound mix is made for each user - Seaman calls this Recombinant Music. The work explores emergent meaning and is different for each participant. A networked version of the work has been shown internationally which enables people in two parts of the world to inhabit and operate within simultaneous copies of the same environment, communicate via video phone, and view the alternate participant as a video avatar. This avatar shows the relative position of the alternate participant within the virtual space. A Japanese Version of the work has also been authored. A third large scale version has been authored for the Visualisation Portal at UCLA which is visible on a 160 degree screen, with literally hundreds of objecs/images in the environment. Seaman's Ph.D. Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment (1999), discusses the work at great length, and is available on-line through the Langlois Foundation and through Bill's website - billseaman.com.

Exchange Fields (2000), commissioned by the Vision Ruhr Exhibition in Dortmund Germany, incorporates the recorded dance and choreography of Regina van Berkel. The programmer Gideon May also became involved in this project. The central question dealt with the generation of a new kind of interface - how might an embodied experience of interface be layered into the content of an interactive media/dance comprised of video, text, a sculptural installation and music? Exchange Fields sought to develop a novel interface strategy by eliciting culturally determined environmental 'behavior in relation to objects' as a grammar of gesture that could be used as input to the reacting system. The work sought to tap into pre-linguistic/linguistic environmental knowledge related to the use of particular varieties of objects. A series of furniture/sculptures were developed. Each furniture/sculpture was designed with a unique implied "suggestion" of how the body might be positioned in relation to that object. This suggestion was non-logo-centric. It was embodied in the form of the physical interface itself and reinforced through linguistic captioning affixed near the work.

A dynamic relation is experienced by the participant that is brought about through their embodied physical positioning. This "gesture" functions as an input into a computerized system that dynamically links output consisting of pre-recorded performance/dance images (video) and sound. These have been choreographed in relation to the particularity of that embodied position. For each unique furniture/sculpture a set of related dances was recorded. A linear text and musical composition become layered with the sound and image that is triggered by users. It is the physical engagement of the participant relative to the visual and audible output that gives the work its artistic experiential content and power.

The Hybrid Invention Generator (2001) is a work that explores a "machinic genetics." Users of the system can scroll through a series of inventions, choose two different inventions and generate the visualization of a hybrid invention. An underlying logic defines a functional connection between the differing inventions. The work functions both as an installation as well as on the internet. The research was funded by Intel.

Inversion (2001) is a major dance/performance/installation, a collaboration with the Dancer/Choreographer Regina van Berkel that explores the topic of Nanotechnology through a poetic text, a musical score, multiple computer-based projections, two linear videotapes, a set of sculptural elements, and variable lighting. The hour long work was choreographed in relation to the musical score. All images, the lights and dance fall in perfect counterpoint with the music.

Epiphany is a video poem and site specific installation. Shot in Trnava, Slovakia, the work explores landscape and language, history and location, context and decontextualisation. A poetic linear video including 2 poetic texts, music and images shot in the city is installed in a large darkened abandoned synagogue. The poetic text is also printed out on signs and placed in different locations in the city making the town itself a distributed poem.

Seaman produced a "physical" recontextualisation of his virtual text from The World Generator the Engine of Desire. This became a physical/sonic/architectural/textual installation in the p0es1s show in Berlin, Germany - the subtitle of the show was Aesthetics of Digital Poetry.

The Thoughtbody - A Model for a Neo-sentient Computer (The Benevolence Engine) is informed by an ongoing collaboration with Otto Rössler Pattern Flows: Notes Toward a Model for an Electro-chemical Computer - The ThoughtBody Environment (linear video). The notion of building a model for an electro-chemical computer is both an exciting and daunting task. In order to model and ultimately build such a device, one seeks to borrow important operative elements and processes from the body and re-understand them in the context of a device that is not human in nature. Certainly the task is to learn more about mind/brain/body in the process. This process will need to bridge a series of domains including biology, physics, cognitive science, computer science, bio-electrical engineering, electrical engineering, expanded linguistics, philosophy, psychology and the arts. Starting with a new premise related to an "Open Order Cybernetics" (Seaman and Gaugusch), we will see that language acquisition and the production of meaning is both an open ongoing process - is situated and informed by reciprocal action with others, self and environment. Thus a delicate intermingling of the scientific, the philosophical and linguistic pre-suppositions surrounding such a project must be carefully examined. We are currently laying out a series of questions related to human experience to inform the generation of the model and to define a driving set of problems. (See related research papers in the Texts section of this website).

The first Installation related to this project included a video work entitled The Thoughtbody Environment / Toward a Model for An Electrochemical Computer. Both a Portugese version and a Chinese Version have been completed of the tape, with poetic text and Video by Seaman. Subsequently Seaman has developed a major diagram of the model with Rössler as well as a series of papers. A second installation included a distributed text presented in lightboxes, scattered throughout the exhibition. Seaman presented a third related installation of site specific photographs for the Harris Museum in England.

Seaman has been developing plans for a multi-modal relational database to house both the art and science research related to the Thoughtbody Environment, Neosentience, and the Electrochemical Computing Paradigm.

He is collaborating on a new digital work exploring Bisociation with Daniel Howe. http://mrl.nyu.edu/~dhowe/ - The Bisociation Engine.

Seaman and Musician Rafael Attias have formed a band called ATTSEA. They have released multiple songs which can be previewed on myspace - www.myspace.com/attsea. Their first CD length release is entitled "Entry" and is available on itunes. Seaman and Attias are currently finishing up their second CD. In general, Seaman is interested in generative works that explore meta-meaning systems. Seaman plans to work with Gideon May on the re-authorship of the World Generator. This will become an open source tool for virtual world building that will be available for both Mac and PC.

Bill Seaman and Daniel C. Howe have started a new band using their names as the title of the band. The new album which will be released later this year is entitled Entangle. The work falls under what Seaman calls Alt.genre. It draws from many different musical forms-Glitch, noise, ambient, IDM, classical, Jazz, experimental, etc. It features Howe's Guitar and algorithmic guitar abstractions with Seaman on "restructured" Piano, and a multiplicity of highly layered samples structured within Ableton Live. Seaman is working with Howe on a new piece called A Machine of Machines (as visiting artist at CityU in Hong Kong). His collaborative work with Daniel Howe, The Architecture of Association was featured last year in the Chat Festival in the RENCI center, Chapel Hill; and in Paris as part of the major show Dan La Nuit Des Images in the Grand Palais and is also permanently (sic) installed in the East Duke Building, Duke University. Seaman's work Passage Sets (Wall of Light Version) has been featured on the digital wall in the Link at Duke of late (with Todd Berreth). Passage Sets uses cameras to pick up body proximity information to enable interaction with the generative poetic system. Seaman is working with Berreth on a set of new related works - A China of Many Senses and an Architecture Generating system.

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