Algorithms that Matter

Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics - IEM, Graz 01.04.2017 00.0001.04.2020 00.00


BEK is a collaborating international partner in the Austrian artistic artistic research project Algorithms that Matter (ALMAT), lead by Hanns Holger Rutz and David Pirrò. ALMAT aims at understanding the increasing influence of algorithms, translating them into aesthetic positions in sound. It builds a new perspective on algorithm agency by subjecting the realm of algorithms to experimentation and diffractive reading.

Algorithms are everywhere today, and at the same time they are hidden. We perceive them when we are presented with “related” items of interest in an online store or on a social media site, whenever we query a simple term on the web. Nonetheless, we would find it hard to exactly describe how any of these algorithms work. We take them for granted, accept that we are subject to their analysis and decision-making.

How can art contribute to understand the increasing influence of algorithms and translate them into aesthetic positions?

Algorithms have been used in music even before the emergence of “computer music” in the 1950s, but today we witness an entire new wave of interest, reflected in festivals, genres, publications and research projects. Interactive and real-time control of compositions has been possible already for two decades, so the reason must be sought elsewhere. It is the very notion of algorithms that is shifting. They are no longer an abstract formalisation, the image of thought, immaterial, static and timeless. Instead of being givens, algorithms emerge from artistic praxis and experimentation, they become entangled in material processes that produce space and time.

The project Algorithms That Matter is grounded in this new idea that algorithms are agents that co-determine the boundary between an artistic machine or “apparatus” and the object produced through this machine. The central question is: How do algorithmic processes emerge and structure the praxis of experimental computer music? The hypothesis is that, instead of being separated from the composer—generators and transformers of infinite shapes—they exhibit a specific force that retroacts and changes the very praxis of composition and performance.

A series of methodical artistic experiments is carried out by the project team together with guest composers. Over defined periods of time, they develop series of interrelated sound pieces. The work process is observed and transcribed into complementary forms of presentation and discourse on which future research projects can build. This includes concerts and exhibitions, an online public “continuous exposition”, and gatherings and symposia that connect researchers across various institutions in Europe. The project not only aims at extending the praxis of experimental computer music using algorithmic processes, but also at contributing to the scope and methodology of artistic research, introducing a field of research so far disregarded.

ALMAT is hosted by the Institute of Electronic Music and Acoustics (IEM) at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, where it is integrated with ongoing research and teaching and performing activities. It seeks not only to be visible in the related research community, but also to reach out to young researchers and a general audience across different fields, raising the awareness of artistic research praxis.

ALMAT is a three-year project running from 2017 to 2020, within the framework of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) – PEEK AR 403-GBL – and funded by the Austrian National Foundation for Research, Technology and Development (FTE) and by the State of Styria.


Photos: Hanns Holger Rutz and David Pirrò.