Stanza's Amorphoscapes contains twenty audio-visual Shockwave pieces built using generative principles, with varying degrees of interactivity. The works currently on view were made between 1998 and 2003.
While many may think of Stanza mainly in terms of the interactive sound elements of his apparently prolific output in interactive sound art (Stanza also curates the Soundtoys.net site and has many other projects featured at www.stanza.co.uk), the visual element of the amorphoscape pieces has a strong presence. As Stanza says in the introduction to the Soundscraper Amorphoscape, "It's not about sound at the expense of the visual element. My work is about the marriage and synthesis of the audio visual potential exploring the internet as a medium in its own right". Though, having said that, Stanza also envisages some of the amorphoscapes having a second life as gallery installations or immersive environments.
He elaborates: "Amorphoscapes are a new type of image and a new type of painting. A definition could be: 'a self contained online image experience'. They react to users and are in turn influenced by the users movement."
The work on the site divides between several pieces that have a dark dystopian feel, and some more colourful and more playful, lighter work. Cancer is, unsurprisingly, an example of the former and like all members of this 'sub-family' it uses no colour, and the sound is a brooding 'dark ambient' soundscape that evokes the work of Alan Splet (sound designer for several David Lynch films): claustrophobic breathing sounds and the distant rumble of what might be an operating theatre in a Victorian hospital. The piece is based on cancer cells generating, moving in parallel, 'birthing' new cells and killing off old ones.
Cancer is generative but not interactive, while other pieces allow you to affect the audio or the visuals. In Multiplicity, the visual forms are more concrete and you can click on square elements to change the sample loop. But the music is still threatening, and again the visuals are black and white.
Traces, meanwhile, is described by the artist as a "a sort of 'drawing machine'" -- but it is not clear what the controls do (there is no clear visual feedback on their effects). It's not a machine that you feel you could ever master. And Subverted (or Subvergence?) blows up samples of programming and mark-up code, recycling them in an unholy quick-fire cut-up.
Subverted is one of another sub-family of amorphoscapes that use 'found objects' as the molecules from which online paintings are generated. Where Subverted uses code, Chemikix uses symbols from organic chemistry, and Genomutant uses chromosome diagrams from the genome project -- presumably a sketch for Stanza's more extended Genomixer piece at www.genomixer.com. Some of these work better visually than others. The replicated chromosomes generate visuals more redolent of mass-production machinery than the human beings whose 'code' they constitute.
Alongside these darker amorphoscapes are some that are more purely abstract, and less claustrophobic, sonically and visually, in their sense of space. Landscapes falls into this category, and Automonton (aka Convergence) is a kind of friendly-sister-piece to Subverted: similar in construction, but more even-handed and less threatening in tone. Sublime lives up to its name: another generative, non-interactive piece, it is like a speeded up version of Brian Eno's video sculptures, with its rich colours, constantly bleeding and fading. (Is it supposed to be speeded up like this? I wonder if viewing 1999 artworks on a computer with a 2003 processor makes everything run in fast forward?)
So Stanza's portfolio of amorphoscapes demonstrates a range of approaches that blend audio, visual and haptic senses in different ways, to different effects. But what I found all the pieces shared was a deliberate lack of transparency of process (or of interaction, in the pieces where interactivity was available). I was never quite able to figure out fully what was going on. Even though three or four of the interactive pieces seemed to have the same layout of visual controls, the feedback from using these controls was so oblique that I never completely got the hang of which element had what effect. In early examples of the 'soundtoy' genre, such as those produced by the antirom collective, the interaction style was often openly perverse, but you were still able to get the hang of it after a bit and almost 'play' the toy like an instrument. You never feel that you could play an amorphoscape. It has its own mind, and it will take only passing and unpredictable notice of what you do to it.
This feeling gives an interesting twist to speculation about how the amorphoscapes might operate on a larger 'canvas', away from the Internet. Stanza has written: "Amorphoscapes are audio visual paintings, and can be installed into 'real' environments, where the movement of people in the room or gallery triggers the interactivity within the work. They could be thought of as drawing and painting machines, in the future to be projected, onto buildings, on clothes and on cars, and on large plasma screens in your living room." When an amorphoscape goes out into the world, the terms under which it generates and interacts change, subtly but significantly. It moves from the private realm to the public, and viewers' expectations of control and transparency alter accordingly. I'd like to see it.