CASCADR (2016)

Duration: 10:00

Instrumentation: 9-channel video and 9.1 channel audio playback.

Created in Collaboration with Jaymis Loveday
Supported by Australia Council For The Arts New Work Grant

Premiered: at Sonic State: Indieclassical, MetroArts, June 11 2016

CASCADR installation at Sonic State Festival, Metro Arts 2016.


Program Notes

CASCADR is a hypnotic audiovisual work in which slow motion water droplets move through patterns of order and chaos in synchrony with musical tones. The rhythm of the piece is determined by a long phase pattern based on simple numeric ratios, slowly unfolding over a ten-minute duration.

This collaboration between composer and audiovisual artist Chris Perren and cinematographer and inventor Jaymis Loveday represents a culmination of significant threads in both artists’ work. Perren’s fascination with visualised rhythm has led to a long series of audiovisual work, exploring a process of layering loops of audiovisual visual material that repeat at slightly different rates. Loveday has worked at the intersection between robotics and cinematography, and CASCADR brings together some of his key areas of experimentation including ultra-high-speed film and machine control of physical processes.

In the work, 9 portrait-oriented video screens show starkly lit droplets of water falling slowly and repeatedly into a pool of blackness. Each drop appears to produce a musical tone. The drops fall repeatedly at slightly different rates, producing hypnotic wave effects of emerging order and chaos.

The work was created with support from the Australia Council for the Arts and was completed in 2016. A version of the work was presented at Sonic State Festival in July 2016.

The sensory experience of CASCADR combines classical beauty and hypnotic immersion with a kind of intellectual puzzle.
The work begins with 9 drops falling simultaneously, in synchrony with a resounding 9-note chord. However, as the drops continue to fall, they begin to stagger, fanning out diagonally. The chords gradually morph into rolling arpeggios, and eventually into pointillistic constellations of sound. The graceful movement within each of the 9 screens is overlaid by the dramatic motion that emerges between the screens. The patterns gradually oscillate between chaos and order as they follow their long and deterministic journey toward realignment.

The viewer is placed within the black abstract space of the work, where relentless repetition solidifies the rules of the world. Repetition strips the sights and sounds of their semantic weight, so that the viewer enters a world of pure form through time. CASCADR’s mathematical construction does not render it a work for the head; on the contrary, its demonstration of universal mathematical principles connects directly with the human sense of the ineffable. It evokes a sense of the divine fundamentals of nature in the tradition of the Fibonacci ratio and the music of the spheres.

The musical notes that appear to be created by the droplets lend an affective and compelling voice to the unfolding algorithm, as consonant stable rhythms emerge and then fall away into chaos in waves. New complexities and sonorities are introduced throughout the piece, creating denser patterns and a more intense sensory experience as the piece moves deterministically toward its climax.

Despite these surface variations, the core cyclic structure remains the same throughout, and the whole work is describable within a single set of time ratios. The effect is akin to the “wave pendulum” experiment, in which a series of pendulums of increasing length are activated together, and pass through various emergent phase-states before eventually returning to their original alignment. Such processes are magnetic to the pattern-obsessed human mind, and witnessing the final alignment evokes a feeling of satisfaction akin to placing the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

The production of CASCADR pushed existing tools to the edge of their capability.
In order to preserve the integrity of the motion, each of the 9 panels is captured at a different high-speed frame-rate (between 291 and 350 frames per second) in order to create the slight variations in speed between the different drops. A computer-controlled dropper released droplets at the same rate for each capture, so that when they were played back together at equal frame-rates, the speeds of each would vary by tiny and precise amounts, resulting in entrancing emergent patterns.

In order for the droplets to appear to be moving slowly, the droplets needed to fall at a much higher rate than they would in the final video, but with no loss of timing precision. Custom droppers were built using syringe needles and solenoid valves, controlled via arduino. In order to achieve the effect, microsecond-accuracy was built into the custom-coded control program. The needles had to be hand-ground at the tips to control surface tension, and even the temperature and placement of the water source had to be controlled to produce clean drops at such high speed. In a single pass, the full 10 minutes of standard-frame-rate footage was captured in between 42 and 51 seconds of real time.

A tension between human control and natural chaos pervades the work.
Order and disorder is a central theme of CASCADR. As we witness patterns emerging from the perceived chaos of seemingly random drops, it causes us to consider the nature of our perception of order. It is not possible to identify a single moment when order emerges or dissipates, suggesting that our perceived distinction between the two may be an illusion. What changes throughout is not the presence or absence of pattern, but our ability to perceive the pattern.

The most defining gesture towards chaos emerged unexpectedly in the final stage of the work’s development. Despite our great efforts to control the physical processes upon which the work relies, there remained some inconsistencies which emerged in the form of randomly occurring bubbles, splutters, and bounces. Faced with the decision of whether or not to artificially erase these imperfections, we became suddenly aware of a divide between human design and the complexity of the real world. Perhaps, like the more chaotic phases of the work itself, these apparent “random imperfections” were actually a kind of fine natural orderedness, imperceptible to coarse human perception.

Thus at that point, when we exhausted our means of imposing our will on time and matter, it became nature’s turn to define the work. All of the numerical procedures which aligned the sound to the vision were painstakingly adjusted to match what had occurred in the real world; sounds were manually added to align with bubbles and bouncing drops, mimicking how we imagined they might sound in the abstract world of the piece. This final move feels as a gesture of respect towards the real physical world’s refusal to be simple and predictable.