Planet of Noise
Have you ever wondered about what gets left out of the big bright bold future promised by the unholy alliance of free-market capitalism and information technology? That’s the starting point, or one of the starting points for PLANET OF NOISE. Info tech is supposed to make the world over as a world of optimism and choice, where information circulates with pure speed, unimpeded. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to be working out that way. Multi Hyper Cyber Digi Info. Everything does not quite work as advertised. The information society flickers on the surface of a planet of noise.

So how could we make art that reflected another kind of experience of information? Or more particularly, of the dark side of information—noise? One strategy was to take away the illusion of choice that’s built in to a lot of ‘interactive’ art. You can press this button or that button, but you have no choice but to press buttons. Planet of Noise exploits the little discussed ability of the multimedia format to empower the artist, not the user, by restricting the choices open to the user.

Interactive worlds are ordered worlds, where the user makes rational choices between the branching pathways. But not the Planet of Noise. Choice is absent. The user follows the pathways the artists’ make. There are different ‘zones’ on this planet, different terrains of experience. But once you choose one, the proceedings are determined by the artists. But things are not quite as they seem. The contents of the zones don’t match their place names. Each describes a set of sounds, colours, words that is so fuzzy as to hardly qualify as a set at all. And so we have the two sides of noise, that lingering residue on the dark side of information: arbitrary order and the chaos of difference.

But Planet of Noise does hold out some kind of hope, even as it throws the user unaided into this bewildering world. The aim of its orchestration of colour and texture, word and sound, is to provide zones in which to meditate on the experience of immersion in information itself. It is a map to a world that changes every second. It uses the writing techniques of the Zen koan and the western aphorism to provide the jolt of misrecognising who we are or where we are. It is a map, not for finding one’s way, but for losing it.

Planet of Noise developed as a collaborative work between Brad Miller and McKenzie Wark. The procedure was quite simple: one would create a possible element or idea for the work, and the other would modify it or integrate it with another element or idea. The finished work is an alloy of different ways of working, and one that anticipates a further alloy, once the user adds her or his own difference to the mix.

The process of creating it was an experiment, and it is meant to encourage further experiments in ways of working with new media, discovering what the medium can say about its own limitations as well as possibilities, and what that might tell us about the problem of media and communication in general. We are too used to thinking of media as a tool or resource, as a means to an end. Planet of Noise explores new media rather as a problem.
© 1997 Brad Miller + McKenzie Wark

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