The Whitney System

Part of Whitney Evolved – real-time, code-based audiovisual works inspired by, interpreting and extending John Whitney Sr.’s animated films. 9-12th February, 2012 – Kinetica Art Fair, P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS

Realised in the open source creative coding environment Processing, The Whitney System uses the metaphor of the orrery – a mechanical model of the Solar System – to express the periodic and cyclic nature of John Whitney Sr.’s ‘rose’ algorithm. Rose forms of differing size, shape and colour orbit around a central ‘sun’, each advancing through a progression of dynamic and striking patterns. The piece explores how the harmonic relationships within the algorithm – based on small whole number ratios or Just Intonation – drives the convergence and divergence of these forms according to the Pythagorean Law of Harmony. 

In an audiovisual iteration of the piece, each rose would also be a base frequency sound emitter, its pitch determined as the ratio of its progression along the ‘sequence‘ of the algorithm. Matching the orbiting roses these drones would move around the sound field and drift in and out of harmonic alignment.


About Whitney Evolved

John Whitney Sr. is considered by many to be the godfather of modern motion graphics.

“Beginning in the 1960s, he created a series of extraordinary films of abstract animation that used computers to create a harmony – not of colour, space, or musical intervals, but of motion.” He championed an approach in which animation wasn’t a direct representation of music, but instead expressed a “complementarity” – a visual equivalence to the attractive and repulsive forces of consonant/dissonant patterns found within music. Whitney recognised that his work represented the infancy of an art form, but suggested that, “Composers will discover a congruence of aural-visual partnership… grounded on valid harmonic interrelationships equally applicable to sound and image.”

Monomatic (Nick Rothwell & Lewis Sykes) with Noise Machine (Mick Grierson), pixelpusher (Evan Raskob) with computational design students from Ravensbourne and Transphormetic (Paul Prudence) present a series of real-time, code-based audiovisual works inspired by, interpreting and extending Whitney’s animated films – projected at large scale onto the rear wall of the P3 exhibition space throughout KAF ’12.

Building on John Whitney’s aesthetic of simple dot and line, bold colour and dynamic geometric form they re-imagine his two-dimensional patterns in new forms: three-dimensional shapes, projection-mapped patterns and even anaglyph 3D. Some also take the next step of creating sound and music to correspond directly to those visual images – something John Whitney himself never quite managed to realise.

Noise Machine:

More details at this Monomatic website post.