Alchemy and Real-time Media: Calligraphic Video

COMP691A / CART 498C-2A


Fall 2005 • Fridays 13:30 - 17:30

EV 5-825/5-815


Prof. Sha Xin Wei













Course Description:


This doctoral seminar introduces graduate students and qualified undergrads to phenomenological and computational approaches to real-time media synthesis based on physical simulations or other models of continuous dynamics for aesthetic and performance applications.  The course introduces, for example, lattice computation of canonical PDE's such as heat, wave, and Navier-Stokes equations.   Phenomenology of performance, and alchemical practice will contextualize the technical discussion.  Readings will be drawn from computer graphics and computer vision as well as performance, media arts, and the philosophy and history of early science, e.g. alchemy and chemistry.  In laboratory, students will create real-time media synthesis applications using a professional real-time media framework (Max/Jitter).


This seminar is designed to draw participants from multiple disciplines to work with real-time media synthesis technologies of performance.   It also serves to prepare students for a subsequent course in responsive media environments and installation art.



None.   A course in numerical computation OR a course in philosophy or history of science is preferred but not required.  For projects, we will pair students with complementary abilities.


Readings: TBD,  This representative bibliography will evolve.



Antonin Artaud, Theatre and Its Double, Grove Press, 1966.

Badiou (Badiou; Badiou, Brassier and Toscano)

Badiou, Alain. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy. Trans. Oliver Felham and Justin Clement. New York: Continuum, 1998.

Badiou, Alain, Ray Brassier, and Alberto Toscano. Theoretical Writings. London ; New York: Continuum, 2004.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema. 2 vols. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986, ISBN 0816614008, 0816616779 (paperback)

Heraclitus, and T. M. Robinson. Fragments. University of Toronto Press, 1987.

Husserl, Edmund. The Phenomenology of Internal Time-Consciousness. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964 (1928).

Jänich, Klaus. Topology. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1984.

Landau, Rubin H., and Manuel J. Paez Mejia. Computational Physics : Problem Solving with Computers. New York: Wiley, 1997, Book & Disk edition, 520 pp. ISBN 0471115908 (cloth). (selections)

Max, MSP (real-time sound) and Jitter (real-time video) References,

Newman, William R. Promethean Ambitions: Alchemy and the Quest to Perfect Nature. University of Chicago Press, 2004. ISBN: 0226577120 (cloth).

Readings in applied computer graphics and computer vision. (see J. Stam example article)

Readings in applied computational physics (e.g. interacting particle systems and lattice physics).

Readings in phenomenology.

Responsive media spaces

Murray Schafer's opera dealing with Hermes Trismegistos.  …"Alchemical Theatre".

Stam, Jos. "Flows on Surfaces of Arbitrary Topology", ACM Transactions On Graphics (TOG), Volume 22, Issue 3 (July 2003) : Proceedings of SIGGRAPH 2003, 724-731. 


Gary Tomlinson,  Music in Renaissance Magic.

Aleksandra Wolska.

Frances Yates


Specific topics vary according to the year.


In Fall 2005, questions include:

What makes something tangible?

Does causality imply tangibility?

What makes some media "physical" rather than “virtual”?

What kinds of temporality are there?

Does temporality impart tangibility?

When is it better to use physical media, numerical simulations or representations?

(And what’s the difference?)

What makes a medium responsive, active, agentful, lifelike?


We will look at recent results from the Topological Media Lab, in areas such as calligraphic video and gestural sound:


This course is mirrored as CART 498.