Little Robot Heartbeats – Stuart Moore

For Little Robot Heartbeats, the first of our Xylophobia Hybrid Workshops, artist and Education Coordinator Stuart Moore led participants through a series of physical and web based activities creating generative art whilst aiming to find the place where art and nature, human and machine overlap.

Having received a box of digital toys and components in the post, participants connected Raspberry Pi infused stethoscopes to their computers to create digital drawings of flowers based on sampling sounds such as heartbeats, breath (or fart toys). More complex sounds resulted in more complex iterations based on digital interpretations of flowers from a mindfulness colouring book.

Digital flowers

Further images were created by manipulating digital creatures that displayed seemingly natural flocking behaviours. By changing variables such as randomness, alignment and cohesion, or by setting digital obstacles, participants were able to influence images of crystalline structures made by the creatures seemingly exhibiting the irresistible force of creativity. As participants attempted to control these swarming creatures highly organic looking images were made by leaving traces of the creatures movement over time, or highly digital images made by presenting 500 dimensional crystalline space in a two dimensional image.

Traces of digital creatures
500 dimensional crystalline space

Prompted to share his thoughts about the boundary between machine and nature, Stuart reflected on a Tibetan philosophy of brain and mind adding, “I think this is nature as computers are part of the world so how could it be otherwise?”.

Next up participants were able to turn drawings into sound, manipulate the sound through a graphic equaliser before turning the sound back into a new image. Experimenting with the sonic potential of images resulted in discoveries such as leaves on drawings of trees becoming high frequencies. Participants were also able to use their Raspberry Pi stethoscopes to create images directly from sounds.

Wiring up their Raspberry Pi’s with further components resulted in participants experiencing how a snail might see. With a phone vibration motor vibrating to convey the basic emotions of a snail, a simple light sensor in a narrow tube represented an eye. With participants investigating their physical world surroundings we discovered that safe, dark places resulted in greater snail satisfaction, preferring to avoid direct sunlight. “Feeling at a distance” effectively equalling one dimensional vision. Stuart noted that vision actually starts with plants, only they react and move to that input very slowly. As many participants were also educators there was some discussion about how a snail might see art and how the snail set up might make for a useful tool for viewing artwork with the visually impaired.

Other approaches to AI saw a machine attempt to create new passages of Harry Potter by using a rapid statistical analysis of existing text as a mould to “blow randomness through”, with amusing and almost convincing results.

Harry petted have fin.

“Fach and a pile of trayhing pat smilen and he
mail was head under af it.

Ex. Nextray!” Harry said. “Finst, Wimm? THarry, wouldn’t
favile out ap ow a boxed fir
that fatch went to him where

I know you meanned, you’ll be a liok, Harry. He had
entered hard nothen day.

“Got it,” said Ron. “Was nothing a close time
stursing towarry — that’s where he said reasol end he
could belouse. Dudley askin s

A similar process was applied to images with properties of one image statistically applied to the other. A source image of a turtle was recreated in the style of Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa. An AI-generated cat image was recreated with the “style” from a microscopic image of pollen.

Finally a sketchbot app was utilised to allow a machine to attempt to recreate simple human drawings constructed and redrawn on a plotter.

Machine attempting to recreate  human drawing

Stuart has made many of the apps and processes used in the workshop freely available here.

Look out for more in our series of artist led activities which utilise the best of the online and offline world, connecting people with one another and the natural world. Sign up to our mailing list here.