Toggler – Stuart Moore

Toggler is a Fermynwoods Contemporary Art website feature allowing commissioned artists to explore, demonstrate and celebrate the potential of creativity in website design.

As websites become increasingly standardised to ensure familiarity and ease of use for online visitors, Toggler allows artists to champion the role of curiosity and creativity in exploring other possibilities for presenting content online.

Visitors are able to view our website through different lenses by toggling between styles developed by commissioned artists.

Stuart Moore is a sound artist and microtonal composer that works closely with technology. His work explores the relationship between experience of the involuntary soundscape and purposeful human composition, by way of studying the roots of the perception of music. Stuart’s work is driven by his belief that sound is the most direct expression of human feeling.

Animation made in an afternoon using AI to interpret motion - Stuart Moore
Animation made in an afternoon using AI to interpret motion, Stuart Moore, 2019

Can you tell us a bit about your practice?

I’ve been calling myself a “sound artist that works closely with technology” but at some point I’ll have to admit that’s changed a bit and the technology has also become an important issue in its own right! Now some of the things I do are expressed only in tech and most recently I’ve been putting a lot of work into AI. On the sound side, the sound in this Toggler includes microtonal harmonies found inside road sound and birdsong which gives it its own unique notes and one of the main structures in it is a slowly changing ‘degree of noise’.

Tech and sound went together for me at first because I felt that conventional sound equipment was not really ‘honest’. For instance, some singers could be treated very unfairly by the technology that just somehow failed to communicate their expression properly. Also, because sound is very abstract by nature its not easy to manipulate. You can choose notes on an instrument easily, but if you want to alter a different property like warmth, that’s not so obvious. By trying to work with these issues I found out a lot of interesting things about sound, but there’s also some important questions about technology in there too.

When you notice it, a huge amount of our human expression and communication is with a machine as a proxy. So much so that it’s very easy to forget. Speaking on your phone, what you hear is not someone’s voice, just a sound the machine makes to represent it. The same of course for pixels and even more so for text. Our very strong tendency to anthropomorphize creates a blindspot. It makes it hard to notice that the squeaky crackly little thing does not even vaguely sound like a real voice! AI makes it even harder. If the question in the Turning Test is essentially ‘how human does it seem?’, it’s useful to remember that we regularly feel sock puppets have a personality.

What interested you in the Toggler commission?

Toggler gets the website and lets you remove things you maybe take for granted, but it doesn’t say anything about what should go back in there instead. That leaves just the power of the computer and whatever you decide you’re going to do with it! It makes me realise that what a website is ‘for’ is very undefined. It can be an aesthetic experience, a source of information or education, it can tell a story, be a utility or a hazard. It occurred to me that by accident or design, what a website is and what it says it is or means to be are not very likely to be the same thing. So I started off trying to make something about bad machines telling lies, but that’s not quite what it ended up being…

Can you explain the ideas behind your approach to Toggler?

For this Toggler, rather than alter too much how it looks I wanted to try and talk about some of the things that are invisible.

It’s easy to feel while you are looking at a web page that it’s a solitary experience, but you are in fact in a public space. Details of your actions and in-actions can be and are observed, and while you look at the screen, the machine looks back at you.

Our intuition for the most part hasn’t caught up with the idea of data. The characters in the animation are not people, but they have come into contact with people. They are noisy and incomplete traces of data that have been gathered by a simple AI process, but something about our humanity is easily strong enough to show through and communicate a surprising amount to anyone that chooses to look. For me, I think that’s the most remarkable part – what a powerful mark we leave on things.

The wiggly line in the background I like to think of as a data creature. It watches you and it grows from the information it gathers. What does your data self look like on the other side of the screen?

To explore our website using Stuart’s commissioned code select STUART MOORE from the drop down Toggler menu above. Please note Toggler will not affect your visiting experience of the home page. To return to the standard website design, please select DEFAULT from the menu.