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Particle synthesis

In computer graphics particle emitters refer to a technique to simulate certain fuzzy phenomena, which are otherwise very hard to reproduce with conventional rendering techniques. Examples of such phenomena which are commonly replicated using particle systems include fire, explosions, smoke, clouds, fog...or visual effects like glowing trails, magic spells, etc. These tiny elements are special rectangular surfaces, billboards always facing the camera and dynamically evolving over time. Particles contribute strongly to the overall visual appearance while requiring little CPU/bandwidth amount.

Granular synthesis:

Granular synthesis is a basic sound synthesis method that operates on the microsound time scale. These small sound snippets are called grains and with a typical duration of a few milliseconds they are near the threshold of human hearing. It is the continuous control of these grains which are discerned as one large sonic texture and which makes the granular synthesis characteristics combining time-domain information (starting time, duration, envelope shape, waveform shape...) with frequency-domain information (pitch, amplitude...) The result is no single tone, but a soundscape or texture, the so called 'cloud'. A simple granular "cloud" may consist of only a handful of grains, but a sophisticated "cloud" may be comprised of a thousand or more.

By varying any of the grains' sonic characteristics or density, different textures can be processed. This reorganisation actively involves rules, algorithms, defining granular synthesis as a sonic organism whereas the slightest transformation of its constituting grains or its underlying rules transforms the entire result.

particle synthesis

"All sound is an integration of grains, of elementary sonic particles, of sonic quanta."
Iannis Xenakis (1971).
The project 'particle synthesis' started from the idea of combining 3D particle engines with granular sound synthesis, a research mainly motivated by the possible convergence of visual, sonic and spatial parameters processed in real time within electronic space. Both technologies are considering a shape, a form or a sound as the result of many combined elementary particles which would be individually neither visible nor audible. In computer graphics the tiny graphic elements are named 'particles' whereas in granular synthesis many names exist for the sonic ones such as 'sonel', 'sonic quanta'... The very broad notion of particle as it can be applied to sonic and visual elements has been retained for the project name as 'synthesis' in reference to the way sound is processed.

The project thus relies on the mutual relation of sonic parameters ruled by the spatial and physical ones such as weight, emission rates, lifetime.... and where granular synthesis is complemented by parameters such as: position, orientation, speed, movement... In the beginning of a particle synthesis composition no predetermined shape or sound exists in itself but is made out of real-time processes. Similar to the principles of generative art, where out of the multiplication of simple elements instructed with certain rules emerges complex behavior, the project is based on the interaction of hundreds of these particles forming a sonic, visual and spatial organism diffused in surround sound and rendered in the form of a 360 degree multi-screen projection. As each organism is based on more or less complex rules any change in these rules affects its entity: the shape and behaviour of the organism as its sound texture. All of these introduce the construct of "scale", from the "elementary" to the "whole", into process logics where the spatial display of these real-time processes gives to these very abstract (and inherent) principles an astonishing concreteness.

This idea is not dissimilar to the one that saw the birth of granular synthesis, while it was closely related to "spatial sound" and as Xenakis introduced it in his composition "PH concret" intended to be played on about 400 speakers integrated in the Philips pavilion, called the Poème Electronique, of the 1958 World Fair in Brussels. His involvement in the architectural conception reflects entirely his general approach designing the building shape as his composing music with the same hyperbolic mathematical functions (Metastasis, 1953-1954). With this principle Iannis Xenakis succeeded in relating new sound design, think music, with spatial principles, architecture, and which laid out the basis of his later work.

Following similar convictions the 'particle synthesis' installation performs audio-visual organisms as it looks for new methods to design with emerging behaviours and the way to display them in a coherent manner. From this point of view particle synthesis links generative art to real time sound processing and spatial diffusion of light and sound while exploring the aesthetics of the digital realm.

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