Nick Smithies (AUS)
Computers as networked agents. Custom designed software turns data packets sniffed from the Internet into sound. Repurposing data to drive aleatoric composition.

Nick Smithies is an artist and musician interested in computer/real world interfacing, reactive installation, aleatoric music constructed from found data sets, electronic performance tools and machine interaction. Nick has recently completed a Bachelor of Time Based Multimedia at the School of Art, University of Tasmania in Hobart and his recent projects have been exhibited at CAST gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre and The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) where he collaborated with the Tasmanian Artist Blacksmith Association to perform a five hour live sound art work Bent, Twisted and Upset on the MONA markets stage. Supporter of the copy left movement, Nick runs a weekly radio show on Hobart’s community radio station Edge Radio that specialises in electronic music released under creative commons licenses. He is also co-founder of Miss Despoina’s. Critical Engineering Space.

Networked Sound Device 1.0
Aleatory /Agency / Environment: A response to NAF_TMFC three day ritual / networkshop.

While studying the topologies of networks and the worldwide flow and retention of data I became interested in how little control and understanding the typical end user has of the process of data exchange. Putting the security (and political) concerns that arise from the process of packet data sniffing aside my interest was further heightened by seeing the screen of the device I was using to hack the local network fill up with an ever increasing stream of seemingly random letters and numbers (data) which somehow represented the activities of the human participants in the workshop. I felt like I had stumbled into a gold mine, a sort of untapped esoteric reservoir. This massive by product of human exchange was hidden behind the scenes – representations of human gestures interpreted by computers to be read by other computers and in turn interpreted back to humans.

In an age of recycling and re-use why can’t this data be used for some further purpose than intended?

I have always had an interest in the element of chance as a driving force in the creative process. Whether in the guise of a serendipitous discovery that drives further production or an aleatoric system of working that yields unique results in every instance it is performed, the excitement lies in the possibility of engendering something truly new and unique. It is this coupled with a passion for hacking and re purposing that led me to the thought of creating a stand alone musical device that was to be driven by these random strings of numbers found within data packets 'sniffed' from the internet.

For me the importance of an aleatoric system such as this is to be found in its potential to align its designer with the spark of creativity itself. No longer does the work have a clearly defined 'author', a lens to dim the divine spark so to speak, as when it is left to run it keeps creating anew by itself and of itself. Within this mode of thought we find a continuation of the project to remove the (rational) “I” of the artist from the art process as was seen in the automatic writings and paintings of the Surrealists or in the heightened spontaneity found in some of the methods of the Abstract Expressionists but with a system such as Networked Sound Device 1.0 we are left to ponder: who or what becomes the (“I”) actual agent of creation?

Is it the system designer? Is it the system users (people using the network)? Or is it the system itself (through random elements inherent within its workings)?

I believe that all three parties play equal parts in engendering the work and as such notions of agency and authorship have been thrown into question.

Rather than seeing Networked Sound Device 1.0 as simply a music machine for computer agents driven by human agents to play on, I believe I have created an environmental artwork, a system that produces sound or music through analysing its environment (the Internet) taking samples of activity within that environment and using these as system inputs. When one is using the system and the sounds within the work become more frenetic and build in a crescendo, what we have is an abstract indication of activity within the network environment.
Artist Text Response
Networked Sound Device 1.0 installation shots
Photos: Aaron Horsley