Tuesday, 9 October 2007

1w4 Eden-- Life and death in the artificial ecosystem

eden is an interactive, self-generating, artificial ecosystem. A cellular world is populated by collections of evolving virtual creatures. Creatures move about the environment, making and listening to sounds, foraging for food, encountering predators and possibly mating with each other. Over time, creatures evolve to fit their landscape. eden has four seasons per year and each year lasts 600 eden days. One eden year passes by in about fifteen minutes of real time. A simple physics dictates only three basic types of matter in the Eden world: rocks, biomass and sonic animals. You can get more details about eden (including photos, sounds and video) in the book Impossible Nature: the art of Jon McCormack. The book also includes a DVD with video documentation of eden exhibited at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in 2004.
eden was inspired by time spent in the wilderness of Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory, Australia.

eden’s creatures begin life with little knowledge. Over time, they change, learning to adapt to their environment. Evolution of behaviour leading to mating usually takes about five eden years to discover. Behaviours that are more complex emerge between seven and seventy-five eden years and beyond. Many creatures die during this time. If a creature can mate before it dies, it passes on its genetic material to its offspring, who inherit the capabilities of their parents (as behaviour learnt during a parent’s lifetime is passed to its offspring: eden uses Lamarckian evolution).

The creatures can see (at short distances) and hear. The sounds you hear while eden is running are the sounds the creatures make. They can recognise the tonal ‘colour’ of the sound they hear and identify its direction. Through evolution, the creatures learn to make sounds and to hear the sounds of others. The work generates a sonic landscape that is experienced by people within the installation space while eden is evolving.

Sound is only made by a creature if it improves survival.

For example, in some evolutions of eden, creatures use sound to help them mate or find food. In other evolutions, they use sound to keep people within the physical space of the installation. This is achieved by placing sensors around the installation that detect human movement. Their movement and presence is mapped to the food supply for the creatures. If there are no people, the food supply dries up and the creatures starve to death. By making ‘interesting’ sounds, the creatures can keep people in the installation space, thereby increasing their food supply. On some occasions the creatures have learnt to use sound to keep people within the space, hence increasing their chances of survival. A symbiotic relationship develops between eden’s audience and its artificial life.

eden could be considered an artificial life world that uses sound, or a generative composing system for experimental sound and image. One of the aims of the work is to exploit the emergent properties that result from the relationship between the people who experience the work and the open-ended nature of artificial evolution.

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