The Fine Tuning

An audiovisual installation/performance.(2011)

This project is inspired by the “fine tuning” problem of the natural universe, that is, the fact that the constants of our cosmos seem perfectly determined to have produced observers. The fine tuning problem is also related to the anthropic principle, which suggests that by the very act of observing the natural universe, we inadvertently also select or determine what this universe could possibly be. Observers are thus in a constant phenomenological feedback loop with the known universe, a correlational circle.

The idea of the feedback loop is important here for several reasons. Though I am not using room or mixer feedback, the installation is based on analog electronic oscillators, and in their most basic form, oscillators are nothing more than an amplifier that feeds back into itself. The specific frequency an oscillator produces is the resonant frequency of its circuit: it starts by amplifying random noise and with every loop back through the amp, the resonant frequency of the circuit is reinforced, just as the resonant frequencies of a room are reinforced when a speaker feeds back through a mic. The resulting pure sine wave the oscillator produces is selected from the white noise that was initially amplified, and theoretically which contains all frequencies. This is not unlike the way the universe seems to have come into being, as selected from all other possible universes by a feedback process involving the observer. The feedback loop is the basic principle on which emergence depends: in systems theory, it is the mechanism selectively retains from blind variation (randomness, noise, mutation), and hence reinforces certain characteristics from that pool through repetition, producing homeostatic stabilities.

Installation/Performance Description:
Prior to the performance I will have made a loop of magnetic audio tape. I have measured the length of the loop so that it is equal to a multiple of the Planck length, 1.616199(97)×10 to the -35 meters, which is understood by physicists the minimum limit of scale in the universe, much as the speed of light is the maximum limit of speed. There is a Revox reel to reel recorder on the floor against the wall. The tape loop runs through the recorder and up onto reels that have been fixed to the wall, so that the loop extends above the recorder, forming a kind of frame.

Four wooden boxes of the same proportion, housing custom-made analog oscillators, built by the artist, are placed in a row, on the floor. Their frequency and amplitude are voltage-controllable, offering various intermodulation possibilities, similar to a modular synthesizer. The oscillation of one oscillator can thus control the variation of another oscillator’s frequency or amplitude. The resulting oscillations are not only sent to the speakers for acoustic amplification, but also routed to a fifth wooden box which houses a custom-built analog laser oscilloscope. It is equipped with a laser diode and two galvanometers which will rotate according to a variation of a voltage: one steers a mirror in the X axis, the other in the Y axis. Hence, when an oscillating electrical signal is sent into these and a laser beam is bounced onto their vibrating mirrors, the deflected beam produces an animated visual pattern known as a lissajous pattern. To me, they evoke the inter-embedded and folded dimensions of contemporary cosmology. During the performance, these laser patterns are projected into the middle of the tape loop on the wall.

During the performance, I wire-up different modulation circuits between the oscillators and, by delicately tweaking their parameters, I attempt to finely tune their relationships, searching for their harmonic “sweet-spots” and shaping them, both sonically and visually into remarkable forms. I also record them onto the tape and play them back degraded which produces noisier patterns. The relatively degraded quality of tape recording is meant to evoke the random variation or pure difference from which all individuations emerge : the random variation from which all identity is ultimately selected, through the principle of the feedback loop.
Though this is a basic framework for the performance it will vary every time I do it because I like to leave room for improvisation and to be inspired by the space it is being presented in.