WORKS / Electronic Cities

Date: 2013-08-24
Technology: Processing, JAVA, Max6, OSC




Electronic Cities is an A/V digital installation trying to mimic the different ways of designing urban landscapes. Inspired by Tsutomu Nihei’s cyber punk manga «Blame!» in which cities are built almost by themselves, Electronic Cities is an algorithmic’s ode to self-building cities. It is also a critic of how Humans are building cities today.

Sometimes chaotic, sometimes very straight and geometric, the piece evolves by following a very basic set of rules. These rules evolve themselves to make the piece evolving everytime and generating unique artworks, unique algorithmic-designed cities.

Sometimes, cities die and let the whole screen blank. Then, another city can grow.

Each x second, the installation saves a snapshot of the screen and push it on a picture services on internet in order to directly and automatically shows how the city was at this precise moment. This is also a short metaphor about the information propagation: audience on site can watch, but at the same time, every one in the world can watch it too.

Sound layer is very important in urban territories. Electronic Cities produces sound, using sometimes samples of urban field recording moments or pure synthesis and raw/glitch sound waves. Every change and sound evolution depend on the artwork, the visual itself. This is also a way to hear the visuals, to hear the cities’ design while it occurs.

Interactivity is one of the next step of the piece. By using Social Network feeds, local area networks or PAN (bluetooth), audience would be able to modify each generated piece.

Electronic Cities can be run in multiple places on Earth and at the same time. Each digital installation can communicate with the other by using Internet. The whole network can share design parameters, sounds and visuals themselves to produce a monumental and network-based piece.


Depending on the different number of galleries and places interested, this system will or won’t be able to also generate multi-channel sound matter. Algorithms are ready, but chaos itself needs to progress all along submissions, lectures and courses in order to make this art piece evolving.

This work is included as an example of generative new media installation in a course I’m providing at the ESDAMM (Art School of Marseille)



Electronic Cities is about transitory art.

Algorithms used to design artworks are able to design things by themselves, but also by listening messages from the other installations on the network and also by listening people. This is all about identity: where am I ? How can I act on this or that ? If I act, how my action would compare to the action of the others ? Through the visual design itself, Electronic Cities also questions about identity.

Electronic Cities can be runned in a big network, all over the planet. As soon as another installation interacts with the one we are just watching, we can feel some troubles in the visuals themselves. Then, audience can feel the other installations’ influences and question itself about its place. Indeed, we can imagine some questions: «who did influence it the most? the network? me? other real people? the pure coded algorithm?» It questions about our place amongst a population, amongst a system that can crush individual interests, sometimes.

Electronic Cities is about travelling. Messages, informations, data coming from many places, many sources can also influence it. It represents the over-saturated communication layers in our societies.

Beyond cities, there are Humans. Electronic Cities just tries to show about the progressive digitalization or algorithmicization of Humanity itself.



Electronic Cities is based on one computer only.

It requires :

– a computer running OSX 10.8.5 minimum
– a multi-channel sound system (4 speakers + 1 sub-woofer)
– a big screen (optionally more than one) + a video-projector with HD capabilities
– an Internet  connection

The underlying technologies are:

– Processing based binaries for visuals
– Max7 framework for sounds
– OSC protocol transported over UDP on Internet and inside the computer itself
– Some Social Networks’ API

Basically,  a set of rules (physics, pixel-analysis) drives the drawing of each city. Some event occurs like a collision between a building-agent and this case generates a message for the sound module part. This latter parses & interprets the message and change the sound.

The sound part is more complex. It can uses and mixes both sample-based sounds and synthesized sounds too. The result is a sound piece sounding like ambient and granular synthesis based music.

Messages or events coming from Internet or LAN or PAN are handled by a proper module. This latter can also communicate with the one generating visuals because there is a strict protocol in my installation: sounds come from visuals design only. Indeed, like in real life, we have to feel that sounds come from building and work in streets.

Each speaker is placed in a corner of the place, oriented to the center of the big square. The subwoofer is behind the screen.

People can walk and feel the sound different depending on where they are in the room



Here is a small video demoing the piece in 4 cycles of the algorithm. Music is also by me and is named inside.

Here are some screenshots, including one (the first one) showing some part of the different engines under-the-hood.

Electronic Cities is powered by Max6 (formerly Max MSP) and Processing frameworks.






I have around 3 or 4 interesting variables I can alter in order to render very different pictures like these ones, for instance.