Dream Machine



Dream Machine

Medium: Multimedia Narrative, Public Performance, CGI, ShaderToy open source graphics

Sound collaboration with Reece Anderson

Winter 2021

Dream Machine is a multi-media narrative that provides viewers an embodied journey through information architecture and its six layers of interface, cloud, address, city, earth, and user.

Like a dream that brings forth strange realities that appears things out of the dark into the seeable, like a machine that sets in motion all its parts and mechanisms, the Dream Machine emerges and embodies peculiar worlds and perplexing objects into the real. This quasi-transcendental quasi-technological silhouette begins to tell us the secrets of the planetary techno-culture it has presenced.

Peeking into its body, viewers move through the layers of physical and virtual space intermeshed and transubstantiated across space and time, encountering natural and artificial entities that are connected and affected in unexpected ways and entangled relations. As the Dream Machine enframes and narrates their existence, different modes of being are named for different entities, revealing the social-ontology embedded in and across the techno-infrastructures of our planet.


On the interface layer, viewers move through a mishmash of software, hardware, and interfaces. They are scattered across cities or in the hands of users. Screens and windows flatten space on to two-dimensional planes, while simultaneously diversifying space through multiple forms of representation (text, graphics, buttons, and menus); they open up a continuum of hyper-mediated realities, where buttons lead to more windows and windows offer more buttons. (Bolter p.32) They create what Bratton calls “psychogeographies of user-interfaces”. (Bratton p.8)

Screen after screen, realities become layered upon realities. Strange portals and thresholds transfer the viewer from one device onto another. Devices exist within devices. Each technological body is an entity in itself, while at the same time, an assembly of many integrated techno-bodies. (Bryant p.75) Objects become “wrapped in objects wrapped in objects wrapped in objects”. (Bryant, p.75) Objects mingle with other objects to create a world. This world becomes an object that mingle with other objects to form their own world. Objects assemble worlds and worlds abstract into objects.

Viewers experience the dynamic worlding of information architecture, where a single world is not the dominant realm for all entities to exist in. Instead, viewers become swept into a plurality of worlds where a reversibility between worlds and objects collapse them one onto another. (Bryant p.118-9) Viewers experience not a single universe but a Pluriverse in which one world is composed of many worlds. (Bryant, 116)

The devices lead us to the cloud layer which connects multiple digital spaces and devices all over the world. This layer is visualized as a giant computer that is deconstructed and spread out across the planet. Server farms or data centers act as a global CPU (central processing unit) that processes, stores, and delivers data from one device to another. Cloud data from all over the globe become stored at a physical place of the data center, in a physical space on any one of its supercomputers, inside a physical hard drive or solid-state server. From these data centers, distribution tunnels of fiber optic cables spread out to form a superhighway of data. These act as a bus system that physically pass on information between continents to every corner of the earth. Throughout the tunnel, information gets translated into multiple mediums- from colorful light pulses, to electromagnetic waves, to electrical signals.

This superhighway is laid out across ocean floors, over mountains, and all kinds of terrains on the earth’s surface. They come to pass information into unexpected spheres of our global society for all kinds of agricultural, industrial, economic activities: from farming technologies, to electronics manufacturing, to labour forces, to stock markets, and consumer markets. (Bratton p.84-87) In doing so, the cloud layer comes to mediate our cultural consumption and industrial production, as well as materialize socio-political realities such as labor conditions, how we shop and sell, and how we cultivate our land. Through such a collective imagery of society, viewer’s visually experience the total-infiltration of computation into civilization that has come to “name an ontological condition of humanization”. (Mitchell p.xiii)

But the cloud layer can only deliver data from one place to another through a universal and centralized addressing system. Today, such addresses are assigned by a single US organization called ICANN and a single addressing protocol called IPv6. Bratton states that these universal addressing systems allow for a “truly abyssal volume of individual addressees”. (Bratton p.70) This centralized system can be seen as an ever-expanding phone book individually indexing every device, human, and non-human on the planet. Individuated addresses represent each of these entities as a communicable junction in the cloud layer, operating as both a destination and source where information can both arrive safely or forwarded out. (Bucher p.4) Addresses become the medium through which entities can interact with each other.

Viewers experience this system through a bizarre mechanical spider that is frantically spinning across an eerie mega-city. It generates a swarm of digital folders, each with a unique IP address indexed to them. These folders come to be the containers of people, objects, and content across information architecture. Flocks of address-folders fly across the cloud layer. They provide transportability, communicability, and controllability for the object they contain. The spider’s frenzied breeding of addresses expresses a voracious “appetite” to extract everything in the world into a calculable, controllable, and manipulable paradigm of information. (Bratton p.12) In this, addresses are the technological execution of what Heidegger describes as the “Stand-Reserve”. (Heidegger p.17-19) To address an entity is to order it “to stand by, to be immediately at hand, to stand there just so that it may be on call for a further ordering.” (Heidegger p.17) In this way, addresses create an ontological condition of ubiquitous retrievability. By symbolically containing entities, addresses allow for the preservation and manipulation of thing they contain.

This brings us to the user layer. In receiving an address, any human or non-human can access and be accessed by other addressed subjects, content, and systems inside information architecture. This means that addressed objects, places, and events across different spatial and temporal scales can now communicate with each other. The Dream Machine calls itself a “mesh of people and places” and a “collection of identities”. Its infinite database of addressed subjects become revealed in the form of User Passports. They catalogue serial ID numbers (from passport ID to device ID) that dictate the identity of a user-subject based on technical categories and codes that are sensical to machines but nonsensical to humans. The incomprehensible, and thereby unaccountable enumerations, become decision-makers that choose who or what a person or thing gets to be.

The last two categories spell out the “status” of the User (from Low to High) and their “access level” (from Minimal, Moderate, to Supreme). These categories express the accessibility and mobility for a user subject, allowing them certain privileges to access different points in information architecture and the authorization to travel to them. These classifications speak to a particular social order that is carved into addressing systems. By sectioning out its database into hierarchical divisions, address systems can segregate the user population into social classes. (Siegert, p. 107, 108) This allows addressing systems to shape the social world of its subjects, by circumscribing their degree of freedom and opportunity, and placing limitations on what they can see and do. The passports are a gesture of itemization that marks its subjects as a potential property of information architecture; a property that can be named, ordered, placed, and replaced by the system.

Cities are the physical framework for the user layer, the interface layer, and the cloud layer. A city operates as a physical vessel hosting a diverse populace of users, technologies, and their connective mediums- from hardware, to electromagnetic fields, to networks of transmission wires, to everyday smart objects of the Internet of Things. (Bratton p.70) Through a series of time-lapses, viewers experience cities as a surface that is teeming with pockets of media and media-engaged individuals. Through the addressable geo-locations of its occupants, urban cities that are densely populated with people and machines also become mapped into addressing systems. In doing so, the city layer becomes a subject of the address layer and are subjected to the manipulation of technological agents that utilize these addresses.

In the final scene of Dream Machine, a zoom out shot reveals a multitude of cities as components of a frightening technological mega-grid. Over each city, different mapping software superimpose themselves and project images of suggested routes and identified locations. This reveals the bigger picture of how cities function within “larger computational systems” as submissive vessels to technological agents. (Bratton p.148)

Information Architecture is not just a virtual system but a physicalized structure that includes entire cities. One layer deeper than the city is the Earth itself. Viewers descend from the Cloud layer down into subterranean depths where generators are extracting from the earth’s core. Through this downward movement, viewers experience how the motherboard of the Cloud is “drinking” from the material substrate of the planet. (Bratton p.67) Information architecture becomes rooted into the material structure of the earth. (Bratton p.70) In doing so, it become a structure of heavy and concrete form.

Viewers further experience this through a collage of terrestrial sourcing sites and distribution routes. A variety of metal and electricity production/distribution become an integrated part of the Dream Machine. Power plants (nuclear, solar, kinetic) and power grids (a network of generators, substations, circuit breakers, transformers, busbars, towers, wires, etc.) generate and disperse enough energy to power all the other layers and the activities of every single agent on each layer. Mineral miners and manufacturers supply materials for planetary-computation in the forms of silica, steel, plastic, copper, glass. Their sand mines, processing facilities, purifying furnaces, and technical equipment (such as cranes, forklifts, bull dozers, semi-trucks)- all become a part of information architecture as the Materializers of its individual agents and collective structure. The earth becomes a physical foundation providing minerals and energy to matter and power the entire operation of information architecture. (Bratton p.70)

At the earth layer, we see a unique ontological condition of material determinism. The atomic and chemical nature of materials define the capacities of technology, and there by, determine the Enframing of what is presenced in the world. If information is bits, if bits are the on and off states in hard-drive cells, if on and off states are determined by the flow of electrons, and if silicon is what conducts electrons through a circuit, then the electron and silicon are the fundamental building blocks to information architecture. From a microscopic level, these tiny material particles flex their agency to generate and operate the macrocosmic world of information. Through their materiality planetary-computation has been made possible and the accidental megastructure is constructed. If technology is Gestell (a means of presencing the world) (Heidegger P.20), and technology is itself presenced through materials, perhaps materials are what presences the world after all. p.21 Perhaps the world that we come to see through technological “Enframing”, is a world defined by the “Exi-gency” (existence and agency) of materials and materiality. (Bryant p.77)

References

Barad, Karen. Quantum Entanglements and Hauntological Relations of Inheritance: Dis/continuities. SpaceTime Enfoldings, and Justice-to-Come. Edinburgh University Press, pp. 240- 248.

Bolter, J. & Grusin, R. “Immediacy, Hypermediacy, and Remediation,” Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2000, pp 21 – 50.

Bratton, Benjamin H. The Stack: on Software and Sovereignty. MIT Press, 2015.

Bryant, Levi. Onto-Cartography An Ontology of Machines and Media. Edinburgh University Press Ltd, 2014, Edinburgh.

Bucher, Taina. “Introduction: Programmed Sociality” If … Then, Algorithmic Power and Politics. Oxford University Press, 2018, pp 1 -10.

Fin, Ed. “What is an Algorithm.” What Algorithms Want: Imagination in the Age of Computing. The MIT Press, 2017, pp 15 - 56.

Heidegger, Martin. “The Age of the World Picture,” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt, New York, Harper and Row, 1977, pp 115-54.

Mitchell, W.J.T. & Hansen, M. “Introduction,” Critical Terms for Media Studies. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010, pp vii – xxii.

Siegert, Bernhard. “(Not) in Place: The Grid, or Cultural Techniques of Ruling Spaces.” Cultural Techniques, Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real. Fordham University Press, 2015, pp 97 – 120.