Imagine a limitless pool of computers dreaming together, creating an ever-changing, beautiful animation….
It actually does exist, and has for quite some time. Spot, aka Scott, created a program in 1999 called Electric Sheep that links computers into a visually self-referential networked system, and together they act as a sort of intelligent screen saver unit. With more than ten years on this project, it continues to grow, as 350,000-plus active users continue to join in on the action.
Electric Sheep is a program that can run on both PC and Mac. When the computer goes in to “dream” (sleep) mode, the program blinks on and starts to communicate with other computers doing the same thing. They share information with one another and constantly morph the evolving seed animations, called “sheep,” into whirling, swirling, multi-colored visuals.
In the early 1990s Scott interned at a company in Tokyo for one summer and very quickly finished all the work given to him. Left with a super computer to play with, he created the prototype of Electric Sheep. Very shortly after, back in the states Scott incorporated this style into his performance at many of the underground VJ parties in San Francisco.
I popped in to see Scott at his day job, where he currently works for Google in New York City. I was distracted while chatting to him, as Clade 1, the most recent Blu-Ray DVD of his work in action, ran on a big flat screen TV during my visit. An animation featuring sixdifferent “sheep,” it starts simply with a trefoil (three-leafed shape), smoothly, quickly, naturally changing from one vast world to another.
Apparently Clade 1 was proudly created with part human and part cyberbrain. It is hard to see the human presence in there, and I asked Scott why. He said the decision to focus on the artificial intelligence aspect ‘’gives the computer more of a chance to speak and shine for itself.” It is truly beautiful, a flipside utopia to a Terminator-themed apocalypse: instead of computers working together to suppress and overcome humanity, they link up to create something serene and pretty to enhance it.
Using some of the visuals from Electric Sheep Scott still performs, his last show being just a week ago at the Chelsea Art Museum in New York. Recently the Streaming Museum sponsored the program on the second-largest LED wall in Europe. You can purchase Clade 1 via Scott’s personal website. In the near future Electric Sheep may change to a subscription-based format to help keep running and growing; to experience the program for yourself, you can download it free here for now.
By Shantell Martin