Greetings from the Early Universe! It’s a lot less complicated out here. There’s no global pandemic, the universe is of much lower entropy, and I’m bathing in primordial soup made of Quark-Gluon plasma. It’s quite hot and dense, similar to the way I like my showers. I quite like it here and I may never return. Who needs the complexity of the Universe as it is today, anyway?
It has been a little while since I last did a written report. It turns out that doing a residency during a pandemic is a slow challenge. Navigating lockdown and curfews has not been easy. It makes the acquisition of supplies take longer, and commuting from working from home to the gallery while accommodating curfew is certainly not an easy task. The theme of time has always been prominent during this residency and the curfew has made it even more so. It’s quite interesting, if you think about it… I have a lot to report so there will be more frequent blog posts until my residency ends.
As one may expect, I have a few projects on the go. If reading is not your style, I encourage you to watch this informal and fun talk I did with Bettina Forget at the halfway point of my residency about a month ago. It will give you a good idea of the direction my residency is going in. The link is below:
Early Universe Observer
In my last blog post, I showed a performative machinimagraph that I created in Second Life of my avatar, MultiverseTraverser1, listening to the Cosmic Microwave Background. I have been working with the “from the IRL to the URL” and “going virtual” concept because of the pandemic, and one of my ongoing explorations of this theme is to create performance art “selfies” as my virtual and physical self. So, I created a physical version of myself listening to the Cosmic Microwave Background with a broken portable TV/radio that I bought at my favorite radio shop!
‘Low Entropy’ Artworks
Previously, I discussed my research question for this residency: “What was the Early Universe like?” and how this research question became more of a “parent” research question for further research questions, such as the following:
Did the universe begin in a state of low entropy?
Are we living in a high entropy universe?
Was the Early Universe calm?
What did the Early Universe sound like?
As I continued my research over the past couple of months, I found that the answer was: yes, the universe did in fact begin in a state of low entropy, which is actually an extremely important factor for why the universe exists as it does today! The entropy of the universe has been increasing and continues to increase which is the reason why we exist today.
This calls for what the art world calls ‘minimalism’ in my works for the residency, and possibly for years to come since this residency is only the beginning of a body of work about the Early Universe.
I’ve always had a complicated relationship with minimalism as an artist. For many years I felt the need to resist it and make my art as immaculate as possible. To me, minimalism felt cold and boring. I associated it with apartments that have almost nothing inside of them, having no emotional attachment to objects, etc. However, as I have matured as an artist over the years, I have come to the conclusion that less is more. It turns out that was also the case for our Universe when it began!
Researching the entropy of the universe has also made me take a good hard look at my entire art practice in a different way, and my life by extension, for they are symbiotic to an artist. For those who do not know, or are confused by my references and understanding of Entropy, I give you this simple definition based on my research:
Entropy measures the disorder of a given system.
Entropy = level of disorder, complexity
Low Entropy = orderly, simple
High Entropy = disorderly, complex
Due to the 2nd law of thermodynamics, and the Arrow of Time (also referred to as the Thermodynamic Arrow of Time) entropy always increases with time.
The universe started out as a relatively uncomplicated (but certainly not calm) soup of quark-gluon plasma, which was overall very smooth, but still had variations in density. Those variances, under the influence of gravity, clumped and evolved into the universe as it exists today – with all the galaxies, solar systems, planets, and eco-systems that make it what it is. Is it orderly? Sure, depending on your definition of orderly… But it is still quite complex, which is why we say the universe is of higher entropy now than it was at the time of the Big Bang…
My art practice is extremely multidisciplinary. I am always experimenting with new mediums whether its handwork techniques in fibres, computer softwares, technical mediums such as working with sound, or other complex disciplines such as programming and electronics: I want to do it all. It has made the entropy of my art practice quite high! And my home studio space is a very high entropy place as well. It’s quite a challenge to fit dozens of mediums into one’s living room in a 3 1/2.
It is a matter of common experience that disorder will tend to increase if things are left to themselves. One only has to stop making repairs around the house to see that!Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time
All this to say, the theme of entropy has certainly been occupying my thoughts in all aspects of life, not just this residency. Entropy is simply a law of nature. With time, things become more complicated and less simple. We can make efforts to maintain this complexity in our immediate everyday lives, but when it comes to the bigger picture we have absolutely no control over entropy. It is what it is!
The first low entropy artwork that I have created was a simple photograph of light phenomena in my apartment. I live in a high rise apartment building and I have a lot of windows. Sunlight has always played with my apartment in a lovely way. Another very important development for this residency, as well as for my art practice in general is: I recently got black out curtains for my bedroom. Seems mundane and completely unrelated, right? Turns out that there is so much beauty in the mundane, and the light phenomena that these curtains have allowed to pass through into my bedroom have been so important for this residency in many ways.
Here, we have a photo that I took which conveys the smooth, dense, and hot Early Universe before it started to clump into the Universe as we know it today.
Looks like just a blob, right? I have always found myself to be deeply moved by little reflections/refractions and shadows that appear on my walls. I sometimes wonder if I am the only one. One day, I walked into my bedroom with the curtains closed to find this enigma above my bed. This enigma turned out to be a work of art that I helped create in collaboration with the universe – literally. I will explain why:
The photons (light particles) in this photo originate from the center of the Sun and took a very long time (tens of thousands of years) to reach the sun’s surface and make their journey to Earth to meet with me for about 1 minute in such a breathtaking manner. So if you think about it from this perspective (the cosmic perspective) this work took thousands of years to create and it was already being created before I or anyone I know was even born yet.
This is pivotal to my AstroFibres practice – working with light, working with the universe and acknowledging the temporal aspects of it all.
Field Recording Adventures
One of my initial goals for this residency was to explore what the Early Universe may have sounded like via field recording and research. I have been doing that, but it has been difficult to convey this over social media. I have been working on incorporating sound art into my overall practice for 2 years now and it has been slow – lots of research, lots of saving money for equipment, and lots of returning things that do not work for what I am trying to do! During the most recent lockdown it was especially difficult. I found myself shopping online a lot, waiting for equipment to arrive, testing it, returning it, and the cycle continues. However, lots of research (technical and conceptual) has been done and I have made big strides…
In his book, Mike Goldsmith talks about the Big Bang being silent, and what the Early Universe sounded like which I have summarized in this quote from his book:
“Despite a promising name, the Big Bang was silent – a sudden burst of energy in which time and space began, forming the Universe as it spread. With no space to expand into, there could be no medium around it into which sound waves could possibly propagate. But, in cosmic terms, the Universe was not silent for long – 380,000 years later (a mere 0.0003 percent of its present age), it was filled with sound. And, this was not the random roar of white noise that one might perhaps expect…
… a vast object like the universe made a very low sound indeed – about one trillionth of a hertz – inaudible to any eared creature….
…the variation in pressure of the sound was around 1 percent, or 110 dB. The kind of level that would be associated with motorway traffic a few meters away….”Mike Goldsmith, Discord: The Story of Noise
This comparison to traffic really hit home for me as someone who lives on a busy street that connects to the highway nearby. I listen to traffic constantly. Consequently, I have been going out for walks to the highway and just standing there with my microphone to see what I can pick up. I have also been leaving my recorder on my porch during morning rush hour traffic. I find morning rush hour to be a great metaphor for the early universe – the hustle and bustle of elementary particles and the very fast-paced state changes that occurred. To me, field recording traffic is a great way to sonify the primordial Quark-Gluon plasma that we all originate from!
There will always be artistic merit and it won’t just be a recording of traffic. My practice definitely revolves around finding beauty in the mundane, every day life things that most people either do not notice or have disdain for such as traffic, the light coming through curtains, etc. However, I always add my own finesse, because that is what artists do!
This research has led me to think of drone music, one of my favorite electronic music genres, which is definitely an influence and a whole other point of research to be embarked on in this project. The technical aspect of this research has been:
How can I make the lowest, but still audible to the human ear, sound for this project?
This led me to the discovery of the Geophone sensor, which is a seismic microphone mostly used by geologists! It picks up low frequency vibrations. Much research and my beginner knowledge in electronics discouraged me a bit, because I originally wanted to try and make a Geophone microphone from scratch. However, a musician friend of mine drew my attention to the Geophone for field recordists, created by LOM, link below:
This is basically the microphone that I am not yet experienced enough to make, which is really important to this project. They only make a batch about twice a year, and they always sell out within a few minutes! This week they did a restock, and I went into full-on shark mode and I managed to nab one for myself. I’m very excited for it to arrive and continue this exploration, even though this means it will be done after the actual residency is over. This residency was basically a launch pad for a body of work that I will be continuing to work on until it is complete.
There are many other projects I am working on for this residency which I will report on in another blog post shortly, for the sake of not overwhelming myself or the readers by trying to jam everything into one post.
Discord: The Story of Noise by Mike Goldsmith
The Fabric of The Cosmos by Brian Greene