Towards a Cinema of Braided Processes:
HeteroForm in New Media Composition

Aleksandra Dulic and Kenneth Newby

Computing Arts & Design Sciences

Simon Fraser University

Burnaby, B.C. Canada

Abstract. This paper discusses an extension of the experimental cinema language through the possibilities opened by computational media. The investigation of the compositional potentials opened by computable cinema provides the ground for a new form of cinematic experience which involves an elaboration of conceptions of the traditional cinema image. The idea of braided narrative structure drawn from South East Asian performance traditions, in particular the Javanese shadow play, can act as a model for organization of media within computational environment. This heteroform organization of media can support a structured system of improvisation organizing a multiplicity of voices, negotiated order, distributed participation and direct dialog with oneself and others through the materials of the work. The authors describe a project in generative deep structure that elaborates on a simple mathematical form–a Bezier curve– to provide an example of heteroform and variation mapped onto both audible and visible forms.

Computational Cinema

An experimental cinema based on process orientated computational media provides the ground for a language that extends the traditional cinema. This process orientation is enabled by the programmability of the computer and its ability to encode practices and mediate processes that organize or generate the various aspects of the audio-visual media and narrative elements of the cinematic experience. This provides a new kind of compositional environment that enables the expansion of both spatial and temporal resources of the conventional cinema.

The components of the processes that might drive a computationally expanded cinema involve fundamental conceptions of time and space in addition to relations among a variety of media elements: visual, audible, textual and generative elements–all constructed within an aesthetic of an open work in which a multiplicity of interpretations are implicitly defined into the work. The generative character of a process orientation is one of infinite variety; it becomes the playful ground for a significant variety of complex instantiations and interactions within the cinema experience. A new cinema composition can be structured as a creative system where narrative is constructed through the relationships of image elements that unfold in time. Here image is understood in the expanded sense of image articulated by Henri Bergson in which every element of experience is considered an image–a notion extended by Deleuze to include the image of thought itself. The process-oriented narrative takes environmental conditions into account and is capable of altering itself in response to its context. The encoding of the basic elements of cinematic practice as a foundation for a system that supports variation and improvisation constitutes a laboratory research into a cinema of braided processes–what we are calling a process cinema.

A number of ideas coming from the natural sciences can be usefully explored in the creation of a process based image. Art as well as science aims to answer this question: how does nature operate? It functions not merely as a mirror of representation but actually as a reflection of the underlying operation of natural processes, a reflection of dynamic relationships in nature and the way they interlink and unfold. The formal description of natural processes–encoded process–becomes a deep structure that underlies the instantiation of narrative. The modeling of process is central to the design of generative systems whereby mathematical or physical description is used as a compositional element in the overall structure of the piece and the way the dynamic relationships of individual media units unfold.

New Media Forms

Two concepts drawn from the thought of Lev Manovich (Manovich 1998) are of relevance. In the first of these Manovich proposes the idea of software as avant-garde where many of the media professional software tools recapitulate modernist concepts; for example the techniques developed in the fields of photography, cinema and printing are basis for digital software tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere editing.

The second concept theorizes the aesthetics of the information-based society through Manovich’s idea that we project the ontology of the computer onto our culture with the database metaphor as a basic symbolic form (Manovich 1998).

Combining these two observations, one that proposes that the new media lacks its own original basis and another that suggests novelty at the deep structural level, suggests the need for new formal and creative approaches to the creation and reception of art the in the digital environment. If we accept Manovich’s first thesis that most of the current media tools are digitized versions of the avant-garde an interesting question follows: in the balance, what are the novel concepts of new media practice? The search for an answer to this question sees the emergence of the real potential of a new cinematic language within a context of computational media. Our main interest lies in cinematic works that take into account the demands and the structure of such novel forms of media art.

Given that many aspects of the language of new media are an extension of the cinema, the encoding of the basic elements of cinematic practice constitutes a laboratory research into emerging media form. The theory of form in new media–a form that is interactive and process based–provides the ground for a new approach to the representation of deep structural models in art. Rather than the development of a grand theory of form in new media this analysis of the ontology of the open work in new media is meant to observe the quality of the experience of these works of art and incorporate those qualities into our own practice and formal theoretical framework, culminating in a proposal for the creation of an experimental cinema based on a process orientation.

Historical Threads

Formal Evolution in Music

Early in the history of musical composition we find techniques making use of deep structures responsible for the generation of the final outcome of the work notable examples of which are Guido’s 11th century method of composing chant by mapping pitch to the vowels of the sung text and the 14th century compositional technique of isorhythm, in which the surface structure of the music emerges from a deep structure of differing scales of duration and pitch. The Musikalisches Wurfelspiel or Musical Dice Games which composers the likes of Mozart and Haydn engaged in are simple generative schemes that have found contemporary extensions in the sophisticated compositional analysis-resynthesis work of David Cope’s Experiments in Musical Intelligence project. Cope identifies the formal basis of such techniques in Markov chains and augmented transition networks. The use of permutation techniques emerged in the English tradition of ringing "changes" on bells with its formal challenge of performing peals: sequences of 5040 unique (non-repeating) permutations of a set of 8 pitched bells. The crisis of composition at the opening of the twentieth century saw the development of a new formal approach emerging from the chaos of pure atonal music in the form of Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique of composition. This opened a new way of thinking about composition that led to the total formalization, initiated with experiments conducted by Messiaen, in the total serialization of every parameter of the musical composition. During this same period, beginning in the early 1950s, Cage begins his experiments with composition as a process through explorations of the language of indeterminacy. Xenakis soon began to use the computer to compose a new type of "formalized" music in which statistical methods were used to determine the compositional outcome of the work. Meanwhile a group of young composers initiated a new form of musical minimalism using a process orientation that attempted to make clear the rules underlying the performed work. Compositional systems based on the use of computers soon proliferated with notable early systems designed by Koenig, Truax, etc.

With the development of the MIDI protocol for the interconnection of synthesizers and computers a veritable tradition of interactive process-based system has emerged since the 1980s with composers and video artists beginning to explore the potentials for including a dynamic process element in their works, in this way invigorating the theatrical and performative aspects of technologically mediated art works.

Formative Structures in Visual Art

Paul Klee’s contributions to the theory of pictorial form (Klee 1956) begin with the analysis of line, which derives from the movement of a point in space. A free play of intertwining lines is able to produce the most varied forms of expression ranging from stillness to turbulence. Through the analysis of rhythm Klee demonstrated how several lines combined to create a simple pattern, which can be defined, in mathematical terms. Variations of these basic forms construct elaborations and ornamentations of that form. In the conceptual domain Klee’s (Klee1956) contributions to a theory of pictorial form finds an echo in the contemporary organization of form in digital art such as John Maeda’s (Maeda 1999) formulation of the pixel and line as a basic element of computer mediated graphics.

The pixel, and its extensions into lines, plains, solids, etc., as the basic element of computer-mediated graphics, can generate more complex compositions through structures animated by mathematical pattern as an underlying concept. An example of algorithmic compositional approach is Computational Expressionism by Joanna Maria Berzowska. Computational Expressionism presents a two-fold process for drawing mediated by computer. The first level is the artist’s composition of the high-level conceptual and algorithmic behavior of the drawing tool. The second level is a real-time gesture drawing process. Gesture input is analyzed and transformed into a deep structure that generate a "computational line," which she defines as a "sophisticated digital brush." The brush responds to various parameters of gesture, such as speed, direction, position, or order, to create the pictorial form. This approach to composition in an explicitly procedural way suggests the analysis of the very nature of drawing process, decomposing a practice to its basic elements.

Encoding Practice

The encoding of practice is an essential component to an art research that forms the foundation for computational composition (Newby & Dulic 2002). Code becomes an artistic material that orientates the production of the work away from a finished artifact and towards a process orientation.

Art and technology, while historically seen as antagonists of respective human inner and outer perspectives, are increasingly emerging as complementary modes of knowledge. Heidegger reminds us of a previous milieu where this state of affairs existed in his examination of the roots of the word techne as used by the ancient Greeks–referring as it does simultaneously to the activities and skills of the craftsperson, the arts of the mind, and the fine arts: technology, idea, and art. Technology as idea and poesis is made explicit in his characterization of the essence of technology as a mode of revealing or unconcealment of what is hidden–a coming to presence, a starting on its way to arrival, a responsible occasioning of this process in space-time. For Heidegger technology ‘is the place where truth happens’. This initially strange conception of technology and truth is made more sensible in the epoch of the computer in which the machine itself is necessarily inert without the insertion of symbolic patterns of code–ideas–that allow the hardware to reveal the inner logic of the algorithm.

This is strikingly resonant with the contemporary view of an image of a ‘becoming art’ emerging from the descriptions of both theory and cinema as articulated by Deleuze. In his analysis of theory is both inquiry and practice within an empiricism based on experimentation as an alternative to judgment. The cinema, and we would argue the nascent new media as a whole, is a Deleuzian thought machine that can facilitate new modes of perception. Heidegger echoes this in his notion of art as "a becoming and happening of truth’. And the artist agrees as evidenced in Klee’s famous dictum that art not merely reproduces what we already see but makes visible what we cannot see. Or John Cage: "I want to give up the traditional view of art as a means of self-expression for the view that art is a means of self-alteration, and what it alters is mind, and mind is in the world and is a social fact… We will change beautifully if we accept uncertainties of change; and this should affect any planning. This is a value".

A cinema of processes is the landscape where the new Deleuzian ‘images of thought’ might emerge. We desperately need new ideas to confront the pressing social, economic, political and ecological exigencies of our present historical moment. A Deleuzian approach seeks to answer the deeply meaningful questions of Lewis Mumford in his analysis of the relationship of art and technics: "Why has our inner life become so impoverished and empty, and why has our outer life become so exorbitant, and in its subjective satisfactions even more empty? Why have we become technological gods and moral devils, scientific supermen and esthetic idiots–idiots, that is, primarily in the Greek sense of being wholly private persons, incapable of communicating with each other or understanding each other?"

The answers to these questions involve new ways to think of play. In particular the notion of winners and losers needs to be evolved. With James Carse let’s consider an alternative to the notion of a game as a finite activity, played for the purpose of winning. Substitute rather an infinite game that is played solely for the purpose of continuing play. Rather than a game played within boundaries, let’s play with the boundaries themselves. The game should be developed as a habitus with its own logic of practice as articulated by Pierre Bourdieau–replete with its own durable traditions of improvisatory inventiveness and playful novelty, analysis and intuition, research and practice. Encoded practices allow an enquiry into process free of the many temporal constraints such as irreversibility and fixed tempo that Bourdieau identifies as defining features of the ‘art of living’ that is practice.

Technology, idea and art–with idea at the center–the encoding of cultural practices both novel and traditional, contemporary and archaic, provides an opportunity to make external and objective something that is typically deeply internalized. In this way, quoting cognitive musicologist Otto Laske: ‘We have transformed ourselves into a partner of communication between two species of knowledge, one that is alive in us, and another that embodies us in the form of an external ‘knowledge-base’’. This partnership generates novelty and provides a process for exploring multiple epistemologies in the search for solutions to the need for new ideas and solutions in a world overburdened with problems not the least of which is that of technology itself.

Heteroform – From Music to Media Agency

Heterophony is a musical term coming from ethnomusicology–an attempt to describe the difference between traditional European and certain Southeast Asian musical forms. A heterophonic music is organized in terms of how the different threads of the music relate to each other and is based on the emergence of an underlying yet unspoken structure that generates the overall composition. This form is commonly present in Japanese, Cambodian and Thai music but it probably finds it’s highest degree of sophistication in large orchestral music of Java due to the sheer numbers of musicians and lines that are playing simultaneously.

Javanese musician and theorist Sumarsam proposed the concept of the inner melody to describe the heterophonic organization of a piece of complex Javanese orchestral music. In his conception all of the musicians carry an internalized version of this inner melody as they perform their own part within the ensemble. This notion forms the basis of the generative structure for any given performance of Javanese music. The musicians independently articulate their part in relationship to the inner melody which guides the unfolding of the music. Functioning like a generative grammar the inner melody is the deep structure on which the musicians elaborate their own material–the surface structure of the music. Sumarsam’s idea of inner melody is a useful model for the organization of a computer mediated improvisational system and a key concept in a cinema of braided processes.

By contrast, the European form of polyphony, perhaps reaching its high point in the singular compositions of J. S. Bach3, is a way of organizing a multiplicity of voices that relate to each other. Polyphony strikes a balance between the independence of voices and their harmonic agreement which need to be well designed harmonically to reduce the amount of chaos present within such a multiplicity of independent voices each of which is demanding attention. Heterophonic form embraces chaos and uses a hidden deep structure to frame a complexity of simultaneous yet independent performances by its practitioners.

By extending this concept of ordered chaos and drawing from related ideas of braided narrative found across a variety of complex performance traditions including Hindu theater, Javanese shadow theater, and Japanese Noh drama (Schechner 1985), we propose a comprehensive formal approach we are calling heteroform–a related form of braided processes emerging to form the core ordering structure of the process cinema. The threads of this complex braid are composed of the audible and visible images, textual, generative, kinetic and proprioceptive elements responsible for driving real time processes. The relationships between the individual elements of a heteroform braid are interconnected–"woven"–in different proportions and relations with all of the elements simultaneously accessible and correlated at some point to an underlying deep structure.

A useful model for a flexible narrative system that shares some of the responsibility with the participant for the distribution of the narrative could be derived from the structure of the Javanese Wayang Kulit (shadow play). In the wayang a large-scale performance of complex media–orchestral music, puppetry, singing, poetry, narration, and lighting effects is woven over an extended time-frame of nine hours under the direction of a single individual. The nine hour period is composed as a complex of layered temporal and spatial relationships. The three large divisions of the shadow play have a variety of metaphoric interpretations that suggest the simultaneous existence of different time scales: from a single day, a human life-span, to the history of a world itself. This large structure is further divided into smaller units in which narrative elements can be inserted. Relations of space and time with respect to the narrative elements are complex in the wayang as A. L. Becker points out. A narrative element has the flexibility to begin and end at any time but must occur in the right structural and spatial unit of the overall structure. This suggests an interesting alternative to the Aristotelian notion of a narrative arc in which events unfold as causal chains ordered in time. The cinema has already begun to explore alternatives to this received concept of narrative in its use of flashbacks, foreshadowing, reordering of narrative time and so on. Here the suggestive power of the wayang is that the same story can be told in a flexible fashion not only from performance to performance but within a single performance in response to the context of the performance itself. And further, a strictly temporal logic of narrative unfolding can be augmented by a spatial logic.

Another interesting aspect of the complexity of this performance tradition for a new approach to cinematic narrative is the multi-layering of language and character that, in the wayang performance, is sustained throughout the performance. Becker points out that characters in the wayang are categorized into different types: divine, royal, courtly, profane; each with their own language and focused relationship to the narrative whole. Each character type speaks in a unique linguistic form, including archaic languages that the audience cannot understand but provide a powerful symbolic content to the performance. With respect to temporality divine characters move in a universal time-scale of cosmic proportions, the royals in terms of epochs, those of the court in terms of shorter political agendas, while the lowest social figures, the clowns, act out their desires and reactions to unfolding events purely in the moment. This complex layering of time-scales is reflected in the equally complex Javanese notion of calendrical time in which cycles of differing time-length run simultaneously. Each day is of varying significance in the temporal scheme as it represents the coincidence of different starting points in the various cycles or time. Here we find a final significant feature that suggests a pattern for the cinema of braided processes to consider. Folding this sophisticated logic of temporal coincidence together with Deleuze’s proposal for a new logic of association the process cinema can fruitfully develop its own sophisticated logic of coincidence among the database of media threads it is composed of.

In the cinema of processes this notion of the heteroform associative narrative braid is taken up as the central metaphor–weaving and intertwining a variety of threads at several levels of the work. Audible threads independent yet correlated in space and time; visible threads juxtaposed in space and time–sequenced and layered; textual elements composed of visible and audible forms–the ASCII and spoken representations of language. This complex braid of narrative elements suggests a new and dynamic version of Bakhtin’s polyphonic voice in it’s layered affinity with difference but also his more subtle notion of heteroglossia: the voice that is at once singular yet multiply composed–an assemblage of interilluminating elements in which dynamically shifting contexts allow the possibility for threads in the complex braid to converse with each other, identify affinities, form alliances, or suggest alternatives to interpretation. Different streams of the narrative allow movement from one to the other, always available to be mixed in different ways - to be montaged in time and accented with responsive processes. The relationship among the braided threads is not simply one of stratification and association but takes into account the need for system agency, a taxonomy of generative techniques, and the identification of techniques and procedures for constructing these generative structures. This involves the encoding of editing techniques and media design competence across disciplinary boundaries. How does the audible speak to and engage with the visible and vice versa? Where is the place of the participant within the complex resultant braid? These threads can be looked upon as a biodiversity with each narrative stream functioning as one element in the whole ecology of the work. The qualities of a functional eco-system are found here: a community of diversity and complexity all linked together by underlying mechanisms of balance, decomposition, circulation, and hysteresis.


The challenge for the authors of the process cinema is to identify the underlying formative mechanisms that will keep the braided threads in balance and allow them to change and modulate dynamically while not letting one or the other dominate. The role of improvisation in any instantiation of an open work is of core relevance here. The open work of art that makes up the process cinema is formed largely as a structured improvisation–a chaos and cosmos negotiated between the art system and a group of participants. Improvisation, at the level of system, involves the virtualization of processes of memory and attention that model a diffused focus–anticipatory and ready for action–typical of the improvising performer. Improvisation for the participant allows an instantiation of the work within a co-constructed context–a form of distributed yet direct dialogue with oneself and others–where the role of participant is both ordering agent and source of novelty. The participant provides the unanticipated data that can be searched for pattern, magnitude, and quality in order to insert this information into the ongoing process underway.


The extension of a heterophonic organization of melody to a heteroform organization of complex media elements and processes is appealing because it is designed to support improvisation and variation–indeed, the very structure of it is improvisatory. This structure suggests relationships to the new media form, a form that is not necessarily ever sounded or rendered. A heteroform orientation to processes suggests a deepening of the potentials for an organization of narrative form within an open structure. Heteroform endeavors to organize a number of individual aural, visual and narrative elements through a stream of real time processes, where every instance, individual element, or generation is unique but is referring to the shared inner melody, with a great deal of flexibility in the outcome.

The Illumination Machine

As an initial experiment in deep structure and formal heteroform across and among media elements we designed and built a simple generative art machine–The Illumination Machine– that combines real-time animation of basic visual and audible forms.

The core idea for the design of the illumination machine is the use of mathematical pattern as an underlying form–as a deep structure to articulate both aural and visual composition. We chose the mathematics of the Bezier curve as a deep structure from the desire to generate composition by curved lines and surfaces, which are more complex than rectangular forms and curves derived from arcs and circles. The mathematics of the Bezier4 curve provides a common deep structure for the rendering of both pictorial and aural form of the illumination machine.

The rendering of the underlying illumination machine form is achieved through the animation of control points defining a Bezier curve. Four control points are set in a three dimensional space and are animated along Bezier curve paths, which are generated by a random walk between target points the virtual space. The result is a dynamically evolving curve with a deep structure on which can be erected any number of visualizations or sonifications.



Audible and Visible Form

The visual composition is comprised of spatial relationships among basic graphic elements and the variations on those basic forms. Two or more simultaneous renderings of surface elaborations and ornamentations based on a common synchronized deep structure provide the basis for the composition of the visual portion of the illumination performance machine.



Figure 1 The relationship between four control points and the Bezier curve


Given the five components of the deep structure, four control points and the curve itself at various degrees of resolution, different ways of mapping a visual representation on this deep structure were developed. An arbitrary shape or representation can be assigned to any of the control points and the curve itself. For our initial experiments we attached basic shapes such as circle, rectangle, line and dot to the control points and curve. Two approaches to rendering were found to be useful and resulted in quite different outcomes. The first was to clear the screen between renderings of updated control-point geometry along its Bezier or linear paths. This resulted in a familiar animation of the basic forms moving in space as independent objects (fig 1). The other approach was to not clear the screen between updates but let the drawing accumulate over time–retaining a history of the movement of the control points and curve in the virtual space and creating impossible curvature planes through a history of the Bezier path. This mode is specifically interesting because it draws a three-dimensional curved space (fig 2).



"After application of the pencil or any pointed tool, a (linear-active) line comes into being. The more freely it develops the, the clearer will be its mobility. But if I apply line, e.g. the edge of a block or colored crayon, the plane is produced.

If we had a medium that made it possible to move planes in a similar way, we should be able to inscribe an ideal three-dimensional piece of sculpture in space.

But I am afraid that it is utopian."

Paul Klee

The Illumination machine makes this possible.

Figure 2 A space carved from the history of the Bezier line movement.

The sonification of the Bezier curve is achieved in an implementation of a justly-intoned pitch-space based on a two-dimensional array in the form of a Table of Pythagoras that creates a one-to-one mapping of the integers from 1-20.



















































Figure 3 A Table of Pythagoras of magnitude 7.


This provides an rational ordering of musical intervals based on a harmonic and sub-harmonic series and its harmonic transpositions. The end-points of the Bezier curve are tied to the end-points of the diagonal elements of the array. The curve is used to define a path through the pitch-space. The number of points used to define the curve define the number of pitches being selected from the table. If the curve is straight the selected pitches will all be the same, i.e. 1:1, 2:2, 3:3, etc., which corresponds to the fundamental of the parent harmonic series of the table. The further from the diagonal path the curve traverses the table the further from this 1:1 fundamental the selected pitches will be. The resulting pitch sequences are mapped in time using a generative grammar to recursively divide up a temporal period corresponding to a musical bar (Figure 4).


Figure 4 Three Bezier paths through the pitch-space with interval ratios notated.


The studies of pictorial form coming from the Bauhaus, in particular from Paul Klee, on basic elements that underlie form framed the graphical composition of the Illumination Machine. The underlying formal structures and shapes animated by Bezier curve form a kind of modernist painting machine. Paul Klee’s methodology of graphical composing was achieved through the use of formative grammars in the generation of a series of drawings and paintings that varied in form within the same rhythmical structure. This points to another link to Klee’s work–there is great variety of forms that the mathematics of the five Bezier elements can generate within the same rhythmical structure. This rhythmical structure can be used as an element deserving further exploration. We initially used a two-screen display of the Bezier composition. This multi-screen display was a rhythmically synchronized display that shared a common geometry. Each Bezier space was equal and symmetrical at any given moment but had a different surface representation–Bezier points had varied shapes and colors that depicted the graphical outcome on each screen.

This animation of space provided a kind of choreography of form. The movement across the screens in space was the same, but the pictorial character within the displays was varying and complementary. These variations become a new kind of compositional or chorographical component. Two screens can share the time based rhythmic structure but have a contrast in pictorial rhythm of the screens. Different forms or constructions of complementary colors across the screens can be interactively modulated as a performative element of the screen’s space. As a result forms in light and color are dynamically transforming the visual space. One of the most exciting outcomes here is the ability to perform visual space with a balanced relationship of automatic and performative elements enabled by the illumination machine.


"One day I must be able to improvise freely on the keyboard of colors"

Paul Klee

The idea that with the manipulation of very few parameters it is possible to generate immense variety is related to some of the developments in computer music and audio synthesis. Several audio synthesis techniques based on non-linear distortion such as wave-shaping and frequency modulation can be controlled by just a few parameters to generate a great variety of sounds. The heteroform orientation that draws on Sumarsam’s idea of inner melody is achieved here–the deep structure of a Bezier curve equivalent here to an inner melody that all the surface formal elements are referring to. The multiple screen’s systems are synchronized with the same instantaneous geometry that is animated in the three dimensional space. They all share the same structure underneath the depicted surface and what we see is the variable yet deeply correlated surface. In mathematical terms the two displays are isomorphic with each other through the sharing of an equivalent underlying structure.





Figure 5 Isomorphic symmetry across the screens


Isomorphic hetero-form is explored by synchronizing the underlying spatial geometry of the Bezier space. This is achieved by networking two computers that share the same Bezier geometry but vary the surface visualizations. The result is a generative and strongly correlated visual choreography among the visual elements of the composition.


A process based cinema provides the ground for an analysis of new compositional techniques within a computational environment. The encoding of the basic elements of cinema practice extends this media to improvisational system and it opens the door to new cinematic experience. Since the temporal composition of the traditional cinema is fixed, the time structures in a process orientation need to be rethought. The improvisatory heteroform orientation of Javanese music and dramatic structure suggests a creative solution to the compositional and correlation of a complex cinema of braided processes. Initial experiments with deep structures based on mathematical forms have suggested the potential for further exploration within this new creative paradigm.


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