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The compositing "machine" of Athanasius Kircher

The classical period

1600 - 1789

The digital context. Index of 17th century artists quoted in diccan.

Writing, Text, Literature

Literary text surrounds the formal expression in order to foster scientific progress and its knowledge by cultivated audience : in 1610, Kepler writes Somnium in order to show the importance of copernician revolution [Aït-Touati, 2011].


In 1742, Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposes coded (letters) system to make music scores. See Wikipedia.

The well tempered clavier harspichord of Bach is emblematic of a mathematization of musical composition. It will also kit onself with theoretical insturments, developped with Rameau, for instance. Here also, the score, written by he author, overrides the personal ornaments by the divas. Organs reach monumental dimensions, demanding important man-machine interfaces... and virtuosi able to control so complex systems.

Random techniques supplement the algorithmic set of rules. In 1787, Mozart creates music with dice throws. An anonymous text of this period describes his method, where minuets written by Mozart are found. We are not sure, today, that Mozart be the author of this method. See the website Mathforum.

Athanasius Kircher builds an automatic device to compose music, by drawing some themara and parameters written on slides grouped in a box (see figure). Jim Bumgardner  has implemented simulation in Perl. It is only one of the many machines he designed. But these inventions were mainly done to entertain the princes and to magnify the scientific reputation of Jesuits.

Read: Between a Bach and a bard place : productive constraints in early computer arts. par Douglas Kanh. 29 pages in [Grau].


Painting, scultpures, fabrics

Automata expansion may be seen as a first period of "kinetic art", with the works of Vaucanson and Jaquet-Droz.

The Jacquard loom (Wikipedia and its punched cards is explicitly digital. But has always been considered as craftmanship or industry and not art. It would not have been impossible, though time consuming, to do art proper using these type of system. A digitized version has been shown in the 1990's, which produced fabrics from photographs, for instance visitors in an exposition. It was still more craftmanship than art properly.

Ancestors of cinema emerge with the magic langern of a Johann Schröpfer, in Leipzig (1760). Castel Louis-Bertrand designed, and perhaps realized, a light organon.

Read : Remember the phantasmagoria! illusion. Politics of the Eighteenth century and its multimedia afterlife. by Oliver Grau. 25 pages in [Grau]

Performance, theater

In contrast, theatre pushes its structures far beyond those of the Italian comedians. Shakespeare leads the way here : the text he writes becomes the spinal column of the show. Its no longer a simple guide for the mainly improvised paly of actors and specially of the jester. (1599. A year on the life of William Shakespeare. by James Shapiro. Faber & Faber, London, 2005). Unfair copies of his works open the issue of intellectual property.

Machines begin to play on stage. On this topic, see L'invention de la pièce à machine au milieu du XVIIe siècle. by Bertrand Munin. 12 pages in [Garbagnati] and L'envers du décor, edited by Catherine Join-Dieterle. Co-published by Gourcuff-Gradenigo/CNCS, 2012.



Les Algoristes, an association of artists using their own algorithms in their work.