douglas irving repetto

crash and bloom

custom circuitry, piezo speakers,
color LEDs, plastic boxes, cables

crash and bloom is an electronic sculpture that exhibits emergent behavior similar to the "crash and bloom" cycles experienced by many biological systems. The sculpture is a set of forty-two small plastic boxes that are connected to one another via short cables. The behavior of each box is very simple: if the box receives a "ping" on its input, it turns on an internal light and plays a short tone. The box then passes the ping on to whichever boxes are connected to its output. However, if a box receives a second ping before it is finished responding to the first one, it will "die" and will not pass either ping along. Each time a box receives a ping, the length of its response gets a bit shorter, until it gets so short that it resets and becomes long again.

Using special splitter and joiner boxes, it is possible to create complex connection topologies (or networks) between the boxes, including grids, feedback loops, spoke and hub configurations, etc. These topologies, coupled with the simple rules described above, give rise to different sorts of group behaviors as pings move through the system, flickering and buzzing, propagating and dying.

The current topology is a series of feedback loops. Configuring the network of boxes in this way leads to "crash and bloom" cycles, similar to those found in many biological systems. For instance, insect populations or algae blooms often follow a familiar pattern: they expand rapidly in a given environment, quickly using up all available resources. Once the resources are exhausted, the large populations can no longer be sustained, so they crash. This crash enables the environment to recover, at which point the cycle begins again. Given enough time, similar cycles can be observed in the crash and bloom boxes. Usually at least one ping survives when the system crashes, allowing a new cycle to begin. Occasionally however, the system experiences a "ping extinction," at which point a new ping has to be injected into the network to start the cycle anew.

I am very interested in creating and exploring physical (i.e. non-simulated) systems that display properties and behaviors that we're more accustomed to dealing with as abstract concepts or computer models. crash and bloom is one such system, and like many systems built out of simple parts, the complex behavior it exhibits is unpredictable, ever-changing, and hopefully, compelling.

crash and bloom has been shown at Gale-Martin Fine Art in Chelsea as part of the From Scratch show, and at Eyedrum Gallery in Atlanta as part of L'Objet Sonore.

I wrote an article on crash and bloom for the David Tudor issue of Leonardo Music Journal: "crash and bloom: A Self-Defeating Regenerative System". Please email me for a copy of the article.

(Special thanks to Kyle Lapidus for his help in assembling many of the crash and bloom boxes.)

(7.5MB QuickTime video)