A book surprised our friend Anton, Jitter wizard and visualist: can feedback (video and otherwise) be understood more deeply in relation to consciousness? -Ed.

Wandering through a Barnes & Noble book store on the way to the checkout the other day, the cover of a book grabbed my attention. The cover showed the intricate geometries, swirls and loops of what most CDM readers are familiar with as video feedback. Instantly curious, I flipped through the pages to find no other illustrations like it, other than a few very basic examples in a small color insert. Then I noticed who the author was: none other than Douglas Hofstadter, author of Gödel, Escher, Bach – An Eternal Golden Braid – a book exploring a myriad of topics, but ultimately a book about consciousness. That book had both vexed and tantalized me, with language, logic and math seemingly just beyond my understanding. (Don’t forget Achilles and the Tortoise. I’ll admit I never quite finished it. I highly recommend it.)

A companion piece to G.E.B., I am a Strange Loop is the latest work by Hofstadter. I knew I had to buy it. On the subway ride home, I was delighted to find a chapter dedicated to video feedback. I skipped ahead and wondered what insights might lay waiting. Of course, G.E.B. had a brief encounter with video feedback as a visual study, but no detailed accounts of the rich phenomenon.

Hofstadter describes his “Visual Voyage” in loose terms, discussing the emergent behavior of video feedback as a sort of boot strapping analog to consciousness, a self-reflexivity that we are so used to when we think of ‘I’ / ourselves. As with most interesting discoveries, by accident he places his hand in front of the camera and quickly removes it to find residual memory of his action throbbing rhythmically on the television screen with no further input from any source, continuing on unabated. It acted on its own accord, alive and moving with its own rhythm as any good piece of visual art should do. He discovers patterns of galaxies, helices and corridors – a rich universe unto itself. He discusses the similarities to Mandelbrot fractals – interestingly, Bill Etra told me he met Mandelbrot and discussed the similarity briefly with him.

In my own personal work I use feedback not just for visual output (read pixels or the like), but for control parameters, generating geometry, dealing with sound, or adding a subtle layer of organic ebb and flow to my output. It has always worked wonders and provided subtleties and hypnotizing rhythms and patterns, yet I don’t feel I have quite mastered its complexities. I always thought there was more to it. Perhaps the reason the mesmerizing motions and entrancing colors common in video feedback are so interesting is because they reflect the inner workings of our own minds. If this is not a call for exploration, I do not know what is.

I think there is a lesson in here for those of us looking to raise our work to a higher level. Even if you are not interested in video feedback as a purely visual phenomenon, the ideas may prove useful in your own work, be it digital or analog, abstract or representational.

I am a Strange Loop [Amazon.com]

For more feedback intellectualism, see Video Feedback, Talysis, Data is Nature, add more links. We’d love to see what video feedback pieces you have seen that have a mind of their own.

  • OK, well, I guess if there were ever a CDM thread where I should promote my work, this would be it. 🙂

    I've been using video feedback (both camera and hardware-based) for a number of years in my live performances. I like using creative signal routings and video correction devices to modulate the signal – one of the beautiful things about working with feedback is the way that small adjustments have a ripple effect that iterates over time.

    Here are a couple of links – one older, one new:

    Swim – hardware feedback through an Edirol V4 and a JVC JX-C7 video corrector.

    Entranced – camera feedback, modulated with a V4, JX-C7, and a Korg Kaoss Entrancer.

  • slothrop

    the way that those minute adjustments spiral into new, complex, patterns provides a nice metaphor for how we develop in relation to habitual activities and iterative perceptions, and how we, as big, slow, feedback mechanisms can apply similar ideas to our lives to influence our behavioral patterns. I'm gonna check that book out as soon as a finish G.E.B. ha! I utilize a lot of feedback mechanisms in the music I am creating lately too.

  • nice video beatfix.

    there is nothing better then feedback,
    i created a few works with it, i mainly focus on light, but i put the 2 together for a project once, and got exactly what i wanted…


  • Ha! I don't know anyone who has finished a Hofstadter book. Wasn't there some sort of logical arguement about how you could get half-way through the book, and then half-way through the second half, …, and you can never finish!

  • morgan barnard

    This guy James crutchfield did some very scientific studies of video feeedback. When I was in northern california in th mid 90's I met him and he gave me a few of his papers. He had a pretty amazing rig that allowed centering a camera and rotating on the lens axis to create some very controlled video feedback experiments.