butterfly effects

Tara Rodgers (2006)

Custom software, real-time generation of 4-channel audio, open-ended duration

A four-channel computer music composition made in the programming environment SuperCollider, with a generative structure that unfolds unpredictably and differently each time it is executed. Its structure is derived from behavioral aspects and ecosystem dynamics of migratory monarch butterflies and inspired by the “butterfly effect” concept of chaos theory, which suggests that the flapping of one butterfly’s wings can cause significant changes in how a weather system unfolds over time.

Each synthesized sound event represents either a butterfly behavior (like flying or clustering), or an environmental condition (like wind or sunlight). All sequences of sound events result from the interdependence of fluctuating elements in the whole system. SuperCollider code becomes a poetic as well as a functional programming language, as data objects that are created and destroyed reference the life cycles of living things. Although the composition generates indefinitely, most sound elements cycle through in a 24-minute period (where each minute represents one hour in the synthesized environment).

Butterfly Effects has been presented at Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland; Mills College, Oakland (CA); Galerie B312, Montreal (QC); Santa Fe (NM) International Festival of Electroacoustic Music; Harvest Moon Festival, Concordia University, Montreal; Wild Information Network outdoor installation, Catskills (NY); and at academic conferences in Portland (ME) and College Park (MD). It was awarded a Frog Peak Experimental Music Prize (2006) and the New Genre Composition Prize from the International Alliance for Women in Music (2007). It has played as a 4.1-channel installation (preferred), as stereo playback in a concert hall and through headphones, and as a stereo installation outdoors.

Artist statement about Butterfly Effects in Leonardo Electronic Almanac (2006)

Photos of Butterfly Effects installed at Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland, August 2012, part of Tara Rodgers’s solo exhibition: Patterns of Movement: Data and Sound Works, 2005-12.

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Excerpt of SuperCollider code:


Stream or download Butterfly Effects on Bandcamp.