By: Derek Spencer
According to label Bump Foot, Timeofhex is “a cross-disciplinary artist from Perth, Australia who converts photographs into music via hexadecimal data.” Aside from it being the form of communication Matt Damon uses to commune with NASA in The Martian, I’m not really sure what hexadecimal means, especially in relation to photography or music. Abandoned in particular, is described as “a series of five tracks based on photographs taken in Vanuatu in 2014.”
Lets try and piece this together. The music consists of synths, ambient vocals, and nature sound effects layered over multicultural (see: *tribal*) percussion. I imagine at least one of these samples was lifted from the soundtrack for NBC’s Survivor. What, exactly is the conversion process from photograph to track? I believe a proper explanation probably involves the words “pixel”, “MIDI”, and “algorithm”. How all these words fit together into a coherent process is left unclear.
This is not randomly generated music based on a given set of data. It is tonally curated, and conforms to common intuitions of structure and progression. The opacity of the process does not inspire faith in the already tenuous link between photo and composition. The stills we are presented with are colorless, forlorn, and distorted, while the music that supposedly corresponds is bright and globally referential.
In the middle of the third track, “Persistence of the Sea”, a cartoonish voice repeatedly exclaims: “This is not a dream! What’s happening to this place?” This moment effectively turned my skepticism into outright denial. It’s jarring and cheesy and I can’t imagine it corresponds to either a rigorous hexadecimal translation or a looser, pathos-driven cross-discipline technique.
It’s hard to critique process-based art. More like a science experiment than a form of expression, the artist selects a process and adheres to it. My consumption of this product feels more like an observation of results, divorced from any direct communication with the artist. While I can’t say the experiment went wrong or is bad, I can say that it’s effect on me–emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, or otherwise–was remarkably non-existent.