NET.SWAP: multiAMAZE (2004) - Andy Forbes

BY: Ruth Catlow

POSTED: Sunday 1 February 2004


A few months back, there were couple of weeks when Furtherteam members could be seen chair-voguing in concert with AMAZE's sound responsive, virtual 3D environments. I'd asked Hell's own (that's hell.com;-) Andy Forbes about this project (which took the form of an executable download) and he informed me that these had since evolved into multiAMAZE, a sound sensitive multi-user space.

I suspect that Andy is one of those people who speaks code in his dreams and whose reveries take place in the land of oversized microprocessor buildings, where computer control panels and settings are as technically obscure to him as sand is to a child playing in a sandpit. If I have one criticism of this project, it is its trickiness for non-techno geeks at the point of entry. This said, the link to multiAMAZE lies in a section of his website headed RND (research n' development) so I'll just shut up and be thankful to have had a chance to explore it in its early stages.

Negotiating the audio device selection process, I set my Dr Octagon CD playing, chose a color, and entered multiAMAZE. Here I sat, with an insect-bum's eye view of an elegantly animated, flying insect reminiscent of the MAVs (Micro Air Vehicles) I'd just seen scarily represented in the 'Future Space' at Birmingham's museum of science and discovery, Think Tank. Putting dark thoughts of surveillance swarms of spy flies behind me, I buzzed gaily around, using the arrows on my keyboard to navigate, dodging and diving through the jittering palm leaves and the shattered planes. After I had typed some nonsense into the void, the penny properly dropped that this space is designed to be teaming with other exploring, chatting insects.
Andy's introduction to the work on Soundtoys (a website platforming new audiovisual experiences online and offline) provides useful and informative context, and he was good enough to respond to some of my first thoughts by email.

Andy sites Entropy8Zuper's Garden of Eden as a key inspiration. 'I think Garden of Eden was a much more interesting variant on picking up and transmogrifying URLs than others of the ilk that I've seen since, such as Alex Galloway's Carnivore; it is honest and up front using the 'random data' of html pages to 'create' a new 'Eden'. Other variants I've seen just haven't got the interpolation between data and what is created. They are too forced or too much of a technical exercise for the sake of technique'.

Certainly 'Eden' is accessible to a wider gaming-familiar audience through the universality of the subject matter and its simple, if dysfunctional, storytelling, opening up the magic of 3D creation in a virtual space. 'Also I think it was fresh in that it took some of the 3D gaming rules about how to make things 'realistic' but ignored them where they didn't work (charging 2D cut outs). I try to follow some of the same paths in my own 3D stuff. Not be tied to trailing commercial 3D etc.

MultiAMAZE is a visually and spatially complex environment for adventuring; a move towards facilitating spontaneously generated, collective and open ended 'play' as opposed to the restrictions of online gaming. I barraged Andy with questions about audience sizes and types of use. MultiAMAZE has some obvious connections with a new platform called the Visitors' Studio that we've been building at Furtherfield, facilitating live online multimedia jamming. We are moving towards instigating time-based global events, so that we can ensure that people get to experience the simultaneous live multi-user experience. Andy has so far taken a pretty hands off approach to organizing the mob in any long term sense but the CHAOS show was successful in providing users with the true multi-user experience; ‘because with the massive hell.com mailing list (750,000+) you could get people along to a show in batches of 5000 'on target' and 'on time'. SO then you could really get a big sense of a crowd’. He identifies these kind of tactics as crucial to creators of multi-user platforms who are working without the backing of commerce or large institutions.

He goes on to say 'I have kind of gone off the idea of user having to add music to see the piece in full working order. Even if they get this working they aren't going to be listening to the same sounds as each other. I have looked at making a piece where you can collectively move about elements of the 3D environment around to make a collective sound mix. But I am still thinking on it (plus other people have already had a go at fairly similar stuff).' In keeping with all truly experimental work, multiAMAZE presents a few evolutionary cul de sacs while suggesting a myriad of new avenues of discovery. It presents a possible platform for carefree, explorations of serious stuff like Reed's law (which suggests an exponential amplification of ideas and cooperation within networked groups of shared interest). Perhaps we can look forward to some spectacular intercontinental synchronized swarming.

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