Frosti and the Algo-Pops

matt zb, sept 2021

The name "Frosti" (2010) was borrowed from the Björk track I'd chosen to accompany the first video render. It was very nearly called Until Then, a Broadcast track that also fit rather well. But it is now hard to separate from the Björk track, and the associations it has inspired in viewers.

It was a period when I was doing a lot of mini pop videos - some official, some not - basically, picking short tracks I liked and creating generative visual pieces to fit them. I still do it occasionally. It's a fun way to experiment.

For a time I was planning to use Frosti as a case study in the Generative Art book, demonstrating how I arrived at that exact result step by step. But instead I decided to abstract it slightly, breaking the principles down - noise patterns, rotational drawing, spheres - and so give the reader a toolkit, rather than template. I thought there'd be more inspiration to be found if there was a gap to cross, which every artist would bridge differently.

I never attempted to clear the audio, although Björk (or Ms Guðmundsdóttir's people, at least) later shared the vid on her Facebook, which I was happy to interpret as a personal message of approval. Although a better indication of official endorsement, perhaps, is that I'm yet to receive a copyright infringement take-down notice on it. Unlike other "algo-pops" I've tried to share on YouTube.

I love Björk, particularly her Vespertine album, but without wanting to ruin the magic (if you're reading B) there was a very practical reason for the track choice. I felt the animation fit the Broadcast track well, but Frosti was half the length, and had a natural (if abrupt) end at 1m42s. I didn't really have anywhere else for the animation to go given another 2 minutes, so the shorter track made for a more "complete" piece. The associations viewers made in combination with the track - music box, snow globe, xmas etc... - were, therefore, entirely after the fact.

Originally the piece was designed as a perfect 1m15s loop, the version above, which is how I usually show it off now. The loop was possible because, whilst generative, it is perfectly deterministic. Meaning an expansion in the first half can be mirrored with a palindromic contraction in the second half, simply by giving it an arching curve of seed values.

This loop was exhibited as part of onedotzero's Adventures in Motion exhibition at BFI Southbank in 2011, projected onto a house in Florida, and shown in various other places its creator has never physically visited. I'm always flattered when I get a request to show it.

Frosti, or more accurately the sphere-distortion algo behind it, went on to have other applications. I bastardised it for a commercial job; a film festival ident. And produced some prints too, one of which is in the book. More recently I dug it out when I was experimenting with Unity and converted it into a game. What once took an hour to render can now run real-time in a web browser. Technology, eh?

What's weird to me is how this one, which is such a simple algorithm, and felt like a throw-away experiment at the time, went on to be so popular. Whilst other work, the stuff I laboured, sweated and fretted over, quickly evaporated into the ether. But then I suppose that is the way of the Post-Structuralist condition. It's not an artist's job, or even right, to decide the worth or meaning of their work. We simply churn this stuff out and let the world decide.

If I accidentally made a Björk video, which reminds people of xmas, the smart thing to do might be to retrospectively claim that this was the intention all along. It wasn't though. So I can only apologise for ruining it. Sorry.