Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez and Andreas Rau, 2022

p5.js, tone.js, html, css
Explore your Toccata

Toccata is a piece about decay, about the impermanent. The emergence over time or, rather, progression of entropy is a key characteristic of our universe. Everything evolves to nothing. We as mortal beings have sometimes trouble reconciling with this idea. Humans have sought immortality for millennia, be it through ancient potions or modern medicine, be it from leaving a legacy that we feel will stand the test of time. It will, only to decay later than us.

Toccata is a piece about change. Change lies at the heart of human cognition and human nature. Our thoughts and our emotions happen over time, and are a function of the change that is both around us and at the very core of our selves. Change comes in nature in cycles. Seasons of growth, seasons of ripe fruits of life, seasons of decay, of death, rebirth.

Toccata is music. We find music to convey some of the deepest streams of human condition, connecting it to some other form of being. Music also happens over time, and music happens because of change. Music encodes our feelings better than any other aid we may have.

When we started talking about the collaboration, back in early March 2022, the war in Ukraine had just broken out. Things we once took for granted, suddenly were turned upside down. As humankind, we were forced to re-align and take new perspectives. Without any doubt, this situation of uncertainty in the world has influenced this collaboration as well. Suddenly, everyone could see decay in their everyday, and we felt the need to reflect that in our piece.

The general theme of musicality came up as a characteristic that resonated to both of us. In our early conversations we shared ideas and discussed how to approach a music piece that wouldn't necessarily be a music piece. A music piece with visuals that were not a visualization of the music, and music that doesn't react to the visuals and vice versa. Yet keeping some relation, and expressing decay over time. How does music wear out? Music is intangible, is a set of instructions, and instructions need not be subject to decay. However, performance of music is subject to decay, as it's physical. Playing the same record over and over again does wear it out. Performing a piece live many times over would let diverse effects of degradation appear.

Andreas brought the Toccata in D minor, Op. 11, by Sergei Prokofiev to the conversation. Since then, the project's unofficial name (and official as well) has been Toccata. A fascinating piece that creates an incredible atmosphere. A piece with strong narrative power. From there, the collaboration started to take shape with the different ideas and discussions and the musical references we brought in.

Marcelo added the idea of layering perforated shapes, composed from contracting and expanding openings. Rotating in ever-changing rhythms, creating unexpected windows into new layers of time. The visuals evolved from the initial simple ideas into more complex concepts that built on top of the simple elements.

The music incorporates variations we composed, as well as tributes to certain pieces that are dear to us, subjected to the generative mechanics of this work. Across all variations of the music, one constant remains: the piano. It was fully sampled from a piano very special to Andreas — the piano he learned to play on as a kid. Sampled on a warm summer day this July, at the place of his parents, it transports the remnant warmth of the past into the very present of the piece, an embodiment of decaying childhood memories and the cycles of change that lie dormant within the things around us.

Collectors will be able to extract audiovisual passages from the piece that we can mint officially with our signature and transfer to their wallet, as snapshots of the pieces to be exhibited easily in virtual galleries. This will be executed from the artwork’s official homepage to ensure maximum video and audio quality of the excerpts. Details to be announced in the coming weeks. There will be a limit to the number of extracts that can be minted per token, it will have an associated cost.

About the work

Toccata is a generative musical-visual piece that evolves over time and exhibits periods of degradation and decay, to recover and go back to periods of bloom. Degradation periods affect both the music, which will present distortion, as well as the visuals, which will both present visual distortion / glitches, as well as spatial arrangement of elements. Objects will be distorted and exhibit noisy behaviour.

As the music evolves, the piece proposes different views on its visuals. Both the music and visuals depend on a birth date for the piece: it sounds and looks different as time moves forward. The birth date is set to March 6th, 2022, the date when the first words were written about this collaboration. From that date onwards, the piece goes through the mentioned cycles of decay and bloom. The piece can be set to be experienced on a given date by passing the parameter “date” in the URL (see end of this text for details).

The music is generated from a set of variations that we composed and prepared. Much like we set the type of visuals that can be used, with a range of parameters, effectively defining a visual grammar, we do the same with the music. Preparing some precomposed fragments, and setting a wide range of parameters that the generative music system can play with, we let the algorithm make choices over time that yield a forever evolving music piece that depends on both the birthdate of the piece, the date when it is being experienced and the fxhash given by the platform.

The visuals trigger changes in the viewpoint that yield different perceptions of the reality contained therein. Much like in life, to obtain an integral knowledge of a situation it is necessary to gain different viewpoints, to step back, to contemplate the world around us with clean eyes and integrate this perception into the previous knowledge. Also, different views trigger different emotions. The piece might eventually leave a trail as it moves, filling the space with the echoes of the previous movement. Oftentimes we do the same in our lives, viewing our environment under the effect of our previous emotions. Emotions that can be of decay or bloom, thus casting a gloomy or cheerful tint over our daily errands.

The observer can fix a viewport to contemplate the piece from that point for an extended period of time. The piece will then refrain from changing the view automatically. The observer can also choose to set the piece to leave a trail constantly or to avoid it constantly. Both viewpoint and visual echo can be reset back to the piece’s automatic behaviour, and can be also set to a given value via an URL parameter.

The piece lets the viewer record a video with the music and save it locally. The piece exports a video in the WebM format, which can be played in most modern browsers as well as specialized video players such as VLC. It can be converted to other formats such as .mp4 either with online tools or, for the more technically inclined, using ffmpeg.

It also lets the viewer save a still of the current view, or set the piece to automatically save a still every time the view changes, so the user will keep images of intermediate states in the piece.

The features of the piece include the mood of the work, and the period of one complete circle of decay and rebirth.

Collecting Toccata means collecting a window into the piece. The piece moves, the window remains the same. Close it, open it, forget it, live with it. The piece will continue to live. Born with the beginning of this collaboration, the variations of Toccata will live on, they will outlive you, and slowly decay. Some faster, some slower. And at some point, they will be reborn, in a constant cycle of change.

Technical aspects

The piece is intensive in computing power use. It will check performance automatically and will degrade its visuals to achieve better performance. The viewer can disable performance check and potential degradation of the piece by appending “performance.checkPerformance=0” to the URL.

Works best with Chrome. Tested on Chrome, Firefox, Safari on macOS and iOS. Limited compatibility with Android, and plenty of uncertainty with Windows.

To hear the music on iOS, the device's silent mode must be switched off.


Append the ?fullscreen=1 parameter to the URL in live mode to view the piece in full screen

Andreas Rau is a generative artist exploring the interplay between humans and their physical and digital environments. He works with code and electronics to build bridges between the physical and the digital in a continuous dialog between human and machine. His artistic work includes interactive installations, kinetic sculptures and computer-generated drawings.

Twitter @andreasrau_eu

Marcelo Soria-Rodríguez centers his work around the idea of expanding the total space that any activity can reach. He explores the new relationships that arise when synthetic entities with some kind of behaviour enter into society. He uses technology as a medium and as a subject of exploration itself, and creates art with the same focus.

Twitter @msoriaro
Instagram @msoriaro

The artists share a common interest for music, and ever-changing generative systems. In Toccata, they got to combine these interests in their first long-form exploration of a fully animated audio-visual piece minted on the Tezos blockchain.