The Saturation Engine

We live in an age of media overload. Imagery and sound bombard us from every angle. Advertisements adorn every viewable surface.  What happens to our conscious and unconscious mind as it approaches and moves beyond the point of saturation?

The Saturation Engine began in late summer 2001 as a collaborative concept between Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) and members of our art group at the time, 47, specifically myself and Abe Burmeister.

The original idea to create an animated digital graffiti started with talks between the three of us in between our cities of San Francisco and NYC, and in person at Burning Man.  We parted ways around Labor Day, then a week later, the events of 9/11 suddenly transformed the direction of the project.

On the day of the attacks, Abe and I began downloading the flood of  jpeg imagery focused on the unfolding events.  We developed quickly moving loops of the graphic images, tied to frame rates and optics research, then the idea to code software allowing their creation and organization across time.

We soon had a rough software program able to create, trigger and adjust the image loops in realtime.  Talking with Paul, we deciding to add the digital graffiti, where it would be written over frozen keyframes of the program, dividing narrative chapters of the piece.

With one of Paul’s musical tracks as accompaniment, the project and timing of the piece evolved, and our friend Barclay Crenshaw remixed the song to fit into the narrative movement.

The live, performed version of the work with the software changed constantly as part of its design, both the visuals and sometimes the sound track, played by both 47 and Paul in varying venues.  The piece shown here is a final recorded version titled 911: State of Emergence.  

This version was shown at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, South by Southwest (SXSW), and Duke University.  It was also selected for the Tenth Annual New York Digital Salon in 2003, though censored for the exhibition, which took place at the World Financial Center.

The Saturation Engine software was used to create Flags and Logos, related works that allowed for the live, rapid mixing of  of world flags and logos of corporations within a flux looping style.  These pieces were stand-alone artworks, also customized for live improvised performance by Paul on tour.

Through 2001 and 2002, the works from this series were projected publicly as digital graffiti works across San Francisco by the 47 art group.


Created by Seth Indigo Carnes, Abe Burmeister and Paul Miller (DJ Spooky)
Music Remix by Barclay Crenshaw (Claude von Stroke)
Graffiti Lettering by Justin Chan
Graffiti engine code based on work by Joshua Davis and Scien123
The Saturation Engine software was created with Macromedia / Adobe’s Flash