Play and Fortune

Michael Filimowicz

What does “experimental” mean today? The term has become something of an umbrella category- much like the “unclassifiable” category employed by the iTunes software- for a range of practices which might span from a desire to be “avant garde” to the paradoxical intention of thwarting egoistic intentionality to creative processes highly dependent on the rules of specific techniques for generating the work (“the tool is the message” as it has been described). In this paper I will argue for a reconceptualization of what being “experimental” might mean. I will start with drawing a distinction between two kinds of play- what I will call parametric and originary play. This distinction rests upon the following premise- there is one kind of play we are engaged in when we are playing by the rules of the game, and another kind of play that has to do with inventing the game to be played in the first place. Experimental practice can be conceived as the dialectical “moment” when the originary becomes the parametric, and the parametric unravels into the originary. My own work in audiovisual synaesthesia- exploring the potential of video applications such as Final Cut Pro and After Effects for sound synthesis- will be referenced as a “proving ground” for these ideas. Furthermore, I will suggest that the Roman goddess Fortuna can provide a useful mythological background to our discussion of experimenting in the arts. Often depicted blindfolded, in one hand she holds the cornucopia, in the other a rudder. Experimentation puts us under the jurisdiction of Fortuna- we are engaged with an essential blindness as to what the results of our efforts might be- and with a slight twist of her wrist all of our efforts can shift toward feast or famine. In conceiving experimentation in the arts as the way we play with fortune- or the way Fortuna plays with us!- we are of course searching for the “soul” of experimentation.

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