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A. Michael Noll Pioneers Computer Art in the United States

8/28/1962
<p>Noll wrote the following caption for this artwork in his 2014 article on Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories: "Fig. 1. Gaussian-Quadratic. Copyright &copy; 1965 A. Michael Noll. &ldquo;Gaussian-Quadratic&rdquo; is an example of algorithmic art. Coordinates along the horizontal axis are chosen by a pseudo-random Gaussian subroutine, while coordinates along the vertical axis are chosen by a quadratic equation. When a coordinate reaches the top, it is reduced modulo 1024 to begin to climb vertically again. This image reminded Noll of Picasso&rsquo;s &ldquo;Ma Jolie&rdquo; which he liked at the Museum of Modern Art. &ldquo;Gaussian-Quadratic&rdquo; was created in 1962-63 as the culmination of a series of such images in which the parameters of the algorithms were varied. It was exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1965 &ndash; which determined the copyright date. The piece was registered at the U. S. Copyright Office."</p>

Noll wrote the following caption for this artwork in his 2014 article on Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories: "Fig. 1. Gaussian-Quadratic. Copyright © 1965 A. Michael Noll. “Gaussian-Quadratic” is an example of algorithmic art. Coordinates along the horizontal axis are chosen by a pseudo-random Gaussian subroutine, while coordinates along the vertical axis are chosen by a quadratic equation. When a coordinate reaches the top, it is reduced modulo 1024 to begin to climb vertically again. This image reminded Noll of Picasso’s “Ma Jolie” which he liked at the Museum of Modern Art. “Gaussian-Quadratic” was created in 1962-63 as the culmination of a series of such images in which the parameters of the algorithms were varied. It was exhibited at the Howard Wise Gallery in 1965 – which determined the copyright date. The piece was registered at the U. S. Copyright Office."

"During the summer of 1962, A. Michael Noll . . . had an assignment working in the research division of Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he was employed as a Member of Technical Staff. His summer project involved the programming of a new method for the determination of the pitch of human speech – the short-term cepstrum. The results of the computer calculations were plotted on the Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm plotter.

"The SC-4020 plotter had a cathode ray tube that was photographed automatically with a 35-mm camera. The SC-4020 was intended as a high-speed printer in which the electron beam was passed through a character mask and the shaped beam positioned on the screen while the shutter of the camera remained open. The staff of the computer center wrote a FORTRAN software package to interface with the SC-4020 in positioning the electron beam to draw images on the screen, mostly plots of scientific data, with a 1024-by-1024 resolution.

"A colleague (Elwyn Berlekamp) had a programming error that produced a graphic mess on the plotter, which he comically called 'computer art.' Noll decided to program the computer to create art deliberately, drawing on his past training in drawing and interests in abstract painting. He described [and illustrated] the results in an internal published Technical Memorandum 'Patterns by 7090' dated August 28, 1962.

"Noll’s early pieces combined mathematical equations with pseudo randomness. Today his work would be called programmed computer art or algorithmic art. Much art is produced today by drawing and painting directly on the screen of the computer using programs designed expressly for such purposes.

"Two early works by Noll were 'Gaussian-Quadratic' and 'Vertical Horizontal Number Three.' Stimulated by 'op art,' he created 'Ninety Parallel Sinusoids' as a computer version of Bridget Riley’s 'Currents.' Noll believed that in the computer, the artist had a new artistic partner. Noll used FORTRAN and subroutine packages he wrote using FORTRAN for all his art and animation" (A. Michael Noll, "First Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., accessed 01-19-2014).

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