The Tuning of Pask’s Ear

Andy Webster & Jon Bird

The Tuning of Pask’s Ear

How can form and function emerge without being pre-specified or externally imposed?

Artist Andy Webster and artificial life researcher Jon Bird are exploring this issue by experimenting with the creative potential of self-organizing electrochemical devices. As part of this project they will conduct the first replication of a remarkable experiment, demonstrated in 1958 by cyberneticist Gordon Pask, where an electrochemical system grew an ‘ear’ that enabled it to discriminate between environmental stimuli. One significance of Pask’s electrochemical device is in the fact that its form and function was not specified by a designer; rather, it autonomously grew components from an undifferentiated chemical medium as a consequence of the controlled input of energy by an experimenter and its interaction with the environment.

Through replicating the experiment, Bird & Webster are aiming to verify and substantiate Pask’s original findings. They will assess the potential of using electrochemical devices as ‘real time’ generative artworks that are directly linked and responsive to their environment and whose form is shaped by the history of these environmental interactions.

By replicating Pask’s experiments Bird & Webster aim to contribute to contemporary thinking about the nature of processes underlying the generation of form.