Oddly enough, however, my earliest recollection of experiencing the power of abstract form is a memory of an event that occurred in my family's synagogue when I was very small: I had just learned to read English, but it hadn't yet dawned on me that there could be other writing systems apart from the one I knew.
One evening during services, I asked my father what the funny black squiggles were in the prayer books we were holding. " he said: " — that is how we talk to God." I became riveted by the black squiggles, which no longer seemed quite so funny, and stared at them intently until they danced before my eyes; only later did I learn that these marks were Hebrew.
By "infinitely masterable and expressible," on the other hand, I mean that the system has an inexhaustible expressive range, which, like the finest instruments, requires a lifetime to master — and furthermore, that this expressive range is wide enough that different users can develop unique styles or creative "voices" in that medium.
This remarkable combination of attributes is commonly found in real-world expressive instruments but rarely — if ever — in computational ones.
In the remainder of this statement, I put forth one possible theoretical context within which this pursuit may be framed; some criteria by which I have come to evaluate the success of systems of this kind; and a list of some of the new questions and directions to which I'd like to open this endeavor in graduate study.
In my attempt to understand the design of great media for creative personal expression, I've been tremendously influenced by Marshall Mc Luhan's distinction between what he termed "hot" and "cool" media.
I know of no software tool which matches a piano or a pencil by these criteria.
Instead, instant knowability and infinite expressibilityare all too often traded for one another: we slog through thick software manuals written "For Dummies," only to reach the limits of our tools' capabilities in homogenized outputs that, processed by the same filters and plug-ins, look and sound like everybody else's.
The intent behind our work in interactive visual instruments has been to deliver similar experiences of joy, surprise, whimsy, creation, and non-verbal communication as are afforded, for example, by traditional musical instruments.
In fact, the systems we have built are highly analogous to musical instruments, but in the visual domain — allowing interactants to gesturally perform patterns whose formal language consists of geometry and color, instead of sound, over time.