Enter The Machine

Eric Corriel

United States
Still Image Award
Visualization of a portion of the data that comprises the artist's iTunes library

Imagine you could shrink yourself down, swim around your hard drive, and meet your files face to face—what would they look like? Enter The Machine is an art installation that aims to provide a new way of seeing our digital files, one that does justice to their uniqueness, the diversity of the data they contain, and the complexity by which they are structured. It does this by, in effect, turning a hard drive inside-out and putting its contents, in raw form, on display for us to see.

These works consist of hundreds of thousands of "file portraits," grouped together into "folder portraits." The series consists of visualizing nine different stops along the artist's hard drive, from his Dropbox folder (shown here) to his Downloads folder. 

If you use iTunes, there’s a good chance you have a Compilations folder. This is an excerpt from the artist’s iTunes Compilations folder, artists A-E, which contains 547 mp3 files for a total of 2GB of music.
Data visualization of the artist's Dropbox folder
Data visualization of the artist's Dropbox folder
All 710 of the artist’s passwords are rendered here in plain sight for all to see.

Four separate programs were written to accomplish this project.

1) File crawler that recursively transforms any and every file from its natural binary or ASCII data format to hexadecimal format (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks)

2) Custom algorithm that transforms the hexadecimal data of every file into color and form, effectively creating a portrait for each file (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks)

3) Each "file portrait" has a light border around it (or a stroke in Photoshop/Illustrator terms). This necessitated developing a program that would use contour finding algorithms packaged with OpenCV to find the edges of each "file portrait" to effectively create a border (written in C++ with OpenFrameworks).

4) Combining thousands of file portraits into a single group portrait (i.e., one large canvas in Photoshop with thousands of layers) required creating yet another program, this one written in Javascript using Adobe's ExtendScript toolkit. This last program effectively created the overall composition of each "group portrait."

On the hardware side, each "group portrait," of which there are nine, took roughly 300 computer hours to create. These nine portraits were created with five computers using 36 processor cores simultaneously. 

To make the prints come alive, custom circuits were developed using Teensy microcontrollers to control the LED lights behind each print. There is actually a button screwed into the underside of each light box that will alternate through three stats: on/off/pulse. The code controlling the pulse rate and button states was written in the Arduino IDE.

Enter the Machine 1.5 A.K.A. All My Passwords