COUNTERSOUL is a digital media artwork created by the group Music Non Stop. (Andrew R. Brown, DEFSTALKR, and Nichaols Coleman). It makes history as the first generative musical composition to be inscribed onto the Bitcoin Blockchain using Ordinals (Rodarmor 2023). The artwork runs in real-time within a web browser, where its algorithmic base constantly generates the music and visual elements based on the current block height number of the Bitcoin Blockchain. The music in COUNTERSOUL is a fusion of predetermined elements and a generative sequencing system. The audio is synthesized, utilising bespoke virtual instruments that produce sounds using various synthesis methods such as subtractive, frequency modulation, and stochastic synthesis. The code includes these instruments that generate the music composition in real-time. Audio effects are created from scratch in the code and are specifically designed to add depth to the music. COUNTERSOUL’s visual elements are also generated in real-time. The work has a foundation design and structure, but the specifics of the number and placement of elements vary each time it is played. The visual elements are created using scalable vector graphics (SVG), which are built into modern browsers, ensuring images remain clear and sharp at any resolution and on any screen size. The SVG elements are created and deleted dynamically in response to musical or blockchain events.
COUNTERSOUL should be running in the window above. Click in the window to hear (or pause) the music.
COUNTERSOUL was designed as an ambient work, to be enjoyed over extended periods, offering a one-of-a-kind listening experience every time it’s played due to its continuously evolving design. Its smooth sequencing and phrasing make it ideal as background music. In this section, we will delve deeper into the generative features of COUNTERSOUL.
Visualisation and Musification
COUNTERSOUL is a dynamic reflection of the ever-changing state of the Blockchain, responding to each block height change both visually and musically, with more dramatic changes triggered by unique block height numbers and significant events within the Bitcoin network such as mining difficulty adjustments and halvenings. The code is programmed to continue adapting to these changes in the future, making COUNTERSOUL an ever-evolving ambient experience.
A deeper understanding of data, in this case, the Bitcoin Blockchain, can be provided by musical signals when viewing them as components of a communication system and balancing their stochastic and periodic components. This approach is believed to be most effective by combining basic communication theory measures, such as the efficiency or redundancy of signal components, with statistical features of a musical style. By doing so, a methodology is established for representing any digital content or data stream (Coop 2016). Musical cues in COUNTERSOUL are triggered by block height changes and block duration; these include changes in tempo, key, mix, and effect levels.
Visual indications of the Blockchain are provided both directly and indirectly in COUNTERSOUL. Most obviously, the current block height number is displayed toward the bottom of the screen and, less obviously, this number is mapped to determine the primary colour used during that block.
Ordinals, a new Blockchain technology, is revolutionising the digital art world by enabling the inscription of the code that generates the artwork onto the Bitcoin Blockchain. By using a numbering scheme for Satoshis (sats), a 100 millionth of a Bitcoin, Ordinals track and transfer individual sats, ensuring the uniqueness, permanence, and immutability of the digital artwork. The Ordinals data is embedded in the OP_IF and OP_PUSH section of the Taproot input script. This makes Ordinals a type of NFT (non-fungible token) that can exist natively on the Bitcoin blockchain, without the use of a separate token, another blockchain, or any changes to Bitcoin.
For decades, the challenge of authenticating digital artworks for collectors has limited their popularity (O’Dwyer 2020). However, with advancements in Blockchain technology, such as Ordinals, the trading of digital artworks is becoming a reality. The first online auction of Ordinal Inscriptions by Scarce.city, a renowned Bitcoin-based auction house in New York, took place in February 2023 and featured the digital artwork COUNTERSOUL where the first 3 inscriptions were sold.
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Rodarmor, Casey. 2023. “Ordinals Theory Handbook.” 2023. https://docs.ordinals.com/introduction.html.