As the first NFT collection produced in an exclusive partnership between Accursed Share and Mat3ria, Rome, Priscilla Pallante’s Augmented Rome engages with two exciting artistic and philosophical techniques: cymatic imaging technology and psychogeography.
Both cymatics and psychogeography are a means of documenting spatial patterns; in the case of the former, auditory vibrations; and in the latter, the emotional consequences of urban design. These conceptual tools enable Pallante, in her NFT collection, to envision Rome’s ancient architecture on new terms, through the expansive possibilities of cryptoart.
Cymatic images, like those woven throughout Augmented Rome, derive from a basic gesture: when a surface is vibrated, the maximum and minimum displacements of whatever is driving the vibrations create visible nodal patterns.
As Pallante elaborates, “Cymatics observe the arrangement of molecules within a fluid (or even within solid particles, like thin sand) in more or less complex geometries based on frequency, by transmitting sound vibrations through a woofer.” Cymatics have their history in the research of Robert Hooke and Ernst Chladni, but the term itself was coined by Hans Jenny, a Swiss philosopher and follower of Rudolf Steiner’s spiritualist movement, anthroposophy. Jenny became fascinated with the notion that shapes could emerge through vibrational energy, as if channeling an almost invisible force, when scientifically, of course, it is only the frequency spectrum being instantiated, in the case of Pallante’s NFT work, using audio material.
Pallante was drawn to Jenny’s ideas in her exploration of Roman soundscapes. She notes, after “reading about the first experiments conducted in the medium by Hans Jenny, I moved onto the fundamentals of acoustic physics. Thanks to this journey, I discovered the beauty of the sound that trams produce as they follow their own course, in the air displacement produced by the metro as it arrives at the platform, or in a recorded voice transmitted in the Pantheon as it bounces off the circular walls, to wrap itself around you.” Creative luminaries such as Alvin Lucier, Gyorgy Kepes, and even Aphex Twin have all been interested in cymatic compositions—but Pallante takes the tool a step further in her linkage of the technology to the structures of urbanity.
As Pallante explains, “With Augmented Rome, I resorted to cymatics to configure the sonic weight that I perceived within my city, but could not see.”
Generated through sound, Augmented Rome’s cymatic images become, as NFTs, “multimedia experiences that retain the malleability and elusiveness that distinguish them.” Pallante’s cymatic cuts complement other collection artworks to offer a total picture of sonic Roma. Motile, animated, and altogether liquid, the cymatics “find their solidity when they are translated into three-dimensional digital maps that, as in the case of architectural models, can be enjoyed as digital sculptures or material objects.”
Psychogeography, in turn, was a midcentury development by two revolutionary Internationals—the Letterists and the Situationists—which took a lot of their jouissance and joie de vivre from the earlier avant-gardes. It is at heart an antiquarian technique, an outward-facing peripatetism where the philosophiliac traverses the urban environment, emphasizing connections to place and routes. The drifting itself is known as dérive, a term coined by Guy Debord, the theorist who best defined psychogeography as “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”
Pallante’s approach to psychogeography is a long dérive through many of Rome’s neural centers: places that, prior to the pandemic, were numbed by overuse through tourism became open to formal and conceptual exploration once again, as they were cleared of visitors. In short, they were recovered qua spaces, in terms not of their history but their peculiar spatiality. During her Roman drift, the artist felt the oppression of the city, but also its looming, unseen possibilities, in sites that seemed too well-known to wrest anything new from them. Whether through reference or habit, established forms —even ruinous ones— tend to provoke a sort of mental stasis. As Rose Macaulay writes in her indispensable text, The Pleasure of Ruins, ruin, in particular, is “part of the general Weltschmerz, Sehnsucht, malaise, nostalgia […]; it is the eternal symbol,” in the case of this NFT collection, for an eternal city.
The sites Pallante investigates and re-presents to us through cryptoart are fixed signifiers of the Western imagination, making her task doubly difficult as she submits these charged locales to new interpretation. Bringing these sites to the blockchain, and to Decentraland, Pallante’s approach is a felicitous dérive of opportunity, perhaps the first and only of its kind in our generation. We are fortunate to offer the results of seeing buildings almost lost to the blind eye of familiarity recovered for us with an air of mystery, adventure and unimpeded experimentation.
The results of Pallante’s marriage of psychogeography and cymatics are partly sculptural, but also border on the cinematic, and they should appeal to anyone interested in the possibilities of augmented reality and dynamic NFT art. The initials of Augmented Rome are AR for good reason.
The Augmented Rome collection will be broken up into the following tiers which, taken together, scale the city’s structures based on audial feedback:
Cymatic cuts (videos)
Consisting of 9 unique video cuts, 20 of each, amounting to a total of 180 videos
(150 USD each)
Mapmaker (3d maps)
Consisting of 27 3d acoustic maps, 20 of each, for a total of 540 maps
(75 USD each)
Architectural souvenirs (stills)
9 unique stills, 20 of each, amounting to 180 stills
(120 USD each)
They would be available in three minting options, each one randomised. A Dutch auction will also be held for the 27 gltf files corresponding to the 3d maps, which will be metaverse compatible, specifically with Decentraland.