Bits & Pieces: A Sonic Installation for the World Wide Web

A Thesis
Submitted to the Faculty
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the
degree of
Master of Arts
Electro-Acoustic Music
Peter M. Traub

Hanover, New Hampshire
June 4, 1999


This paper is a supplement to my thesis composition, Bits and Pieces: A Sonic Installation for the World Wide Web. Bits and Pieces searches the World Wide Web for sound files, downloads them, processes them, and broadcasts the results back over the Web.

The paper is divided into three chapters. The first discusses the technical issues involved in the creation of the piece, and the various programs that drive the search, download, and sound production processes. The second chapter reviews historical issues relating to collage and sample–based art, both aural and visual. The third chapter covers the aesthetics of this installation with respect to other current pieces of Web–based art.


Thank you Jon Appleton, Larry Polansky, and, my thesis chair, Charles Dodge, for giving me the opportunity to come into the Electro-Acoustic program to do what I love most. Thank you Douglas Repetto for all your invaluable assistance and advice over the past two years. Thank you Eric Lyon for all your great assistance in my last term. Thank you Christian Wolff for allowing me to interview you. Your remarks were a wonderful resource for this paper. Thank you Mom, Dad and Greg for all your support (even if you were a little skeptical of this weird electronic music stuff). And thank you Jaimee, these past two years would have been much emptier without your love and support.


Web art emerged only within the past decade, and most of it within the last half of the past decade. This paper, therefore, could be regarded as a time capsule. Web art (also referred to as, although more prevalent now than ever before, is still in its infancy. This paper should be read with more of an eye toward the aesthetic than the technical aspects. What were our aesthetic concerns? How were they influenced by the emergence of a new and revolutionary form of communication? How did the limitations of that form of communication affect and influence our art? And perhaps there are other questions unforeseen by us but relevant to whomever is reading this several years from now. It is my hope this paper will help to answer some of them.

Table of Contents

List of Figures
Chapter 1: A Technical Look at Bits and Pieces
An Overview of the Components: PERL, Csound, and RealAudio
The Search and Retrieval Process
The PERL/Csound Initialization Process
The Csound Process
Chapter 2: Cage and Schwitters—Two Influences
Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948): The Collage Aesthetic
John Cage (1912 – 1992): Indeterminacy
Chapter 3: The Aesthetics of Bits and Pieces and Other Web Based Art
Amy Alexander: The Multi-Cultural Recycler
Various Artists: Loose Ends/Connections and Feedback
John Neilson: Radio Stare
So Where Does Bits and Pieces Fit In?
Appendix A: Email Interviews with Three Web Artists
Amy Alexander
Helen Thorington
John Neilson
Alison Craighead
Appendix B: Source Code for Bits and Pieces
Works Cited and Consulted

List of Figures

Figure 1. Flowchart of Bits and Pieces Process
Figure 2. Excerpt of PERL HTML parsing code
Figure 3. Synthesis Flowchart for Csound Instrument
Figure 4. Example of Schwitters Collage
Figure 5. Score for Part A of Cage’s Radio Music
Figure 6. Example of Output from the Multi-Cultural Recycler