Video of The Finite State Fantasia at STUK
Finite State Fantasia installed at STUK, Leuven. Photo credit: Kristof Vrancken
Finite State Fantasia installed at STUK, Leuven. Photo credit: Kristof Vrancken
Finite State Fantasia installed at STRP, Eindhoven.
This animation gives an introduction to the functioning of the Finite State Fantasia. 
The Finite State Fantasia an invisible, theoretical machine is simulated moving around a space. Using a simple algorithm, comparable to that of domestic robot vacuum cleaners, it moves through the space generating a point-cloud map of the space when it hits a wall. However, the machine is invisible. The only things visible to humans are its infrared senses and a point cloud of data where the machine has hit the walls and built the map so far.

This digital landscape is complimented by the ultrasonic markers where it has hit artefacts that intrude on its simulation - humans. These distortions break the model of the room, shifting the model and forcing the machine to recalibrate its calculation of the space.

The Finite State Fantasia invites its audience to experience the sensorium of a theoretical machine. By putting the audience ‘inside’ the machine sensorium and removing the human perspective of seeing it as a plastic black box, it reveals the cognitive differences between human and machine. Based on the algorithm of a robotic vacuum cleaner but able to move through 3D space, the invisible machine builds a map of its captive space over time, highlighting the difference in the way that humans and machines interact with physical reality.

The project elicits feelings of overwhelming alienation in its audience by making the normally invisible and inaudible infrared and ultrasonic senses of the machine human-legible and show how little we are able to comprehend the universe modelled by devices and machines increasingly given their own agency and control over our world. The project alludes to the theories of computation, where applied models fail when faced with the messy and organic world of humans and the struggle of science and the machines to reconcile reality with the model.

The invisible machine travels forwards until it collides with something, marks that point and then moves in a new, random direction. The only things visible to the audience are its infrared trails, a way of tracking its current position in x, y and z. When it collides with a surface, it marks a point. The colour of this point is dictated by proximity to the centre of the space. Red is the closest point to the centre so far and blue the furthest.

When it collides with someone or something in the space it is unable to reconcile this new coordinate with it's fixed model of a simple square room. In consequence the model becomes distorted and aberrant points appear. At the same time it leaves a sonic marker at the point where it has hit an aberration. This sound, the text to Alfred Gell's Technology and Magic, re-encoded using Google Tone takes a pitch dictated by proximity to the centre of the room.

Every time the makes a new collision, it re-assesses the model. Older points are given less weighting in the model and over time the sounds fade and a stable model reassembles.

At the end of each simulation, the coordinates of all the points made are dumped out and then remodelled into a visualisation of the machine's impression of the space. With more intrusion and interference, the model becomes progressively more distorted. These renders of the space with text explaining the remeshing processes are collected at


This video shows one simulation run sped up 600%. At De Brakke Grond, each simulation runs for one hour.
An example of a remesh, sped up significantly.
On Alchemy and Magic at De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam
For this edition of The Finite State Fantasia, the piece had to be structurally refigured. Instead of presenting the room, the simulation was presented from a third-person perspective in three stages.

On the left-most side, the simulation is run as normal in Unity. Random objects are generated each time the simulation runs to act as obstacles for the machine. The second, central screen shows the point cloud generated by the interaction the machine has with the simulated space. The final wall shows the machine live remeshing the space and so shows its impression of what the space is.

By watching the three versions of the simulated space in parallel, a direct comparison is drawn between the simulation and the output to show how space is represented and interpreted by the different cognitive systems of humans and machines.

The Finite State Fantasia is a co-commission by STUK (Leuven) for Artefact festival 2017, STRP (Eindhoven) and FIBER (Amsterdam). It was developed in close collaboration with Tinne Tuytelaars of the KU Leuven Department of Electrical Engineering, ESAT - PSI, Processing Speech and Images.

The Finite State Fantasia was conceived of and developed by Tobias Revell. Sound design and engineering by Wesley Goatley and Unity development by Alan Zucconi.

05.2017 – De Brakke Grond, Fiber Festival, Amsterdam.
03.2017 – Artefact Expo, Stuk Leuven.
03.2017 – STRP Biennale 2017, Eindhoven.

03.2017 – Gonzo Circus
03.2017 – We Make Money Not Art.
03.2017 – Metropolis M.

Last updated: 05.2020