On the Background

Based on the marvelous work of Scott Kim (see his splendid book, "Inversions", W.H Freeman 1981/92), the background pattern of this site is an example of diamond-shaped translational symmetry of a germinating "tile" (itself relatively small). But since the pieces interlock in a redundant manner, it forms a elegant way to generate a Web site background, getting the maximum amount of visual variety with a minimal file size.
The underlying connection with music is insightfully mentioned by Kim, and he's absolutely correct. Like a lot of other musicians and composers, I find this whole concept irresistible. I first encountered it in the excellent "Mathematical Games" section of Scientific American, which Martin Gardner wrote for so many years (I still miss it!) It turns out that designing these patterns is harder than it looks, although you can, with practice, develop a sort of "knack/insight" into doing it.
I made this design originally not quite so deftly in the mid '70's, but lost that imperfect version. So when Matthew Davidson dropped my defenses (about doing a web page on me), this jumped to mind as the kind of pattern I wanted to see on my page. So I used my Mac to try to design it all over again.
Update note: I'd like to point out a fine site on M.C Escher, the astonishing artist who first brought such designs to notice in the Western art world (I have many books of his art and methods, and lithographs of his works are scattered about the loft.) Anyway, if you want to learn more, including a fine tutorial on making tiling patterns yourself, plus many decent Escher links, do a search for Joel Zahn's Escher website. A search string that has worked well is:<"Welcome to my M.C. Escher site!">. There are a surprising number of other fine websites (not to mention those even more thorough books) which cover this fertile field that Escher defined and redefined for following generations of folks who'd like a dollop of "extra smarts" in their gourmet graphic enjoyment!

B&W tile

The "One Tile" image is a small sample of the underlying pattern, in this case made up of the interlocked shapes of letters. I used MacDraw Pro to make copies of hand-drawn curves and then duplicated and spliced them together while trying to figure out a way to get the five letters to interlock naturally, with minimal distortion to any of them. You'll see highlighted in gray the actual "germinating" region. Everything else is a clone of what's inside that small diamond shape, surprising as that may seem to be.

Color Pattern

This image then went into PhotoShop (one of my favorite programs!) where I tried to give the pattern some texture and color and dimensionality in all the usual ways. No magic there. The image at the left is what resulted, a single instance of my name appearing in red. For the final background I've made several variations, all much lighter and smaller than this sample, so text can be read over it. I think (and hope) this is the first web site with such a calligraphic tiling. If you've seen any others let me know. Thanks!

-Wendy Carlos

Just for the record, here is what the background looked like from July 1997 through early December 1998. It gradually tones to a darker shade on the far left, and then more gradually again towards the far right, before the whole thing repeats, but you'll need a large monitor with the browser window opened wide, in order to see this. Also note that these somewhat larger characters were filled with a random-dot pattern, unlike the smooth dimensioned look for our new background.

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Wendy Carlos: On the Background