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Visualizing The Detroit Electro Scene As Solar Flares

Peter Crnokrak of The Luxury of Protest tracks the natural phenomenon that was Detroit Electro in the 1980s.

“I've kept it simple in that every release is represented by one solar flare.” I'm talking to Peter Crnokrak, one time Postdoctoral Fellow in quantitative genetics at the University of Toronto, now artist and designer under the name of The Luxury of Protest, a London-based design practice, about his most recent piece, entitled UR. The work is a data visualization poster based on the epic output of Underground Resistance, the seminal Detroit based record label that was a leader in spurring techno music in the mid to late 1980's.


It's not the first time Crnokrak worked with music as a starting point. Love Will Tear Us Apart, based on the Joy Division song of the same name, is, in many ways, a predecessor to his UR piece, charting similar representation of data in a spherical, brilliantly executed fashion. But with UR, Crnokrak moves beyond our planet and charts solar explosions in order to capture the moment of the music.

Crnokrak explains the UR piece as “a circular ring that looks like a sun eclipse. Along the ring are 126 different record releases and each release has a coronal mass flare that jets out from the edge of the ring. The size of that flare represents the popularity of the record according to a weighted algorithm that I wrote for Google hits and YouTube video plays. The algorithm brings all that together and tries to determine relative popularity. It's a very simple poster, it's very direct, it's very minimal, but at the same time it's actually quite fanciful in this idea of representing these nuclear explosions on the sun”.

The idea may be 'fanciful' but the research is scientific, as Crnokrak reveals. “Every single flare that you see represents one record by Underground Resistance and that flare actually comes from the time of the record's release. I used an archive created by a NASA project called the Solar Dynamics Observatory, where they recorded explosions on the surface of the sun for a number of years, decades now,  so you can actually correlate the song by Underground Resistance, the record release, with this specific type of coronal flare.”

The initial inspiration for this particular work stems from Crnokrak's upbringing, a teenager in the mid-1980s, his parents moved from Croatia to Windsor in Ontario, Canada, a small town right across the river from Detroit.  Crnokrak recalls the place as having “a very stark atmosphere."

"We lived next to a factory, the forms were very imposing and quite overwhelming at times. The atmosphere that I grew up in influences my aesthetic choices now, but at the same time I am fascinated with the darker aspects of life, there is something about understanding the extremes of human behaviour that I am always fascinated with. You want to know what those edges are so you can really understand humanity and I think that's what I'm trying to get at with a lot of my work.”