sh3ll by Agoston Nagy

sh3ll is an audiovisual artwork created with code, algorithms and blockchain metadata. Its structure is inspired by natural processes that can be replicated through computational tools. The project is part of an ongoing artistic research that explores the invocation of memory and experimental media. Some visual elements reflect the irreversibility and immutability of blockchain technologies and long-form generative art practices.


As an artist, I have been creating algorithmic art and responsive environments for more than 20 years, using free and open-source tools. I focused on performative practices like fluxuslive coding, and experimental art in my earlier career. Today, my interests have shifted toward the philosophical aspects of computation, entropy, and the relationship between time-based events, choreography, and visual media. There are still many possibilities to explore between the interplay of sound and image generation.

Natural Structures

There is an otherworldly, almost alien beauty in natural artifacts where computation manifests itself, revealing the various possibilities of a complex ecological system that extends beyond centralized minds and human cognition. Trees, branches, diffusion systems, and other morphogenetic phenomena share common aspects where their visual appearance shapes the algorithm's operation. The paradigm of self-computing space has roots in the study of self-organization and dissipative systems. A type of "cellular automaton" can be observed in sh3ll, where clusters of pixels compute based on their surrounding pixels, changing status and moving according to their neighboring cells, composing geometric figures that resemble evolving forms of life.

A Conus textile shell similar in appearance to cellular automation with Rule 30. Image: Wikipedia (Copyright 2005, Richard Ling)
A Conus textile shell similar in appearance to cellular automation with Rule 30. Image: Wikipedia (Copyright 2005, Richard Ling)


Sometimes, visual analogies can help describe computational systems in a way that decreases cognitive friction and makes their mechanisms more understandable. For instance, we can visualize irreversible blockchain transactions as unfolding cellular automata on seashell patterns or other irreversible natural growth patterns. A five-neighbor, two-state, two-dimensional cellular automaton (called HGlass) is implemented in the code of sh3ll that organizes a nice, sliding flow of tiny elements and disassembles solid starting patterns in exciting ways. Because the algorithm's rules self-modify on the fly, unexpected patterns and formations arise.

Two views of the five-neighbour, two-state two-dimensional cellular automaton that has been used in the project. Left: each consecutive frame is visible. Right: the stacked layers forming a 3d sculpture that unfolds over time
Two views of the five-neighbour, two-state two-dimensional cellular automaton that has been used in the project. Left: each consecutive frame is visible. Right: the stacked layers forming a 3d sculpture that unfolds over time

The project is a long-form generative collection. This medium helps explore the artwork's conceptual origins in a way that wouldn't be possible with a single piece. The consecutive colour palettes of each iteration are defined by their order in the series, acting like long-term memory encoded in the collection. By fetching the ID of any minted token, each piece becomes a continuation of the previous one. This dynamic creates a gradual colour transition across the series, visible when looking at all the outputs together. You can find another computational element in the structure of the collection. Within each piece, different components assemble on the surface of a recursive grid. The fragments of this grid create multiple viewports into the same computational process. These add a multidimensional layer and point to natural processes that transcend specific phenomena, space, or time. The complexity of these grids is based on a parameter of the minting transaction, derived from blockchain metadata. Upon a single mint, simple grids will emerge. However, if there are more than one tokens minted within one transaction, the complexity of the generated grids will increase, depending on the order of their place in the batch. The lower their index in the package, the simpler the resulting grid. Conversely, batches with higher number of items will produce more complex grids. This means if you mint more than one item at once, you will get similar colour palettes with increasing grid complexity.

Finally, the deliberate rhythmic effect resembles the slow, contemplative process of crafting imagery, where light touches the surface of photo emulsions and light-sensitive materials, causing colours to emerge, transform, and oscillate slowly between values. The photo emulsion gradually hardens where light hits it and washes away where light doesn't hit it, leaving an image behind.


In addition to these aspects, sound is equally vital to the visual artwork. Algorithms, parameters, and changes are expressed visually and audibly, though kept as minimal as possible. The artwork operates with simple shapes, dots, colors, and movements on the visual level, and it uses similarly minimal components within the custom-built audio counterpart, including sound waves, noise generators, filters, and amplifier modules. Within these micro-compositions, one can follow the process of blockchain-derived computations as a context-free, audiovisual experience.

Early test outputs
Early test outputs

These sounds originate from sonic elements on a scale smaller than traditional musical notes or even individual grains of sound. This approach, usually called microsound synthesis, manipulates sound at a microscopic level to create unique timbral and textural variations. It allows for exploring sonic landscapes that are not perceptible in conventional musical styles. This technique creates an additional temporal layer to the artwork. Long-form generative visual aesthetics and slowly evolving architectural outputs diffused with real-time audio synthesis, post-club ambient electronica, and deep listening. The overall synthesis is manipulated on the fly, creating dynamically evolving sonic experiences.

Our modern era departs from traditional modes of experiencing audiovisual art in physical spaces (clubs, concerts, cinemas, galleries, etc.). sh3ll adds to the tapestry of trends and advancements poised to redefine the audiovisual art landscape. No longer confined to specific physical locations, digital culture can shed its spatial and temporal constraints, all while connecting them with uncommon and revived scenarios with entirely new layers of significance.

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