NNON was conceived, programmed, and generated by Stephen Nowlin in software developed at the Booth Computing Center, California Institute of Technology, 1970. Filming technology was provided by John Whitney.
I filmed NNON at the old Booth Computing Center at Caltech, 1970, in the middle of the night which were the only hours I could schedule computer time. I started the camera-computer interface at about 11pm and then periodically slept in my VW bus while it filmed, and it's possible a janitor might have opened a door to the room where the camera was running and affected the exposure in certain places. Computer graphics were experimental in 1970 and nobody got to do them except at places like Caltech where there were big machines. At the time I was employed at Caltech's Astro-Electronics lab, drafting computer circuits for the Mount Wilson and Palomar observatories, and involved in a Caltech EAT (Experiments in Art & Technology) program inviting artists to work with scientists.
In NNON, each individaul line segment was programmed to rotate 180 degrees counter-clockwise around its own center at 1 degree per second, so it took 3 minutes for the final frame to end up looking the same as the first. In between, what it looked like was left up to the math. I called it NNON becuase it was really about being non-subjective, about squeezing subjectivity out of the aesthetics and surrendering personal choices to the rules of geometry -- which I thought of as being a metaphor for how Nature worked and, ultimately, a higher order of artistic process or at least one that interested me more. This notion was generally being explored at the time, by artists like Sol LeWitt, Mel Bochner, and Dorthea Rockburne and others, whose work had influenced my thinking. Over the course of the film, the entire image doubles in size while rotating clockwise, which adds to a spiral galaxy-like appearance as everything unfolds.
- Stephen Nowlin