When NFTs started gaining traction, it was mostly visual art pieces like Beeple’s digital art, CryptoPunks, and the Bored Ape Yacht Club PFPs that got the most attention. However, one artist stood out by creating beautiful audiovisual art using just a C compiler. This unique individual is 0xDEAFBEEF, an artist and engineer from Toronto, Canada, who has been experimenting with art, technology, music, generative art, computer animation, blacksmithing, and sound recording for over 20 years. Despite using low-level computer code and a minimal toolset, his technique has turned out to be extremely popular. In August 2021, a collection of six of 0xDEAFBEEF’s sold for $6.8 million, and two weeks ago, “Series 1: Angular – Token 134” was auctioned off for $241,300 at Sotheby’s.
0xDEAFBEEF’s interest in a programmable blockchain was sparked due to his training in classical piano and love for experimentation with audio equipment. When he discovered Ethereum, he found a way to combine his passions for art and technology. “I’d describe myself as a tinkerer, jumping around between many fields, overlapping art and technology. It just happened that the project that I commenced before I knew anything about NFTs, doing audiovisual work with code, happened to align with things that were happening within Ethereum,” he said. “It was great timing. When I look back, had I missed that window in 2021 by three to six months, things might have looked much different.”
While many successful NFT artists did not plan to become prominent in the digital art world, “not planned” seems to be a common theme. In March 2021, “Synth Poems” were born, which were short generative music pieces inspired by the sound of analog synthesizers and stored entirely on the blockchain.
But 0xDEAFBEEF’s most unique experiment with NFTs is “Entropy.” Unlike most NFTs, these tokens degrade in quality each time they are traded, exploring the theme of permanence and immutability in on-chain generative art. “There’s a narrative of on-chain art being more permanent than other NFTs where the files are stored on another server and have the potential to disappear. But I asked myself the question of how immutable it is through ‘Entropy,’” he said. “Using the ‘Entropy’ artwork to paradoxically critique the idea of permanence by having this digital artwork that changes and degrades every time it changes ownership — I thought it was interesting thematically.”
0xDEAFBEEF’s monochrome visual style is another element that hooks collectors to his audiovisual art. Although many collectors believe that it is harder for digital artists that focus on audio to cut through as effectively as visual artists, the monochrome aesthetic of his work is something that comes through a lot. He says, “People see it first before they hear it, usually because of the dominance of social media—it’s all visually oriented. The monochrome aesthetic of my work is something that comes through a lot. There’s a bunch of reasons why I work in monochrome. One of them is just being practical because this was originally a sound-based project.”
Many notable collectors have scooped up 0xDEAFBEEF’s unique NFTs, including Brevan Howard founder Alan Howard. Notable works include “Glitchbox” and “Angular,” which were part of the same set that sold for $6.8 million, and “Advection,” which was sold for $307,157 in June 2022.
As for other artists in the NFT space who catch 0xDEAFBEEF’s eye, he named Operator, experiential duo Ania Catherine and Dejha Ti, Trevor Paglan, video artist Paul Pfeiffer, and Holly Herndon, an artist working with voice models and artists’ rights.
Despite the high prices his NFTs have commanded, 0xDEAFBEEF is most proud of art-for-art trades with other artists. He said, “The most meaningful ones that have honestly made me smile have been art-for-art trades with other artists.” One such trade was with Snowfro for several unminted “Chromie Squiggles,” and another was with conceptual artist Mitchell F Chan for a “Synth Poem.”
In conclusion, 0xDEAFBEEF’s unique approach to audiovisual art has helped him stand out in the crowded NFT space. His ability to create stunning pieces with minimal tools and low-level computer code proves that the possibilities of NFTs are endless, and it will be exciting to see what he and other artists create in the future.