Category: conceptual

Silicon Speech Shape

November 27th, 2011 — 10:22 pm

By modelling the geometric resonance of speech, visually expressive letterforms emerge.

The advantages of light emitting screens rather than reflective paper are obvious:

all the features of the letterform can modulate as sounded.

Diaphragm, trachea, larynx, tongue, palette, lips:

tubes that resonate to create resonance.

Language landscapes labyrinth lingual.

New letterforms grown from formulas.

Coral reefs, language, compilers, modular organs in bodies, brownian surfaces, broccoli, human brains.

“… virtually all complex systems, regardless of whether they are composed of molecules, neurons, or people, can be meaningfully described as networks.” (Olaf Sporns, Networks of the Brain. pg.29)

Saussure famously described the arbitrariness of the sign: a gap between sign, signified and referent.

That gap is reduced by digital typography.

Occasionally, the gap is erased by digital poetry.

Occasionally, language hits a singularity & dies.

Some celebrate. Some grieve.

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Visual Language (Encyclopedia Pictura)

October 26th, 2011 — 05:18 pm

In my thesis, I state:

“I think visual language evolution is on a trajectory toward becoming a real-world object. The shape of these letterform objects might correspond to embodied structures: visual analogs of mathematics that arise from the acoustic resonance inside our bodies. It can be argued that much of proportional aesthetics (theories of golden mean symettry etc.) arises from embodiment, evolutionary activity over millennia etching patterns in physiognomy.

What I am suggesting is that innate shapes (geometry or topology in Thom’s terms) already exist for letterforms. They implicitly underlie our oral audible language, they are subconscious sculptures intuited from the shape of diaphragm, larynx, mouth, lips and tongue. They have been etched there by speaking. Some shapes are personal, some shapes are cross-cultural. Yet it is these shapes and vibrational presences that are being given birth and dimensional form within 3D animation, ads, and digital poetry.”

Computation provides us with unprecedented tools to implement such a vision. Perhaps the most fundamental agreement with my viewpoint comes from an unusual source: Encyclopedia Pictura are a trio of motion-graphic artists who have made extraordinary music videos for artists such as Bjork and clients like Spore.

Near the bottom of their website menu is a discrete link to a page devoted to visual language: a set of drawings and eventually doodles which outline their vision for an augmented reality application which utilizes morphological text that is relationally appropriate to the sound of the voice of the speakers.

In other words they propose precisely what I have advocated in my thesis and worked towards with works like Human–Mind–Machine. Except they have actually gone farther, providing one-to-one relationships between sounds and candidate shapes. Continue reading »

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Genetic Initiatives

October 26th, 2011 — 11:58 am

As far as I know, there have been 4 primary interventions that involve directly writing poetry into genes.

The first was renegade bio-artist Joe Davis’ Microvenus project. He wrote an an ancient fertility glyph into an e coli in 1996 and exhibited it at Ars Electronica 2000. For this he invented his own coding structure.

The second was Eduardo Kac’s insertion of a biblical verse (“Let man have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”) into a strand of DNA for his 1998 Genesis exhibit. In this exhibit networked viewers control a UV light which effects the rate of bacterial propogation (in other words, alters its publishing).

The third was Craig Venter who on May 20th 2010 announced that his team had created and watermarked the first self-replicating artificial organism with a codified puzzle, the names of the organism’s authors, and 3 citations, including one from James Joyce: “TO LIVE, TO ERR, TO FALL, TO TRUIMPH, TO RECREATE LIFE OUT OF LIFE”. Ominous? Perhaps. Trivial? Not at all. This shifts the definition of self-publishing.

The fourth poetic-genetic intervention, Christian Bök’s Xenotext Experiment, was proposed in 2007 and implemented in 2011; it apparently releases poetic responses (proteins encrypted in readable ways).

Each of these processes is far from creating a living language that will persist without complicated life support or function as viable technology for reading that will challenge the book or screen. Though Venter’s organism replicates; and Bök intends to splice his next verse into a very durable critter and potentially outlive humanity, there is the problem of user interface developments: how exactly do we read these texts except as interventions which challenge our conception of memory substrates?

Each project is more akin to a microbe making a tattoo on an elephant than a sustained treatise on molecular poetry. Yet these tiny revolutionary incremental splices interject imagination onto molecular substrates, intertwine the context of text with molecular biology, and anticipate a radical shift in the materiality of reading.

How does this connect to digital poetry? Rapid sequencing and subsequent manipulation of the genome emerge in parallel with computation. The genome for the first self-replicating synthetic cell was “designed in the computer”. Binary encoding processes convey the word into flesh.

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Living Language

June 7th, 2011 — 11:59 pm

Richard Rorty identified philosophy as a series of turns.
Like the head of a small bird, the head of philosophy pivots around to find new concerns each generation.

In the early twentieth century, Wittgenstein’s linguistic turn precipitated a concentration on language as fundamental metaphor. In 1994, the pictorial turn (of W.T.J. Mitchell) proposed a visual generation, ocularcentric and inundated in photons. The pictorial turn is living in parallel competition (and partial completion) with many other concurrent turns: the genomic turn, the media turn, the hybrid turn, the non-linear turn, the interactive-tangible turn, the agency turn, the augmented turn and the singularity network turn.

When tavits become indiscernible from reality, where language and the pictorial meet new-media 3D-representations, there will be a re-turn toward aesthetic animism, animism without precedent: a digital animism that includes language as a proto-animal.

This will be the turn toward living language.

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TAVIT: Text Audio-Visual Interactivity

May 29th, 2011 — 12:40 pm

Digital poetry is a multimedia hybrid-art-form, a subset of visual language fusing with digital technology, increasingly mediated by networks. Contemporary poems are animated interfaces; and they often utilize dynamic interactive typography superimposed over video, generative or 3D environments. A brief list of the disciplines involved: visual art, sound composition, literature, media studies, computer programming.

Multimedia-hybrid digital poetry means that the term ‘text’ is insufficient.
Future theorists will require terminology specific to the domain, I suggest:

  • TAV (text-audio-visual)
  • TAVT (a tav in a 3D territory)
  • TAVIT (an interactive tavt)

I have no illusions or expectations that these terms will achieve widespread adoption, but am certain that some terms like these will of necessity emerge to concisely and accurately convey the difference between text, tav, tavt and tavit.

Suggested use: “That was an amazing tavit!”, “The intertavituality of these works is self-evident”

This post is the first in a series that explore ideas contained in my thesis drafts.
I recently returned from presenting this material at E-Poetry 2011. (Download presentation: pdf / ppt ).
Subsequent posts will unravel more details.

Feedback is welcomed.

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2009 : David Clark’s 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein

April 15th, 2011 — 05:34 pm

As a meta-monument, a monolith, to the confluence of philosophy and poetry, and an extended meditation on the convergence of thought in multimedia, David Clark’s 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein is a rapturous virtuosic sprawling labyrinth that confounds, nourishes and provokes. It is (in my view) a consummate example of hybrid interactivity, future cinema, net-art and scholarship. It is in effect a poem. Written, directed and animated by Clark with a team of collaborative assistance, 88 Constellations establishes learning as an aesthetic act, philosophy as path-based, and trivia as profound.

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Each of the 88 constellation lines is a micro film woven around ricochet facts. Parts of a possible path : Wittgenstein didn’t talk until he was 4 years old, gave away a fortune, went into exile, read pulp novels, published one thin book. Thus simple things become thick with synchronicity.

Why 88? Here’s a morsel of the voice-over: “Constellations and piano keys, two upright infinities, two fat ladies, 1, 8, 8, 9, Chaplin Hitler and Wittgenstein,  star-crossed sons of fate, born to love and born to hate, one would last to 88, ….” Chaplin, Wittgenstein, Hitler were all born around the same day in 1889. Somehow these lives become vectors that hurtle through modernist architecture into the Twin  Towers.

From 2001: A Space Odyssey to Sept. 11th 2001, science fiction pervades pop culture until the antagonism between high and low thought itself pops and there in the rubble is genuine revelation. Stockhausen refers to the twin towers’ collapse as the greatest act of art. Repetition and intentionality colliding with the sturdy architecture of our beliefs even as it constructs lies and legends. Art for ark’s sake. Form follows functionlessness.

In my view, Clark is constructing epic poems. Just as the ancient oral poets regurgitated the news of their time in convulsive memorable writhing heaps of meaning, Clark investigates coincidences until we “connect the dots”. Probing the paradox of superstition’s roots in fact, parables growing out of perturbed patterns. Each viewer becomes witness to Wittgenstein’s profound yet often incomprehensible speaking to himself. For Clark thought occurs inside and outside us in conversations with culture. King Kong’s 1976 finale on the Twin Towers sits side by side with an elliptical morsel on the Petronia Towers: “Two tall twins side by side, 88 lights, a ghost in the sky, 88 floors, 88 floors, 88 floors in Kuala Lumpur, the world’s tallest building has 88 floors, 2 Islamic stars, 8 sides a door.” The Tribute of Light created on the site of the Twin Towers is created by 88 lights; it all echoes Albert Speer’s cathedral of light for Hitler’s Nuremberg rally. Homosexuals, gypsies and jews all gassed. In Clark’s words, these lights look outside ourselves to look in, in an act of reverse astronomy. Culture becomes a catastrophe, a mutating shape we impose meanings upon.

As virtuosic as it is sinuous, in 88 Constellations enigmas sprout from collisions and connections erupt from hidden symmetries. “Infinity is the number 8 lying down”. Goddard making a film about cities and woman. To get laid; to lie; to lie down. Language too lies down, and lies and gives up at its limit which is love. As lovers discuss Wittgenstein and Derrida in a cafe, concepts become corporal and eventually confound, we become the cream in their coffee, harvesting the crushed whirling suctional effervescent force of spoons.

Wittgenstein wrote: “Our words will only express facts.” Wittgenstein also said “Nothing is hidden.” Yet here in the 88 Constellations everything through surplus seems obscure, making less sense as it makes more. Loos: “Design purged of ornamentation” in the style of the Tractatus, effortless computation.

Moving sideways through such a ripe evanescent turmoil of excess facticity, Clark repeats certain themes like fugue motifs (repetition, logic, 88, repressions, twins), weaving toward an idiosyncratic reservoir where innate ideas absorb and integrate their opposites. Similarly the sound-scape (designed by Clark) operates contrapuntally, as a generative modular entity: sparse, elegant and effective. Appropriate for an architecture of “more is less.” Closure refused; the question remains a quest: “Who is Ludwig Wittgenstein?”

And the question for us is: “What is David Clark?” A poet? Animator? Musician? Scholar? Philosopher? Culture junkie? Provocateur? Pulp mediast?

Wittgenstein loved mystery novels. I love 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein.

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An Image-Essay on Image-Texts

March 31st, 2011 — 12:44 pm


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2012: Against Against

February 18th, 2011 — 09:25 pm

Lev Manovich inverts the conventional way of looking at how photography forced a change on painting: “Thus, rather than thinking of modern art as a liberation (from representation and documentation), we can see it as a kind of psychosis – an intense, often torturous examination of the contents of its psyche, the memories of its glamorous past lives, and the very possibilities of speaking. At first this psychosis produced brilliant insights and inspired visions but eventually, as the mental illness progressed, it degenerated into endless repetitions. ” (pg 282. 2008 draft of Software Takes Command)

A parallel observation also holds true for contemporary poetry. With the rise of the printing press, it lost its base as the deliverer of news. As novels and stories and journalism arrived direct, poetry sought new terrain in which to establish continued relevance. In the same way that painting turned to the subject of painting, poetry turned to the subject of its substrate: language. Contemporary poems are about language. This truism is stated often: poetry is about language..

Character, story, and observations of nature are already comprehensively covered by many other media. The poetic avant garde along with philosophy is now in the business of investigating the tropes and turns of language: it investigates how things are said; and it investigates these issues sonically, culturally and procedurally with an eye to destabilize how we receive what is said. Unfortunately, where this focus, at the birth of several movements such as Dada or LANGUAGE, led to superlative works which activated levels of unprecedented discourse; now, perhaps there is the sense (I have it) that poetry has reached a strange impasse.

Burroughs and Gysin spawned a revolution. OULIPO cemented its cerebral appeal. In response to the commodification of creativity and the stable narrative voice (i.e. the repressed voice), poetry adopted a cut and paste collage methodology of hallucinatory deflections. Subsequently, appropriation became a key methodology of the conceptual elite. I agree with Kenneth Goldsmith only partially when he says (in the intro to Against Expression a new ubuweb anthology of conceptual lit) : “With the rise of the Web, writing has met its photography. By that, I mean that writing has encountered a situation similar to that of painting upon the invention of photography, a technology so much better at doing  what the art form had been trying to do that, to survive, the field had to alter its course radically. If photography was striving for sharp focus, painting was forced to go soft, hence impressionism. Faced with an unprecedented amount of available digital text, writing needs to redefine itself to adapt to the new environment of textual abundance.” (pg. xvii, Against Expression.)

As I said, I partially agree, here’s why: The printing press and typewriter were already poetry’s photography. The web is yet another animal entirely.

Isn’t the dilemma now that we are all inundated in a massive onslaught of word spew every day? Do we need to construct more of it?  Is the only space left for poetry a narrow ledge of irony, and a ctrl+c ctrl+v heartbeat? Conceptual approaches of writing will continue on their own path, finding solutions to their own lines of inquiry.

In the next few posts, I will be exploring other paths, challenges and difficult potentialities digital literature has before it. These are basic changes occurring in the operating system of how we write at the root level. Specifically, the development of a living language, assimilated into motion graphics and code embodied. Word as spime. What I will be proposing here is very specific to those so inclined to this approach. To paraphrase Sol LeWitt: “I do not advocate a digital form of poetry for all poets. I have found that it has worked well for me while other ways have not. It is one way of making poetry; other ways suit other poets. Nor do I think all digital poetry merits the viewers attention. Digital poetry is only good when both programming and poetry are good”

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1926 Marcel Duchamp – Anemic Cinema

February 5th, 2011 — 02:28 pm

The spinning wheel[1] is fundamental to both hard-drives and to Marcel Duchamp’s 1926 film Anemic Cinema, an early example of animated text. In Anemic Cinema[2] phrases painted in spirals onto a flat disk  rotate at constant speed. The reader reads inward from the edge to the phrase’s end near the spinning centre. This process evokes algorithmic alchemists with circular charts and simultaneously anticipates the mobility and motility of digitally animated text pulled along curved paths and extruded on MTV. In Duchamp’s film the eye slips in or out along a serpentine labyrinth. Vinyl LP grooves existent in phonograph recordings (viewed when drunk) may have been the inspiration. Certainly the vortices of Hitchcock emulators and Brio Gysin’s Dream Machine are descendants. Reader flexibility is necessary: the poetic line is not flat, it is curved and on the move. Semantic impact emerges in spasms as legibility unravels like a snake.

Anemic Cinema is an engine that derives visual energy from mechanical rotation. This echoes the origin of malleable language: the clay potter’s wheel spinning so that fingers dragged from the centre to the edge form patterns. In Anemic Cinema, patterns function as visual punctuation between each of the text segments. They also provide time for the text’s complex puns and aphorisms to be digested.

The over-exposure strobes of the early film-stock date it to contemporary eyes as an antiquarian project; yet, this is a project that for its era must have required the use of technically advanced equipment combined with idiosyncratic vision. In this sense, it is close in practice to digital poets who extend software and work with new media: it leverages the edge of tech. Anemic Cinema places Duchamp[3] at the origin of animated text and visual poetry in high art and forms a useful link between ancient clay glyphs, potter’s wheels and petroglyphs, and current motion graphics and spinning digital media: disk drive, laser disk, CD-ROM, DVD.

[1] The spinning wheel is a motif that travels through technology in ways that connect to the activity of reading: from potter’s wheel, alchemists charts, phonographs, vinyl LPs, disk drives, cd-roms and dvds. Reading migrates from finger to ear to eye to laser.

[2] The title Anemic Cinema foreshadows a central credibility dilemma for visual animated poems. Seemingly lacking in the enriched healthy visual stimulus of imagery, visual poems are the anemic stunted cousins of real poems and real cinema.. Duchamp’s sardonic title diagnosed this credibility gap early.

[3] The work is signed by a pseudonym of Duchamp: Rrose Selavy

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