Author Archive

Vancouver Riot

A dbCinema maundering on the Vancouver riot: http://vispo.com/dbcinema/vanriot

Unicode by Jörg Piringer

Jörg Piringer is a sound poet and poet-programmer currently living in Vienna/Austria. He really knows what he’s doing with the programming, having a master’s degree in Computer Science. And his sound work, both in live performance and in synthesis with the auditory and visual processing, is quite remarkable. I saw him in Nottingham and Paris, and was very impressed on both occassions.

He’s just released a new piece, a video called Unicode. It’s a 33:17 long, and simply displays Unicode characters. Each character is displayed for about 0.04 seconds. The video displays 49,571 characters.

It’s a video, but it’s a conceptual piece. The characters in this video are all symbols and each makes but the briefest appearance. A cast of thousands; Bar and Yeace.

Wikipedia describes Unicode thus:

Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent encoding, representation and handling of text expressed in most of the world’s writing systems. Developed in conjunction with the Universal Character Set standard and published in book form as The Unicode Standard, the latest version of Unicode consists of a repertoire of more than 109,000 characters covering 93 scripts, a set of code charts for visual reference, an encoding methodology and set of standard character encodings, an enumeration of character properties such as upper and lower case, a set of reference data computer files, and a number of related items, such as character properties, rules for normalization, decomposition, collation, rendering, and bidirectional display order (for the correct display of text containing both right-to-left scripts, such as Arabic and Hebrew, and left-to-right scripts).[1] As of 2011, the most recent major revision of Unicode is Unicode 6.0.

Piringer’s Unicode simply shows us symbols but, to me, it illustrates how our notion of language has been expanded to not only the multi-lingual but also to include code. Not only do we see many of the world’s scripts but a good deal of abstract symbols of code.

By the way, his web site at joerg.piringer.net is well worth checking out.

City Bird by Millie Niss

Millie Niss passed away in 2009. She was a New York writer/poet, programmer, and mathematician who took her work as a new media artist very seriously. Her mother Martha Deed has put together a book of her writings called City Bird that was recently published by BlazeVox. I’ve been reading it. Anyone who knew her, in reading this book, is reminded so much of her presence, voice, humour, intelligence, suffering, and strength. It’s quite a strong statement, really, of resilience in the face of the frequent sickness she had to endure throughout her life.

It’s a book I’ll keep and read over the years. I think Millie would be delighted with what Martha has done in editing this collection of Millie’s poems and getting it published.

I wrote something about Millie not long after she passed away, and worked with Martha on putting some photos of Millie up on the net. I miss the Niss. Many thanks to Martha for this terrific collection of Millie’s poetry.

Andrew Topel

I subscribe to the Poetics list from SUNY, which is one of the oldest/biggest English language poetry-related listservs. Mostly the posts are ‘here’s my new book of poems’ or ‘I’m going to be reading on Tuesday’, but occasionally something else transpires. There are several interesting visual poets who post URLs to new work on the list. Andrew Topel posted what I think is distinctive, exciting work, recently, that I’d like to recommend.

It doesn’t immediately remind me of anyone else’s work. It’s an interesting mixture of textual and photographic media. Some of it is in ‘comics’ mode. Some of it is ‘pain terly’. Others are traditionally gray-scale but with Escher pagination.

From CONCRETE by Andrew Topel

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Maria Engberg reviews Funkhouser and Drucker

Maria Engberg wrote an interesting review of two books relevant to digital poetry: Chris Funkhouser’s Prehistoric Digital Poetry–An Archeology of Forms (1959-1995) and Johanna Drucker’s Speclab: Digital Aesthetics and Projects in Speculative Computing. Engberg says:

“A challenging notion for both scholars and artists to take up, then, is that social media seems to speak against the strong authoritative force and artistic drive behind the works that both Drucker (artists’ books) and Funkhouser (digital poetry) discuss. The modernist poetics of digital poetry that Funkhouser describes, not incorrectly, is perhaps inherently incompatible with the contemporary social creativity (for lack of a better term) of YouTube mashup videos, Facebook status update string narratives, Twitter feeds, and locative mobile “app-experiences” with their motley aesthetic and political pedigrees and agendas, unclear sender and reader positions (endlessly multiple) and transient status as objects.”

I have a different take on this subject, I think, than Engberg’s. Digital/literary work that deals with Twitter, say, is not simply somebody tweeting. Instead, we see work like The Longest Poem in the World. This is a programmerly work that creates rhyming couplets out of a Twitter feed of thousands of people tweeting. When I just visited, it had written 1,353,298 verses. It’s constantly adding more verses.

Similarly, digital/literary art that deals with Facebook won’t simply be someone writing status updates or links or notes or whatever other functionality Facebook provides.  It will, like The Longest Poem in the World, operate not simply within the social media app’s system, but will take it and its contents as ‘feed’.

Mom’s music

When my mom was dying, there was a short time when she no longer could talk but could hear. This was only a few days before she died, when she was in the Hospice, which she was for the last couple of weeks of her life.

Mom had always loved her music.  I have cherished childhood memories of kicking around the house on Sundays when mom would be doing house work and playing her music loudly on the stereo. Probably those Sundays, when she wasn’t working and was just relaxing at home and listening to music, shaped my love of music.

Anyway, I made a CD of some of her favorite tunes and took it in with me to visit her. The Hospice had some boom boxes. So mom and I sat together, she no longer able to talk. But she could hear, and I played her a CD of her favorite tunes and we sat together just listening.

Her eyes had been bad for a long time. Which had prevented her for years from using the stereo I bought her. She rarely listened to her music, in her last years. It was too hard for her to use the machinery. But I know she loved her music.  And I love it also. The Sound of Music. Westside Story. Harry Belafonte. Enya. Neil Diamond. Leonard Cohen. Moon River by Henry Mancini was mom and dad’s song. That was their love song.

I will remember that visit to mom forever, and playing her that music. She was visibly relieved to hear her music. And, to me, to hear it with her reminded me so much of all those Sundays as a kid with my mother.

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Slidvid 3.0

The 'ink' of the four nibs is lettristic animation

I’ve been working on version 3 of a JavaScript slideshow program I call Slidvid. I initially developed it to show screenshots of dbCinema in action. All the dbCinema slideshows use an earlier version of the Slidvid software. I’d like to show you Slidvid 3.0 in this post. And if you have a site you’d like to show your graphics on in a slideshow, drop me a line and we’ll put Slidvid on your site with your graphics.

The graphics in the first Slidvid 3 slideshow are old ones; they’re screenshots from a generative, interactive Shockwave piece I wrote called  A Pen.  I’ve had the screenshots on my site for quite a while, but not in a slideshow. The experience of them in a slideshow is more to my liking. Less work for the viewer. More options for the viewer and the presenter. And just a classier presentation.

The graphics in this slideshow were made with a virtual pen that has four nibs. The ‘ink’ of each nib is a lettristic animation that leaves trails as the pen moves the nibs/animations around the screen. Think of the nibs as being attached to the pen by long loose springs. When you click and drag the mouse in the Shockwave piece (not the slideshow), the nibs eventually catch up with you. And you can adjust things like the size and opacity of each nib. Hence the sort of graphics you see in this post. The project A Pen consists of both the interactive Shockwave piece and also the slideshow of screenshots taken from the Shockwave piece in action.

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The Curse of the “Code Blue” Motto

The motto of the Canadian national junior hockey team in 2011 was “Code Blue”. Who knew that their motto would prove ironic? After the final game, did whoever thought up the motto for the Canadian juniors glimpse, in a kind of literary horror, the final meaning the motto would have in history? It’s final meaning was revealed only after the Russians stormed back from a 3-0 deficit at the end of the second period to win 5-3 and capture their first World Junior tournament gold medal since 2003.  “Code blue” is for “cardiac arrest”, and it most aptly described the collapse of the Canadian team itself in the third period from hell. Did the motto’s writer sense being trapped in the inevitability of a story that he had helped write without knowing the end and the meaning that would give the motto?

Consider another case of literary horror. In The Shining, there’s a moment when Wendy, Jack’s wife, discovers that what Jack has been writing all winter amounts to an entire volume of repetitions of one sentence: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It’s funny but it’s also a moment of literary horror. He’s mad! Or is he just postmodern???? A conceptual poet??? No he’s mad, look out for the axe!! A boy so dull cannot but be mad!!

Similarly, the moment, after the third period, of the revelation of the final meaning of the “Code Blue” motto. A little frisson of the secret wiles of destiny. A peek into the machinery of the universe.

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New online journal: Experimental Poetics and Aesthetics

I received the below notice concerning a new online journal on experimental poetics and aesthetics, which I thought I’d post on netartery.

Dear colleagues,

We would like to take this opportunity to announce the launch of the inaugural issue of the journal Experimental Poetics and Aesthetics. If you could forward and share this announcement through your professional networks, we would be very grateful!

An index of the contents of this first issue is available at http://www.experimentalpoetics.com/blog/vocabulary/issues . As you can see, most of the content for this inaugural issue is in Spanish and Portuguese, however EXP also publishes works in English and as such we would warmly welcome submissions from authors working in that language for our upcoming issues.

We anticipate that the call for papers for the next issue will be sent out in mid-January.

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Nick Montfort & Stephanie Strickland / Sea and Spar Between

Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort have collaborated on a  work of digital poetry called Sea and Spar Between. The  generative/interactive piece uses Emily Dickinson’s poems and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.

Here is the Javascript file for the work. If you understand Javascript, this’ll show you how the program works.

Both Stephanie and Nick have been involved in electronic literature for many years. Nick teaches it at MIT and Stephanie is a mathematician who has published several books of poems and created many online interactive works.

iPhone apps for Native languages in western Canada

Quoted and condensed from an article by Judith Lavoie in the Victoria Times Colonist, Dec 16, 2010.

New apps for the iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone have been developed for the Sencoten language, spoken on southern Vancouver Island [in British Columbia, Canada], and Halq’eméylem, spoken in the Fraser Valley [of the same area]. Six more communities are using archives of recorded words and phrases to build mobile, audio dictionaries with funding from the province.

“Young people today are distracted by a lot of technology. They want to text, be on the web and play games and so we knew that, if we had any hope of keeping the language in front of them, it had to be presented in these ways,” said Peter Brand, co-ordinator of FirstVoices. FirstVoices archives and teaches aboriginal languages.

The struggle to keep B.C.’s 34 aboriginal languages alive becomes more difficult as elders die. On the Saanich Peninsula, only about 10 fluent Sencoten speakers remain.

The apps can be downloaded free from the iTunes store.

Sencoten:

http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/id398943185?mt=8

Halq’eméylem:

http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/halqemeylem/id398945845?mt=8

Wikileaks, Napster, and the Ayatollah Flanagan

Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks

Wikileaks and Napster

In an Assange interview published by the Guardian on Friday 3 December 2010,  Assange says:

“Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has …power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.”

In other words, he says the only Western speech that is ‘free’ is speech that does not threaten “the fiscal blockade”.

The commodity, in the case of Wikileaks, that is threatened is safe/private intelligence. We might call it ‘safely encrypted intelligence’.

The commodity in the case of Napster was monetized, commodified, marketed music.

Napster was savaged by the music industry because Napster represented a significant threat to the business. They were actually able to shut it down through the legal system. Wikileaks is being savaged by governments and also the media around the world. The media is savaging Wikileaks because Wikileaks is fulfilling a job typically done by the press. Governments are savaging Wikileaks because Wikileaks is publishing their secret information.

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New online issue of CIAC’s magazine

The CIAC is the Centre for International Contemporary Art in Montréal. They publish on the net a long-running magazine, now edited by Paule Makrous, that features web art, interviews, reviews, and other work. The most recent issue (38) features poetry by some of the victims of Ravensbrück, a Nazi concentration camp for women. And an interview with Gregory Chatonsky. And an interview with me by Paule. And other work.

Sound Resolution

Now what I’m going to tell you you already know back in some primitive part of your brain. Digital sound doesn’t sound as good as many analog recordings. Here’s why.

Digital sound is typically 44,100 samples per second. That sounds like a freakin lot of samples per second but it’s too low and that’s the problem. Really high quality sampling of sound takes place at 2,822,400 samples per second. This is known as SACD (Super Audio CD) developed by Sony and Philips. That’s 64 times greater than 44,100 samples per second. Currently, the best digital audio recordings have a sample rate twice as high as SACD. Or 128 times the typical 44,100 sample rate.

The problem is that CDs don’t hold enough information to be able to support SACD. You’d only get a couple of minutes or less of such audio on a CD. That is probably the historic rationale for commercial audio being typically 44,100 samples per second: the file sizes are not too big.

When I listen to typical digital audio, what I notice, if I crank it up–and I like to crank up music, typically–is that there’s no presence to the recordings. Some vinyl albums I had, when played on decent stereos–the stereos didn’t have to be top of the line, but they had to be OK–sounded pretty much ‘live’. They had presence. But digital audio, it can’t break through from the other side, as it were.

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NHL Brain Trinket

What I’m going to tell you—I warn you—is of no consequence whatever. And it won’t even be of interest to you unless you’re an NHL hockey fan. And, worse, it’s going to test your algebra skills. The only thing I can say in favour of saying it at all is that you just won’t ever read anything else about hockey like what I’m going to tell you right now. It just doesn’t happen. This is the unicorn of hockey writing. Right here, right now.

It’s so messed up to be telling you this at all that I have to give you something to get you to read it. What I’m going to give you is like something you’d get out of a bubble-gum machine. But maybe the best such thing you’d get. Cuz it’s an idea. It’s from the bubble gum machine of the mind. I figured it out myself. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else. I’m going to give you a little brain trinket. It’s a formula. The formula tells you how many points a perfectly average NHL team should have after they’ve played N games. That’s it. That’s all this is about. The only use it has is to be able to tell if a team is above or below average. Think of this as a peculiarly Canadian gift. It’s a way to think a little bit more clearly about something that is barely worth thinking about at all. But, you know, in Canada, we think about hockey. It’s more pleasant than thinking about the mess we’re in.

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Issue on digital poetry from Journal of Electronic Publishing

Aaron McCollough is guest-editing an issue of The Journal of Electronic Publishing on digital poetry. Below is the email he sent to the Poetics list requesting submissions for that issue.

From: Aaron McCollough
To: Poetics List
Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 2010 7:56 AM
Subject: CFP: Journal of Electronic Publishing (Digital Poetics/Poetries)

I’m writing today in my capacity as guest editor for The Journal of Electronic Publishing, which has been a pioneer in responding critically to digital technologies’ impact on “publishing” as both a notion and a semiotic distribution system since 1995 (before there was even a google to google-sculpt with!).

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Canadian Psycho

Colonel Russell Williams

During the third week of October, 2010, the Canadian media covered the case of Russell Williams like no other news story. Williams, prior to his February 7, 2010 confession of murders, rapes, and scores of panty burglaries, was a colonel and decorated pilot in command of the Canadian military air base in Trenton, Ontario, the country’s largest and busiest military airbase. The case of this sado sexual serial killer with transvestic fetishism on the side is unusual in the annals of crime for three reasons: he was a very successful man, even a prominent authority figure; and he started his crime spree relatively late in life, breaking bad at the age of 44. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this otherwise dark, twisted and sad tale is his confession: the confident, powerful colonel goes into the interview with the investigator on a Sunday afternoon voluntarily, not in the least suspecting that he will be talked into confessing his depravities four hours later. The police work to catch Williams and get a confession out of him is a hard-boiled egg of Canadian heroism, really.

Not one person has indicated even the slightest suspicion of “the colonel” prior to his arrest. Not his wife, not his best friend, none of his colleagues or people of lower military rank who served him—no one. He was, by all accounts, simply an exemplary officer. Impeccable. Admirable. Diligent. Fair-minded. Active in community matters. A good liaison between the surrounding community and the air-base. His best friend, who has known him since the early eighties when they were undergraduates in University together, paints a picture of a long-time close friend with nothing more dangerous than the prankster in him. He was even an animal-lover and was observed checking his lawn for frogs before mowing it to ensure he slew no frogs.

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Gregory Chatonsky’s Generative Narratives

Gregory Chatonsky is a French/Canadian artist who has created a significant body of net art. Here are a couple of pieces of his I found that still work and are compelling:

The Revolution Took Place in New York (2002)

The Revolution Took Place in New York is a fictional story generated in real time from an internet source. A text generator gives shape to an infinite novel bearing close resemblance to the work “Projet pour une révolution à New York” written by Robbe-Grillet in 1970: Ben Saïd walks on the streets of the American metropolis and plots something. Some words are associated to video fragments, others to sounds gleaned on the network and others are automatically translated into images using Google. The structured association of these heterogeneous elements generates a narrative flow simultaneous with the network flow.”

Each time I’ve opened this piece, it’s been different. What surprised and charmed me most about this piece was how the narrative made sense, often, and kept me interested in where it was going. That is very unusual indeed in generative works. I’m referring to the text itself. But, also, the way the text goes with the images was also, often, quite interesting.

. Read the rest of this entry »

New Media Writing Prize Shortlist

The shortlist for the Poole New Media Writing Prize includes Christine Wilks (who is on netartery), Katharine Norman (whom I invited to be on netartery), Alan Bigelow (whom I should invite to be on netartery), and myself. That’s because one of the judges is Andy Campbell, who is on netartery!

Seriously, though, it’s nice to see this competition up and happening. Competitions in art are highly problematical, of course, but one thing they are good at is getting some attention to the work itself. So thanks, Andy, and everyone involved in it.

Text Generators

Beach boy poetry engine

Edde Addad put together an interesting post concerning poetical text generators on netpoetic.com. The post describes and links to quite a few online resources including ePoGeeS by Addad. Additionally, it describes and links to historical systems such as Christopher Stratchey’s Love Letter generator from the early 50’s. Stratchey and Turing were students together, and Turing wrote the manual of the Manchester computer that Stratchey used to create what some see as the Ur program of digital poetry.

Chris Funkhouser didn’t include Stratchey’s work in Funkhouser’s book on the history of digital poetry, though. Probably because Stratchey doesn’t call his work poetry. Funkhouser’s study starts with the work of Theo Lutz (1959). In any case, David Link seems to be covering Stratchey’s work adequately.

Addad is a doctoral student in Computer Science who did undergrad work in Creative Writing.