Author Archive

Digital Poetry in Digital Literacy

Poetry has been associated with the teaching of literacy for a long time. Because poetry in some ways, is the cherry on the top of literacy. In poetry we see something approaching our full humanity expressed in the technology of writing. Writing is a complex, subtle, highly expressive technology. Poetry is typically considered the highest form of writing because that’s where we learn how to feel with language. Language in poetry carries human feeling, emotion, attitude, the tone of the inner voice, as well as thought.

Computing environments have changed our typical reading and writing environments a great deal. We now typically read and write not only language but also images, sound, video, and code/programming. Also, the texts we read are often now interactive. Programming responds to what we write. All this changes what it means to be literate in the contemporary world. Just as poetry, for hundreds of years, has been the apogee of literacy, so too with digital poetry in the matter of digital literacy.

My first experiences with using technology artistically go back to my radio days in the 80s. I’d like to write about the dawn, for me, of understanding something about using technology artistically. Because it’s relevant now to our digital experience and to digital poetry/literature.

I produced a literary radio show in the 80’s each week for six years. At first, what I did was tape poets and fiction writers reading, and aired that. Sometimes I would do a bit of production on the material.

But then I heard a life-changing tape from Tellus. It was their #11 issue, The Sound of Radio, and it featured work by Gregory Whitehead, Susan Stone, Jay Allison, Helen Thorington and others. This stuff blew me away. It was miles beyond what I was producing. It was interesting radio art. I was just putting work for print onto tape/radio. The Tellus tape was audio writing. This was art in its own right. Especially in the case of Whitehead and Stone, it was poetry not first written for the page, but created in almost a new language of poetry, with recorded sound and radio in mind from beginning to end.

It wasn’t simply that it was impressive technically, as produced audio. That was beside the point. The point is that, as interesting poetry to listen to, as recorded sound or as radio, this was far more interesting than listening to poets read their print poems. Some of them described themselves as audio writers. Whitehead did a tape called Writing On Air. ; another was called Disorder Speech. These writers took radio and recorded sound seriously as artistic, writerly, poetic media. It was literary inscription in sound, on tape, in radio. And it opened up great vistas to me in the realm of poetry and language.

I started corresponding with and reading essays by Whitehead about radio art and the art of sound. Not only was Whitehead producing fantastic audio–he was writing about the poetics of radio art brilliantly!

I was starting to realize that creating exciting art for a particular medium was not the same as simply making art developed for one medium available in a different medium. Why is that?

Art that understands and uses the special properties of its medium is not a weak echo of some other medium. The radio I’d been producing was not the art itself. It was providing an inferior experience of the books that the authors were flogging. The books were the art itself.

If you’re not channeling the energy that flows through the special properties of the medium, those channels will work against you because energy flows through them whether you channel it or not. If you’re not channeling it, the attention it gets—just by virtue of the nature of the medium—is noise distracting the audience from whatever channels you are using.

For instance, reading text on a monitor is harder than reading text in a book because the medium is refreshing the image 60 times per second. And if there’s stuff that’s moving, that competes for attention.

This topic about the value of dialing in the special properties of the medium is sometimes called media specificity; it’s associated with the writings of the USAmerican art critic Clement Greenberg, primarily, but the way I think of it predates my knowledge of Greenberg and is more associated with Gregory Whitehead and Marshall McLuhan.

So if we ask what the relevance of digital poetry is, say—and by that, I don’t simply mean digitized poetry but poetry where the computer is crucial both for the production and appreciation of the work—we can say that it’s important to digital literacy, to being fully literate in the digital.

Digital literacy is not only in knowing how to google the information you want, and how to check to see if it’s accurate information—though that’s important to being digitally literate—as opposed to being an easy mark for misinformation and scams.

It’s also important to get a feel for how emotion and affect can be involved in interactivity. And how video and text can work together. And how sound and text and visuals can work together intellectually and emotionally. An important part of our contemporary computing experience is multimedia, the experience of several media at once. Multimedia poetry is intermedial, it relates the media, it makes them work together as one integrated experience. That is part of digital literacy too.

Poetry is where/how we learn to feel with language. Digital poetry is where/how we learn to feel with our expanded/changed language we experience in computing environments, our intermedial language, our interarts language, our new media language that is a confluence of language, image, sound, and interactivity.

While the digital can give us print and video and sound, etc—they’re all just coded in zeros and ones—digital art is more than a bunch of old media tacked together. It’s a new art form in itself. It isn’t simply that it’s uniquely multimedial or even intermedial, though that’s an important part of it. And it isn’t simply that it’s interactive, though that’s important too. And it isn’t simply that it’s programmable. In his book A Philosophy of Computer Art, Dominic Lopes proposes—as many others have—that computer art is, in fact, a brand new form of art. And if that’s true, then simply digitizing other forms of art does not suffice to experience computer art—which is art in which the computer is crucial for both the production and appreciation of the art. It’s art in which the computer is crucial as the medium.

Marshall McLuhan said that technologies are extensions of our senses. The telescope and microscope let us see things we can’t see with the naked eye. Telescopes and microscopes extend our sight into the large and small. Telephones extend our hearing and voice over great distances. Technologies extend senses, our bodies, our capabilities. Computers extend our memory and our cognitive abilities. We can know things with a google that otherwise would take us considerable research.

Computers extends our senses, bodies, and abilities/capabilities, but it’s digital poetry and other digital art (computer art) that extends our humanity throughout our new dimensions. Without computer art, the extensions of us we acquire via the digital are as claws without feeling. Digital art gets the blood flowing through our new abilities, gets the feelings going. Then we understand how interactivity involves our feelings, whether we knew it or not. We begin to be able to think and feel at once with computers, through intermedial, interactive, interestingly programmed computer art.

Digital art also gets our digital shit detectors working. We can sense better the truly human, the fully human, the true. As opposed to accepting ads and such as expressions of truth.

Exotic functions

The strong lines in this scrawly curve are via the Lily function

In my generative 2d art such as Aleph Null and dbCinema, a virtual ‘brush’ moves around the screen ‘painting’. So I have need of functions that aren’t particularly predictable but buzz around the screen–and stay on screen. Ideally, they’d look like a human scrawl. Like the graphics in this article.

What I’d like to do in this article is illustrate how to use and/or create some exotic functions in your own programming work that could help you achieve a look that isn’t spirographic, ie, too orderly to be of much interest.

There’s a math theorem that says that any curve whatsoever–hand drawn or whatever–can be represented as accurately as you please with trigonometric functions. Trig functions, in the right hands, can be very expressive. Not spirographic or predictably cyclic. They can be sinuous and right there with us on the mind’s tangents. Anyone who thinks that any curve expressed by trig functions lacks the hand’s humanity just has no idea what is possible with trig functions, has no sense of the theory at all, or just hasn’t seen any good applications. Or didn’t know it when they saw it.

It’s important to note that both sin(t) and cos(t) have a maximum value of 1 and a minimum value of -1. That makes them easy to scale to take up as much or as little of the screen as we like, as we’ll see.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aleph Null

I’ve just completed my first JavaScript work using the new HTML 5 canvas tag. It’s called Aleph Null. It’s a generative, interactive work of visual art. It launches on from NYC.

Aleph Null is best viewed by the light of a full moon. Or near full moon. Same with the set of stills I made. I mean they do like a bit of darkness.

If you’re using a PC, I’d recommend Chrome to view Aleph Null. At least on my machine, Chrome provides the smoothest performance. Firefox provides a similarly high framerate, but is a bit jerky from time to time. Internet Explorer kind of sucks. On the Mac, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari seem to be fine.

The Club

The Club is a moving-image digital collaging of 57 images of selected North American politicians, business men, and psychopaths from the eighties till the present. There’s also a linked slideshow of some stills from the video.

The politicians are conservatives who have blasted away both at home and abroad. Via deregulation, the shock doctrine, and explicitly military means. The business men are CEO’s who are mostly now behind bars, or have been. The psychopaths include (Ex-Colonel) Russell Williams who, until the time of his arrest for two sex murders, headed CFB Trenton, the largest military air-base in Canada.

So it’s a bit of a Dorian Gray piece. But they are each others’ deformities.

Here’s what Andy Warhole said about The Club: “they look like some kind of Auschwitz-Chernobyl mutant legacy, and maybe they are — this is like morphing, blocpix, mr. potatohead, and various slice-n-dice technologies… but not them — this is new — and of course i love your politics 🙂 ”

Much of the work I’ve done with dbCinema, the graphic synthesizer I wrote in Adobe Director, has been toward beauty. This is quite different. But The Club was still made with dbCinema. There’s other work I’ve done with dbCinema here.