Joe Keenan’s MOMENT

Joe Keenan's MOMENT in Internet Explorer

I put together a twenty minute video talking about a fantastic piece of digital poetry by Joe Keenan from the late nineties called MOMENT. Check it out: http://vispo.com/keenan/4. MOMENT, written in JavaScript for browsers, is a work of visual interactive code poetry. It’s one of the great unacknowledged works for the net.

I used Camtasia 8 to create this video. I’ve used the voice-over capabilities of Camtasia before to create videos that talk about what’s on the screen, but this is the first time I’ve been able to use the webcam with it. Still a few bugs, though, it seems: at times the video is quite asynchronous between voice and video.

Still, you get the idea. I’m a big fan of Joe Keenan’s MOMENT and am glad I finally did a video on it.

Four Trees Down From Ponte Sisto

I first came across a sampling of Sharon Charde’s poetry completely by chance, while browsing through a local women’s magazine. I was instantly struck by the disarming directness and documentary detail in poems that dared to articulate the unspeakable loss of her son Geoffrey while a student abroad, under circumstances that remained obscure, with no known witnesses. At the bottom of the page, there was mention of a forthcoming reading at a library nearby, which I attended. As Sharon read, I was once again moved by the calm precision she was able to bring to the most terrible scenes, and by the rich polyphonies that gave subtle dimension to such a raw wound:

stanza from MOTHER'S DAY AT THE MORGUE

That evening confirmed my sense that her poems, written across three decades, comprised an important body of writing that deserved a wider audience. Fortunately, Sharon agreed to the idea of a BBC radio adaptation, and generously provided me with Geoffrey’s own journals, photographs and documents, as well as many supplementary stories and recollections, some of which I then incorporated into the script. Since her writings obliterate the idea that grief unfolds in tidy linear stages, I became increasingly committed to the fundamental truthfulness of an unresolved narrative structure, where the traumatic moment of the fall remains vivid, through to the very last sound.

We considered many actresses to give voice to the play, though my first choice was always Anne Undeland, who brings an open spirit of brave simplicity and deep insight to everything she does. I knew that Anne had recently performed a one woman show based on the poetry of Emily Dickinson, and she has worked with me on a number of other radio plays, including The Loneliest Road. As it happens, she also lived in Rome during the 1980s, and knew the Trastevere neighborhood where Geoffrey had lived, which helped bring the story fully into the present.

GIVING VOICE TO THE WOUND

For music and sound design, I had in mind the image of a precious Roman mosaic that I had let slip from my hands, and thus it was left for me to piece it together again. There would be jagged edges to be sure – imperfections – and sometimes the edges might cut fingers. To achieve this acoustically, I improvised to recordings of Anne’s voicings on mandolin, bowed psaltery and a cigar box guitar, and then added a variety of sounds to the mix, including the snapping of twigs and the crushing of dry leaves.

I knew Geoffrey liked Simon & Garfunkle, and that he had used a quote from the song “Old Friends” in his High School yearbook. Though I never actually play the song, those chords and rhythms were certainly on my mind as I slowly assembled the final montage.

The play will air on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, June 29th. The first three minutes are excerpted here.

Dreaming Methods

Dreaming Methods has launched a new website design and increased the size of the majority of its digital fiction projects to better fit modern screen resolutions. The redesign includes links to on-going projects such as Inanimate Alice and the New Media Writing Prize (which will shortly be revealing its 2012 submission guidelines and a new site) as well as over 30 individual projects spanning back to 1999.

http://www.dreamingmethods.com/

New projects will be appearing shortly.

Pancakes and Worms

The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul. Margaret, in Richard III

In a brief statement first published on Edge in March, 2005, dramatist Richard Foreman released an impassioned cri de coeur into the flow:

Cathedral-like Old Structure

The notion that hyperconnectivity creates a diminished subjectivity and reduces the depth of individual intellectual experience has been taken up by several others, most notably by Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows, in which he persuasively outlines how web-based discourse and enquiry impacts our neurobiology: flattening cognition and emotions, thereby hollowing out our capacity for moral judgement and empathy. In what for me is the most significant passage in the book, Carr references the important work of Antonio Damasio, whose experiments suggest that such judgements and evaluations are inherently slow. As Carr writes:

In one recent experiment, Damasio and his colleagues had subjects listen to stories describing people experiencing physical or psychological pain. The subjects were then put into a magnetic resonance imaging machine and their brains were scanned as they were asked to remember the stories. The experiment revealed that while the human brain reacts very quickly to demonstrations of physical pain – when you see someone injured, the primitive pain centers in your brain activate almost instantaneously – the more sophisticated mental processes of empathizing with psychological suffering unfolds much more slowly. It takes time, the researchers discovered, for the brain “to transcend immediate involvement of the body” and begin to understand and to feel “the psychological and moral dimensions of a situation”.

In Too Big To Know, David Weinberger argues that our traditional conceptions of authoritative knowledge, and of Foreman’s complex inner density, all derive from qualities and limitations intrinsic to the printed page and book, and that as we pass into “the expertise of clouds”, the nature and structure of knowledge production fundamentally changes. Thus we must rethink our understanding of intelligence within the context of networks, “where the smartest person in the room is the room.”

I have no argument with Weinberger, as far as he goes. Indeed, his skillful discussion of how networks dissolve traditional power structures within academia and bureaucracies strikes me as accurate and illuminating. Yet strong as he is when discussing the impact of the web on scientific knowledge in particular, he evades the deeper dimensions of Carr’s critique, particularly regarding the “nobler instincts” of moral consciousness.

House of Pancakes: New Structure?

The worm of conscience needs a rich and dense soil to sustain its penetrations; the lifelong self-examination that is essential to our humanity. What sort of soil does webbed intelligence offer to the worm? Is the network Too Big To Gnaw? Weinberger’s final chapter focuses on those qualities that make for good netizens, urging us to open access; provide hooks; link everything; include everyone; teach everyone. Laudable as such normative behaviors may be, what about those pesky ancient questions of virtue, justice and wisdom; the conduct of a good life, and the character of a civilization? Or perhaps the new structure of knowledge production is “too smart” for such old fashioned aspirations?

Towards the end of his book, Nicholas Carr writes:

What matters in the end is not our becoming but what we become. In the 1950s, Martin Heidegger observed that the looming “tide of technological revolution” could “so captivate, bewitch, dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking.” Our ability to engage in “meditative thinking,” which he saw as the very essence of our hunanity, might become a victim of headlong progress. The tumultuous advance of technology could, like the arrival of the locomotive at the Concord station, drown out the refined perceptions, thoughts, and emotions that arise only through contemplation and reflection. The “frenziedness of technology,” Heidegger wrote, threatens to “entrench itself everywhere”.

It may be that we are now entering the final stage of that entrenchment. We are welcoming the frenziedness into our souls.

Returning briefly to Foreman and his theater: Over the years, I have had several occasions to witness the feverish lumberjacking taking place inside the darkened chambers of Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric theater. Several of the devices used by Foreman to clear cut the dead wood of previous achievements from our assembled sensoria, including rapid and sudden changes in the intensity and volume of light and sound, all too closely resemble the sort of brutal wood chipping of existential platforms developed by the CIA (among others) within the Total Theater of “no touch” psychological torture.

On each occasion of my own attendance, I left Foreman’s theater of sensual and cognitive disorientation feeling exhausted, rather than illuminated; pacified, rather than provoked; flattened, rather than engaged. Come to think of it, I left his theater as less of a person, and more of a pancake. Could it be that the Ontological-Hysteric theater anticipated and represented for its audience Heidegger’s frenziedness of technology, the final stage of which Foreman now decries? The gods pound on our heads, and play with us all.

Total Theater: Wake Up Mr. Sleepy

Color music

Thomas Wilfred and his art of light

Just a brief note to say something about color music. Cuz I’ve spoken of Aleph Null, a project of mine, as one of color music.

My friend Jeremy Turner in Vancouver recently pointed out the work of Thomas Wilfred (1889-1968) to me. It wasn’t a surprise to me that somebody was doing color music back in 1917–because that sort of thing was going on, what with Theosophy and the work of people such as Kandinsky. “Synesthesia was [a] topic of intensive scientific investigation in the late 19th century and early 20th century” (Wikipedia). The idea of ‘color music’ is not a new one, certainly.

But I bring up Thomas Wilfred’s work because his understanding of ‘color music’ is especially interesting. His work was visual. It wasn’t organically linked to audio. So why did he call it color music, then, if it didn’t involve music or sound? Well, because the machines he created were like musical instruments. One played them like one played musical instruments. Musical instruments, when played, create patterned sound and we enjoy the patterned sounds of music. Wilfred’s machines, when played, produced patterned, colored light shows that were meant to be enjoyed in the same sort of way that music is enjoyed. Music is quite abstract, when there are no lyrics. It is just sound without any obvious ‘meaning’. Wilfred’s machines produced patterned light waves and color without any obvious meaning.

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New Media Writing Forum

Screenshot from the New Media Writing Forum

The New Media Writing Forum is a new hub for writers who are thinking of – or who are already – combining their work creatively with digital media.

Established by Dreaming Methods in association with Bournemouth University, the New Media Writing Prize and Crissxross (award-winning digital writer Christine Wilks), the forum encourages the sharing of ideas, techniques and resources as well as general networking and discussion.

Members include pioneering digital writers/artists Jim Andrews (http://www.vispo.com), Kate Pullinger (http://www.katepullinger.com), Alan Bigelow (http://www.webyarns.com), Jhave (http://glia.ca) and  Chris Joseph (http://www.chrisjoseph.org).

The New Media Writing Forum is free to join and already contains some great articles and links to useful resources. If you’re working with writing and new media, why not check in?

Interactive Storytelling and Games
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=151

Writing and Publishing in a Developing Field
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=29

Writing for Games
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=30

Flash versus Javascript
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=18

Duel – A Digital Fiction Thriller
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=49

Completely free digital fiction source code and resources
http://www.newmediawritingforum.co.uk/viewforum.php?f=5

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.

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Chain Reaction

By the rules of Grandmother’s Basket, whereby each new item must begin with the last letter of the previous item:


John Pike pepper sprays Elizabeth Warren

who pepper sprays Nancy Pelosi

who pepper sprays Imogen Heap

who pepper sprays Paloma Picasso

who pepper sprays Obama

who pepper sprays Angela Merkel

who pepper sprays Larry King

who pepper sprays Gretchen Morgenstern

who pepper sprays Neil Diamond

who pepper sprays Donald Trump

who pepper sprays Peter Pan

who pepper sprays Nancy Sinatra

who pepper sprays Andy Murray

who pepper sprays Yasmina Reza

who pepper sprays Amy Grant

who pepper sprays Tiger Woods

who pepper sprays Sarko

who pepper sprays Oliver North

who pepper sprays Harry Belafonte

who pepper sprays Eugene Ionesco

who pepper sprays Oscar Wilde

who pepper sprays Ernesto Che Guevara

who pepper sprays Andy Warhol

who pepper sprays Linda Blair

who pepper sprays Ron Paul

who pepper sprays Lou Dobbs

who pepper sprays Steve Wozniak

who pepper sprays Kim Jong

who pepper sprays Gareth Bale

who pepper sprays Eunice Wong

who pepper sprays Gwyneth Paltrow

who pepper sprays Wen Jiabao

who pepper sprays Oprah

who pepper sprays Her Majesty

who pepper sprays Yoko Ono

who pepper sprays Omar Khayyam

who pepper sprays Me


And cheers to all Netarterians for the coming year, which promises to be another wild one.

Chapter X: Evolution and the Universal Machine

Having recently been trying to be less a fossil concerning knowledge of evolution, I’ve watched all sorts of truly excellent documentaries available online. In several of them, it was said that Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection is the best idea anyone’s ever had. Because it’s been so powerfully explanatory and has all the marks of great ideas in its simplicity and audacious, unexpected and absolutely revolutionary character.

Uh huh. Ya it’s definitely a good one, that’s for sure. But I’ll tell you an idea that I think is right up there but is nowhere near as widely understood, perhaps permanently so. It’s Turing’s idea of the universal machine. Turing invented the modern computer. This was not at all an engineering feat. It was a mathematical and conceptual feat, because Turing’s machine is abstract, it’s a mathematization of a computer, it’s a theoretical construction.

What puts it in the Darwin range of supreme brilliance are several factors. First and foremost, it shows us what is almost certainly a sufficient (though not a necessary) model of mind. There is no proof, and probably never will be, that there exist thought processes of which humans are capable and computers are not. This is a source of extreme consternation for many people–very like Darwin’s ideas were and, in some quarters, still are.

The reason why such proof will likely never be forthcoming is because it would involve demonstrating that the brain or the mind is capable of things that a Turing machine is not–and a Turing machine is a universal machine in the sense that a Turing machine can perform any computation that can be thought of algorithmically, involving finitely many steps.

Turing has given us a theoretical model not only of all possible computing machines, which launched the age of computing, but a device capable of thought at, as it were, the atomic level of thought. I don’t really see that there is any reasonable alternative to the idea that our brains must function as information processing machines. The universality of Turing’s machine is what allows it to encompass even our own brains.

Additionally, another reason to rank Turing’s idea very high is that, mathematically, it is extrordinarily beautiful, drawing, as it does, on Godel’s marvelous ideas and also those of Georg Cantor. Turing’s ideas are apparently the culmination of some of the most beautiful mathematics ever devised.

Darwin’s ideas place us in the context of “deep history”, that is, within the long history of the planet. And they put us in familial relation with every living thing on the planet in a shared tree of life. And they show how the diversity of life on our planet can theoretically emerge via evolution and natural selection.

Darwin’s ideas outline a process that operates in history to generate the tree of life. Turing’s ideas outline a process that can generate all the levels of cognition in all the critters thought of and unthought. Darwin gives us the contemporary tree of life; Turing gives us the contemporary tree of knowledge.

**********************

Here are links to the blog posts, so far, in Computer Art and the Theory of Computation:

Chapter 1: The Blooming
Chapter 2: Greenberg, Modernism, Computation and Computer Art
Chapter 3: Programmability
Chapter X: Evolution and the Universal Machine

New Project: I ♥ E-Poetry

I ♥ E-Poetry

I would like to announce the launching of my new blog: I ♥ E-Poetry.

Here’s a little background about me. I’ve created over 25 websites, blogs, groups, and other online spaces since 1999. For the past 5 years, I’ve maintained a blog which documents my professional work, including most of my course blogs. I use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and family, sharing choice morsels of my personal life.

Aside from my dissertation, articles, and presentations, I’ve been searching for my voice as a scholar of digital literature. I use Twitter to connect with my peers in the digital humanities and e-literature communities. I read, favorite, retweet, share, and occasionally reply, but I don’t feel like I’m making a contribution.

My dad used to say one shouldn’t speak unless one had something to contribute to the conversation. So I’ve been mostly quiet: reading, listening, learning.

Yesterday it struck me: I know what to contribute. I’m going to read an e-poem every day, and I will respond to it in writing: in about 100 words. Every day.

My plan is to start with the Electronic Literature Collections, then take on the Electronic Poetry Center, or the Electronic Literature Directory, or the ELMCIP Knowledge Base, or poetry e-zines, or individual websites. The point is: there is enough e-poetry out there for me to read and respond to for a long while.

If this blog helps people discover the poetic potential of digital media or sparks some ideas, great. If you’re interested, feel free to follow, subscribe, like, share, retweet, bookmark, whatever. Or not: it’s all good.

It will serve me as an annotated bibliography of what I find interesting in e-poetry. And that alone will make it worth my time and effort.

I’m looking forward to the challenge.

Cheers!

Why I have stopped creating e-Lit

It all started quite innocently. On January 2011, I traveled to Tanzania with the purpose of working with a group subsistence farmers, and engage them in the creation a collaborative, online knowledge base of their practices, needs and innovations. My intention was to propose this knowledge base as an interface for cross-sector communication between farmers and agricultural researchers. I developed an architecture which follows a functional and aesthetic program that seeks to include both forms of knowledge, wanting to interweave the audiovisual narratives of the farmers (oral tradition and observation) together with the text-based analyses of scientists.

I was motivated to create this project upon reading the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, Technology for Development (IAASTD) Report, a 600-page document published by an international team of agricultural scientists in 2009. One of the innumerable contributions of this report is the acknowledgment that scientific knowledge, by itself, is not able to provide solutions to the incredibly complex challenges that agriculture is facing around the world. As the predominant knowledge system, science has failed to stop poverty and hunger. It has failed to link these problems to other non-scientific fields, such as the global markets and political instability. It has also neglected other forms of knowledge, such as the one that farmers have passed on from generation to generation across centuries. By becoming the dominant knowledge system and by resisting to engage in true interdisciplinary, cross-sector research, most scientists have effectively become the blind leading the blinded.

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Why I am a Net Artist

Vispo.com is pretty much my life’s work, such as it is. Most of what I have created is available for free on the site. No, I haven’t zactly got rich on it. I’ve been publishing vispo.com since 1996. It’s my “book.” In the sense that I haven’t published any books but think of myself primarily as a writer and vispo.com as my main work. It’s been an adventure in creating and publishing interactive, multimedia poetry, among other things. So I thought I’d write about that adventure for The Journal of Electronic Publishing and its issue on digital poetry. Specifically, I thought I’d try to explain why I chose the net as my main artistic medium.

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Chapter 3: Programmability

I said in chapter 1 that it’s programmability, not interactivity (or anything else) that is the crucial matter to consider in computer art. I want to explain and explore that claim in this chapter.

What makes computer art computer art? We’ve seen that there is a great deal of art that appears on computers that could as well appear on a page or on a TV, in a canvas or on an album. I’m calling that art digital art and computers are not crucial to the display or appreciation of it.

The idea I want to capture in the notion of ‘computer art’ is art in which computers are crucial for the production, display and appreciation of the art, art which takes advantage of the special properties of computers, art which cannot be translated into other media without fundamentally altering the work into something quite different than what it was on the computer, art in which the computer is crucial as medium.

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Computer Art and the Theory of Computation: Chapter 2: Greenberg, Modernism, Computation and Computer Art

In a short but influential piece of writing by Clement Greenberg called Modernist Painting written in 1960—and revised periodically until 1982—the art critic remarked that “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Such sweeping generalizations are always problematical, of course. But I want to use the Greenberg quote to tell you an equally problematical story about the birth of the theory of computation and, thereby, computer art. Humor me. It’s Clement Greenberg. Come on.

The work I’ve mentioned by Gödel and Turing happened in the thirties, toward the end of modernism, which was roughly from 1900 till 1945, the end of World War II. So it’s work of late modernism.

Let’s grant Greenberg clemency concerning his conceit, for the moment, that the “essence”—itself a word left over from previous eras—of modernism, of the art and culture of that era, at least in the west, involved a drive to a kind of productive self-referentiality or consciousness of the art itself within the art itself. What work could possibly be more exemplary of that inclination than the work by Gödel and Turing that I’ve mentioned?

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Computer Art and the Theory of Computation: Chapter 1: The Blooming

Alan Turing inaugurated the theory of computation in 1936 with the most humble but powerful manifesto of all time

What I’d like to do in a series of posts is explore the relevance of the theory of computation to computer art. Both of those terms, however, need a little unpacking/explanation before talking about their relations.

Let’s start with computer art. Dominic Lopes, in A Philosophy of Computer Art, makes a useful distinction between digital art and computer art. Digital art, according to Lopes, can refer to just about any art that is or was digitized. Such as scanned paintings, online fiction, digital art videos, or digital audio recordings. Digital art is not a single form of art, just as fiction and painting are different forms of art. To call something digital art is merely to say that the art’s representation is or was, at some point, digital. It doesn’t imply that computers are necessary or even desirable to view and appreciate the work.

Whereas the term computer art is much better to describe art in which the computer is crucial as medium. What does he mean by “medium”? He says “a technology is an artistic medium for a work just in case it’s use in the display or making of the work is relevant to its appreciation” (p. 15). We don’t need to see most paintings, texts, videos or audio recordings on computers to display or appreciate them. The art’s being digital is irrelevant to most digital art. Whereas, in computer art, the art’s being digital is crucial to its production, display and appreciation.

Lopes also argues that whereas digital art is simply not a single form of art, computer art should be thought of as a new form of art. He thinks of a form of art as being a kind of art with shared properties such that those properties are important to the art’s appreciation. He defines interactivity as being such that the user’s actions change the display of the work itself. So far so good. But he identifies the crucial property that works of computer art share as being interactivity.

I think all but one of the above ideas by Lopes are quite useful. The problem is that there are non-interactive works of computer art. For instance, generative computer art is often not interactive. It often is different each time you view it, because it’s generated at the time of viewing, but sometimes it requires no interaction at all. Such work should be classified as computer art. The computer is crucial to its production, display, and appreciation.

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Aleph Null Color Music

Aleph Null makes color music. Colors are tones. Musical notes are tones. Music is tones moving in time. Aleph Null makes changing color tones move in time. There is no audio.

Aleph Null is an instrument of color music. This is about how to play it. It’ll play on it’s own. But it profits immensely from a human player interceding continually. It’s interactive online art.

Color music in Aleph Null has a simple structure. There is a central color. It’s the main color. All the other colors are within a certain distance from the central color. That distance is called the color range.

Here’s how to change the central color.

  1. Click the Aleph Null logo at top left or press the ’1′ key to make the controls visible.
  2. Press the ’2′ key or click the input box labelled ‘central color’ to make the central color color-picker visible.
  3. Click around in both parts of the color-picker to see how it works. The current central color is displayed in the central color input box.

The colors Aleph Null uses are all random distances from the central color and these distances do not exceed the color range value. The lower the color range value, the closer all the colors are to the central color. The higher the color range value, the greater the range of colors that Aleph Null will use. If the color range is set to 0, Aleph Null only uses one color: the central color. If the color range is 255, any color might be used.

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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 turbulence.org 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.

Banned Production: cassettes, crypts and beavers

You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

I have a deep affection for a format that diminished to the brink of extinction during the early years of the digital age, yet a format now happily making something of a comeback: the audio cassette. My first studio consisted of two Superscope cassette recorders and a cheap Sony microphone, rigged up to create lengthy odes to phonic decay, bouncing tracks between the two machines while simultaneously adding mike voices or noise until I reached a satisfying reduction of entropic mud.

Home Studio Number One

Most of these early experiments have been lost to posterity, and possibly that is all for the best, but this rare surviving fragment should give the general idea. Since most radio stations were rather hostile to the notion of broadcasting such cryptoacoustic ephemera even during graveyard hours on a Tuesday night, the notion of “cassette radio” (prototypical podcast, but with more soul) became widely circulated, enabled by post office intermediation. Every day, strange packages would appear stuffed into my rather cramped loft mail box in NYC; packages that would often be adorned with bits of cloth, or hand cut stamps, or wrapped in ribbons, or even (once) chicken wire.

Audio Crypt

The packages themselves were often fabricated from recycled shoe boxes or other consumer flotsam. I became friends with my neighborhood postman, a friendship which undoubtedly saved some of the more aggressively undeliverable packages from the Dead Letter Office. Inside the packages, there would often be more layers of wrapping and concealment, and then finally, the cassette itself – hand colored, painted, smeared, scratched and  sometimes unplayable.

Cassette Mythos

By 1990, all  of this networked activity and output was referred to by Robin James as Cassette Mythos, but it would be wrong to retroactively impart too much conscious coherence to the scene. The dispersed, casual and even random quality of the exchanges (mostly barter) was a large part of what made it so appealing, as did the raw sensual nature of the artifact.

Hand made cassettes may have lacked commercial mojo, but they possessed an abundance of character, and cassette culture was thereby populated by a lively assortment of appealing characters whose ideas and aspirations did not quite conform to other channels. Some of these characters produced labels that celebrated the cassette aesthetic, though they also often

Needlemaster AMK

released vinyl as well. Among the vast array of enchanting untergrund labels, one in particular caught my ear: Banned Production, under the direction of a prolific, generous and brilliant individual (male or female I did not know) who for many years I knew only by the initials AMK, though his cover has been blown for at least a decade: AMK, aka Anthony King.

In any event, it seems that for some people, downloading audio pancakes from itunes just does not cut it, with cassettes one again beginning to appear along the vibrant edges of the electroacoustic universe.  Banned Production appears very much in the thick of the renaissance, assembling an enviable stable of contributors, a veritable Who’s Who of Legendary Audio Experimenters you might never have heard of.

Impedance or Philosophy?

I titled my most recent radio castaway Potato God Scarecrow, billed as a freely associative radiophonic disorder in the approximate shape of a beaver lodge, and now also available as a Banned Production cassette. Like beavers, cassettes are paradoxical critters. Both have experienced near extinction, yet survived against the odds precisely because of their oddness, and their remarkable ability to complicate monocultural flow, whether riverine or digital. May they both live long and prosper.

New Media Writing Prize 2011

New Media Writing Prize 2011

Bournemouth University’s Media School is delighted to announce the second annual prize for new media writing.

The prize encourages writers working with new media to showcase their skills, provoke discussion and raise awareness of new media writing, the future of the ‘written’ word and storytelling. The prize is split into two categories: student and professional. The winners in each category will receive a valuable bundle of new media hardware and software. The judging panel are looking for good storytelling (fiction or non-fiction) written specifically for delivery and reading/viewing on a PC or Mac, the web, or a hand-held device such as an iPad or mobile phone. It could be a short story, novel, documentary or poem using words, images, film or animation with audience interaction.

Anyone can apply! Whether you’re a student, a professional, an artist, a writer, a Flash designer or an enthusiast, the competition is open to all. It’s an international competition, open to all outside the UK. The deadline is midday on Monday 31 October 2011 and each entry should be submitted by email to submissions@newmediawritingprize.co.uk. Shortlisted entrants will be invited to the awards ceremony on the 23 November where the winner will be announced. There will be substantial media coverage for the Awards, and winners will be given full acknowledgement in all press releases and related material.

For further information please visit the New Media Writing Prize website.

A high profile Awards Ceremony will be staged at Bournemouth University on Wednesday 23 November. An esteemed panel of judges will select winning entries that will be published on high profile new media web-hub, The Literary Platform, the Bournemouth University website and will be showcased at the Awards Ceremony.

Some HTML 5 Works

I’ve been seriously trying to learn JavaScript, CSS, the DOM (document object model) and jQuery recently, hopefully toward the production of some HTML 5 art thangs down the road. It’s going fairly well. Anyway, I’ve also been looking at work people are doing with HTML 5. The best site I’ve come across so far that posts links to HTML 5 work is canvasdemos.com. There’s considerable dreck here, of course, but there are a few pieces worth looking at.

HTML 5 has been publicized as an open source replacement for Adobe’s proprietary Flash. In truth, HTML 5 is far less featureful than Flash concerning audio, video, imaging, text and much else. And there are currently no tools available for non-programmers to work comfortably in HTML 5. It will take HTML 6 or 7, which will be some years, perhaps a decade, for HTML to approach the current featurefulness of Flash. But it’s coming along.

The most notable thing about HTML 5 is the <canvas> tag, which provides the ability to do interesting graphical operations. There are various programmerly commands available to draw stuff. HTML 5 also introduces a few audio commands, but nothing with the sophistication of Flash’s audio capabilities.

What we’re going to do is have a look at four recent pieces that use HTML 5 in interesting ways. And that work. Yes, some HTML 5 works. When new programming possibilities are introduced to a mass audience, you can bet there’s going to be more than a few blue screens. I’ve only had one today looking at new HTML 5 work. But not from any of the below pieces. These pieces ran well and were very rewarding to view.

The most interesting one, from an artistic perspective, is Arcade Fire’s interactive music video of their song “We Used to Wait” from their album The Suburbs, which won the Grammy for album of the year in 2011. The HTML 5 piece is called The Wilderness Downtown . This is quite impressive, really, both from a technical and artistic point of view. And it goes along perfectly with the suburbs, if that’s where you’re from. I’ve seen online videos that use multiple browser windows for video before, such as in the work of Peter Horvath, but The Wilderness Downtown is also quite sophisticated in other ways. The programmed birds, for instance, and the way they move between windows. And alight on what you have drawn in the interactive writing piece. And the way they use Google Earth. Very strong work indeed. And, o yes, the music is pretty darn good too. Moreover, the touches I’ve mentioned are not gratuitous wiz bang programming effects, but tie into a vision of the suburban experience that Arcade Fire has developed so very beautifully.

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