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.

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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 homepage

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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RECURSION AND HUMAN THOUGHT: WHY THE PIRAHÃ DON’T HAVE NUMBERS

I thought this was a very entertaining read, as it literally seems to be a case of the Natives converting the missionary. But I also found it interesting concerning number and language. The Piraha tribe of Brazil, whom Daniel L. Everett has studied extensively for years, basically do not have much number language at all in their language and, he says, the grammatical structure of their language makes it so that only finitely many things are sayable in it. And they have been pretty much completely impervious to the attempts of the missionaries to convert them. Everett seems to feel that their language is a good indication that at least part of Noam Chomsky’s program that recursion is an essential part of language is wrong.

Vancouver Riot

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

Unashamed Oink Squirts

Dipping too deeply into the viscous gunk of L’Affaire DSK might threaten to clog the Netartery and provoke cardiac arrest, yet having performed a bit of scrabble anagram research on the lettric sequence D,o,m,i,n,i,q,u,e,S,t,r,a,u,s,s,K,a,h,n,  it would be churlish of me not to share my findings, as I am quite certain that DSK will eventually live up to his full nomological potential:

Squanders Inmost Haiku

Something le grand seducteur does with apparent regularity.

Outrank Maidens? Squish.

Internal IMF memorandum sent from the desk of DSK to all male employees.

Unromanised Squash Kit

Uncircumcised description of DSK’s genitalia.

Honkie Marauds; Squints

DSK on the French Riviera without sunglasses.

Squire’s Damnation Husk

DSK’s hindquarters after six months of hard time.

Quirkiest Shaman Sound

A speech given by DSK’s bon ami, BHL.

Antiquaries Mosh Dunks

DSK’s favorite activity at his Club Privé .

Unhandiest Squirm Soak

DSK in the shower, on Riker’s Island.

Squished Murk Sonatina

Music selected by DSK for his third wedding.

Qua Disharmonies Stunk

Reaction of guests to DSK’s wedding music.

Suitor Quashes Mankind

So long as they are female muslims from l’Afrique Noir – pas de problème!

Tarnished Squamous Ink

Residue left by DSK’s pen, found on carpets inside the world’s best hotels.

Humanoid Snake Squirts!!!

Typical NYC tabloid headline during le Joli Mai in the year 2011.

© Gregory Whitehead 2011

Dreaming Methods – Open Source Projects

Dreaming Methods has three new projects available to experience – each one created without the use of Flash or any other browser plugin.

Visiting dreamingmethods.com on the iPad now takes you to a new page of what we’re calling ‘open source’ digital fiction projects: Flight Paths #1, Changed and Floppy. Dreaming Methods now also has a completely different look when accessed on smart phones.

These projects are not specifically iPad only. They also work (in some cases in an enhanced capacity) on desktop computers too, because they’ve been developed using a combination of HTML markup, CSS and Javascript.

The first of the projects, part one of Flight Paths by Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph, is a direct translation of the original Flash episode available on www.flightpaths.net. Using new HTML5 attributes such as audio tags and font embedding in combination with jQuery’s in-built animation and transition effects, this fragment of the story has become accessible on iPad and iPhone as well as desktop and can be bookmarked to those devices’ home screens. Although it’s not perfect, and doesn’t have the speedy graphical effects of its Flash counterpart, it’s an interesting exercise in how work can be ported across from one technology to another – in this case to increase its compatibility and potential audience – without publisher or App developer involvement.

Changed – perhaps the most ambitious work here in terms of multimedia – is the story of a young girl who has narrowly escaped death and is now hiding and reflecting on her ordeal beneath a roadway tunnel. Based on a script by screen writer Lynda Williams and built with the iPad’s native touch-scrolling in mind, the piece incorporates a soundtrack by sound artist Matt Wright (who we’ve worked with before on Impossible Journal) and offers several graphical enhancements when viewed in a full desktop computer environment – from video animation to parallax scrolling (all of which were either too processor intensive for the iPad’s javascript engine to cope with, or we just couldn’t figure out how to get away with it; upgrade releases may indeed follow.)

Finally, we’ve converted our 2004 project Floppy – about the disturbing contents of a semi-corrupt floppy disk found on a deserted road – from Flash to open source, allowing it to be viewed on non-Flash enabled devices, including of course the iPad. Hearing the iPad’s speakers produce those nostalgic floppy-disk access sounds made this conversion worthwhile alone, whilst the story itself seems to gain a strange new intimacy when read on a hand-held device.

http://www.dreamingmethods.com/opensource/
* currently best viewed in Google Chrome or Safari on desktop
– undergoing browser testing

Mainly The Mysteries

A few days ago, the publisher of the excellent print journal PAJ invited me to contribute to PAJ 100. The question: what do you still believe in, through all the riptides of the past decades? Since I doubt there is much overlap between the readers of PAJ and Netartery, I thought it might be of interest to post my response here as well, with a few ancillary web links.


Everything I had is gone

My first major radio play Dead Letters* had its premier broadcast in 1985, offering public radio listeners an hour of voiced bodies or ghosts of bodies that are hard to figure, hard to name. The broken memory of an ancient war story bleeds into the Elena Makropulos paradox of immortality while the crazed smear of Hitler’s bunker signature dances a jitterbug with the blackened phantom fingers of a young pianist, and while the hand of Judy Garland singing You Go To My Head reaches out to touch Napoleon’s dried and withered penis, the private property of a New York urologist.

Taken by themselves, such stories may seem fated (fingered) for the Dead Letter Office, unable to be delivered or returned. Yet when rubbed up against each other in consort, the bits and bites create a colloquium whose keynote themes are discovered, rather than announced. No preening host, and no smarmy theme or sentimental pretense. Simply an invitation to drift, ruminate and make connections where a split second before there had been nothing but bafflement and darkness. Utopian aspirations, to be sure, but I still believe in the pure power of free association, and since Dead Letters still receives copious airplay a quarter century later, perhaps there is something to it.

Unhosted Radio Play

In those early days, I embraced analog broadcast radio as my ideal creative home because the airwaves seemed to vibrate with the same qualities I sought to capture in my own plays, and in my own thinking: indeterminacy, fragility of signal, random access, tension between public and private, ambiguous borders, modulating rhythms, complex polyphony, and a pulse rate set by a wild heart.

No Data Miners Live Here

Such qualities drive the digital data miners nuts, and the assorted masters of corporate media would love to see the stubbornly unruly spaces of analog broadcast foreclosed upon, and eventually demolished, like the communal squats of Kreutzberg. They will fail, because for every data miner with an ice pick, three radio pirates are born into the airwaves. Nonetheless, for the past decade or so I have certainly been conscious of sending work into a space that many have forgotten, written off, or even condemned.

Potato God Scarecrow, completed only a few weeks ago, offers up a media philosophy quite resonant with Dead Letters, though this time shaped into the acoustic figure of a beaver lodge. I am fascinated by the neurosensual implications of the North American beaver, an artist engineer whose creative capacity is not centralized within its tiny brain but dispersed from head to tail.

To flow or not to flow

To my mind, such capacity has significant implications for narrative structure, and somewhere in the middle of the intricately beavered wetlands, along one of those rich edges where a few loose blazes suggest bright neural pathways cutting through dense limbic muck, a voice says, We have these many many many many mysteries and it’s mainly the mysteries that enthrall me when I’m walking along. A few things I know where they came from, most I don’t.

Many many many many mysteries

It is still mainly the mysteries that enthrall me, too, and I still believe in the poetic vitality of edges, which is where the mysteries reside. Edges between eros and thanatos, seduction and oblivion, order and chaos; between sense and nonsense, facts and fables, the living and the dead; between the lover’s whisper and the warrior’s scream. Friction among all these edges still creates ample energy to float my canoe among the beaver lodges.

And yes, I still believe in the power of radio to create community, even for an hour or two, and to feed the imagination with nutrients not offered elsewhere, and I believe that offering such a feast remains a worthy mission for public broadcasting in particular. Diversity is always desirable, and that includes poetic and aesthetic diversity. When we drop these qualities to the bottom of the pecking order, we crush our capacity to imagine a viable future for our mysteries.

What remains of Geronimo

A few days before I am writing this, a body codenamed Geronimo was scrubbed clean, wrapped in a white sheet, zipped into a bag, and slipped into the Arabian Sea. A few days before that, another body was scrubbed clean and wrapped in white as well, but this first body pursues a destiny as distant from the codenamed corpse as Buckingham Palace from Fort Sill, Oklahoma . With these two bodies in play, the essential question for the poet, the playwright and the philosopher remains: how do we get from the first white sheet to the last?

The Dress?

*  A complete transcript was published in PAJ 41 (1992). Though I conceived Dead Letters as a new kind of radio play, the source materials were gathered via documentary interviews, including one with PAJ editor Bonnie Marranca, who contributed her interpretation of the voice, hands and body of Judy Garland.

Gregory Whitehead is a writer, sound poet, playwright and radiomaker. Potato God Scarecrow will be broadcast as part of Radiophonic Creation Day 2011.

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.

Underbelly & Sister Stone Carver

Screenshot of Underbelly

So much history is buried beneath our feet, and histories buried in other ways, by forgetfulness or disregard. If you live in a former mining area in Britain, that history is deep underground. Evidence of the coal mines have been erased from the landscape, swept away in less than a generation. Deeper still in the past there’s a buried history of women working underground too. When I found out about the women miners, I thought of my sister, the sculptor, Melanie Wilks, working on the site of a former colliery turned into parkland, hand-carving stone on the very ground above where those pasts are buried.

Such fragments of contemporary life and shards of history I hauled together to build Underbelly in digital media, collaging a rich and often grotesque mix of imagery, spoken word, video, animation and text. It’s an interactive story about a woman artist who, while sculpting on the site of a former Yorkshire colliery, is haunted by a medley of voices.

Melanie Wilks carving on site of former power station, picketed during 1984 Miners’ Strike

It includes video of my sister carving and the voices are performed by me. The historical content is drawn from the testimonies of 19th Century women miners collected by Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842, which exposed working conditions in the pits.

Sisters

My sister and I were raised in Morley, an industrial town in Northern England, whose prosperity in previous centuries was built on shoddy mills, coal mining and quarrying. Our family has lived in this area for generations and, although we both moved away, we found ourselves returning to Morley to live. Read the rest of this entry »

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.