María Mencía

Birds Singing Other Birds Songs
Birds Singing Other Birds Songs, Electronic Literature Collection, v. 1

Software: Flash, Illustrator, Audacity

María Mencía is an artist-researcher and Senior Lecturer in New Media Theory and Digital Media Practice in the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University, London. Encompassing language, visual art, and sound, her work in digital poetics is experimental, textual, and generative. It has been presented, exhibited, and published internationally, including the International Symposium on Electronic Art; (ISEA) onedotzero; Electronic Language International Festival; (FILE) International Contemporary Art Fair, Madrid; (ARCO) Computers in Art and Design Education; (CADE) Caixaforum; E-Poetry 2013; Cherchez le Texte, the 2013 Conference of the Electronic Literature Organization, Paris; the TATE Modern; the Electronic Literature Collection; and the Anthology of European Electronic Literature.

In her words:

"As an artist academic for 14 years, I have been researching in the fields of digital art, digital poetics, language, and new media. My background in Fine Art and Linguistics has influenced my practice-based research and creative projects interconnecting language, art, and digital technology. It explores the area of the in-between the visual, the aural and the semantic. I am always interested in experimenting with the digital medium with the aim of engaging the reader/viewer/user in an experience of shifting 'in' and 'out' of language. This involves looking 'at' and looking 'through' transparent and abstract textualities and linguistic soundscapes.

It draws from avant-garde poetics remediating concepts of reading and writing, exploring new literacies through the production of creative projects and digital media grammars (voice activation, use of webcam, use of mouse, acts of revealing, triggering, cut and paste, dragging) for interactivity, aesthetics, engagement and meaning production. It is trans-disciplinary, bringing together different cultural, artistic and literary traditions such as: linguistics, fine art, visual, concrete, and sound poetry, with digital poetics, electronic writing, and new media art theories and practices."

In Birds Singing Other Birds Songs, she explores a translation process in which the songs of birds are translated into language and then translated back to bird songs via the human voice. In the resultant work, the viewer interactively sets animated bird shapes in motion. Creating an innovative user-controlled experience, they sing the sound of their own text, while flying across the blue-sky screen.

María Mencía: Birds Singing Other Birds Songs

I made this work while pursuing my practice-based research on digital poetics in 2001. The practice I was developing drew from the traditions of visual and sound poetics, as well as other disciplines such as linguistics. I had been researching the visual and linguistic aspects of calligrams, reading processes and ways of looking and reading at once.

I was also investigating the notion of "meaningless" phonetic sounds. Phonemes are the key signifying units and yet without any intrinsic value. They refer to language and yet are outside language reinforcing both the notion of sound and materiality. I was interested in text-sound but also text-visual. I was exploring sound phonetics to create multilingual landscapes in screen media, reflecting the musical compositions of the spaces we inhabit.

As part of this research, I developed a few pieces of work such as: Another Kind of Language and Vocaleyes. I was invited to exhibit at the Medway Galleries, in the UK, and the most interesting features of the gallery were its high ceilings and three large windows. I was inspired to use the area to project Birds Singing other Birds' Songs, as a video of random animated typographic singing birds flying in the sky.

This work was influenced by a transcription of birds' songs I found in the chapter "When Words Sing" from the The Thinking Ear. (R Murray Schafer, Ontario, Canada: Arcana Editions, 1986 pp 232-33) I was drawn to these transcriptions because of the similarities with phonemes. The repetitive aspect of letters and what looked like syllables reminded me of sound poems. So, I decided to ask some singers to sing their own interpretation of the transcriptions of the songs, in order to play with the interpretative process of these translations. Translated first from birds' song into linguistic interpretations, now the birdsongs would be re-interpreted by the human voice.

The sounds that emerged from this study were later attached to the animated birds in the shape of calligrams. The outlines and letters of the text birds corresponded to the transcribed sound made by each bird; thus making the birds sing their own visual-textual compositions. (although the sound does not correspond to the real bird) Additionally, the visual aspect of the typographical representation of each individual bird took into consideration issues of materiality, virtuality, and movement. I drew the birds in Illustrator and made the animation in Flash. The sounds were edited in Audacity.

A very important discovery to come out of this work has been its versatility in reshaping itself into different forms of media (interactive web piece, video, prints and video) and the possibilities of presentation and thus of exploration.

Apart from the installation in the Medway Galleries in the United Kingdom, it has also been presented as an interactive work on the web, as prints in La Huella Multiple in Cuba, as an interactive projection at the Radical conference-exhibition in London, as a video projection at an International Symposium of Electronic Arts in Japan and as an e-poem at the E-Poetry festival in Morgantown in the United States. Following are some of the contexts where the work has been shown.

Exhibition Documention for Birds Singing Other Birds Songs

Exhibition, (2012) 3+3 at Nouspace Gallery & Media Lounge. Vancouver, WA
Exhibition, (2011) Language to Cover the Wall: Visual Poetry through its changing media UB Art Gallery, SUNY Buffalo, USA
First volume of the Electronic Literature Collection, K. Hayles, N. Montfort, S. Rettberg, S. Strickland eds. The Electronic Literature Organization, UCLA Department of English, Los Angeles
International E-Poetry festival, (April 2003) West Virginia University in Morgantown, USA
Exhibition, (April 2002) Prints and TV screen in La Huella Multiple, Filmoteca, Havana, Cuba
Interactive work, (2002) Projection at Radical Conference-Exhibition
Video projection in ISEA, Japan (November 2002)
Exhibition, (Nov.2001) Settings, Medway Galleries in the UK
Exhibition, (2001) e-motive: Visual Poetry in the Digital Age, University of Essex Gallery, Colchester, UK

Judy Malloy,


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