A writer's notebook is not a final paper but rather reflects the development of a work or series of works. In the informal, recursive, yet productive practice of creating notebooks online, ideas and sources are developed and slowly emerge. This 2020-2021 notebook began in June 2020.
March 4, 2021
A working interface for an enigmatic work of art in book form has been designed. As was my intention, this relatively book-like screen contains two narratives -- one in a top segment of the screen and one in the bottom segment of the screen. Each segment advances whenever it is clicked on. At some point, with increasing complexity, there may be more than two tracks.
In works in which I have used parallel columns, such as From Ireland with Letters, side-by-side tracks were written in such a way that the content is densely interwoven. But in an enigmatic work of art in book form, the purpose of this stacked two-track interface is to give the reader more control of the flow of a narrative that reveals different aspects of the protagonistís environment. I would like to involve the reader in the continuing narrative while at the same time introducing a structure that is more interactive than print.
The writing has begun, and an enigmatic work of art in book form, now a work in progress, is available here.
This seems like a good time to remember that Uncle Roger was not written sequentially. Using card catalog structures, I had been exploring since 1976 , I wrote as a guest would proceed at a party, observing one thing or another and composing this hypertextual work in no particular order . The party environment and timeframe were chosen to provide a congenial nonsequential writing environment. However, Uncle Roger was told sequentially in the order of writing, i.e., I assigned keywords to each lexia and posted each lexia to ACEN along with its keywords, as I wrote it.
In contrast, -- although the access is more interactive than print -- into the structure of an enigmatic work of art in book form . I am purposely writing sequential narratives. As noted previously in this notebook. 35 years since I wrote Uncle Roger online on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) , this work is a gesture to the reading public, an invitation to begin to explore more complex structures.
And for me the writing of this art world-centered mystery is pleasurable.
February 21, 2021
R ecently, I had a request for a playthru of Brown House Kitchen, the work I created on LambdaMoo while working with Pavel Curtis at Xerox PARC. I found a talk I gave at PARC in May 1995 that includes a text playthru of BHK. What went through my mind as regards BHK was that it was Pavel who asked me to write something that the audience could relate to -- such as science fiction or a mystery story. So here we go again. And -- as I did at PARC writing BHK -- I am having fun writing an enigmatic work of art in book form. .
The basic structure for an enigmatic work of art in book form will be a dominant story accompanied by parallel stories. Although, contemporary fiction writers and readers are very comfortable moving rapidly back and forth between different but related parts of the narrative, the basic interface of ebooks is print book sequential page turning. My vision is to work with this narrative device (which may or may not have been somewhat influenced by both film and by electronic literature), but in the process to give the reader more control of what part of the narrative to follow.
After abandoning more complex designs, I am currently considering screens that look like pages but -- by offering the reader a choice of which thread to offer -- behave with low interactivity. Obviously, this is basically an historic "choose your own adventure" structure. However, the goal is make this structure look like an eBook that readers are now accustomed to - as opposed to something different. And as Pavel pointed out long ago, the narrative itself is important in this respect. The mockups look like this:
Note that the text in these mockups is rough draft, and that more arrows are likely to occur when -- as more plotlines are added to the narrative -- the complexity slowly becomes greater. The narrative the reader is following is currently shown in larger text than the alternative. Different colors may be more effective, although that would distract from the ebook look and feel.
January 31, 2021
Out the central window of the oriel window, sailboats on San Francisco Bay are visible. On a studio table that is situated beneath the oriel window, are cold press Arches Paper in various weights and sizes, paint brushes and archival artists pens, assorted toy people and toy store objects, tubes of acrylic and watercolor paints, a pile of stencils, Yes paste, archival artistsí tape, and triangular pieces of transparent plastic.
I t is a pleasure to plunge into the writing of a work that expands the boundaries of electronic literature practice. Not since Dorothy Abrona McCrae -- a work that consistently receives more "hits" than much of my other work -- have I succumbed to a narrative that could be envisioned in the category of a paperback with appeal to a wide audience.
The working title for this new work is "An enigmatic work of art in book form", but this title will probably be changed. As I wrote in the last notebook entry:
My vision for this work is to create a work of generative fiction that people now steeped in ebook platforms will be comfortable reading.
Much character and plot development and some writing have been done on "enigmatic" in the past few weeks -- enough to design a structure and to plan to reveal the first chapter sometime in February. But in the case of a work that centers on the solving of a mystery, it does not seem appropriate to detail plot development in a publicly available notebook. It might, however, be of interest to further describe the book that Caydance Skye O'Brien (yes, her name has been changed) receives in the mail.
An enigmatic work of art in book form lay on the table beside the oriel window. A tiny gold keyhole was deeply embedded in the front side of this hand painted wooden box-like object, but no key had arrived, and there was no obvious way to open it without destroying the resonance that it had as a handmade object by an unknown artist.
From a slot in the top of the book, a paper accordion-fold scroll partially emerges. Images on this scroll are children's toys, and text and landscapes from a childhood (presumably of the creator of this artists book). On the sides of the book are words and meticulously painted images that when carefully studied and researched might result in revealing the location of the key to the book. Some of these images are reproduced in the visual that begins this post.
January 17-19, 2021
Since I began writing online notebooks 12 or 13 years ago, it has been traditional to begin a new work or a new part of a lengthy work in late January. Last year it was the sound for "the fabric of everyday life". This year, it is an as yet untitled new work of aleatoric fiction which I anticipate will take at least a year to code and write.
Moving the generative structure of Arriving Simultaneously into a page-simulating aleatoric system and inspired by female protagonists in contemporary mystery stories (which in this pandemic era, I have been reading nonstop after running out of free movies), my new work introduces Allanah, a San Francisco-based adjunct professor, who teaches the lineage and creation of artists books. Jetting (on the long weekends between her midweek classes) to distant resorts and publishing her findings in obscure journals, Allanah explores art mysteries from the real past and the fictional present. In underlying narratives, which will appear when paragraphs are regenerated, personal details will be revealed -- such as the regular bank deposits from her art-supporting billionaire parents; and what happens when she meets a law student, whose past as an Oakland Raiders wide receiver is not immediately apparent.
My vision for this work is to create a work of generative fiction that people now steeped in ebook platforms will be comfortable reading.
But before I go too far in the background reading and in designing the structure (and before I actually begin writing this wishful thinking for adjuncts story, which I am anxious to do), it should be noted that in a new "about" file currently attached to merged with the screen for days , the dichotomy of structure and content in merged is expressed as follows:
Simulating computer-mediated environments that dominated our lives in 2020, in merged with the screen for days, stanzas that move across a four-array structure play unpredictably together -- allowing, if the reader generates several versions, multiple views of the impact of screen-dominated isolation on everyday life. But even with many plays, the viewer is unlikely to see all the variables that are stored in the four arrays that emanate from this narrative engine.
In the past year, computer-mediated systems have furthered education, hosted the arts, and allowed a networked reach to a wider world. As a teacher of art students. I am constantly amazed by what my students create with computer-mediated systems. And the flexibility of the computer screen and the power of algorithmic control allowed me to make this work.
But in contrast, the sadness that pervades this work is engendered by enforced withdrawal from shared real lives, and merged with the screen for days reflects a need to balance real life with screen life that should be acknowledged.
The dichotomy that this work expresses is keyed when the history of generative literature is referenced in the background by Jonathan Swift's Lagado Engine from Gulliver's Travels. Although Swift imagined this engine as a satire that predicted where literature, art, and science would go astray centuries later, for years, I have been haunted by the beauty of his illustration.
In screen one, backgrounded by the Lagado Engine, some of the texts are taken from The Roar of Destiny, the work I began in 1995, while I was working full time online for Arts Wire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts). In The Roar of Destiny, I wanted to simulate the merging of real life and online life that occurred when at least half of one's life was spent online -- both the benefits of working together in an online office and the need to proactively balance screen-based working environments with real life activity.
At the time, I thought that many other people would soon be working online. But that did not happen until 2020, when it was mandated by an epidemic.
The title, merged with the screen for days, is taken from a line in The Roar of Destiny.
Originally, merged with the screen for days was planned with a spoken word sound component, but when I tried this, it disrupted the silence of isolation which pervades this work.
And so, a sound component for merged was abandoned, and this year, I will be working on a new work in which the aleatoric generation of text will reveal elements of the protagonist's life that are not readily apparent in a surface reading.
Also, this Spring I'm happy to be again teaching "Women Artists in Cyberspace" in the Art and Technology Department of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago!
January 4-6, 2021
I n the past month, merged with the screen for days has emerged as the equivalent of a near final draft. In the process, many changes have been made. Because it is a poetic narrative about a difficult year, ultimately sound and dominant visual image were eliminated. Yes, the computer screen allows an approach to writing that includes sound and visual image, but that does not mean that the power of words alone should always be abandoned.
Here are the changes that I made in the past month or so:
___After last month extolling the virtues of a cover for works of generative literature in the online environment, and after spending many hours working on the generative output for the cover, I eliminated the cover for merged with the screen for days. The amount of time I spent on the discarded cover was actually the problem because although I liked the cover, it detracted from the impact of the work itself. A new cover could be made, but it should probably only contain an image and basic information..
____In much of my work with generative poetry and fiction, I have not eliminated the repetition that is inherent in random/pseudo-random systems. Although this can be done algorithmically (test to see if a variable has already been selected and if so, select another variable is a usual way), I have chosen to keep the repetition because memories occur and reoccur, because there is a musical quality to my work, and because I have wanted to retain what is inherent in the system. As exception is the Eastgate version of its name was Penelope, where Mark Bernstein strongly advised limiting the number of repetitions.
In merged with the screen for days, although I liked the chorus-like repetition across columns, I did not like the same variable occurring more than once in the same column. Thus, I eliminated the repetition within columns 2,3, and 4
___The fade-in system that I used across the columns was utilized because I wanted to simulate both the slow encroachment of insolation on our lives and the effect of people arriving on zoom systems. Initially the fade effect was tied to the sound (which last month I eliminated) but I retained a rhythmic flow of moving and fading in the final version.
___It is my practice to play a work over and over again making small changes until however unpredictably the variables are generated it flows smoothly together. But as I began to make changes to achieve this effect with merged, it was apparent that I was eliminating some of the discordant quality of the year 2020. Therefore, in the editing process for this work, it was important to retain some discordance.
A good example is the paper towel supply. A paper towel supply is not expected in a poetic narrative (or so we thought a year ago).
Writing is a creative practice that differs widely between individuals. Writing electronic literature takes into account the affordances that computer screens offer. Although, there is no one way to do this, control of the screen is important in the process -- as is an awareness of the (in some instances infinite) combinations that might occur for users. These things are core in the unusual editing process for a work of electronic literature.
December 6, 2020
N ovember was a difficult month. The woods were beautiful. But, for my far-away family, for my students and my school, for my friends and neighbors, Thanksgiving holidays were all too often days of isolated celebration.
December arrived with the beginning of what some would call bleak winter, but -- having spent so much of my life in California away from wildly varying seasons -- the bare trees and slowly increasing cold bring memories of winter childhoods.in New England. Snow will come, and in my dreams, I will be able to travel snow-covered trails on cross country skis.
I have written elsewhere in this notebook about the need for cover pages for works of generative poetry that exist in the rich multi-varied environment of the contemporary World Wide Web. Thus, I am creating a cover for merged with the screen for days. Initially I favored a snare drum, but after trying many drum variations -- that worked well by themselves but did not flow well into the work itself -- I mirrored the first column of the work, where Swift's Engine appears in the background, and over the top of this I ran 8-12 lines from the work. These lines change every time the cover is accessed.
It looks like this (below) and can be be accessed at https://www.narrabase.net/merged/merged_cover_index.html, where it leads into the work itself. For now, because the focus should be on words, I have removed the sound on the main page. Thinking about this....
November 9, 2020
"The figure (which first appeared in the 1727 third edition), seems to have two errors. Although the text twice indicates that there are 40 handles, the figure shows only 31. Furthermore, the fifth horizontal row of dies has no handle. Possibly the author hoped to protect his invention by providing a confusing illustration; equally possibly, all subsequent attempts to duplicate the performance of this remarkable device have failed because of this-the first computer hard- ware glitch." Eric A. Weiss, Anecdotes [Jonathan Swift's Computing Invention] Annals of the History of Computing 7:2, April-June 1985.
D uring the past few weeks, time spent on merged with the screen for days has been primarily with the opening sound. But today was the day that a blue version of Swift's Lagado engine replaced the image of a drum kit. The reason for this was that this work doesn't originate from a drum kit, it originates from the history of generative poetry. In Gulliver's Travels, Swift invented this engine as a satire that purportedly predicted where literature, art, and science would go astray centuries later. But for years I have been haunted by the beauty of his illustration (when it is looked at in detail), and I wonder what he actually envisioned when he made it.
As regards the sound, it was my intention to mix my voice with an opening snare drum backbeat -- followed by elegiac sound. Working with copyright free sound (I will give the source when I know for sure that that is what I am going to use) and with many tries that did not work, I used a classic snare drum backbeat that opens into a brief section of Pachelbelís Canon in D. The issue with this -- I saw/heard immediately when I added my voice -- was that at the moment, this sound seems exactly what I want, but my voice does not work well with this sound.
It is my intention to write the words well enough so that they clearly accompany the sound -- in whatever order they are generated by the code. This is often an issue with my work, but a plus is that it forces me to spend the time to write and rewrite until the work is perfect in my mind. Meanwhile, the work-in-progress continues to be available at merged with the screen for days
This past month, much has been tried and discarded that is not recorded in this notebook. I have many students this year and had many midterm works to explore; many crits to write. Some students are on the campus at SAIC and some students are logging in from around the world. Thus, from seemingly everywhere, there are many voices with many new ideas. Is this important? Yes! Particularly in digital studies, where suddenly we are all online, and there are so many ways of writing in this environment that have not yet been explored.
October 4, 2020
S lowly posting my work online/adding to it regularly has been a part of my practice since I began telling Uncle Roger on Art Com Electronic Network (ACEN) in 1986. Because the card catalogs that informed Uncle Roger were shown in exhibitions, where viewers were able to remove cards and replace them any place in the structure, I was already involving viewers in experimental narrative structures, and thus I was comfortable in an open studio environment on the Internet.
To create the first version of Uncle Roger, I set up a topic and posted an introduction which explained the concept. In the first response to the topic, I posted record no. 1 of the first file of Uncle Roger - the file called "A Party in Woodside". Every time I logged on to ACEN, I uploaded one record (lexia in hypertext terminology) of the story. Each record was posted with a key field, where the keywords were listed so that readers could download the story if they choose and put it into any commercial database. Note that the records were numbered in the order they were written, which was not sequential from a narrative point of view.
Thirty-four years later, as has been the case with much of my work since Uncle Roger, merged with the screen for days is now available in progress. And it is now possible to visit it (every now and then) to see if new stanzas surface.
Generative poetry creates a poetic environment using databases, in merged with the screen for days, four databases -- from which, following algorithmic instructions, the computer selects lexias and in the process displays something different every time the work is played.
Even with many plays, the viewer is unlikely to see all the lexias that are stored in the four arrays. Additionally, as the work grows there will be less repetition, and stanzas that move across the four-stream structure will work together more clearly.
In the past few weeks, the animated text-divulging process has been honed. Nevertheless, this aspect of merged with the screen for days is not finished. It will need to work more closely with the sound. And I haven't yet started recording the sound.
The next month or so will be spent on writing new lexias. This is a good place to be!
September 12, 2020
T he intense, productive, beginning weeks of the semester are underway. I'm in the mood for working with images and sound, and as I write, the sound of drums is on my mind. Thus, for the background of "Merged with the Screen for Days" -- imagining how the sound of drums would began this work (and that in the generative readings I would try to do this with voice the way I did the windchimes in the fabric of everyday life" -- I began with the image of a snare drum.
The snare drum image works very well with the generated words, but I wasn't sure that the lone snare drum conveyed the sound that I desired -- which maybe is the sound of community-made music (as happened in Italy in the early days of the Pandemic), and/or maybe is the sound of drums. Beginning with the later, I changed the working background image to the drum kit of rock music, while at the same time. I wondered if the single snare drum might work on a cover page.
In August, only classical musicians had appeared in the text. In September, other musicians have entered, including two fiddles, a bassist. and a lead singer. Considering how much more text needs to be written, generating the text for "Merged with the Screen for Days" has begun to a satisfactory experience. Usually, I don't record sound until the work as a whole is written, but today, the idea of reading drum rhythms into the spoken word soundtrack is on my mind. Sound, I should note, was a part of my early work with installation and performance art, so the sound readings in my generative poetry are not surprising.
August 24, 2020
Last week, when I watched Jill Biden speak from an empty classroom and heard her words about the missing students -- and her words in support of teaching -- I was particularly happy that the semester is about to begin and that students would soon be arriving, whether on campus or online.
In addition to Social Media Narrative (the link is to work from last year's class), the classes that I'm teaching online this fall for Art & Technology Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago include a new course: Women Artists in Cyberspace. To begin this class, I constructed a playable manuscript that explores 36 projects created by women, including Katherine Johnson, Helen Ling, Lynn Conway, Brenda Laurel, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Pamela Z, Madeline Gonzalez Allen, Shu Lea Cheang, Judith Donath, JR Carpenter, Tamiko Theil, Maria MencŪa, Lee Blalock, Carla Gannis, and Snow Yunxue Fu, among many others.
The playable creation of teams of these 36 women, each with one of their projects, serves the purpose of introducing the extraordinary work that women have contributed on the Internet and in virtual reality environments -- as well as suggesting that we look to thier work for inspiration in our own creative projects.
At this time of year, when class prep is a primary activity, work on "Merged with the Screen for Days" is proceeding slowly. Like many artists, I do not feel complete if I'm not spending some time on my own work. But this was anticipated when I set up this work as a generative data structure -- to which I could add content at my own pace.
As evidenced in the August 24 output (above}, in the past three weeks, more lexias have been written; the work has expanded to four columns; and I am beginning to increase the color fields. There is still nowhere near enough text written, but I have until December to finish this work.
Happy that I'm beginning to enjoy working on "Merged with the Screen for Days", and slowly it is becoming what I seek -- an ever-changing word picture of the year 2020. It is anticipated that as the work nears closure, sound will also be generated, text will fade in and out, and the work may also include images.
August 4, 2020
I nside, as a tropical storm passes through New Jersey, listening to the rain and wind howling outside. In California, where I lived most of my adult life, the storms did not usually remind me of childhood in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but here, I am reminded of the sound of the rain in New England, and my mother setting out paper and watercolors on a long table. I remember painting a hazy view to the sound of the storm. I remember retiring to my solitary bunk with my notebook.
The largest problem with the initial work on "merged with the screen for days" remains that it is not engaged enough with the experience -- that it does not adequately reflect the experience. After rewriting a good portion of the initial variables, it is working a little better. Although it is my practice to record early struggles, today -- because there is still a problem with the voice of the narrative -- I am reluctant to post clear output. Images of in process work are an exposure of unfinished work and are not meant to be easily read by an audience.
As regards the UI, what did not work last week was putting each lexia into a box, with the intention of creating a whole that looked like windows. The problem was that the whole looked like windows in a jail. To a certain extent, we are all in a COVID-seclusion prison, but because I see this work more as emulating the experience of online lives, at this point in time, no trace of last week's cells remains in the interface.
July 19, 2020
Although returning to walking in the woods on crutches is still in the rehab stage, and it was difficult to hold the camera steady while keeping my balance on the banks of Stony Brook, in the past two weeks, I have been able to go to treasured places that I have not seen since last November.
W orking on the interface, beginning the writing for "merged with the screen for days".
The initial interface -- which I will use for the writing process -- has been simplified. Essentially the same stream of randomly produced text is running in all three columns. But because each stream will be randomly generated, how the variables will appear across the 3-column environment will eventually vary considerably. My sense (at this time) is that reflecting the environment in which we now live, this diffuse word-window will work better than three streams of different content, which I had initially planned.
However, as the generated first pass below illustrates, this work is difficult.. In order to create a seamless environment, I will need to write at least 200 variables, and they will all have to work together -- no matter how they are generated.
Writing to "merged with the screen for days" will, I anticipate, offer regular episodes of writing and coding in what I hope will be a busy fall of teaching and modeling social media semester. Because time may be short, and the subject is difficult, I have allotted four months to tweak the code and interface and to write and edit the variables. Maybe the interface will be redesigned with graphic elements. Maybe, this work will stand with only words.
July 4, 2020
In search of a title for an incipient work, I went to The Roar of Destiny. It is not the first time that I have used a phrase from The Roar of Destiny as a title.
Beginning in 1995, The Roar of Destiny was written while I was working online for Arts Wire (a program of the New York Foundation for the Arts). Arts Wire was run with a virtual office (meeting online from our homes -- which were variously in New York, in Michigan, in Massachusetts, in Seattle, among other places). I was logging on to AWSTAFF from the hills in El Sobrante, California.
Usually, we spent most of our days online -- punctuated by telephone "help" talks with users and new users. (and in my case with crutch hikes in the hills and escapes to the Gold Country foothills and the High Sierras). In The Roar of Destiny, I represented this existence with a daunting interface of links that each led to a screen where -- surrounded by phrases -- the main text was bolded.
Because It was/is a life which many others are now living, it was an appropriate place from which to take a title.
"merged with the screen for days"
Then I plunged into designing the primary interface for "merged with the screen for days" .
So far the results have not been precisely what I seek, but as usual the process is enjoyable.
June 21, 2020
It is usually my practice when beginning a new work to return to earlier works. Some new media artists eschew the idea of consistent vision. This is viable considering the radical changes in software and hardware that continue to occur. But personally, although I do take into consideration such changes, I find it grounding to look at earlier interfaces and content. This is both a starting point -- a way of combating the blocks that sometimes occur when it is time to begin a new work -- and a way of reminding myself how I have approached certain issues in the past.
Last week, the work I chose to return to was name is scibe, a collaborative work I began on August 17, 1994, about 5 weeks after I was run down on July 9, 1994.
Because I do not like being reminded of my descent to a lifetime of crutches, returning to this work required a certain amount of courage. But I was interested in the 1994 Internet window to the world that is at the core of scibe.
name is scibe began on two platforms -- the Interactive Art Conference on Arts Wire and the Arts Conference on The Well. It ran until late 1994 when I transferred the content to an early website, where it was one of the first narratives published on the World Wide Web. Initially, the web version was hosted on Arts Wire's webspace, but when it became apparent that Arts Wire was not likely to survive much longer, I moved it to The Well in 2001.
Flashes of PTSD returned as I plunged into name as scibe. But they did not linger. Instead I came away with recollections of the responsive early social media "friends" and with wonder at the strong community that existed at that time on The Well and Arts Wire -- and of course what I sought: isolation then and now, and the differences between the Internet then and now. I was also interested in how scibe played in 1994 -- the year of the emergence of electronic literature on the fledging World Wide Web. For example, Sue-Ellen Case observes that:
"Accretion replaces plot line as the signature of fiction-writing on the Net. The traditional time and ordering of space gives way to an absorptive electronic space, eddying different places into a common pool, which, while emulating the sequential in sites, overcomes its temporal axis. Malloy's call for company also promises an accretional, collecting culture production..." -- Sue Ellen Case, Eve's Apple or Women's Narrative Bytes,", Modern Fiction Studies 43:3, 1997. pp 631-650
That said -- because contemporary social media is more diffuse, and the bonds with other people are often not as close as they were in 1994 -- I am not going to repeat the collaborative aspects of name is scibe.
Nevertheless, as often happens when I confront the past in the environment of the present, my new work has begun to take shape. Although, the content will be imbued with the spirit of scibe, and I will be documenting Internet community interaction, the interface will owe little to scibe.
At this point, I envision three columns (windows) of generative poetry that flow down the screen in parallel streams, and are seen together -- somewhat like the design of Thirty Minutes in the Late Afternoon (1990).
The content will include COVID isolation, anti-racism, COVID insecurity, and the role of the Internet in secluded lives. I don't currently see the columns as each being clearly labeled as to content. Instead, I envision a polyphonic work in which, reaching beyond their confinement in columns, themes are intertwined. And because every play will be different, interpretation will vary with each generated screen.
Eager to begin writing. More soon...
June 15, 2020
One notebook entry following another in seven days is not usual. So, I'll begin by thanking Will Luers, the editor of The Digital Review (tdr) for featuring Arriving Simultaneously: Selections from a Writer's Notebook in the inaugural issue of tdr, which went live on June 9. This was the impetus needed to realize that I was not going to start a new work unless I first hashed it out in a notebook. For me, this is the equivalent of batting some tennis balls against a backboard before playing a match.
Before plunging into my ideas for a new work, it would good to write a few words about my recently finished soundwork from "the fabric of everyday life" -- and also a few words about life these past notebookless months .
Situating the audience in the unpredictable environment of "the fabric of everyday life", this soundwork for ELO2020 is based on the line from the poem that reads: "the windchimes play sonorously in different keys". The sound of the windchimes (perhaps on a deck on an early summer evening) was created by making short phrase or sentence recordings for selected variables and then attaching each recording to the variable it echoes, so that every time the soundwork is run, there is a different but brief mix of my voice reading the generated lines -- as if a burst of wind or a hand push activated the windchimes for a minute or so. I am happy that -- in the way that such episodes of windchime sound punctuate a summer day -- replaying this work is pleasurable.
Every "play" is different because only sound from the variables that the code generates is heard, and, like the windchimes it represents, this is a fleeting work that should be played and replayed. And, because some of the variables do not contain sound, once in a while the windchimes are silent or play only a few phrases.
Note that since the annual Electronic Literature Conference, ELO 2020, July 16-19 (originally to be hosted at the University of Central Florida) will this year be a combination of synchronous and asynchronous online events, my soundwork will be on an asynchronous performance/reading menu. Thanks to Anastasia Salter and her UCF colleagues for putting this now legendary elit event online!
Everyone is suffering in one way or another these days. In my life, it has been a time of the death of a beloved cat, River 1999-2020, 21 year old rescued feral. It has also been a time that began with a broken foot on my bad (shattered, misshapen since a car ran into it 27 year ago) leg. Then there was walking rehab; setbacks; walking rehab; a sprained ankle on my good leg (that has done the majority of weight bearing for many years) and now walking rehab. But it is late spring/early summer, and I am hoping for a return to my usual crutch-aided trail walking soon. Meanwhile, there is June green on the semi-paved paths.
June 8, 2020
Normally, entries in my writer's notebooks are made two or three times a month, but this year when my notebook ended in February, like many others, I retreated into the slow life of social isolation, and thus three months or so have elapsed without notebook entries. Undocumented in this time is the finishing work on my aleatoric poem, "the fabric of everyday life", and the associated windchime soundwork that I recorded and coded for the ELO2020 Performance Track.
"the fabric of everyday life" explores both the creative possibilities and the "big brother" overtones of ubicomp technologies. In this work, my authoring system brings phrases unpredictably to the forefront at the will of the computer -- allowing, if the reader generates several versions, multiple interpretations. If I had been writing a notebook in those missing months, one thing I would have focused on was the struggle to create a top page visual for "The fabric of everyday life". As I like to remind students, finding the right visuals for any part of a work sometimes occurs almost immediately and other times it can be extraordinary difficult.
A print book cover does not flow into the contents in the same way an online "cover" does. And in the case of ebooks, they also tend to follow the cover with print-book-front-material. But because my desire for consistency between pages of the same online work is often a factor in top page struggles, creating a virtual cover page for a work of online literature is predictably difficult.
It should be noted that traditionally generative poetry in online environments would not always be expected to begin with a top cover page. However, from my point of view, in the contemporary online environment it is a courtesy to provide a signifying beginning -- something that says to the reader: "you are about to enter something unexpected."
Initially, for the lead-in page to "the fabric of everyday life", I envisioned Mark Weiser at PARC CSL, jaunty in a red shirt and bluejean overalls. But (still unbelievably) Mark is dead, and I cannot ask his permission. I also considered, the top page from his 1991 Scientific American article on "The Computer for the 21st Century" - from whence came the title "the fabric of everyday life". This might have worked if I had the issue of SciAm and could photograph it open on a table, but I did not have the issue.
Next, I considered a drawing-dominated cover -- red berets flying into the air, boats sailing off shower curtains, images moving on the walls -- but it became immediately apparent that when this mocked-up cover flowed into the work, it interfered with the thoughtful immersion that is required to negotiate "the fabric of everyday life". Another poet might have made a different decision
And so the process continued, with meadows immersed in antique pitchers, beverage-filled wine glasses, a blue bowl filled with apples, bluegreen and bronze windchimes, an antique pitcher, Provincetown harbor (a photo from the Library of Congress), Arduino chips, a one-story cottage, a lantern, Papageno's chimes, (from early productions of The Magic Flute), Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz, wireless chalk, until finally (it took at least a month) I used a background image of an antique pitcher in which windchimes were partially immersed.
Occasionally, I regret my discarding of many of these images, but now when I go to "the fabric of everyday life" it always looks right. Note that because I coded text production on the cover in such a way that it is seldom or never the same, the cover page is always subtly different.
This 2020 writer's notebook follows my 2018-February 2020 notebook