Monday, 8 September 2008

nourishing data

Nehemiah & Blake wrote:

"While books will remain a medium of their own, and continue to hold to themselves the mystique they have so generously earned, perhaps it is time for us to throw our many many books, the making of which there is no ending, into the particle generator that is post-modernity and send them spinning round until they smash into each other. When they do, let us then be there to collect the information freed from these collisions and allow our understanding of this ever deepening mystery of creation to be drawn on into new spheres of data for the nourishment of our souls."

Thursday, 14 August 2008

shutting up heaven's door

Once upon a time, Iesus began to preach, "Goode men, for Godes luve, repent, leave off youre sinne, for the kingdome of heauen is at hand, hevenriche is now here. But woe vnto you, religious hypocrites; Yee shut vp the kingdom of heauen against robberes and pillagers and quellers of men's lives, against lechers and fornicators and traders who ply men with lies, yet yee neither goe in your selues, and your sinne diminishes hevenriche's joy."

mashed sauces

The inspiratory source for this mash is a few lines from a piece of Medieval English verse called "Going to Hell" -- "Goode men, for Godes luve, bileveth suche sinne, For at then ende it binimeth hevenriche winne" -- in which the word's "hevenriche" means kingdom of heaven, and "winne", joy. Binimeth might be taken to mean diminish.

The other two sources for this mash are scriptural and come both from Matthew's gospel. I've opted for the 1611 KJV translation, thereby mashing together a medieval English with an early modern English. The verses in question are Matthew 4:17 and Matthew 23:13.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

reverent data-mining

Radiohead has decided to "open source" the data to the House of Cards video, allowing anyone, theoretically at least, to mash-up the data, and, once they've messed around with it, use the data to produce their own interpretation.

To mash the words of James Frost with mine, "In a weird way [the mash-up] is a direct reflection of where we are in society. Everything is data."

If everything is data, words are data and writing is data mining. Writing is aggregation. Writing is sifting data and then writing code. Writing is always a mash-up, an aggregation of data remixed. So, "I make no apology for linking my thinking with computer technology."

But what are the consequences of viewing writing as such?

William Gibson's Laney, in his novel Idoru, has a peculiar knack with data-collection architectures. He is an intuitive fisher of patterns of information, shifting from program to program, from database to database, from platform to platform, skimming vast floes of undifferentiated data, looking for "nodal points" he's been trained to recognize. Laney's ability to locate key data in apparently random wastes of incidental information makes him wonder if there might be a larger system, a field of greater perspective that possesses its own nodal points, info-faults that might be followed down to some other kind of truth, another mode of knowing, deep within gray shoals of information. But only if there were someone there to pose the right question.

So, while writing is data-driven in some shape or form, there remains the need for someone, the writer, to ask the right question about what is lying concealed deep beneath the data flow.

mashed sauces

Paragraph 1, and the James Frost quote are sampled and data-mined from the Guardian article "Is Radiohead the latest band to go open source?" by Sean Dodson.

The "make no apology" quote is a lyric from Faithless's track Reverence on the album of the same name.

The paragraph on William Gibson's Laney is mined directly from the novel and edited for the purposes of this post. Again I make no apology.

Friday, 4 July 2008

random scripture?

On the Guardian books blog, Andrew Gallix ponders Spam Lit and its literary forebears. The 3AM buzzwords blog has reposted the article entitling it Scriptures from the future, a phrase used by spam poet, Ben Myers. Gallix's article is a fascinating piece, not least because of the rich hyperlinks he has left for the reader to follow. Follow them is what I did. As I did, one word, "random" and its essence, "meaninglessness" kept on popping up. Here's a selection:

Disassociated press: "an algorithm for generating text based on another text. It is intended for transforming any text into potentially humorous garbage. [...] The algorithm starts by printing any N consecutive words (or letters) in the text. Then at every step it searches for any random occurrence in the original text..."

Word salad: "Word salad is a mixture of seemingly meaningful words that together signify nothing." Spammers for instance add "large amounts of random text somewhere in their message" in the hopes of getting through filters.

Markov chain: "An example of a Markov chain is a simple random walk where the state space is a set of vertices of a graph and the transition steps involve moving to any of the neighbors of the current vertex with equal probability (regardless of the history of the walk)."

Spoetry: "Here, perhaps, is the new poetry of the 21st century, a reinvention of language that pushes the cut-up technique of William Burroughs or the randomly generated 'liquid writing' of Jeff Noon's Cobralingus."

Automatic writing/drawing: "In automatic drawing, the hand is allowed to move 'randomly' across the paper. In applying chance and accident to mark-making, drawing is to a large extent freed of rational control."

Cut-up technique: "The cut-up technique, also known as fishbowling, is an aleatory literary technique or genre in which a text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text."

Aleatory literary technique: "Aleatory means "pertaining to luck", and derives from the Latin word alea, the rolling of dice. Aleatoric, indeterminate, or chance art is that which exploits the principle of randomness."

Such randomness has strong connotations to the evolutionary theory of random mutations. Nevertheless, in all the above literary cases, the random element is subsequently exposed to an intense process of editing, i.e., the process of creating something out of "nothing", which brings in the God element. But then again, all the random elements above themselves are instigated by writer/programmer/spammer in question. The random rather is a result of a purposeful, creative energy desiring to see what can be achieved.

The flow thus goes: creator:random state:editor. In some cases creator and editor will be the same person, in others different people. Sometimes it is the creator that sets off the random state, other times the editor. That new things are created via the random state however, is the mystery. The mystery itself is hidden within the text, asking to be sought out, but always hiding in the random state.

Friday, 27 June 2008

cuckoo cut grass

O the cuckoo she's a pretty bird
Like lanes of Queen Anne's lace.
She singeth as she flies
At summer's moving pace.

Beneath the high-builded clouds
Like hedges snowlike strewn,
She bringeth good tidings
Of young-leafed June.

She telleth no lies
For to keep her voice clear:
"Long,long the death
Of the summer drawing near."

Yet the more she singeth cuckoo
Briefer is the breath
For the chestnut flowers
Till their hours of death.

Then the white lilac she sucketh,
Their white flowers exhale.
Their mown stalks are lost and bowed
And like cut grass, lies frail.

mashed sauces

The two poems in this mash-up come from the Seamus Heaney/Ted Hughes edited Rattle Bag, an anthology of poems arranged in alphabetical order so as to allow the poems to "discover themselves."

The two poems that discovered themselves to me were the anonymous The Cuckoo and Philip Larkin's Cut Grass. Both on the same page, they juxtaposed the euphoric and pessimistic views of summer. Nevertheless, both poems traced a similar vocabulary, diction and rhythm. They were calling out to be made one.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

subterranean homesick news

At last weekend's BBC-sponsored Mashed 08 (a festival held at Alexandra Palance that allows hackers to mash data streams for various ends), Team Bob came up with a mash-up in the spirit of the mashed_prophet that mixed live subtitles from BBC News with Bob Dylan's video for Subterranean Homesick Blues "in a little spoof called 'Subterranean Homesick News'".

BBC Dylan - News 24 Revisited (Full Version) from James Adam on Vimeo.

The Guardian may have called the the mashup "pointless but fun", but they're only things with "future application" eyes. The mashed_prophet sees the deeper subversive point as well as the fun.

Friday, 20 June 2008

cut-up vs. mash-up

How is the cut-up form of experimental writing different from the mash-up form? The embed below links to a clip from a documentary on William Burrough's cut-up technique.

The view of William Burroughs was that if the universe was pre-recorded, then the only thing that was not pre-recorded was the pre-recording itself. With his cut-ups, what he was attempting to do was to "tamper with the pre-recordings themselves." One thing that you'll note from the youtube clip though is that the cut-up technique is essentially a form of destructive editing, ie. in order to create a new text, the "original" texts need to be physical cut up. Hence the term. What this essentially means is that the original text cannot be returned to. In the attempt to tamper with the pre-recording, the pre-recording is lost.

The mash-up on the other hand is a non-destructive editing process, because it leaves the original text intact. Because it leaves the text intact, it thereby invites comparison on the one hand, and a return to that original text on the other. The mash-up both draws attention to itself and deflects attention away from itself at the same time. It wants the recognition of being a new creation in its own right, but wants the original text to be fully appreciated in its own right so that the mash-up itself can be fully appreciated. Rather than tampering with the pre-recorded universe, the mash up artist desires that comments on the universe be acknowledged.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Spiritual Consumption in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction by Walter Lebow

An analysis of our enormously productive economy in the age of mechanical reproduction demands that we make consumption our way of life. This leads us to an all-important insight: mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of converting the buying and use of goods from a parasitical dependence on authentic artistic production into reproducible ritual. To an ever greater degree, the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to the work of consumption, for in consumption the total function of the "authentic" makes no sense and is reversed to be based on rituals which need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-increasing rate. For the first time in world history, we must do justice to the instance of consumption as being a relationship based not in the artistic production of a photographic negative, for example, but in the seeking of our spiritual satisfaction from any number of its prints.

mashed sauces

The first mashed quote comes from Walter Benjamin's The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction I grabbed from the blog, a site which considers the future of the book.

The second mashed quote I came across in the witty and intelligent "Story of Stuff" film. It comes from a paper one Victor Lebow wrote in the 1950's. There is some discussion as to whether Lebow made this comment prescriptively for the U.S. economy or descriptively in describing the nature of the U.S. economy.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Plath vs. Bronte: Wuthering Heights

I lingered round the sleepers in that quiet earth, under that benign sky leaning on me. Me, the one upright among all horizontals; the one still able to listen to the soft wind breathing through the grass, beating it distractedly against the moths fluttering along the heath and harebells. Now, in this narrow valley closing to darkness like a black purse, I wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for them whose house lights gleam like small change. For unlike them, darkness terrifies me. I am too delicate for a life in such company.

mashed sauces

The first source comes from the closing sentiments of the narrator in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

As I read the closing passage to Wuthering Heights, triggered in my mind was the memory of Sylvia Plath's poem of the same name, and in particular, the line "The grass is beating its head distractedly." This line comes from the poem's closing stanza, and it is this stanza which I have chosen to mash with Bronte's closing lines.

the medium is the mash-up

According to Will Self, via the 3AM blog via a BBC magazine article, "the computer user does their thinking on the screen, and the non-computer user is compelled, because he or she has to retype a whole text, to do a lot more thinking in the head."

This comment was made in relation to writers continuing to use typewriters. In fact the BBC story headline reads "Why typewriters beat computers". Which is true, but then computers beat typewriters, and pens beat computers and pencils top pens. It's the old Mcluhanism at work - the medium is the message, and each medium brings something to the message that another medium doesn't. So the mashed prophet is not going to get worked up about what is the superior medium. What is pertinent for this blog is Will Self's comment in relation to textual mash-ups.

If you're old enough to remember when CD's first appeared, they made a big hoo-haa on the CD sleeves about which particular recording technique was used. AAD, ADD, DDD and so on, in which A stood for analogue and D for digital, with each letter standing for the corresponding step in the recording process.

I've often thought of this system in relation to writing mash-ups, because I can choose how I am going to record it. Most often I like to retype the texts that I am going to be mashing instead of say copying and pasting from an online source. That would give the process an analogue element. Sometimes I'm lazy, or what I want to use is too long, so I just copy and paste. Sometimes I work on paper and then transfer it to the computer screen. Maybe, one day in the future, I'll buy a typewriter and use that as well just for fun. But whether I'm thinking on the screen, or thinking in my head, using a non-destructive editing process that the computer screen offers me, or a destructive editing process that a pen and a piece of paper offers me (and maybe in the future a typewriter), the writing process remains beautifully mysterious, allowing for the strengths and weaknesses of the medium in which writing records itself to incarnate the Word.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Bonney & Swift, aka Bonnie & Clyde.

Shirley Dent, on the Guardian Books blog reports of a blogosphere spat between Bonney and Swift in which she notes that Swift,

taking his cue from Madonna, "strikes a pose" in postmodernist style (is it me or does Madonna seem omnipresent in discussions about postmodernism?), arguing for "a genuinely radical postmodern poetics". This involves breaking formal barriers, requisitioning pop-culture techniques such as "mash-up" and using then to produce a postmodern poetry that gives us "resistance-as-fun".

What the mashed_prophet likes about Swift's thinking on Eyewear is the notion of the mash-up being a resistance strategy to capitalism:
"Olsen's essay resists some of the more perplexing ambiguities circulating around current questions of entertainment, and digital media (including piracy), in the global arena: that is, people no longer interact with even capitalist-created cultural product passively. They mash-up and mix music - they alter it - engaged, as readers, with the text. Some of these activities (copyleft and further) can hardly be categorised as anything but anti-capitalist. It might be hard for a British linguistically innovative poet to say so, but elements of popular culture are fun, can be ironically and politically transformed by engagegement with their discourse(s)."

Mashed_prophet, being linguistically innovative, has no problem agreeing with this.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Don Kropotkin, or the Quixotic Origin of Anarchy

At a certain village in La Mancha, the ants and termites of Prince Kropotkin not long ago renounced one of those old-fashioned Hobbesian gentlemen, whom I shall not name, but who wrote, 'Never be without a lance upon a rack, an old target, a lean horse, and a greyhound, for man is all the better for war.'

mashed sauces

Here the opening sentence of Don Quixote (the Motteux translation) mashes with the opening shot of Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue

Prince Kropotkin was a communalist anarchist in Russia before the revolution. The Hobbesian gentleman is of course he who knows that life is nasty, shortish and brute, or something along those lines.