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.