No Blame Project – Creative Coding Collaboration with Tyler Carter

Creative Writing to Creative Coding

This year I have finally started to take on and complete some serious creative coding projects. For about a decade I have been satisfied to write with software created by others — mchain, Gnoetry, etc. Now I am working to creating digital poetry, digital arts and interactive writing systems of my own, customized for new writing projects. I’ve settled on the Processing generative arts language/environment to begin with, and have worked mostly in Java at this point. I am just starting to work with p5.js too, which is a javascript variant of Processing using pretty much the same syntax.

Earlier this year I completed my first complete sketch, or program, which I had drafted almost two years ago. You can read about that program here: LINEmaker v. 0.2. That project is text-based but also incorporates user interaction to create simple visual poems.

I’ll be writing more on my work with digital poetry and Processing soon, either here or at a new website, as my work progresses.

Collaborating on No Blame with Poet Tyler Carter

Beginning in July of this year, I began working with my friend and fellow poet/writer Tyler Carter to implement a writing system he had used several years before as a computer program. I was still learning basic coding skills with Processing, so I chose to continue using it even though this project would only really be sorting text and using I Ching casting methods to put together a book of 64 poems — i.e. there would be no interaction or anything drawn to the screen. I felt that Java and Processing would work well for this even though the project would not take advantage of any of the special features of the Processing language/environment.

The No Blame project has been complete now (the book, at least) for about a month, and I feel it has been a very successful collaboration. The permutations of the 256 lines of text, set by the program into 4 sets of 16 poems of 16 lines each, are kaleidoscopic and regularly engaging — something that does not always happen with conceptual computational systems like this. The four sets are arranged as: (1) the original 16 poems written from the 256 lines, (2) the same lines rearranged into 16 lists of 16 lines each according to linguistic/other characteristics, (3) the original poems “remixed” according to a set of unique (as in non-repeating and comprehensive) stanza patterns, and (4) the linguistic lists “remixed” in the same fashion.

The I Ching plays a significant role in the work, and it brings a sense of wholeness to the work as well as connecting to a longer tradition of using the I Ching in process poetry (Jackson Mac Low and John Cage, for example). The work does not connect thematically with the I Ching, nor should it be thought to have any oracular use; instead, it seeks to mirror/reproduce the architecture or structure of the mystical system. All of the poems are ordered and titled according to the unique I Ching hexagram cast by the program at its final stage of assembling the book, so the four sets mentioned above are not discrete, but are all interwoven together through the book. All 64 hexagrams are represented in the book, hinting to the representation of the whole person through the parallel systems of the hexagram titles and the assembled (and reassembled) statements of the poems.

Tyler and I are sending the manuscript out to presses soon for publication, but you can view the code, which I have commented heavily, at GitHub (see link below). If you are a publisher interested in works of computational or process poetry, I’d be glad to hear from you (see the Contact Me page for contact).

This project has helped me to grow as a programmer quite a bit, and I am proud of some of the solutions I made to rather complex problems, like how to create a set of 16 non-repeating four-line stanza patterns from the numbers 1-16 using all numbers exactly 4 times in each of the four stanza slots (each line in the pattern is a “slot”). That was quite tricky. Creating a simple alphanumeric system for representing I Ching hexagrams took some thought as well. Collaborating with another poet to construct a computation poetry program has been very rewarding as well, and I hope for more collaborations in the future as programmer and poet/programmer.

Code for No Blame at GitHub


LINEmaker : a concrete poem maker written in Processing 2

Click here for LINEmaker

LINEmaker is the fruit of my labor to move my concrete poem series LINES from OpenOffice, where I was using the advanced font settings to create poems from letters smashed closely together (and taking advantage of some of OpenOffice’s glitches with this). Here are two of my favorite New LINES poems: line-010813

New-LINES-HarkThe program takes this basic idea, but adds more interaction and options. It was coded in Processing and exported to javascrpt.

To use LINEmaker, you must first click in the canvas area to begin writing, then you can move the mouse horizontally to expand/condense the font spacing and vertically to adjust the transparency of the text.

Here are some screenshots from LINEmaker:

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Click here for LINEmaker


Thoughts on Digital Music Collaboration / Improvisation

I’ve been thinking about practices for setting up successful live improvisation for two Ableton Live users. Coming from a background of performing in jazz and wind ensembles, there are significant differences to take into account: the “instruments” here are much more sophisticated and can produce an huge range of sounds, styles and tones. Improvisation must occur on multiple levels as a more textured composition emerges.

From my experiences over the past year improvising with another Ableton Live user, I think I can conclude the following:

  • There is a tendency, even a desire, to be subsumed by the processes happening on the screen. At the top is the music and sound being produced; much as the actions of your improvisation partner are not always clear to you or in your perception, and you only focus on his/her musical contribution, so your own actions can be subsumed under the end musical results. The body and machine are integrated, and the product is what matters most.
  • While one is improvising, one is primarily in a reactionary state and not an active state of thinking. This is true in most forms of improvisation, as years of study and practice on an instrument must make the performance of music as spontaneous as possible. It feels even more reactionary in Ableton, though, as more active forms of production, like the preparation of samples, instruments and other sound palettes are too time intensive to be done in the midst of an improvisation.
  • Because of this, preparation of sound material and some sense of pre-arrangement of different instruments and samples is necessary for one to be successful in a group improvisation with DAW’s like Ableton.

On another note, I have found that working with Ableton Live in some ways mirrors my work with the Gnoetry 0.2 computer poetry program. The sense of being subsumed into the process unfolding on the screen is sometimes quite total. It is a part of the compositional thought process, and my own thought and decision-making is combined with the prosthetic cognitive tool on my screen and at my fingertips via my keyboard and mouse.

I plan to continue this writing on the connections between compositional practices and strategies in different digital art forms on an ongoing basis. My experience alternating between projects in digital music, digital poetry and digital art over the past year has helped me to see some of the similarities and differences clearly enough, I hope, to make some useful connections.

My Review of C. T. Funkhouser’s New Directions in Digital Poetry @ TriQuarterly

Read it.

It’s not a critical review, since I’m not scholar in the field. Think of it as a recommendation for others like me: aware of digital poetry from the periphery, not too studied in the digital humanities, and working slowly to become a practitioner of digital poetry and other digital arts.

A great book for anyone interested in digital poetry. It covers a wide range of works from many contemporary artists working in this ever-evolving field.

My Interview with Mary Flanagan, now up @ Sycamore Review

‘Insert the poetic where we’d least expect it’: An Interview with artist and poet Mary Flanagan @ Sycamore Review

Digital poet, artist, game designer, etc., responds to my questions about her entrance into + works of digital poetry, her current projects, the state of publication today, and gives some sagely advice for new digipoets. Many thanks to Sycamore Review for setting the whole thing up and for asking me to conduct it.