The Gathering Cloud

The Gathering Cloud is a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, which takes place in Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016.

This work aims to address the environmental impact of so-called ‘cloud’ computing through the oblique strategy of calling attention to the materiality of the clouds in the sky. Both are commonly perceived to be infinite resources, at once vast and immaterial; both, decidedly, are not.

Fragments from Luke Howard’s classic “Essay on the Modifications of Clouds” (1803) as well as more recent online articles and books on media and the environment are pared down into hyptertextual hendecasyllabic verses. These are situated within surreal animated gif collages composed of images materially appropriated from publicly accessible cloud storage services.

The Gathering Cloud
The Gathering Cloud – a new hybrid print and web-based work by J. R. Carpenter

The cognitive dissonance between the cultural fantasy of cloud storage and the hard facts of its environmental impact is bridged, in part, through the constant evocation of animals: A cumulus cloud weighs one hundred elephants. A USB fish swims through a cloud of cables. Four million cute cat pics are shared each day. A small print iteration of “The Gathering Cloud” shared through gift, trade, mail art, and small press economies further confuses boundaries between physical and digital, scarcity and waste.

The Gathering Cloud
The print iteration of The Gathering Cloud

The Gathering Cloud was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016. Many thanks to the curators Sarah Cook and Donna Holford-Lovell. Portions of this text were first performed at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution during the South West Poetry Tour, 1-8 August 2016. Thanks and curses to Annabel Banks for sugesting the hendecasyllabic constraint. Thanks to Kay Lovelace, Rachel McCarthy, Michael Saunby, and the fine folks at the Informatics Lab at the Met Office for tips, tricks, and discussions on code and the weather. And thanks to Jerome Fletcher for everything else.

Further reading: NEoN speaks with JR Carpenter

View the work online here: The Gathering Cloud

And the Dot Award for New Media Writing goes to… A Picture of Wind

Last Wednesday 20 January 2016 I attended the New Media Writing Prize Awards Ceremony at Bornemouth University where it was announced that I’ve won the inaugural Dot Award. This new annual prize sponsored by if:book UK, a charitable company exploring the future of the book and digital possibilities for literature. As well as funding the New Media Writing Prize, if:book set up the Dot Award in memory of writer and designer Dorothy Meade. The Dot Award aims to support writers using the web in imaginative and collaborative ways. The prize is awarded not for a finished project but rather for an idea, a proposal for project which, in the judges’ opinion, shows promise. The prize itself comprises £500, technical and creative support, and promotion of the completed work.

I am delighted to have won this inaugural Dot Award on the basis of a proposal to create a new web-based (tablet compatible) piece called This is A Picture of Wind. This work will expand upon a short text written for a print anthology due out in Canada later this year. This text was written in response to the storms which battered South West England in early 2014, resulting in catastrophic flooding in Somerset and the destruction of the seawall and rail line at Dawlish in Devon. Following the news in the months after these storms, I was struck by the paradox presented by attempts to evoke through the materiality of language a force such as wind which we can only see indirectly through its affect. I began to explore weather, and wind in particular, in all its written forms. I have been collecting language pertaining to wind from current news items as well from as older almanacs, private weather diaries, and past forecasts held at the Met Office Library and Archive in Exeter. I have also been studying classical ideas of weather. For example, in his epic poem De rerum natura, the Roman poet Lucretious writes: “The wind burst open the cloud, and out falls that fiery whirlwind which is what we in our traditional language term a thunderbolt.”

Detail from a weather diary held in the Met Office Archives
Detail from a weather diary from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, 1874, held in the Met Office Archives in Exeter, Devon.

This award will help me develop a simple yet stable web interface to combine these diverse archival and classical materials with my own quotidian narrative of the storm events of early 2014, live weather data and maps, and text scraped from Twitter. I do not know yet exactly what form the final work will take, only that it will attempt to address climate change by picturing through language and data the absences left by wind.

Walks from City Bus Routes – new work published in The New River

Walks from City Bus Routes is a web-based computer-generated guide ‘book’ which perpetually proposes plausible yet practically impossible walking routes through the city of Edinburgh and its environs using JavaScript developed by Caden Lovelace and images and text culled from a City of Edinburgh Transport Map published by the Edinburgh Geographical Institute in the 1940s and a pamphlet called Walks from City Bus Routes published by Edinburgh City Transport in the late 1950s.

Walks from City Bus Routes || J. R. Carpenter

Walks from City Bus Routes has been published in the Spring 2015 issue of The New River – a long-standing online journal of digital writing & art founded by Edward Falco with help from Len Hatfield in 1996. The New River posts new issues twice a year in December and May, and is currently hosted by Virginia Tech’s Center for Digital Discourse and Culture. This Spring 2015 issue is edited by Arian Katsimbras & Emily Dhatt and contains work by Alan Bigelow, J. R. Carpenter, Chris Joseph, J.P. Sipilä, Aaron Oldenburg, Jody Zellen.

Readers keen on web-based bookish-drifting-wander-walking may also be interested in Wanderkammer: A Walk Through texts, a web-based collection of hyperlinked quotations from great writing on walking. Wanderkammer first appeared Walk poems: A series of reviews of walking projects edited by Louis Bury Corey Frost published on Jacket2 in 2011.

Performing Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl at the British Library

I’ll be performing my web-based computer-generated narrative Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl at the British Library Thursday 5 February 6-8:30 PM, as part of Trapped in the Ice, Frozen in Time, an evening of performances and talks hosted by the British Library’s Interactive Fiction Writer-in-Residence Rob Sherman.

The event will feature Rob Sherman exploring themes arising from his research into the Franklin expedition of 1845-6, Nancy Campbell (artist and writer, whose latest book ITOQQIPPOQ is included in the exhibition Lines in the Ice: Seeking the Northwest Passage on now at the British Library), and novelist Kate Pullinger.

The event is free, but booking is required. For more information: Trapped in the Ice, Frozen in Time

Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual events, locals, persons or texts are entirely intentional. These notes conflate and confabulate characters, facts, and forms of narrative accounts of sea voyages into the unknown North undertaken over the past 2340 years or so. The ever-shifting computer-generated portion of this narrative is composed from fragments of stories of fanciful, fluid, and quite possibly fictional floating places described or imagined in such diverse works as Tacitus, Agricola (97-98), Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries (1589–1600), and Eugene Field, Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1889). The characters of Owl and Girl are borrowed from Edward Leer’s Victorian nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy Cat (1871). In my version, a girl most serious, most adventurous, most determined and her lazy friend the owl set out, set sail, sail away toward a strange sea in a boat, craft, raft of pea-, bottle-, lima-bean- or similar shade of green. The cartographic collage they voyage through is a confusion of islands and soundings from Scotia Bay and the South Orkney Islands (1967), and my own photographs from Nova Scotia (2008-2011). Of the horizontally scrolling texts which annotate this mythical, implausible, impossible voyage toward seas unknown, the northern lights, the fountain of youth, the text in grey which begins “7 May: departed from Dartmouth” is an erasure poem based on The second voyage attempted by Mr John Davis with others, for the discovery of the Northwest Passage (1586). The Morse Code quotes a line from a Peter Høeg novel. All the other notes are composed by me. By me, of course, I mean the girl.

Print iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl published in Fourteen Hills

Fourteen HillsNotes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (2013) has been published in print Fourteen Hills: The San Francisco State University Review, 20.2. The web iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl was first presented in “Avenues of Access: An Exhibit & Online Archive of New ‘Born Digital’ Literature”, curated by Dene Grigar & Kathi Inman Berens, at the Modern Languages Association (MLA) Convention in Boston, MA, USA, in January 2013.

Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to actual events, locals, persons or texts are entirely intentional. This computer-generated narrative conflates and confabulates characters, facts, and forms from accounts of voyages into unknown seas undertaken over the past 2340 years. This ever-shifting text is composed of fragments of stories of fanciful, fluid, and quite possibly fictional floating places described or imagined in such diverse works as Tacitus, Agricola (97-98), Hakluyt, Voyages and Discoveries (1589–1600), and Eugene Field, Wynken, Blynken and Nod (1889). The title characters Owl and Girl are borrowed from Edward Leer’s Victorian nonsense poem, The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (1871). In my version, the passive Pussy-cat has been replaced with a Girl most serious, most adventurous, most determined.

Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl || J. R. Carpenter

Girl and her lazy friend Owl set out, set sail, sail away toward a strange sea in a boat, craft, raft of pea-, bottle-, lima-bean- or similar shade of green. The cartographic collage they voyage through is an assemblage of fluid floating places – discontinuous surfaces pitted with points of departure, escape routes, lines of flight. Five horizontally scrolling texts annotate this mythical, implausible, impossible voyage toward seas unknown, the northern lights, the fountain of youth.

Following the launch of the web-based iteration of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl, I pillaged the JavaScript-generated narrative and four of the horizontally scrolling lines of text to create a script for live performance, which has since been performed during In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge at The Banff Centre, Banff, Canada, February 2013, and ELO 2013: Chercher le texte, Le Cube, Paris, France, 26 September 2013. The piece published in Fourteen Hills: The San Francisco State University Review, 20.2 is based on this script.

This print text comprises two distinct sections: narrative and notes. The opening ‘narrative’ section undermines the authority of an authorial voice by interrupting the linear narrative flow of its sentences with incoherence, indecision, vagaries, possibilities, and multiplicities by inserting some but not all of the variables contained in the JavaScript variable strings. For example, the first sentence of the ‘narrative’ section:

An owl and a girl most [adventurous’, ‘curious’, ‘studious’] [‘set out’, ‘set sail’, ‘sailed away’] in a [bottle-green’, ‘beetle-green’, ‘pea-green’] [‘boat’, ‘sieve’, ‘skiff’, ‘vessel’]; a [‘beautiful’, ‘ship shape’, ‘sea worthy’] [‘craft’, ‘raft’, ‘wooden shoe’], certainly, though a [‘good deal’, ‘wee bit’, ‘tad’] too [‘small’, ‘high in the stern’] to suit the two of them.

In the ‘notes’ section, fragments from the horizontally scrolling texts have been heterodyned, or forced together, into one long text. On the page, the different lines of Girl’s notes remain differentiated by indentation, which, alas, is not easily representable in blog formatting. You’ll just have to take my word for it. By my word, of course, I mean the girl’s.

For more information on Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl, take a look at Poetry Connection: Link Up with Canadian Poetry, an initiative of Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate Fred Wah (2013) aimed at making experimental writing practices accessible to a wide audience through the distribution of YouTube video recordings of readings and PDFs containing discussion topics, writing ideas, and other pedagogical aids. Here is a video description and performance of Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (YouTube). And here are discussion topics and writing ideas based on Notes on the Voyage of Owl and Girl (PDF).

Performing Etheric Ocean at The Museum of Water

Saturday 21 June 2014 I will re-sound the uncanny islands, wireless signals, jellyfish drones, and found nautical field recordings of my new underwater web-based project Etheric Ocean in a live poly-vocal performance with poet Alison Gibb as part Amy Sharrock’s Museum of Water exhibition at Somerset House, London, 6-29 June 2014.

Penned in the Margins has curated a packed programme of water-themed poetry and performance. Join us in the spoken word room for nautical field recordings, durational water performances, and poems inspired by rivers, estuaries, sewers and the sea.

Performances will run from 12pm – 5.30pm. Alison and I go on at around 4:30pm.

Etheric Ocean || J. R. Carpenter

Etheric Ocean is an underwater web art audio writing noise site. It is an imprecise survey of sounds both animal and mechanical, and of signs both real and imaginary, of distortions born of the difficulty of communicating through the medium of deep dense dark ocean. Like stations dotting a radio dial, murky diagrams, shifting definitions, appropriated texts, nautical associations, and wonky word plays are strung along a very long, horizontally scrolling browser window. This is a world of inversions. Sounds are deep harbours, or are they depths? Sounds purposefully unfold. Out of its element, uncannily airborne, a flying jellyfish drone wobbles about. Noises are made. Islands are Heard.

Etheric Ocean is commissioned by Electronic Voice Pheneomena, an experimental literature and new media project exploring contemporary approaches to sound, voice, technology and writing, brought to you by Mercy and Penned in the Margins, Liverpool and London UK.

Saturday 21 June
12pm – 5.30pm

Somerset House
Strand, London
WC2R 1LA

## READ WRITE GARDEN ## – an erasure poem un-written in RUBY code comments

Nearly a year ago the American book-artist Karen Randall invited me to contribute to an an international anthology of poems involving computer languages, especially the RUBY language, in honor of the Millay Colony‘s ruby anniversary. The result is The Ill-Tempered Rubyist, pictured below. I can safely say that this is the most physically beautiful book I’ve ever been a part of.

The Ill-Tempered Rubyist
– photo by Karen Randall

The cover collage was created in PhotoShop, then transferred to polymer, and printed by letterpress. The text is printed on Reich inkjet paper using an Epson Stylus Pro 3800 printer. The volume is bound using the Japanese side-slab method. The finished book is housed in a clamshell case covered in red cloth.

## READ WRITE GARDEN ##
– photo by J. R. Carpenter

When Karen first wrote to me I happened to be ensconced on a water-lily farm in the south of France. I had gardens on my mind. The only bit of RUBY code on hand I had on hand was written by Cornwall-based performance writer and programmer Caden Lovelace. Struck by the repeated mention of gardens in Caden’s extensive code comments, I began carving out the following erasure poem. Note that in real life, as in code life, this poem has a fairly strict system of indentation. In blog life, however, these indentations seem determined to disappear.

## READ WRITE GARDEN ##

# erasure by J. R. Carpenter
# source by Caden Lovelace

$dir = File.dirname(__GARDEN__)

def read_texts()
return Dir[$dir+”/texts/*.txt”].map do |garden|
File.read(garden)
end
end

#### we want to split
#### our text into units
####
#### punctuation marks allow us
#### to treat them as words
####
#### consider the ellipsis
#### for example
####
#### spaces
#### on either side of certain

def tokenize_texts(texts)
return texts.map do |text|
text.gsub!(/(\w)([,.:;\/?!]|\.\.\.+)(\W)/i, ‘\1 \2 \3’)
text.split(‘ ‘)
end
end

#### words often come
#### after other words
####
#### we walk through our garden
#### counting pairs

def generate_frequency_table(tokenized_texts, n)
frequency_table = {}
tokenized_texts.each do |text|
text.each_with_index do |word, i|
if i+2 < text.length # is there a word after this one? end end #### we write by deciding #### which path to take #### #### say we have three words #### say we know their probability #### #### [‘walk' => 3, ‘garden’ => 2, ‘words => 4]
####
#### we sum these numbers
#### we pick a lesser number at random
####
#### is the probability of ‘walk’
#### greater than random?

last_word = last_words.join(‘ ‘)
if freq.has_key?(last_word)
# have we any paths to take?

#### here we separate
#### the punctuation
####
#### make it a word
#### put it back

def fix_punctuation(text)
return text.gsub(/ ([,.:;\/?!]|\.\.\.+) /, ‘\1 ‘).gsub(/ ” /, ‘” ‘)
end

#### here we use all
#### we’ve written there

frequency_table = generate_frequency_table(tokenize_texts(read_texts()), 2)

# here ‘2’ means word-pairs

#### here we set our seeds

seeds = [“I know”, “I was”, “I have”, “but I”, “if we”, “of his”, “that she”, “allow us”, “the text”, “the other”, “the same”, “what is”, “on the”, “of the”, “in the”, “through the”, “we have”, “we know”, “the probability”, “the frequency”, “a word”,­­­­­­ “here we”, “we sum”, “we set”, “our seeds”, “we want”, “we walk”, “we separate”, “we run”, “we read”, “we write”, “our garden”].map {|seed| seed.split(‘ ‘) }

seeds.each do |seed|
10.times do

end
end

In addition to being stunningly beautiful, The Ill-Tempered Rubyist contains contributions and collaborations from an impressive list of well-known code poets, performers, and authors of digital literature from around the world:

Contributors

HAROLD ABRAMOWITZ WITH DAN RICHERT
mIEKAL aND
MEZ BREEZE
J.R.CARPENTER WITH CADEN LOVELACE
CLAIRE DONATO
NATALIA FEDOROVA
CHRISTOPHER FUNKHOUSER
ANGELA GENUSA
SAMANTHA GORMAN WITH DANNY CANNIZZARO
JHAVE
JEFF T. JOHNSON
DEENA LARSEN WITH ROBERT LAVETT SMITH
GRACIE LEAVITT
ALVIN MWIJUKA
JOYELLE MCSWEENEY
NICK MONTFORT
JÖRG PIRINGER
JONATHAN SCHOENFELDER
ALAN SONDHEIM
CHRISTINA STRONG

###

Etheric Ocean – an underwater web art audio writing noise work commissioned by Electronic Voice Phenomena

Announcing Etheric Ocean – an underwater web art writing noise work by J. R. Carpenter commissioned by Electronic Voice Pheneomena, an experimental literature and new media project exploring contemporary approaches to sound, voice, technology and writing, brought to you by Mercy and Penned in the Margins.

Etheric Ocean || J. R. Carpenter

Ether is a hypothetical medium – supposed by the ancients to fill the heavens, proposed by scientist to account for the propagation of electromagnetic radiation through space. The notion of ‘ocean’ was once as vague. Aristotle perceived of the world as a small place, bounded by a narrow river. Columbus believed the Atlantic was a much shorter distance across than we now know it to be. Even as early electromagnetic telegraphic and wireless transmissions propagating over, under, and through oceans collapsed distances between ships and shores, they revealed vast new oceans – oceans of static, oceans of noise.

Etheric Ocean is an imprecise survey of sounds both animal and mechanical, and of signs both real and imaginary, of distortions born of the difficulty of communicating through the medium of deep dense dark ocean. Like stations dotting a radio dial, murky diagrams, shifting definitions, appropriated texts, nautical associations, and wonky word plays are strung along a very long, horizontally scrolling browser window. This is a world of inversions. Sounds are deep harbours, or are they depths? Sounds purposefully unfold. Out of its element, uncannily airborne, a flying jellyfish drone wobbles about. Noises are made. Islands are Heard.

For more information about Etheric Ocean, see the Electronic Voice Pheneomena website, and follow @jr_carpneter @_EVP and search for #ethericocean on Twitter.

Many thanks to Nathan Jones, Lisa Robertson, and all the other authors, audio artists, oceanographers, and mad inventors whose words and sounds I borrowed. A link to a fuller list of sources can be found within the work:

Etheric Ocean, J. R. Carpenter, 2014.

#ethericocean

The Broadside of a Yarn: A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore – a new article published in Performance Reserch Journal

Performance Reserch JournalThe latest issue of Performance Research Journal, On Writing & Digital Media, edited by Jerome Fletcher, includes an article written by me called: The Broadside of a Yarn: A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore. This articleemerges from my practice-led PhD research at Falmouth University in association with University of the Arts London. It has developed over the course of a number of conference papers presented in France and the UK over the past two years. I am very happy to see it out in the world in this format.

The Broadside of a Yarn: A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore, by J. R. Carpenter, reflects upon The The Broadside of a Yarn, a multi-modal performative pervasive networked narrative attempt to chart fictional fragments of new and long-ago stories of near and far-away seas with nought but a QR code reader and a hand-made print map of dubious accuracy. The Broadside of a Yarn was commissioned by ELMCIP for Remediating the Social, an exhibition which took place at Inspace, Edinburgh, 1-17 November 2012. The Broadside of a Yarn remediates the broadside, a form of networked narrative popular from 16th century onward. Like the broadside ballads of old, the public posting of The Broadside of a Yarn signified that it was intended to be performed. Embedded within the cartographic space of this printed map are QR codes which link to web pages containing computer-generated narrative dialogues, performance scripts replete with stage instructions suggesting how and where these texts are intended to be read aloud. As such, these points on the physical map point to potential events, to utterances, to speech acts. The stated intention in creating this work was to use the oral story-telling tradition of the sailor’s yarn, the printed broadside and map, the digital network, and the walk-able city in concert to construct a temporary digital community connected through a performative pervasive networked narrative. Through the process of composition the focus shifted away from the temptation to lure people on walks through a city tagged with links to stories of the sea, toward a desire to compel people to collectively speak shifting sea stories ashore. This paper reflects critically upon this shift, toward an articulation of The Broadside of a Yarn as an collective assemblage of enunciation.

This is my first experience with publishing in an academic journal barricaded behind a paywall. If you are a student or a faculty member of a university with access to Shibboleth, you should have no problem accessing the contents of Performance Research Journal online. If not, try this link: The Broadside of a Yarn: A Situationist Strategy for Spinning Sea Stories Ashore. If that doesn’t work, drop me a line, I’ll see what I can do.

A Few Views on Interviews

I’ve been interviewed by some really very clever people lately, enough so to prompt me to finally create an INTERVIEWS page for my website. Here are a few highlights:

Last Friday the Montreal-based online journal Lemon Hound published Elvia Wilk in Conversation with J. R. Carpenter, the latest installment in an ongoing conversation Berlin-based writer and editor Elvia Wilk and I have been having since first meeting at In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge at The Banff Centre in 2013. Elvia and I met up in London last autumn to dissect various (misleading) terms in the fields of art, net art, literature, and electronic literature. Our conversation ranged over projects both new and old. We discussed code as performance writing, and ending up on the topic of islands as topos, possible only in literature…

Back in January I answered questions from Andrea Zeffiro for J.R. Carpenter: Object-Oriented Interview by Andrea Zeffiro, an interview published by the Media Archaeology Lab at University of Colorado at Boulder. We called it an object-oriented interview because of its focus on, well, objects – including but not limited to slide projectors, cameras, photocopy machines, Roman ruins, geology, process, pragmatics and more… with many thanks to Lori Emerson and team at the Media Archaeology Lab in Boulder.

In November of last year Illya Szilak interviewed me for Huffington Post Books. Here is the resulting article: Reorienting Narrative: E-lit as Psychogeography.

And here’s a video Interview David Jhave Johnston did with me at The Banff Centre about two years ago as part of the series Conversations with Poets about Technology (CAPTA).

JR Carpenter from David (Jhave) Johnston on Vimeo.

Many thanks to all of these interviewers and publishers. For more see: http://luckysoap.com/interviews.html