The Gathering Cloud book is out now from Uniformbooks

This thing about clouds is, they refuse to stay still. Initially commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival as a web-based project, The Gathering Cloud quickly spawned zine and live performance iterations. It won the New Media Writing Prize 2016 and was an Editor’s Pick in the Saboteur Awards 2017. The Gathering Cloud has now been published as a print book by Uniformbooks.

This new book collates my research into the history and language of meteorology with current thinking about data storage and climate change. Archival material from the Met Office Archive and Library in Exeter has been studied and sifted, along with classical, medieval, and Victorian sources, including, in particular, Luke Howard’s classic essay On the Modifications of Clouds, first published in 1803. This research material is presented as a sequence of texts and images, acting both as a primer to the ideas behind the project and as a document of its movement between formats, from the data centre to the illuminated screen, from the live performance to the printed page.

In his foreword, media theorist Jussi Parikka, author of A Geology of Media, describes the multi-modality of The Gathering Cloud project as “a series of material transformations made visible through a media history executed as digital collage and print publication, hendecasyllabic verse, and critical essay”.

In her afterword, poet Lisa Robertson, author of The Weather, describes this iterative compositional process in quite another way: “…whatever gathers things together whatever gathers people together and thinking together given the great long whooshing passage of time wind economies technologies believes and whatever gathers a sentence together and whatever a poem is both physical and mysterious and so we wish to read…”

Many thanks to Jussi and Lisa, to Uniformbooks editor Colin Sackett, to NEoN curators Sarah Cook and Donna Holford-Lovell, to Chris Meade and Jim Pope at the New Media Writing Prize, and to Claire Trévien
 at Sabotage Reviews.

For more information and to purchase The Gathering Cloud book, visit Uniformbooks.

Uniformbooks to publish a book on The Gathering Cloud

My hybrid print– and web–based project The Gathering Cloud will reach its fullest extent yet in an essay, primer, and glossary to be published by Uniformbooks in spring 2017.

The book will consist of a foreword by Jussi Parikka, author of A Geology of Media, a brief afterword by Lisa Robertson, author of The weather, and a new essay by J. R. Carpenter, with illustrations and references drawn from the research into weather, data storage, and climate change undertaken during the work’s development. Archival material from the Met Office Archive and Library in Exeter has been studied and sifted, along with classical, medieval, and Victorian sources, including, in particular, Luke Howard’s classic essay On the Modifications of Clouds, first published in 1803.

Winner of the New Media Writing Prize 2016, The Gathering Cloud was commissioned by NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, UK, 9-13 November 2016.

Uniformbooks is an imprint for the visual and literary arts, cultural geography and history, music and bibliographic studies. The uniformity of the format and the expansive variety of the list and its subjects, is characteristic of our open approach to publishing. Printed quarterly Uniformagazine gathers contributions by the writers and artists that the press works with with, sometimes thematically, as well as slighter or singular content. Copies will be available direct from Uniformbooks or online booksellers and independent bookshops.

Trade distribution by Central Books:


Notes Very Necessary – new work published in The New River

Notes Very Necessary is a web-based multi-media collage essay co-created by UK-based playwright, director, and dramaturg Barbara Bridger and artist, writer, and researcher J. R. Carpenter.

This new work aims to addresses the inter-related issues of cultural imperialism and climate change by appropriating and remixing images, text, and data generated by centuries imperialist, colonialist, capitalist, and scientific exploration and exploitation in the Arctic. The title is borrowed from an essay called “Instructions and notes very necessary and needful to be observed in the purposed voyage for discovery of a passage eastwards” published in Hakluyt’s Voyages and Discoveries in 1580. This essay, co-authored by the Englishmen Arthur Pet and Charles Jackman, offered detailed instructions on how to conquer new territories by taking copious notes. The proposed voyage eastward, toward the discovery of a Northeast passage to China, hangs In 2015 Barbara Bridger and J. R. Carpenter attempted to follow these instructions by making, finding, and faking notes, images, data, and diagrams online and reconfiguring them into a new narrative. The result is a long, horizontally scrolling, highly variable visual and textual collage essay charting the shifting melting North.

Notes Very Necessary || J. R. Carpenter & Barbara Bridger
Screenshot of Notes Very Necessary || J. R. Carpenter & Barbara Bridger

Notes Very Necessary was commissioned for conjunctions : experiments in collaboration, a collection of interdisciplinary essays co-edited by Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay, published in The New River: A Journal of Digital Writing & Art in December 2015.

“In the spirit of the essay to test new forms and practices, this collection brings together work created through collaboration. We asked writers to collaborate with other artists or artisans in the co-creation of an essay that, in some way, pushed the genre beyond words.” Jill Talbot and Eric LeMay

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.

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).

## 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.

– 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.


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

$dir = File.dirname(__GARDEN__)

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

#### 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 do |text|
text.gsub!(/(\w)([,.:;\/?!]|\.\.\.+)(\W)/i, ‘\1 \2 \3’)
text.split(‘ ‘)

#### 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(/ ” /, ‘” ‘)

#### 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


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:




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.


At an excellent international conference on Translating E-Literature, which took place at Université Paris 8 in June 2012, I presented a paper which situated the process of adapting Nick Montfort’s 1k story generator (2008) into my web-based work TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] (2011) in terms of an extended notion of translation.

An adaptation of that paper is available for download here: Translation, transmutation, transmediation, and transmission in ‘TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]’ (PDF)

TRANS.MISSIONTRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is a computer-generated dialogue, a literary narrative in the form of a conversation, a discourse propagating across, beyond and through long-distance communications networks created and necessitated by generations of transatlantic migration. One JavaScript file sits in one directory on one server attached to a vast network of hubs, routers, switches, and submarine cables through which this one file may be accessed many times from many places by many devices. Each time this JavaScript is called, the network, the browser, and the client-side CPU conspire to respond with a new iteration. The mission of the JavaScript source code is to generate another sort of script, a dialogue to be read aloud in three voices: Call, Response, and Interference; or: Strophe, Antistrophe, and Chorus; or Here, There, and Somewhere in Between. This multi-site-specific dialogue resonates in the spaces between places separated by time, distance, and ocean, yet inextricably linked by generations of immigration.

Although the translation of natural languages was not my focus in the paper I presented at Translating E-Literature, the inextricable association between language and nation necessitated the question: Were this work translated into French, would the location of memory also be translated, or re-placed, to reflect generations transatlantic migration from France to Nouvelle France? Would Cornwall be replaced with Bretagne, Nova Scotia with Acadie?

In 2013 TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] was translated into French by Ariane Savoie, a PhD student at Université Québec à Montréal, for a special translation issue of bleuOrange, a Montreal-based online journal of ‘littérature hypermédiatique,’ which launched at the Electronic Literature Organization conference Chercher le texte in Paris 23-26 September 2013. Here is a direct link to Ariane Savoie’s truly remarkable translation: TRANS.MISSION [UN.DIALOGUE].

Ariane Savoie presenting her translation of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] at Chercher le texte in Paris, September 2013
IMAGE: Ariane Savoie presenting her translation TRANS.MISSION [UN.DIALOGUE] at Chercher le texte, Paris, September 2013

In personal correspondence Savoie shared certain thoughts on her process, which I synthesise here. A strict translation of all the English variables into French equivalents would have resulted in subject-verb gender disagreements, the resolution of which would require considerable modification to the source code, which, Savoie felt, would have diminished the variability of the generator and the structure of the piece. Instead, Savoie elected to respect the structure of the source code. Gender conflicts were avoided by the population of strings with variables from only one gender, letting go of any variables that didn’t have the exact equivalent in that gender in French. Initially, this resulted in an eradication of the gender variable altogether. Eventually, a compromise was reached in which two versions of certain variable strings were created, that both masculine and feminine proper nouns might be called at different points in the script.

Although the gender variable represented by the string var heshe=[‘he’,’she’]; is not carried over into Savoie’s translation, something of the either/or binarism of that string endures, both through the introduction of gender variables through other means, as cited above, and through the variable string var place=, in which, the location of each place named is either on one side of the Atlantic or the other: Canada or England, Acadie or France, the new world or the old, home or away.

Many thanks et merci to Ariane Savoie, Alice van der Klei, et toute l’équipe de bleuOrange, and to Yves Abrioux and Arnaud Regnauld, co-organisers of Translating E-Literature.


Nick Montfort (2008)

Nick Montfort (2008) The Two

J. R. Carpenter (2011) TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]


J. R. Carpenter (2012) Translation, transmutation, transmediation, and transmission in ‘TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]’ (PDF)

Catalogue Essay for Ingrid Bachmann, Pelt (Bestiary)

Pelt (Bestiary) Earlier this year I wrote a wee catalogue essay on Montreal-based installation artist Ingrid Bachmann‘s work Pelt (Bestiary), which opened on April 13, 2012 at the Galerie Materia in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was the opening show of the Quebec Art Biennale – “Manifestation internationale d’art de Québec” – Manif d’art 6, curated by Nicole Gingras, which officially opened May 3, 2012.

Copies of this gem of a catalogue arrived by post this morning. Here are the opening lines from my text:

I have seen Ingrid Bachmann stick electrodes into potatoes to see what sounds they make, and then stick them into into apples to compare notes.

The harmonic frequencies of fruits and vegetables, the private lives of hermit crabs, the stories we tell, the lies, the sublime secrets suitcases hold, the music used shoes make… Such is the breadth of her curiosity. Electric is her line of inquiry. Direct is her approach.

Much of Bachmann’s work with technology has been aimed at demystifying it, humanizing it, stripping it down to its essentials, and then hanging stories on those bare bones. She has used bits of yarn to map the internet’s under-sea cables, harnessed the computer loom to “print” seismic activity, offered giant knitting needles as a user-computer interface.

It is through this material sensibility that we must approach this new work.

And here is video documentation of Pelt (Bestiary).

TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] in &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing

A print extract and brief description of my computer-generated narrative dialogue TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] has been published in &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, a new anthology from &NOW Books.


The book has two front covers (though one looks more front-like than the other). It can be read from either direction. The introductions to both sides state: “There are two ‘sides’ to the book. These ‘sides’ mirror each other, except when they do not.”

The page numbers don’t quite bear this out, but somehow I suspect I have Nick Montfort to thank for my inclusion in this anthology. Roughly the other side of the book from TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is Nick’s contribution to the volume – a page each of output from the Latin and Cyrillic versions of “Letterformed Terrain,” from Concrete Perl, a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character Perl programs. The source code of TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE] is adapted from another of Nick’s pieces, The Two, so whether intentional on the part of the editors or not, these two pieces are engaged in a conversion of sorts.

In any case, I’m delighted to see print anthologies endeavoring to represent experimental digital literature, and I’m honoured to be included in this book, in such great company.

Here’s what the publishers have to say:

This second volume of The &Now Awards recognizes the most provocative, hardest-hitting, deadly serious, patently absurd, cutting-edge, avant-everything-and-nothing work from the years 2009–11. The &NOW Awards features writing as a contemporary art form: writing as it is practiced today by authors who consciously treat their work as an art, and as a practice explicitly aware of its own literary and extra-literary history— as much about its form and materials, language, as it about its subject matter. The &NOW conference, moving from the University of Notre Dame (2004), Lake Forest College (2006), Chapman University (2008), the University at Buffalo (2009), the University of California, San Diego (2011), and Paris (Sorbonne and Diderot, 2012)—sets the stage for this aesthetic, while The &Now Awards features work from the wider world of innovative publishing and serves as an ideal survey of the contemporary scene.

&NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing is edited by Davis Schneiderman. It will be available for purchase from Northwestern University Press and from Amazon as of 25 May 2013.

More information about TRANS.MISSION [A.DIALOGUE]