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«Creativity Support for Computational Literature By Daniel C. Howe A dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree ...»

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4.4.1 Theo Lutz An important early contributor to procedural literature was the programmer Theo Lutz, a student of Max Bense83, who created a series of “stochastic poems” on a Zuse Z22 computer in 1959. Examples of this work, which applied the tools of mathematics and Max Bense (1910-90) was a professor of the philosophy of technology, scientific theory, and mathematical logic at the Technical University of Stuttgart and an important figure in early concrete and computer-aided poetry. In his research, he was devoted to creating an information theoretical foundation for aesthetics and to text produced with machines. The philosophy of visual poetry was to a considerable extent indebted to Bense. For more information, see http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/artist/bense/biography/.

calculation (i.e., logical structures) to produce language, were first published, with descriptions of the processes employed, in Bense’s journal AugenBlick in an article entitled “Stochastic Texts” [Funkhouser 2007].

Working from Kafka’s famous text, The Castle, Lutz created a database of sixteen subjects and sixteen titles. He then used the computer’s random number generator to create random sequences from this database. Logical constants (gender, conjunction, etc.) were used

to connect the lines in a readable syntax:

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Similar to Strachey’s work, which we can consider to be recombinant, this piece combines fragments from a database to create a vast number of “original” compositions.

4.4.2 Brion Gysin As noted above, Brion Gysin pursued combinatory techniques with the aid of computers as early as 1960 in a series of permutational pieces created in collaboration with the mathematician Ian Somerville. In the piece above, from The Gospel of John, the poem shuffles its words according to a formal algorithm that traverses a total of 720 permutations on an early Honeywell computer [Cramer 2005]. The critical anthology Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age presents several other examples of computer-generated permutation poems, programmed to appear in block formation. One of these poems, also from an easily

recognizable source, is presented in Funkhouser [2007]:

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Although the programming details are not available; alternate versions of the poem, in which the words appear with a different sort of arrangement, are included in Williams’s An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967) and in Kostelanetz’s Text-Sound Texts (1980). As Funkhouser writes, “Gysin’s permutation poetry imposes a pre-established pattern on the 4.4.3 Nanni Balestrini Continuing chronologically, we come to Nanni Balestrini’s computer-generated “Tape Mark” poems of 1961. In these works, he begins with a database containing texts by Lao Tzu’s (Tao Te Ching), Paul Goldwin (The Mystery of the Elevator), and Michihito Hachiya (Hiroshima Diary) [Funkhouser 2007]. The program85 then combines and constructs chains of words from these passages, ultimately portraying a scenario of nuclear disaster as present in Hachiya’s text.

A range of these works were later presented at the ‘Cybernetic Serendipity’ Reinhardt, 1968] exhibition in 1968 (discussed below). The exhibition catalog includes this

passage, which demonstrates a similar flavor of permutation as in Gysin:

–  –  –

words in a phrase, so they appear in different orders until all possibilities have been exhausted. Thus, a poem made with a three-word phrase will be six lines long (3x2x1); a poem that begins with a five-line phrase, such as “I am that I am” will be one hundred twenty lines long (5x4x3x2x1). The availability of computer technology automated the process of randomizing these permutations.” In “Cut-Ups Self-Explained,” Gysin [Burroughs 1972] declares, “The permuted poems set the words spinning off on their own; echoing out as the words of a potent phrase are permuted into an expanding ripple of meanings which they did not seems to be capable of when they were struck and then stuck into that phrase” (Brion Gysin,154). [Funkhouser 2007].

No specific information on the program used is available; it may have been Autocoder, which was the program used most commonly on the IBM 7070, or Fortran or RPG (Report Program Generator), which also ran on that machine [Funkhouser 2007].

–  –  –

between lips takes on the well known mushroom shape.

Funkhouser [2007] writes:

Though the shapes of each stanza are similar, Balestrini’s programming method can generate a variety of poems (within finite parameters) from words composed for other purposes; the program, like Lutz’s, devours multiple texts in order to produce combinatoric, permutation poems. The brief phrases in Balestrini’s dictionary collect and intricately reconfigure excerpts from previously-written texts to generate hybridized, contemplative, and haunting expression.

4.4.4 Auto-Beatnik In 1962, we find computerized literature reaching a much wider audience, as pieces generated by Auto-Beatnik were published by Time Magazine. Auto-Beatnik was created when R.M. Worthy and the engineers at Librascope,86 concerned with the problem of The article notes the Librascope Division of General Precision Inc. in Glendale, California as the site of the computer. Hartman lists R.M. Worthy as author of the program, and reports that examples of Auto-Beatnik poems were published in a magazine called Horizons in 1962 (2). Only one “Auto-Beatnik” poem can be found on the WWW at present, “Poem No. 41:

Insects;” see http://hem.fyristorg.com/stettin/hemsida/poem.html. Accessed 8/05/2004).

effective communication with machines in simple English, first “fed” an LGP 30 computer with thirty-two grammatical patterns and an 850-word vocabulary, allowing it to select at random from the words and patterns to form sentences. The results included “Roses” (shown below). Later Worthy shifted to the project to a more advanced RPC 4000, fed with a store of about 3,500 words and 128 sentence structures.

As Funkhouser describes: “the November issue of Time Magazine] featured a brief notice in the books section titled ‘The Pocketa, Pocketa School,’ introducing ‘Auto-Beatnik’ as a computer programmed to create poetry.” This unattributed exposé prints and informally discusses two examples of “Auto-Beatnik” poems, and offers an interpretation of one of them. The syntax and thematic material in the poems published are a result of the narrow vocabulary (3,500 words and 128 simple sentence patterns) included in the program. An


–  –  –

While one notices several unconventional connections and phrases, none seem beyond the boundaries of poetic license. Traditional poetic properties such as action, description, question, projection, and judgment are all present [Funkhouser 2007]. A second excerpt is similar to the first only in that it uses the simile “like” in the first line and that it contains

unusual inflections:

–  –  –

The program can emulate free verse as well, and aesthetically resembles, according to Funkhouser [2007], strains of so-called “Beatnik” poetry.

4.4.5 A House of Dust In 1967, Alison Knowles and James Tenney created the famous House of Dust, a computer-aided poem/sculpture, which consisted of randomly generated quatrains in the following form: “a house of (list material), (list location) (list light source) (list inhabitants), leading once again to a vast set of possible compositions” [Funkhouser 2007]. The piece grew out of an informal “course” in FORTRAN that Tenney gave to several of his friends, including Philip Corner, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Jackson Mac Low, Max Neuhaus, Nam June Paik, and Steve Reich. The poem was published by Verlag Gebruder Konig in Cologne in 1968 and later appeared at the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition discussed below.

As Funkhouser [2007] describes, House of Dust is among the first poems featuring collocation via a programmed slot-system, and appears in several publications (each time with a different title).87 The poet-programmers in each instance establish four categories (materials, situations, lighting, and inhabitants) that determine the content of each line within a stanza. “Random meetings” of one element from each of the four categories generate a serial poem. Hundreds of “houses” can be created if all of the possibilities of this program are exhausted. The cumulative effect of the disparities in each of the poems, with their lightly absurdist expressions, begins to create a mental architecture for readers, though the output

syntax is fixed and this work is repetitive. An example from House of Dust follows:

–  –  –

The poem first appeared Cybernetic Serendipity as “The House,” then in Dick Higgins’s Computers for the Arts (1970) under the title “Proposition No. 2 for Emmett Williams,” and later in FANTASTIC ARCHITECTURE as “A house of dust, computer poem.” Computers for the Arts is a short and technical memoir in which Higgins introduces two works (“Hank and Mary” and “Proposition No. 2”) to discus the “artificial language” Fortran as a vehicle for poetry. FANTASTIC ARCHITECTURE (an anthology edited by Higgins and Wolf Vostell, 1971) stems from Fluxus; the book mainly focuses on visual arts or architecture and contains commentary on art and society by Joseph Beuys, Raoul Hausmann, Franz Mon, Carolee Schneeman, and others.

–  –  –

4.4.6 Cybernetic Serendipity The now-famous Cybernetic Serendipity show, held at the ICA London in 1968, included several instances of computer-generated work. Curated by Jasia Reichardt, it was

the first exhibition to attempt to demonstrate all aspects of computer-aided creative activity:

art, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, and animation. The exhibition included robots, poetry, music and painting machines [Reichardt 1968].

In addition to new versions of Balestrini’s Tape Mark poems [Balestrini 1996] and Knowles and Tenney’s House of Dust, the exhibition featured “Computerized Japanese Haiku”[1968], by Margaret Masterman88 and Robin McKinnon Wood. These pieces were written in the TRAC language, and featured nine slots, each of which could be filled with words from nine different databases. The show featured several poems created by this

program, the following two of which are found in Funkhouser [2007]:

Masterman was a member of the Cambridge Language Research Unit. She was not a poet, but rather a scholar who wrote profoundly on the growth of scientific knowledge (including a widely cited the essay “The Nature of a Paradigm”), and who became extremely interested in machine translation.]

–  –  –

The program clearly outputs syntactically and mathematically correct poems that follow the haiku format. While the structure is fixed, the words selected by the database are variable, similar in style, notes Hartman, to the popular ‘Mad Libs’ game. Because of its length, strict formal constraints, and abstract nature, haikus have been a favorite testing-ground for computer-aided literary experiments since the creation of “Computerized Japanese Haiku”. A Haiku generator using context-free grammars is included in the RiTa example programs included in each download.

4.4.7 John Cage John Cage is another artist who experimented extensively with procedural methods (and later computer programming), and whose musical work was featured in the Cybernetic Serendipity exhibition. From the time of his 1953 Music of Changes, Cage employed the concept of “nonintentionality” in art, in which the artist no longer makes all decisions in her or his compositions, but instead lets chance control certain elements of the creative process.

Initially, Cage used the I Ching, “…the ancient Chinese oracle that uses chance operations to obtain the answer to a question,” to accomplish tasks for him [Rettalack 1996]. Our discussion on Cage will be followed directly by an investigation of the work of Jackson Mac Low, an early and important procedural poet who also made use of nonintentionality in his work.

Cage experimented extensively with the aleatoric I Ching process, a “discipline” that involved formulating a question and then using coins to divine numbers that provided the answers. As Perloff [1991] writes in Radical Artifice, the process allowed Cage to “break with ego, with habit, with self-indulgence”. He employed these methods as a writer as well, using the I Ching to structure poetic lectures and compose poems as early as in the late 1960s.

Computers provided a natural vehicle for Cage’s non-intentional work and he would become known a few years later for a unique form of poetry (often computerized) known as “mesostics” [Funkhouser 2007]. Cage describes the Mesostic form in I-VI: “Like acrostics89, mesostics are written in the conventional way horizontally, but at the same time they follow a vertical rule, down the middle not down the edge as in an acrostic, a string which spells a word or name, not necessarily connected with what is being written, though it may be” [Cage 1973]. Beginning in 1984, Cage made use of the program Mesolist, written by Jim Rosenberg (who later emerged as a pioneering digital poet in his own right). Mesolist mechanically performed Cage’s methodical “mesostic” treatment of texts. Until then, the tedious task of reading through a book, identifying words to be used, transcribing them, and restructuring them for the page had to be done manually. Cage also used a program called IC, which Acrostic poetry is a form in which the first letter of each line contributes to a word or phrase spelled vertically down the left-hand margin of the page.

emulates the calculations of the I Ching. His first computer-assisted works were presented as a series of 1988-89 lectures he made at Harvard University that are collected in the volume IVI.

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