Janky Materiality: Artifice and Interface

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In this paper I explore blurry intersections and cracked interfaces between page, screen and speaker, analog and digital practice. With reference to the work of Judd Morrissey and Mark Jeffery, Talan Memmott, Claire Donato, Shelley Jackson, Ian Hatcher, Brian Eno, Rob Wittig, Rachel Zolf, bpNichol, David Jhave Johnston, Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, Erín Moure, Douglas Kearney, Tan Lin, and others, I think about the ways digital material practice extends the post-structural field, as page-based practices are (further) destabilized by computer-based experiments. These writers treat language itself as a janky technology that works (at least temporarily) through its own failures, so that digital mediation serves to further break and rewire language operations. The “speaker” component of my research refers both to experiments with decentered (if not quite dematerialized) poetic voice, and the sonics of actual voices and other digitally mediated and manipulated sounds.

One of my foci is the nature of the digital archive, and how new media artists reconfigure the archive as an active, collaborative, generative commons while foregrounding its (digital) materiality. For example, Jhave’s MUPS is an interface for the PennSound audio poetry collection that provides access to multiple files at once, and also allows reader/listeners to span and braid files. In practice, this redefines access in terms of the digital, and it does so without atomizing the archive as space. It also calls attention to the voice as sound object.

A related concern is the ways that digital media projects themselves are archived, or resist archivization. The story of the adaptation and emulation of Nichol’s First Screening, and the gaps in accessibility via obsolescing media formats over the years since its appearance in 1984, is explored as a foundational example. This has been discussed by others, but what I wish to add to scholarship is a consideration of the new layers of digital (and janky) materiality added by each recuperative or emulative restoration/adaptation, and the potential for creating new, hybrid works based on such an archive.

Another prong of my research has to do with sonification and the study of waveforms, which I consider as hybrid audio-visual objects that can be materially sculpted and analyzed. I have developed this thinking with reference to Pierre Schaeffer’s Treatise of Musical Objects and Allen Strange’s Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques and Controls. These texts and others have guided my experimentation with tools including the Korg MS-20 mini monophonic synthesizer and the Sony WM-D6C cassette recorder, in conjunction with production and analysis software, as I explore analog-digital interface. Along these lines, I am carrying out a systematic exploration of analog and digital voice recording and analysis related to my experimental prose poem, The Portal, that is adjacent to the Janky Materiality project. This field work also raises questions about improvisational performance, sequence, and multiple temporal and spatial consciousness.

With Janky Materiality I am developing a theory of becoming-digital, where interface is a matter of thinking and acting between and among embodied and conceptual, analog and digital realms, whether we are thinking about a technology like language or a tool at hand. As I draw from this work for presentation at ELO, if given that opportunity, I would think in relation to the Mind the Gap! call, whose description and topics speak intimately to my project. One of my overarching concerns is to explore and perhaps help bridge the gap between experimental poetry communities and Digital Language Arts.

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