J. R. Carpenter

Performing Digital Texts in European Contexts

Traces of the trAce Online Writing Centre 1995-2005

trAces: A Commemoration of Ten Years of Artistic Innovation at trAce
trAces: A Commemoration of Ten Years of Artistic Innovation at trAce

Since its foundation in 1995 by Sue Thomas at Nottingham Trent University, UK, under the short-lived name CyberWriting, the trAce Online Writing Centre has been a shifting morphing hybrid entity. Its first output was a word-processed photocopied booklet called Select Internet Resources for Writers, compiled in Summer 1995 by Simon Mills, who went on to build the first trAce website, which launched at the Virtual Futures Conference at Warwick University in May 1996. For the next decade trAce expanded along with the web, evolving organically and somewhat haphazardly into a vast interlinked network created by many different artists, authors and researchers, during a period of rapid technological change.

Between 1995 and 2005 the trAce Online Writing Centre hosted and indeed fostered a complex media ecology: an ever-expanding web site, an active web forum, a local and and international network of people, a host of virtual collaborations and artist-in-residencies, a body of commissioned artworks, the trAce/Alt-X International Hypertext Competition, the Incubation conference series, and frAme, the trAce Journal of Culture and Technology. What emerged was one of the web’s earliest and most influential international creative communities. Its members were diverse, ranging from media-curious workshop participants to artist-in-residencies by some of the most well known practitioners in the fields of new media and digital writing today.

Collecting digital literature in Europe

Donna Leishman, RedRidinghood, Electronic Literature Collection Volume One
Donna Leishman, RedRidinghood, Electronic Literature Collection Volume One

Digital Literature. It’s out there, I swear. The question is where? The answer is everywhere. Over the past twenty years or so, a diverse international community comprising a combination of independent and institutionally affiliated authors, academics, researchers, critics, curators, editors and non-profit organizations, has produced a wide range of print books, print and online journals, online and gallery exhibitions, conferences, festivals, live performance events, online and DVD collections, databases, directories and other such listings of creative and critical works in the field.

 Collecting is key to the promotion and preservation of any genre. Collecting digital literature is a complex undertaking. Authors are dispersed, works are disparate, and platforms are unstable. The task of bringing together works as divergent as Donna Leishman’s ultra-graphic audio-visual Flash re-“writing” of the RedRidinghood fairy tale and Netwurker MEZ’s entirely textual code-work _cross.ova.ing ][4rm.blog.2.log][_ written in MEZ’s own digital-creole "mezangelle", to cite two examples from the Electronic Literature Collections Volume One and Volume Two respectively, is made all the more unwieldy by the as yet amorphous definitions of what it electronic literature is and what it is not. And there remains, the pesky problem of the name. How what and why do we call this thing we do?

Paradoxical print publishers TRAUMAWIEN

Shocking Blue Demon Lover, a TRAUMAWIEN book by Margit Hinke
Shocking Blue Demon Lover, a TRAUMAWIEN book by Margit Hinke

Since the advent of the internet, advocates and critics alike have heralded the end of the book. And yet, despite the worst efforts of the publishing industry, not only has the book persisted, it has proven to be a particularly elastic form, adept at adapting to remarkable changes in the way we read, write and interpolate narrative.

For centuries the printed book operated as a closed system, invested in concealing the structural processes of writing from the reader. In his now infamous 1992 New York Times article, "The End of Books," Robert Coover observed, “much of the novel's alleged power is embedded in the line, that compulsory author-directed movement from the beginning of a sentence to its period, from the top of the page to the bottom, from the first page to the last.” And yet, as Vannevar Bush astutely commented nearly 50 years earlier in "As We May Think," published in the July 1945 issue of The Atlantic, "the human mind does not work that way. It operates by association.

Voice of the poet programmer Jörg Piringer

abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz || Jörg Piringer, Machfeld Studio, Vienna 2010
abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz || Jörg Piringer, Machfeld Studio, Vienna 2010

For most of us, our first act in life is a speech act. We are born, we inhale, and then some of us sneeze, but most of us scream. For the next few months we make sounds, which we’re repeatedly told are letters. Somehow a song called The Alphabet gets stuck in our head. We can’t stop humming it. Eventually someone hands us a pen.

 Viennese poet, programmer, performer, musician, composer, lecturer and researcher Jörg Piringer works operate in the moments human voice, machine language and letter forms meet.

 Piringer uses his voice as an interface and as a medium. In his electronic visual sound poetry performance frikativ, Piringer generates visual sound poetry in real-time by speaking and vocalizing into a microphone. Fricatives are audible frictions, consonant sounds produced by forcing breath through a narrow, constricted, or partially obstructed channel. In frikativ, the channel of the vocal tract is appended to that of the microphone, which is further extended by cables to a computer wherein live and pre-recorded voice sounds are modified through signal processors and samplers. Piringer’s custom software then analyzes these sounds to create animated abstract visual text-compositions.

 Through a long, ongoing, iterative, and intrinsically performative writing process, Piringer has created a massive custom-written computer program with which he builds his performance works. Similar to the way one game engine can be used to create a wide range of different games, Piringer can now drawn on his own code base to create new behavioural logic sets for each new performance.

Kac, Cayley, and Kargl on translation

on translation || Michael Kargl
on translation || Michael Kargl

If you are reading this text in a browser window, you are reading it in translation. Right click right here. View Page Source. This is the original text, composed in and of the internet’s native languages. Note the head/body page division, a convention carried over from print. The < head > is primarily preoccupied with the text's contextual issues. It tells the browser what its title is, offers the search engines clues as to its contents, provides a required reading list of other texts it refers to, and outlines instructions on what to do in the unfortunate event of IE. The < body > is more concerned with appearances. It tells the browser what the contents of the text are and how best to present them. Why HyperText Markup Language continues to textually embody the Cartesian mind-body split I do not know.

Walter Benjamin objected to the binary nature of traditional translation methods, advocating for transparency between an original and its translation. In his influential 1923 essay The Task of the Translator, he wrote: “It [the translation] does not cover the original, does not black its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully.” The creators of following three works take the task of translation beyond the binary by creating transparencies between the original language and its original medium through intermediation and the application of what I am calling triple language systems, in reference to the translator of all translators, the Rosetta Stone.