Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label essay. Show all posts


NaPoWriMo - 2017 - April 16th - Language does not exist…

Language does not exist…

Language does not exist…
not in the sense of something we can touch,
engineer, pass from hand to hand, feel the grain.  Language…
the shared delusion is an illusion.  We understand chocolate cake,
a concrete thing: we agree the broad idea
but only one of us recalls Paul, at two years old,
smothered in the stuff.

Less agreement with abstractions: my love
is not your love; and my sovereignty
doesn’t exist at all.

How much worse when we get to something you don’t know.
You mention that you like to go kayaking
but I have never experienced the sudden cool
of near ice water running from a paddle into my sleeve
or the semi-resonance of millimeter-thick fiberglass
rebounding from submerged geography.

Language does not exist…

although the dictionary says otherwise.
The words in the book of lexical lore
will claim to, with precision, pin a meaning on every
possible utterance. They do not and cannot;
Dictionaries do not exist…

Language isn’t definitive or declarative,
it isn’t even functional at heart. It’s metaphorical.

Let’s get high!

We can do that here on the hill,
with the stepladder,
and you are very tall;
and the guitar solo goes up and up;
and you've been promoted, by a higher power;
your salary is now so much,
but this meat’s off;
the electricity is strong;
your church is formal;
and your fashion sense is very sharp today.

All these things are someway “high”
but the only way in which three octaves above middle C
is like a piece of rotten meat,
is buried deep
in our psychology/neurology.

Language does not exist…

not as something fixed
which you can grasp with thought or pen.
Continual flux is all there’s ever been:
spellings, meanings and usages
shift beneath our tongues
like extreme sushimi.

You, I hope, understand me.
Shakespeare, however, would get me less
and Chaucer might think I was speaking
a foreign language.

I take my words back,
I take them back in time until,
somewhere maybe in the 9th or 10th century
there comes a point where they have no meaning at all...

because language does not exist.
Not even in the other direction.
My words are of course
recorded for posterity, but after I die and as they age
what anybody understands fades out.
Until there comes a moment
when my great, great, great, great grandchild
factoring, loneish in the interspace
wonders what planet I was from.

If I was truly great,
people would update me
once per generation,
but we can't all be Shakespeare
—if nothing else Shakespeare's already done that.
So there that's us evolving once again.

Language does not exist…

Je suis un éléphant.  I might say,
I was French,
and an elephant
. Those who are the sort
to understand French elephants
would shrug
and wonder why I stated the obvious

but my words would be gibberish
to the differently linguistically endowed.
English exists,
French exists,
and they’re langages…
but they’re not language itself, which does not exist.
English/French dictionaries, in particular, do not exist.

Language is a maelstrom, language is a storm.
People think they pin it down, control it...
define it;
but they may as well bottle the hurricane.

Grammarians will claim they can explain
and lay down every part of speech in grammar books.
Grammar books do not exist
and as for the people who write them:
I've never met one.

Language does not exist…

so set yourself free!
No ploddy, tetrapody emphraslement for me!
No momentary ding.  Talk toboggan listen
all everness towards myself true wordy
and ultimatum infiltrate the thing
of do magnificence, superlative, and evermore unstopped.

Nobody can stop me doing this
and nobody can touch me for it...

because language does not exist.


Essay: Future Technology #1

Future Technology #1

(or The Shape of Things to Come)

Future technology, earlier today
Civilisation, back in the '90s
If, back in the 90s, you played Sid Meier's Civilisation, on a DOS computer, and if you were very good (Rosemary regularly achieved Moon landings before 1730) then it was possible to reach the end of the technology tree...

(Aside, for the uninitiated:  a "technology tree" is a set of available upgrades in a video game.  The player typically has some sort of resources to spend on upgrades and chooses which to develop next.  Upgrades give benefits in the game and unlock the later technologies.  It's just like life.)

However, it is a tenet of geek philosophy that there is no end to the technology tree, and game designers are a sub-species of geek, so beyond the end of the tree lay more technologies:
  • Future Technology #1
  • Future Technology #2
  • And so on...
They served no function, except bonus points...

...but I loved this idea ever since I first saw it.  Future Technology #1 is wonderfully non-specific, whilst saying precisely what it means.

FT#1 could be a pocket hadron collider, smartpants (tm), or an ambiguous phase psycho-encapsulator (which we all could use, if you think about it...)

It could be tomorrow, or a thousand years hence.

And if we achieve FT#1 then there's FT#2 (henceforth to be known as FT#1).

So what is FT#1 for poetry?  I feel strongly that there ought to be something: a killer app for the Sonnet that takes it somewhere it's never been before and makes everybody say:  Well obviously I bought one; I can't understand why nobody thought of it sooner!

Which is not to say that poetry-1.0 (poet stands at front and declaims) or poetry-2.0 (words arranged on page) have had their day.  Far from it, poetry-1.1 (poet on radio/TV/YouTube) is quite popular, and 2.1 (words arranged on internet) has a variety of interesting new angles, but neither of those feels like a real FT, they've basically still just words in sequence, or words arranged in a space.

So every now and then I have a go.  I started with an example of animated poetry, but while that was pretty popular, it's basically a movie and as nicely as self-editing text works for that idea, I am not sure it extends to many other poems...  (see however Kinematic Typograthy.)

It ought to be possible to do more than mere animation, and Jenn Zed (of whom more later) has suggested that videos turn the poetry consumer off.  I hadn't realised it, but I recognise it in myself, and I think it is similar to poetry vs. lyrics  An element of time travel is involved in reading a poem the eye tracks up and down the page, effectively forwards and back in time which it can't when listening to a song, as the music proceeds at constant rate.

Something similar applies to videos.  A voice recording of a poem, accompanied by still text, doesn't suffer quite so badly, because the eye can still do a little out-of-order processing but a moving video is really hard to get right, because it is simultaneously distracting the eye, and locking the words into a fixed time-frame.

For lyrics, the fix was to adjust the words, you fit them into the experience already created by the music...

However for poetry-FT#1 I want the reverse.  What happens when we fit the medium as closely as possible to the words?  If the user (reader) needs to control time, then why not let them?

Well I don't know.

I'm still working on it.  It isn't easy.  It's not that poetry's difficult (I think that goes without saying) or that technology is hard to master (although certainly it can be awkward.)  The real problem is, in a world where:

this or this or even this
are easy to achieve...

...what do they mean?  It's more or less a brand new medium, so it doesn't have any established rules.  I'm basically inventing everything from scratch, albeit with wanton theft from books, films, video games and comic books.

Anyway, a new attempt on FT#1 is under way.  I am working with the aforementioned Jenn Zed (who has poetic inclinations and is an accomplished artist...)  This is "mixed media" by which I mean "words and images and Javascript and HTML and CSS and mp3 and anything else that seems to fit..."

It's not huge, but it's slow going...  It will probably take at least another six months, but until then:

Installing FT#1
Please Wait


Anger Bob - Creativity unleashed

"Anger bob, beats fists against the glass."

Collaboration, how's it been working out?

With Hallam and I plunging headlong towards the release of our next teaser-track: Anger Bob, it seems like a good moment to look back over the last nine or ten months and talk about how it has gone.

Excellently—we've barely had a moment of creative differences and this has worked, I think, a lot by us each trusting the other to do their job.

However this doesn't mean keeping quiet and refusing to give any feedback.  Hallam, when I give him a new lyric, doesn't always take all of it.  Quite often he'll think, for example, that the first half of the chorus is stronger than the second; and he'll say so, and he may not even record the weaker part (although this is usually more to do with having enough words to fit his musical phrasing rather than refusing to touch the weaker words.)

Similarly, when I hear the first version of the words set to music, there will sometimes be a part where I feel the musical treatment hasn't meshed with the words as well as it might.  For example in Anger Bob, in the chorus, Hallam originally had some words held for several beats in the middle of the phrases.  Musically that was perfectly fine and very interesting, but for the words to me it felt wrong that these quite bureaucratic phrases should be broken like that.  Bureaucrats do like to run off their standard phrases at some speed.

The creative process, earlier today
Collaboratively—so when this happens, we talk.  In the case of Anger Bob we had 32 exchanges of comments on our little private blog where we post our notes and progress, and a few emails as well.

Experimentally—we also experiment.  I'm a very fast writer (when I have something to write) so when Hallam questions part of a lyric, I can usually produce a few ideas for alternatives almost immediately (literally immediately, if I am on-line).  Hallam takes a little longer, he has to go to the studio for a start, and he cannot get there everyday, but he has been known to do a "couch recording" of a new idea and mail it to me right there and then.  As this process iterates between the two of us the song is, of course:

Evolving—for me, the lyric has certain poetic qualities as I write it, but it isn't a song.  At most I'll have an idea that a section could go "LA la lala, la LA lar" (forgive me getting technical).  So the first time I hear it set to music is (in a literal and non-bombastic sense) a revelation.  The words at that moment become something that they weren't before.  Emphasis changes.  Often it is only at this point that the song "locks down" to focusing on a single subject (previously it will have been in the area of the subject, but not necessarily focused.)

At that point, bits we were considering dropping become easier decisions.  If they are part of the core message, then they have to stay; if not then it's the bit-bucket for them, I'm afraid.

Tuning—and then it's just a matter of tuning.  I'll have known how I would read the words, but Hallam's is a different voice and necessarily things come across a little changed.  Let's remove the "only" but add an "and" at the start of the line—I might say.  Or Hallam might say—Line two in verse two feels longer than in verse one The point of both of these being to fit more exactly to the music, and also to the emphasis that Hallam is giving the line.

Sometimes I will have been worried about having far more syllables between two lines that go to the same music (being in the same relative position in the verse/chorus; obviously I'll have the same number of feet, I'm not an idiot).  However often this will slide into the performance entirely unnoticed and instead some other part, which to my mind scanned perfectly, will develop a slight wobble and need a slight rephrasing.

And finally, Fun - it's been great fun.  Hallam's word is exciting and I won't argue with that as a description either.  I can't see how it would have worked if it wasn't great fun and exciting.

I asked Hallam whether he had anything to add to this, but said—Honestly, I can’t add anything. But feel free to take this statement of mine and use it in your post—so I have.

Which only leaves me to remind you: Anger Bob, he's coming.

Anger Bob, in three days time.


Waxing lyrical

Another essay.  Later in the week I'm going to post the lyrics I wrote for one of Hallam London's songs and this moved me to think about what I have learned in the process.

Learning to write lyrics has been interesting, it is a slightly different activity from poetry without music, but the difference is a little hard to describe.

What may seem most obvious, but which took a couple of songs for me to get my head around, is that rhythm plays a different role.  In poetry the rhythm is flexible and variable and you use it to carry the words.  There's all sorts of techniques for how the rhythm can enhance the words: long lines, short lines, sections that run faster or slower, smoother or more-brokenly, changes in rhythm etcetera etcetera...

In a song the music does all that, and what the rhythm of the words has to do is repeat consistently so that each verse or chorus can be fitted to a similar musical phrase.  Then, when the music and words are together, you can consider tweaks to the words so that they and the music do even more together.

Another difference is a matter of targeting and this is where it gets hard to explain.  In a poem you have to set your sights high.  You have to convey emotion and you have to illustrate it rather than explain it.  You have to trust the reader to understand the things you aren't saying, and so not hammer them home with a mallet—you have to be subtle.  You have to deal with concrete things (doors, spoons, sunsets) and use them to illustrate abstract things (love, memory, political unrest).  You have to consider characters—even poems without explicit characters have a narrator, and even if the narrator is the poet, they are still a character (for example an idealised version of the real person).  And so on, and so on...

For a song, all this remains true, but the emphasis is very different.  You may have fewer words (exception: really short forms, like haiku :-)).  Even when a song is long it often repeats more than a poem would.

However, you've also got much more limited time.  This really isn't obvious, because a page of words doesn't look like a period of time, but it is; and it is different for poems and songs.

For example: reading a poem the first time often proceeds something like (i) start reading, (ii) get a bit lost, (iii) look forwards and back, (iv) realise some things, (v) begin again, (vi) find bit you like, (vii) read it twice—and so on...  Even when you do proceed straight to the end, only a minute has elapsed and you often then go back to review parts.

The slight time-travel required for that is possible because the words sit stationary on the page and the eyes can scan them in any order they wish.  With a song no time-travel is permitted.  The music runs forwards at a constant rate and carries the words with it.  More than that, the listener's attention is carried forward by the music, and more still, their emotions are also carried along; making it even harder, and less desirable, for them to break out of the moment and work out an interpretation of what they just heard.

So for a lyric the words have to be more direct, more immediate.  They have to work right there in the moment they are performed in.  They may be in one sense a little simpler, but they have to remain equally expressive with it.  Depth is possible, I am sure, but anything the listener only gets on the third play can't be anything that spoils the first two times with its absence.  (However if you are listened to three times that is *SUCCESS* !)

I'm only about 5 or 6 months into this journey.  Learning poetry took getting on for 20 years, so I'm sure if I was being taught by a mystical monk he'd still be telling me I have much to learn.  I'll keep you posted.



Publishing the other self...

Some self-published books, earlier today...
A while back, in Antiphon, Rosemary wrote this editorial:

When Rosemary writes everybody listens... er... reads!

But I wonder if she didn't go far enough?  I wonder whether the whole idea of "self publishing" being different from "publishing" isn't a historical artefact left over from the time that publishing was difficult.  I mean, I am publishing right now.  For the avoidance of doubt I mean this blog posting you are reading right now.  More than publishing, I am actually broadcasting, and it hasn't cost me anything beyond a little time and some facilities I already owned.

So...  you have a preponderance of channels in the World today.  Blogs and vlogs and tweats and forums and on-demand printing (which sooner or later will extend to on-demand creation of almost anything) and YouTube, LuLu, on-line magazines and so on and so on.

I say that the game has already changed, but that it will take another decade or so for people to work out what the change means.

Look at it this way, what is a traditional publisher?  It is:
  1. an input hopper, where manuscripts are thrown
  2. commissioning editors, who pick through them
  3. general editors, who ensure quality
  4. a manufacturing/shipping capability
  5. a publicity system
  6. something to collect the money
All of these parts can exist in other forms, and all of them can exist without the others...

If one takes YouTube as an example, it does all of those things except one, and it does every one of them in a completely different way...
  1. The hopper is vast and anybody can throw anything into it.
  2. YouTube uses crowd sourcing to run a recommendation system.  People effectively commission things themselves and technology permits this because it harnesses the power of other people doing the same sort of thing to cut out the part where you, personally, would have to watch every single crappy video on the system—other sharing, rating, liking, and even some play-list systems all help solve this problem, increasingly with deliberate intent by their originators.
  3. There is no equivalent to 3, but more later...
  4. On-demand delivery.
  5. Interestingly, 2 and 5 have become the same thing.  People "like" things, the system tells other people that things are "liked" and so it goes: a huge, Darwinian, positive feedback loop.  It is exactly the same thing that used to happen when your friend told you she liked Frassiter Crimps new book (which she bought because she saw it on the side of a bus), only automatic, faster and without any middle men.

    There are also other advertising channels in the system, you can link videos others, or from a blog entry; you could even pay Google AdWords to link your video to every Worldwide search for "Deterministic Quantum Nihilism..."
  6. Money, what money?  But seriously, people like YouTube make their money via advertising, not by charging for content...  and anyway their costs are (proportionately) far lower than those of a Victorian publishing house (CPU and storage are everything nowadays, and we're talking pence to hire them from Amazon, which is the expensive option for small-time operators...)

So, where does this leave us?

Well it leaves us where we have always been, with the general problem of intellectual hunger vs. Sturgeon's Law.

Or to put it another way: (i) people are starving for content which isn't crud, (ii) 90% of content is crud.

The traditional publishing and new systems are both just ways of scanning the input-hopper for non-crud, maybe fixing it up a bit, and making money from handing out copies of the results...

So where might we go next?  Note Ros quoting Gerry Cambridge:

In general, self-publishing is regarded with suspicion by many ‘traditional’ poets… The reason for this suspicion is straightforward: it can seem to bypass the standard expectation to get some sort of editorial consensus for a body of work. It implies that you weren’t able to get the work published by the usual channels, because almost any poet I know of would rather have a full collection, at least, published by a trade publisher than do it themselves

And note my point above:  YouTube has no equivalent of  general editors...

((Interestingly, Amazon CreateSpace and Lulu do have equivalents of this, they will sell you various services including editing...))

So what I am getting around to is.
  • Any one of us can publish his/her own book at any moment (and some of us do), BUT
  • self-published books are (rightly or wrongly) regarded with suspicion, SO
  • why aren't we editing one-another's?
Rosemary, John C. Nash and I successfully edited together a collection with Making Contact and we are fairly typical (OK, I'll admit to "advanced") amateur poets editing content from a (good but) fairly typical internet poetry board...

So it seems reasonable to suppose that other "gifted amateurs" could very effectively edit each other's work.

HOWEVER, the catch is in my second bullet-point, self-published books are regarded with suspicion, and although we would know these these new books were less suspicious, there would be no way for Joe on the street to know that.

SO, what I am suggesting is that there is room here for a movement, call it what you will—"International Poetry Standards Organisation" seems to be up for grabs :-)

e.g. if people were known to belong to a movement that was dedicated to quality, where people edited each other's work and where the editors were as well known for doing a good job as the authors...

((Since anybody could claim to be in the movement whether they were any good or not, you would probably have to back it with an (light-weight) organisation, that didn't let just anybody in, and which treated its name/symbol as a trademark, just to stop others from stealing it...))

Then wouldn't this provide the missing quality control component that a purely mass-market system like YouTube or Lulu lacks?

Just a thought...