random poetry

I’m interested in the use of digital devices to produce random aesthetic constructions. In my office through the day I get to enjoy music that might well have been composed by John Cage. There’s a fine selection of weird beeps, brings, chortles, digobartok, pseudomozart, discomama, and chundarama, all counterpointed with syncopated vibropercussion. It goes on all day long, a concert played very slowly. Cage would’ve loved it. My cellphone ring tone sounds like starlings chatting before going to roost. It’s fine indoors, but if I’m waiting for Marica in the early evening inevitably I try to answer the birds… as an aside, I enjoy the accurate irony of the cellphone, we’re imprisoned by a device simply so other people can know where we are, having been captured by telcos who convince us these devices will do all the things for us that if we’d been told by spammers we would’ve simply deleted and cranked the filters up another notch. Marica wrote about how one of the telcos has created an ad explaining that life is short, you better phone someone. Yeah, cool. As if a multinational can genuinely make a contribution to our lives…

I have been secretly enjoying (and trying to figure out how to bring such an interesting idea over to here) the randomy concrete-y controlly poems from Beverley Charles Rowe’s Queneau sonnets. When I first found them I was delighted by they way they work, and the carefully constructed way they allow you to enjoy the sonnet in French and/or English. I shared the link with my colleagues as seeing as a number of them have high degrees of fluency in other languages (including French). Ok. Well I thought the sonnets were cool. And it’s not as though there isn’t a selection – “a sonnet can be combined with any from the nine others, giving 1014 (= 100,000,000,000,000) different poems. It would take some 200,000,000 years to read them all, even reading twenty-four hours a day”. Don’t take my word for it, enjoy ’em all for your own good self.

View Amélie details at AmazonIn all of these apparently random events, the only relevance is if we notice, and then ascribe a meaning to the event, and then retain some learning from it. I’ve been described as a behaviourist (ok, so I press the lever to take a pee), but my conception of learning is that it is a remembered response to a stimulation. I’m not sure what a documented, but forgotten, response to stimulation might be. The documentation would mean it was preserved, but forgotten? What is a photograph I have, that I could’ve made, but have no memory of making? What is my response to that? The context is familiar, but unknown. Is it apophenia, or is that a genuine bunny or bear in the cloud? If my cellphone was genuinely cool, while the person calling was waiting for me to interpret that it is a phone call and not the starlings, it’d say to the caller, “It is September 3rd 1973, at 6:28pm and 32 seconds, a bluebottle fly capable of 14,670 wing beats a minute has just landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre, where this phone is presently located. At the same moment, on a restaurant terrace…” It’d make it worth calling people, just because their cellphones have a more interesting life than they do. And it would be helpful if it gave the correct date, time, and location of the phone. And the latin name of the bluebottle fly, because there is more than one kind. This level of precision is possible, assuming telecom don’t do, as they have done, publish my cellphone number as the number of a real estate agent in Stratford. No flies on them. Would you like to buy a dairy farm? Trust me, I can help, as I do the many people who call me, in my office in downtown Wellington … thanks telecom, you add richness to my randomness.

So, how should we respond to random? If something random happens and no one is around to witness it, was it random? Did it even happen? Is your response to it what validates its happening at all? How could you respond to it if you didn’t see it happen? Could this be an expression of Cage’s Indeterminacy? “Indeterminacy is ninety stories read by Cage, each told within the space of a minute, and none having anything to do with the next. They are inadvertently punctuated by tape, piano and radio provided by David Tudor, and became points of reference on a map of magic and invention.” To think he died without being able to blog! Apparently Indeterminacy is available on CD, but I’ve been unable to locate it. I have been enjoying is the Synchronicity of Indeterminacy photo blog – a synchronous experiment in creativity and indeterminacy, featuring photos randomly found paired with an ultra-short story inspired by the found photograph. Real lives and imagined stories linked by visual images captured for all eternity. Well, until the levee breaks anyway. But who hasn’t found an object and imagined a story, maybe even written a story, inspired by the suggested message contained in the inaccessible meta associated with the object? Perhaps this is why we become attached to objects, why we feel the urge for souvenirs. And there’s no reason why they can’t be digital souvenirs.

One thought on “random poetry

  1. indeterminacy

    It’s quite an honor to have my blog mentioned in such an intelligent context. I’ve also been fascinated by the chance occurrences around us and the sometimes powerful influence they can have on our lives.

    Sorry that you couldn’t find the Indeterminacy CD. It took me years to finally locate it, after finding out it existed. The review I read made it sound so intriguing. Send me a note with your e-mail address, and maybe we can work out a way to get it to you.

    Just recently I came across the website of a non-profit organization: ubu.com which seems to host every avant garde recording and film ever produced (except Indeterminacy). Not everything, but it’s unbelievable what is available. John Cage was represented:

    http://www.ubu.com/sound/cage.html

    http://www.ubu.com/historical/cage/cage.html

    http://www.ubu.com/film (the 1966 film “Sound”)

    I listened to the discussion this morning between John Cage and Morton Feldman that I downloaded from Ubu. There were echoes of what you wrote in your post about the telephone.

    P.S. Thank you for the link in your sidebar.

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