statement: Are avant-garde practices still important to you?
As physicists, we have been taught to collect bit strings from machine-driven experiments and process them with the help of scripts, to bridge the gap between data and interpretation, expectation and facts. We have ultimately been taught how to “dream the whole Universe” in Fortran, engaging it as a perfectly working, yet tacit, huge text. Patterns of data organizing patterns of thoughts. We didn’t actually have bare rules to follow, but new rules to find and test, by maintaining a deep awareness, not being ideologically trained to embrace prejudices, nor subjected to them.
Under this perspective, sensors acts as code-supervised and code-activated signifier-collectors.
Codes can be written to sharply filter between the investigated signal and noise, the latter mostly being some unintended message itself, the background buzz while attempting to converse with the person nearby. Likewise, in the open field of art, this polarity may be reversed and codes be deliberately suffused with errors, to barter the explicitly-told with the explicitly-untold or vice versa. Art lays claim to freedom to sabotage the Universe.
While the first reader and interpreter of a code is a machine, designed to produce a precise output, a conventional text addresses a brain that can retain its output forever. Texts operate as inputs repeatedly triggering even more intimate inputs, pointing to a borderless inner space. Reading may thus be an open-loop process endlessly accreting, unframed without intention and control.
If codes can operate as standalone texts, a poem tends to turn into a non-site of language without a reader, a sealed basin of still water in the dark. Coding is quite close to writing, though. Codes must be optimized, to reduce redundancy; indeed, this is a typical attitude of most poets as well. Transcoding from C to Python, to Fortran and so forth, is the same as translating from a human language to another. For, beside the personal style of coders, each code requires a different state of mind, it exhibits a hierarchy of structures, a particular syntax of instructions which are properly meant to express an effective world-view of its own.
Diving into the mastery of whatever coding, the brain becomes a sort of living interface, inscribing Nature into a grammar of running electrons, the blood of a well-crafted machine.
The multilayered promiscuity of segmented or encapsulated structures, oftentimes saturated with unspeakable symbols, correspondingly increases the visual prosody and can be assimilated to a real metrics.
Code poetry may not be merely functional, but an overwhelming experience, overcoming the necessary strict standardisation of native coding, thus preserving the essential humanness of language.
A line or a snippet in a code poem acts on two levels, at least. If barely fed into the right compiler/machine, it gives instructions to trigger a feedback into the physical world. But when printed on a page, it is not completely deactivated, being somehow readable as a sentence, while still emphasizing the original function.
Faced with a code poem, the reader is then asked to control, and combine with one another, a variety of registers, implied by both the computing syntax and the potentially new linguistic structures.
Let us consider this paradigmatic example, drawn from the formation of tenses. Will-future and going to-future, formed according to certain, fixed rules, both mark an event that has not happened yet, thus presenting themselves as a fundamental category of language. Likewise, quite unprecedented horizons open up within coding as well. An if-else statement carries out a logical test and takes decisions; a while command loops through a block of code as long as the specified condition is true; a subroutine, called from a different point of the code, performs a specific task at a specific time; an input from the keyboard may be required and so forth. Even a single letter, a degree-zero mark, is charged with entirely new meaning every time. It can be a dummy index, a hint, a tacit thought, or it can be used to temporarily store the value of anything in the Universe: the temperature of a living room, of the Sun, of a dying star. Coding is the perfect environment for weakening, erasing or mobilising signifiers.
Albeit coding tends to take precedence over its often highly disrupted literary meaning, code poetry requires that the two levels be not interpreted as disjointed. The information-scape then unveils unexpected lyrical traits, since new potential interactions between language and world get actuated when poetry intervenes.
The breath data death work here presented follows the protocol of a standard research paper and offers the most accurate possible record of a textual kinetic installation. As extensively discussed in it, code poetry is addressed in many regards: a pure code, capable of driving a sensor to collect data from the environment; an allegedly working do-while loop, to account for the reading of the one-word poem 78 shifts of breathing; a LaTeX file, compiled to the pdf which the report consists of, exploiting specifically designed packages to produce the scatter plots and visual poems which, side by side, document the impact of the spoken word “breath” on air molecules.
The images in the results section do not actually exist as standalone ones. They are illegible strings of mathematical formulas seeded with the sampled voltage data and a small random parameter to add unlimited degrees of complexity and potentially generate new poetical arrangements every time the file is compiled.