net.dialogue.3--Dub Fictions

Posted by Rhizome | Sat Apr 21st 2001 1 a.m.

Net.Diologue.3

Dub Fictions
(with Mark Amerika and Jeff Noon)

Mark Amerika: I'm really digging your new book, Cobralingus. The
connection between music (or sound) and writing is becoming really
important again.

Jeff Noon: Well, we did a great gig last night, to launch Cobralingus.
Local DJ, Req, gave me some great backing tracks. He's a good find. He's
using twin decks, and his scratching skills allow him to actually engage
with, and react to, what I'm doing. And the audience certainly appreciated
it. I took them on a journey through my work, exploring the idea of the
prose remix, starting with Vurt, a piece from Nymphomation, a few from
Pixel, and from Needle. And then, in the second set, we did the
Cobralingus pieces, plus some passages from a novel currently being
written. Pretty heavy stuff, some of it, esp. to present in a live
setting. But the music helps a whole lot, I find. Req was mixing in
Coltrane, Laswell, Eno, Pierre Henry, The Meters. Great fun!

MA: Absolutely. I just came back from a gig in Lucerne, Switzerland, a
beautiful town surrounded by the Alps. The festival was called
Surf-Sample-Manipulate, after a theory I've been developing over the last
few years wherein the writer-cum-netartist uses all the available data on
the web as source material to further inflect a narrative environment --
but one that is a kind of ongoing ungoing pseudo-autobiographical work in
progress. The incredible sound artist Twine, who has three new releases
coming out with Komplot, Bip-Hop and Hefty Records, flew out there with me
and we proceeded to do an improvisational sound-writing performance.
Basically what we did was hook up our laptops and a few processors like a
Virus and Sherman, etc., and began projecting both live writing and live
sounds, each influencing the other in a kind of real-time narrative
production.

JN: I didn't realise we were moving in similar directions. This is great!
I feel so isolated, most of the time, in Britain. It's getting more than a
bit bland and deadly right now. Don't know if you've been following my
stuff, but Nymphomation introduced the dub fiction idea, with a reverse
dub of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. I refined this technique, and made it
more explicit, in the Pixel Juice collection, in different ways on a
number of the stories. Needle in the Groove is the most realised work, a
novel that contains its own remix. I also did a CD with David Toop, based
on texts and atmospheres from the book. Cobralingus is a kind of weird
solo album of a book. It pushes the technique to the extremes, in a very
experimental way.

MA: What musical influences were most present while writing it out?

JN: Cobralingus is more based on the glitchware stuff, mainly coming out
of Germany: Oval, Microstoria, Pole, Vladislav Delay, and the likes. Very
atmospheric, very abstract, murky, bleepy, broken. There was a big article
on the music and the software processes involved in the Wire 190/191
(double issue). Worship the Glitch, it was called. Some of the techniques
are quite incredible, way beyond what I can do with words on paper. The
Bouncing Ball software, for instant, treats a musical signal as, quite
literally, a bouncing ball of noise. You can decide the weight of the
ball, the height it is dropped at, etc. Amazing stuff!

MA: Right! And I'm just wondering how to take some of these ideas
(techniques) and use them to amplify these writerly effects in live
performance. I found that using the net, the WWW, was very helpful. So
that in Lucerne, while we were doing the live, improvisational
sound-writing remix, I was also projecting my laptop's wireless connection
to the WWW and grabbing data off the network in real-time and sampling
what I needed from it right into the new story, remixing as I wrote it,
and then using the sounds to further distort the narrative's generative
meaning (or meaning-potential). You must feel something similar performing
Cobralingus with Req?

JN: My main concern during a Cobralingus performance is to imbue the
material with emotion. People think, because of the way the book is set
out, that machines are involved in some way, in the creation. This
couldn't be further from the truth. Every single word, every moment, comes
only from the exercise of my imagination. I actually see the pieces in
very personal terms, on two levels: 1. what the words, ideas, images mean
to me in terms of personal history/interests; and 2. a memory of what I
was feeling at the exact moment of creation. I think this last is the best
clue; that Cobralingus records (and magnifies) a natural creative process.
So, during performance, I'm trying to draw out these personal micro and
macro histories. In the crudest terms, I try to take the audience on a
journey; a journey through the text, from sampled input, through all the
various filters along the signal path, until we reach the output. I try to
make that an adventure, an adventure of language. But you can see the
paradox that is set up; I'm using terms such as input/output, signal path,
filtering system, etc, in order to create something that is incredibly
personal. I like the paradox; but I know the presentation has confused
some people. At the Metamute talk I did with Robert Coover and Florian
Cramer, I felt that I'd alienated a certain part of the audience, simply
by admitting to such deep feelings, and that the work is being drawn from
areas of my own life, my psyche, my past, my emotions. My concern here, is
that one of the central tenets of post-modernism (that meaning lies not in
"depth", but on the surface) is getting in the way of proper engagement
with an artwork. Especially now that PoMo has entered its long,
over-protracted Rococo phase. I'm interested, most of all, is how the new
technologies are going to effect a new kind of narrative.

MA: Well, yeah, there was some head-scratching going on in Lucerne too.
Now that we're entering a kind of NoMo PoMo phase, I guess there's bound
to be some ruffled feathers. After the performance in Lucerne, people
mostly wanted to know if everything was really being improvised and if it
really was a live net connection. Yes and yes. Why not? Anyway, the
confusion is a healthy response because everyone is so keyed up on new
techniques that when you see something that is genuinely new, or at least
unfamiliar, you immediately want to know How Did You Do That? Like
Cobralingus, for example...how did you that?

JN: Re: Cobralingus technique: first question is the choice of initial
input text. This works best when its filled with imagery. So, Angela
Carter, rather than Jane Austen. Also, of course, I've tended to go for
stuff out of copyright, unless it's from the work of friends. Then, the
choice of the first filter gate. There are seventeen to choose from:
decay, explode, find story, enhance, play game, inject drug, randomise
etc. Really, the Cobralingus device is an improvisation machine; which
filter gate will produce an interesting result? And then, pushing the text
through the gate. How this happens is entirely up to the writer's
imagination. Trial and error takes place; something emerges, and is passed
on, through another choice of gate. Some pieces make sense, some make
nonsense, and others are just way stations of random noise. The filters
are designed so that some break down the text (decay, explode etc), and
some build it back up (enhance, find story etc). The text is pushed
through gate after gate, travelling along a signal pathway. At some point,
and this always happens, something will jump out of the text at you, some
phrase, image, theme etc. This is taken as a clue as to where the text
wants to go, and the writer can then push the text towards this point. The
emotional nature of the piece is revealed. So, there are two broad phases:
the initial exploration up to the signifying detail, and then a more
considered use of the filters, towards the output text. I see this as
revealing the ghost of the original text; that all texts are haunted in
some way, and the Cobralingus device is a technique for conjuring up these
ghosts.

+ + +

Mark Amerika's forthcoming ebook "How To Be An Internet Artist" will
explore many of the themes generated in his internationally exhibited net
art, including hypertextual consciousness, cyborg-narrators, (h)activism,
and creating on-the-fly stories via an ongoing practice of
surf-sample-manipulate.

Jeff Noon is the author many books including Vurt, Needle In The Groove,
Automated Alice and Pixel Juice. A winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award,
Noon's new work, Cobralingus, is a metamorphiction published by Codex
Books.
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