Hyperrhiz 08

Speak Far and Wide

Hazel Smith
University of Western Sydney

Roger Dean
University of Western Sydney / austraLYSIS

Citation: Smith, Hazel and Roger Dean. “Speak Far and Wide.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 08, 2011. doi:10.20415/hyp/008.g02

Abstract: This piece of computer-interactive sonic poetry is one of a series being composed by us with the use of software written in the Verbal Interactivity Project (VIP). VIP is a project initiated by austraLYSIS dedicated to text generation and processing, and operating in the programming language Python. In Speak Far and Wide the computer-interactive performer, Roger, puts in motion multiple computer voices which speak texts processed in VIP in a variety of different ways.

VIP includes the Text Transformation Toolkit (TTT) devised and created in Python by David Worrall and Roger, with additional input from Michael Bylstra and Jon Drummond. TTT permits both live coding in the Pycrust Python interpreter and manipulation of a graphic interface. It also uses several other substantial research and programming endeavours, such as the free association database, Wordnet, and the Natural Language Toolkit (initiated at the University of Melbourne), though the objective is not necessarily to replicate natural language. The purpose of TTT — which is under continuous development — is to generate text, in the sense of gradually transforming it, especially in real-time interactive and performance contexts. Manipulations of the text may be carried out at the level of the letter, word or sentence. For example TTT can substitute nouns and verbs for other nouns and verbs, either by recourse to a specific database of words complied by Hazel, or by using Wordnet, or the free association database. These substitutions might be synonyms, antonyms, or metonymic substitutions which have a close or distant link with the original word. TTT can also shuffle sentences and words, or append or merge different sentences. It can excise vowels, swap characters and so on.

The text for Speak Far and Wide, written by Hazel, originates from a screen-based piece by us, Instabilities 2, published in Drunken Boat at «http://www.drunkenboat.com/db12/06des/smith/instabilities.php». This piece explores some of the possibilities of VIP, and employs text generation and computer-based voices. In Instabilities 2 the texts which form the basis for the VIP transformations engage a diverse array of styles and genres of writing and evoke many forms of instability — linguistic, psychological, economic, political, geographical and technological — which are metaphorically cross-referenced so that, for example, mental instability is sometimes represented in economic terms. Instability, however, emerges as both negative and positive, and is viewed as a trigger to change, not just as a prelude to disintegration.

Speak Far and Wide utilizes only some of these texts from Instabilities 2 and transforms them progressively; the performer can take control over these processes or drive them algorithmically. The most prominent text used is a rewriting of Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream' speech as a utopian vision of the possibilities of experimental and electronic poetry, but there is throughout a creative tension between the audibility of the words and their reinvention as sonic texture. The computerised voices are those readily available on the Macintosh, and in this piece seven are used, including one which is described as 'deranged'. The use of these voices contrasts to most of our other collaborations in which the voice manipulated is usually Hazel's or that of an actor or actors.

This particular piece involves 4 channel presentation, including some sonic manipulation of the text-to-speech performances. It is presented here in a Quicktime compressed format, and for those who do not have a multichannel sound system attached to their computer, it will automatically mix down to 2 channels, though some information and effects are inevitably lost in this process.

LISTEN TO Speak Far and Wide