Becoming full-time web artist
Interview with Jim Andrews

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dd: Your Web-CV introduces you as "Multimedia Developer, Visual Poet, Essayist, Mathematician, Senior Technical Writer". This seems to be precisely the conflation of abilities that digital aesthetics demands from its artists. How did you start and how did this wide variety finally emerge? 

JA: I did a degree in English and Math in the late seventies/early eighties. Then I did a literary radio show called Fine Lines and, later, ?Frame? for six years that concentrated on audio writing, sound poetry, and so on. It was all analog, but I got a feel for all the radio production gear, for working artistically with tech. Still, I hadn't touched a computer and recall the fear and trembling associated with my first few sessions on a computer, which was available at the radio station. Where's the right button???? Help!!!! Where is the great one who knows the magic button???? Ah, I feel like an idiot running to her again! Where is she? I think we learned a bit of Wordperfect and Lotus 1-2-3 pre-Windows or something. Somehow there was more fear involved in starting to use computers than the analog sound equipment--there was always the prospect of losing your work, for instance. I recall coming to feel eventually that it wasn't much different from working in the recording studio in the sense that you need to just get in there, hit all the buttons, learn to read the docs, see what happens, and eventually you own it. And I also approached it as 'just another form of language,' which seemed to help, since I was more familiar with language than machines.

The radio show had begun with interviews of Canadian print-writers and productions for radio of traditional print-work poetry and fiction. And some sound poetry. But as I got into radio more, I discovered audio writing by artists such as Gregory Whitehead, Susan Stone, Helen Thorington, and blackhumour, who have writerly backgrounds but go far beyond either writing or radio drama in their recorded works. That and my reading of McLuhan convinced me that there was more interesting work to be done and listened to by treating radio and recorded sound as artistic media, rather than transferring work from print to radio and recorded sound. I've tried to carry that idea in the other media I've worked in. And I started to correspond with audio writers and avant garde writers in North America and Europe, many of whom have, like myself, moved primarily to the net. Helen Thorington, for instance, does turbulence.org now whereas in the eighties she produced New American Radio for National Public Radio in the USA.

The last thing I picked up in six years of producing radio/recorded sound was a sense and practice of composition for recorded and live sound. Sort of like hearing voices and sounds in the head. But also composing with the razor blade and tape, and opening up to the value of the random and experimentation. I'm trying to develop a similar type of sense of composition concerning interactive multimedia for the Web. Though of course most of it happens in the act of working with the material itself, rather than sitting down to do something that I have completely composed in my head.

After the radio show ended around 1989, I went back to University to study Mathematics and Computer Science, which I hadn't done during my degree studies. Education was relatively affordable back then in Canada. I did three years of that. I had a UNIX account and access to the Internet, and the Web was starting to happen at that time. But I was more into doing a literary magazine called And Yet and reading lots of poetry and writing during that time, which I did in PageMaker and started using CorelDraw 2.01 and bitmap programs for visual poetry.

After I quit University, I went into biz as a freelance programmer and technical writer and was in a couple of bands as a percussionist. I learned Visual Basic and Delphi, which are fun visual programming environments, and relate strongly to Director, which I use now. C++ is very flexible, of course, but I was never interested in working that far within system stuff or, worse yet, database stuff, was always more drawn to the interface and working at the application level rather than making industrial widgets.

Then in 95 I started and hosted a weekly live poetry reading venue (lively media!) in Victoria BC Canada, my hometown. That's still running, though I am not part of it at this point. And the Web was really starting to kick in, so I learned HTML, Javascript, and some Java, and met Ted Warnell, Talan Memmott, Claire Dinsmore, David Knoebel, Jennifer Ley, Reiner Strasser, Philippe Castellin, Miekal And and some other digital writers on the net. My site started out as a listing of the upcoming events at the poetry reading series, and I started to get in touch with writers around the world, which I had longed to be able to do for some time.

The first Web project I participated in was Florian Cramer's wonderful Seven By Nine Squares project in 95, though I didn't have a clue what Neoism was at that time. Four years later, I met Maris Kundzins in Seattle, who was in on the beginnings of Neoism. We had great fun a couple of evenings as he recounted the history of neoism to me and I showed him Florian's neoist project and much else on the Web. That was around 99 or so, during the time I lived in Seattle from 97-2000. I worked as a technical writer and solutions architect there for networkcommerce.com during the web boom. I'd end up going to bed at 3 a.m. after working on the vispo.com site, and dragged myself into work in the mornings. I knew few people in Seattle, so that was my opportunity to hunker down into my own work and do less community work.

I've since moved back to Victoria and am doing the web.art full time now.

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