Becoming full-time web artist
Interview with Jim Andrews

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3. sound poetry

dd: With Nio you turn to sound poetry and visual music. Here one can choose to activate six of 16 sound loops represented through 16 letters or icons arranged in a circle. These icons activate the appropriate sound and animation. What does Nio mean to you in contrast to your work in kinetic concrete poetry? 

JA: Yes, that's 'verse one' of Nio. Verse two is a bit different, as you know. Verse one deals with layers of sound and animations, whereas verse two deals with sequences and layers of sound and animation.  

All during the nineties I was concentrating on writing, on the visual, and on programming. Interactive audio for the Web wasn't feasible for a long time for bandwidth and tech reasons, as you know. I did hardly any audio work at all during the nineties though, as I've mentioned, in the eighties I did much audio work. So it was a great pleasure to get back to audio and combine it with what I learned in the nineties. Nio was a kind of connection of the work I did in the eighties with the work I did in the nineties. Sound poetry and music and voice are important to me. I am excited to combine those with kinetic poetry, which I love also. So Nio was sort of twenty years in the making. It was an advance for me but also a return.  

dd: As you say in a former interview about Nio with Randy Adams you like "to watch the ways letters and words hang out together". You call Nio "a kind of lettristic dance", an "alternative music video". This reminds me of a statement of Squid S o u p about the aim of their work Untitled (review): "A feeling of being somewhere". Untitled and Nio are both audio-visual pieces, both interactive and kind of hypnotic. They seem to fit with what Andrew Darley pins down about visual digital culture: "a shift away from prior modes of spectator experience based on symbolic concerns (and 'interpretative models') towards recipients who are seeking intensities of direct sensual stimulation." (Visual Digital Culture. Surface Play and Spectacle in New Media Genres. London und New York: Routledge 2000) In this "aesthetics of the sensual" the point is the "curiosity or fascination with the materiality and mechanics (artifice) of the image itself". I have exactly this feeling dealing with NIO and "Untitled": it draws me in, I can't help it, and it is not about semantic interpretation anymore, it is all about experimenting. I am not a reader anymore, I have become a player. How do you see the relation of NIO and similar interactive audio-visual pieces to immersion, contemplation, semantics?  

JA: I recall a recent conversation in which people were comparing European net.art and North American net.art. Someone said that in Europe there is more concern with language and politics and culture whereas in North America, it's 'blow my mind or get off the fucking road.'  

And, you know, there is a crassness to that latter mentality, of course, that is congruent with North American culture not just on the Web. Yet there is also in it a certain imperative to dig in as an artist as deep as you can and make that box and the monitor and the speakers and the keyboard and mouse and the whole thing jump into your face and your whole head and, yeah, blow your mind. So, oddly enough, it has its plusses as well as obvious drawbacks (like is there anything left of that mind to blow?). 

The guitar; the electric guitar. The pen; the electric pen. When music underwent that transformation, it must have seemed destructive of music to many, and it probably was destructive of a lot of musics, in certain ways. But music was and is very broad, and getting broader, often via the electric and now the digital. 

And we associate with the electric guitar an especially sensual, primal crawdad or full-blood dynamo hum. Oddly, electric guitar is often associated with music in which we sense a huge engine. The rock and the roll in rock and roll is partly human, part engine, dynamo. Rock and roll is an odd, raucous synthesis of humanity and the machine.

I do think it's inevitable that the electric and digital will change writing--in many ways--but also via this infusion you speak of concerning the sensual into the material of language. I don't think that portends a diminishing of the contemplative in writing, though, any more than music with the electric guitar is incapable of the contemplative. We will learn to read both sensually and contemplatively, thoughtfully. And write in such a way. Text, sound, image, and interactivity will enjoy more intimate relations than they do now.  

When we look back at the birth of electric music, we see that there was resistance to it, though it was mainly billed as a youth/age conflict. This one isn't so much a youth/age thing--I'm an old fart myself--but you know it's hard to resist electricity for long when it gets into media and arts. 

dd: You are certainly right to draw this analogy. Digital aesthetics will become as ubiquitous as electric guitar is today. However, there are different things an electric guitar or synthesizer can do as well as a guitar or piano. The sound can be pleasing and intense or sophisticated and demanding. Maybe it is not primarily a matter of the medium but of the cultural background or patterns as you pointed it out. And maybe then the medium helps to spread out these cultural patterns like McDonald's Burgers. I have the feeling the digital medium with its animation and click gesture is by default not the right place for contemplatively, thoughtful writing. It demands a certain power, and courage, to do so and to stop and stay in the middle of the 'fucking road' (though, in the Web are so many bypasses ;). 

JA: I suppose there would be a question about the types of contemplation. Do we contemplate poems, pictures, music etc differently? Suggesting different themes, meanings, etc and then leaving it up to the wreader to make of it what they will has a way of letting people bring their own creativity and meditation to things rather than 'spelling it out'. Art is always already interactive in this sense. Also, meditation can also occur as reflection after the fact.  

One reads at one's leisure. There is no timer. This is one of the ways in which meditation is naturally a part of reading. I do try to make my stuff so that the wreader has that sort of control over it. Pause buttons. The ability to go back and forward in the piece as one pleases.

I imagine that when the electric guitar emerged there were objections to its lack of thoughtfulness. But that changes over time, as we find the full range of our humanity in the art, find the full range of the art. 

The mouse is one of the ways to interact with work. There's also the keyboard, which has been known to be occasionally involved with contemplative activity. 

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