The materiality of language is that aspect which remains resistant to an absolute subsumption into the ideality of meaning…To see the letter not as phoneme but as ink, and to further insist on that materiality, inevitably contests the status of language as a bearer of uncontaminated meaning. – Steve McCaffery

Drum drum001

Drum Vs. The Book started with the idea of a text written by music as opposed to a text written to “mean” something in a traditional sense. Instead of being “the bearer of meaning” the text would record the rhythm of a drum — as Nichol’s piece above does on the page. To accomplish this, I set out to create a computer program that reacts to a musical composition to produce an animated text.

After some effort, the program worked quite well. Michael Phillip Wojewoda generously shared his aptly named composition Faust for the animation. In Faust each element of the rhythm triggers an algorithmically generated melodic response. Michael supplied me with the individual elements of the composition, as separate tracks, which I used to trigger and modulate the animation. Animated variations based on the music were created by changing the ways in which the program reacted to the music. At a point, I had created hundreds of variations. Drum was quickly becoming a catalog of visual variations on a theme — like Monet’s Haystacks.

In the end, as a piece of film, it was quite boring.

In the end, as a piece of film, it was quite boring. I made the decision to make this a duel between the DRUM piece and an essay that Nichol wrote with Frank Davie called “The Book as a Unit of Composition”. The essay explores the relationship between composing for the book and how the author views inspiration, contending that if writing is something that one can simply do, one can look at the book as an open field of possibilities. If one views writing as a spontaneous act subject to inspiration, then the notion of composing for a book becomes restrictive. This resonated with the story of Faust.

The design, animation and compositing of DRUM are created not by my hand, but by compositional and conceptual conditions translated to algorithms.

In the the end, to make this work as a piece of film, I had to use the music to compose not only the text and the design, but also the film making. An audio analysis of the music was used to modulate the camera, the composting, and the lighting. The design, animation and compositing of DRUM are created not by my hand, but by compositional and conceptual conditions translated to algorithms. The animation is a ‘film’ of ink in time. The film visualizes the music using text. The word DRUM not only operates as a linguistic signifier, it becomes a material that moves and visualizes the very thing that it signifies.