On Friday night April 7th, Stephen Trothen and I exhibited our project, “A Chording to Chance” at the Critical Media Lab‘s XDM Exhibition. The project’s description can be read in my last post or under Research Creation on this site. But “A Chording to Chance” can be briefly described as a participatory project that invited participants to translate Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup de Dés” into “dotsies” font, a font designed by Craig Muth to “optimize” the screen. Whereas Mallarmé’s poem experimented with the page, Muth’s font experimented with reading on the digital screen. So, “A Chording a Chance” playfully combines these two experimentations with page and screen.
But rather than have participants type out on a keyboard, Stephen and I used a “chorder keyboard” that we designed to work with and map the dotsies font. Below is the chorder keyboard (left is more or less put together; right is the keyboard disassembled):
And here is the the dotsies mapped out on our instructional pamphlet:
To put it one way, the chorder keyboard sequentially moved through the alphabet using a finger patten. “A” is thumb, “B” is Index, “C” is Middle, “D” is Ring, “E” is Pinky, “F” is Thumb+Index, “G” is Index+Middle, “H” is Middle+Ring,” and so on. We liked to have delete to be all five at once to kinda communicate the frustration when making a mistake. In order for people to see what they were translating, we projected a split screen: one in regular english font; the other in dotsies. Here’s the set up we had for the night (top) and split screen version of the final product of the night (bottom):
But participants were allowed to make mistakes; the project, after all, was all up to chance. And, in the spirit of the original poem, participants could type into the next section (you can see that one line starts to cross into the dotsies section). Letting participants complete the project (rather than having us type out the poem in dotsies) was us taking a chance, rolling the dice, and seeing what we could get. It was a delight to see some people revel in their mistakes, having fun with the chorder keyboard and liking the visualization of the dotsies font, even though, if translated, was full of typos. Other participants strived for perfection: typing and editing, typing and editing over and over again. You could say we really encouraged a close and sllooooooww reading of the text. Whether participants strived for perfection or whether they let the mistakes be, participants experienced what Maurice Blanchot calls Mallarmé’s experience:
“Language has within itself the moment that hides it. It has within itself, through this power to hide itself, the force by which mediation (that which destroys immediacy) seems to have the spontaneity, the freshness, and the innocence of the origin” (Blanchot, “Mallarmé’s Experience,”40-1)
The chorder keyboard, in conjunction with the split screen fonts, was crucial in forcing attention to the mediation of language and destroying the immediacy of language. As a result, the typos and neologisms that appeared (re)introduced a spontaneity and freshness to the poem.
Overall, it was fantastic to have so many participate and have fun with the project. By the end of the night, the chorder keyboard was accidentally broken and the final word of the night was “concealing.” It was fitting, Stephen and I thought, that the project, very much about revealing the mediation of language, concealed itself by the end of the night.
And so here is the final product: