The Cybernetic Artworld

In 1952, a century after Ada Lovelace suggested that computing machinery might be used to write musical scores, the first text generation program was written at the University Of Manchester. It was a love letter generator. Which I was completely unaware of in 2003 when I wrote "The Cybernetic Artwork Nobody Wrote".

"Cybernetic…" was a Flash program that generated textual descriptions of simple abstract figure/ground visual compositions. The title came from an ironic 1970s code art piece I’d seen in an Art & Language catalogue, and the idea came from the random poetry generators I’d seen in an Usborne children’s book about programming in the early 1980s. It’s a computer art historical intervention, an artwork that as far as I know nobody created but that someone really should have.

I wrote a Common Lisp version a couple of years later but it was still intended as an art historical project. There was a comment in a review of a computer art history book I read a while ago that talked about artists working after their (techno-)historical moment, and in the era of collective intelligence, statistical methods, data visualisation and big data, text generators are passe. But then so was woodcut in the era of cubism, and that difference was used constructively by the expressionists.

What suddenly made a possible virtue of Cybernetic’s simplicity and brevity was the emergence of microblogging services such as Twitter, which reduced the affective and semantic bandwidth available to would-be Turing Testers to 140 characters. Cybernetic could take part in the ambient chatter of the Twitosphere. Or the Dentosphere – I used the Free (now Status Net) replacement for the proprietary Twitter service.

Earlier in 2009 I’d abandoned a couple of projects to simulate a parodic toy artworld visually or textually, but the simplicity, programmability, and social context of microblogging services allowed me to plan out what looked like an achievable version. An artist bot would microblog descriptions of possible artworks, a curator would blog references to those that made it into a show, a critic would blog evaluations of those works, and a collector bot would buy any that the critic identified as masterpieces. This would provide the artist with feedback to modify its aesthetic.

The curator and the feedback loop haven’t been implemented (yet), but the artist/critic/collector social network are a perfect toy embodiment of precisely how the artworld doesn’t work. They all run on the same server but the critic and the collector really do parse the output that they seem to. And they are running constantly, although I have to restart them when they crash or the server is restarted without my knowledge.

The Cybernetic Artworld is satire, both of art criticism and academia that takes the artworld’s self-image seriously and of the still current idea of relational art. It’s socialised aesthetic form, aestheticised social form. It’s a bit of fun. But it works, it’s aesthetically and conceptually rewarding, and it has critical content.

2009 Good Stuff

In January the sources for Goto 10’s "Floss+Art" book were released, which feature the expanded version of my essay "Open Source Art Again".

In March I went to the FSF’s "Libre Planet" conference, which was great. Thanks to Mako for the sofa!

In December I went to Goto 10’s "Make Art" conference to talk about Foocorp’s project, which went live in April.

Furtherfield continued to publish my reviews. I find writing reviews very hard, and it’s always good when I get feedback, I think my most popular review on that basis was the one of Pall Thayer’s excellent Microcodes.

CIAC published some different reviews, which gave me a good chance to review work I wouldn’t have had a chance to otherwise.

And I finished a good number of projects, including The Cybernetic Artworld, The Colour Of News, The Colour Of, the code for the Demo Graphic Replicators, and Random Aesthetics.

A big thank you to everyone whose material and moral support made this all possible. I feel very lucky to have got to do so much good stuff this year. I hope to do even more next year.

The Zero Dollar Laptop Project

Donate your old laptops to help Furtherfield with the Zero Dollar Laptop project!

In order to become a Zero Dollar Laptop your old laptop will need:-

  • a working screen
  • processor-a minumum 1GHz Pentium 3, Athlon, Celeron.
  • 256 (but more ideally 512) ram
  • wireless card would be helpful

See here for more information –


I’ve hopefully restored the formatting on the older entries in this blog.

Comment formatting couldn’t be recovered this time, hopefully I’ll be able to get it back at some point in the future.

Make Art FooCorp Talk Slides

Here are the slides from my talk at Make Art as a 5.4 MB pdf (all photographs, logos, and the network topography diagram copyright their rightsholders)

And here are the SVG sources for the original diagrams (licence is CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported), 12.5 KB.

Thanks to everyone who asked for these! Any questions just ask in the comments.

Albums of the Year

Embracing cliche, and alphabetically –

Good –

Demize – Maleficent (Nine Inch Nails fronted by Danielle Dax rather than Trent Reznor)
Divided – Theoretical Girl (well-observed superior chamber folk )
Djin – Queen Adreena (Heavy and scary, sometimes too much so but worth it anyway)
Flattery Not Included – Mister B The Gentleman Rhymer (sharp, witty chap-hop fun)
From An Ancient Star – Belbury Poly (irresistible mid-life-crisis nostalgia electronica)
Here She Comes A-Tumblin’ – Birdeatsbaby (excellent contemporary cabaret)
Lungs – Florence and the Machine (ignore the soi disant radical music press backlash)
More Mature Escapades in Hi-FI – Furny (surprisingly affecting mash-up satire)
Primary Colours – The Horrors (fun even when you remember the source of the pastiche)
33 – Esben And The Witch (Good post-Goth)

Bad –

Defiance – Lahannya (the industrial version of Ben Elton’s “We Will Rock You”)
Hands – Little Boots (technically competent but aesthetically and affectively vacuous)
Quicksilver – The Cruxshadows (bad Eurodisco is not the future of Goth)
Sunn O’s album (Not heard it, but a million middle-aged music journos can’t be right)
To Lose My Life – White Lies (want to be Joy Division? Work at the Job Centre)
XX – The XX (Remedial Pixies with Doctor Avalanche on drums and no song structure)

What did I miss?

Cover Version

“This is not my song to you and this is not me singing it,
 A cover version, words I found, dressed in black with eyes seductive,
 Eyes are mirrors of the soul, mirror mine I don’t feel whole,
 I remember yesterday but someone else bought yesterday…”

 – ‘Cover Version’, Words and Music.

What is your favourite cover version? Mine are, alphabetically –

Dear Prudence – Siouxsie and The Banshees

Emma – The Sisters of Mercy

Hounds Of Love – The Futureheads

I Could Turn You Inside Out – Words and Music

Jolene – Everyone

Knocking On Heaven’s Door – Everyone

Tainted Love – Soft Cell, Marilyn Manson

If software should not have owners, should songs? In what way are songs not instruments? In what way is the resonance of unique expression not a means for every individual to their own end?