Today, self-described autodidact and freelance mobile-development expert Ariel Malka talks about the literary texts he wants to explore in digital space and his research and development initiatives. He also shares some biographical information about the man behind the software code. We published Part 1 of this interview last week.
In Part 1 of our interview, Ariel, you describe working with James Joyce’s “Ulysses” to create He Liked Thick Word Soup. What other literary texts would you like to explore?
I’m waiting for the occasion to explore the Theatre of the Absurd via such authors as Guillaume Apollinaire and Alfred Jarry.
I would also like to study the Aeolus episode in Ulysses or the radical vision of a contemporary poet like Kenneth Goldsmith, before creating an experiment featuring Israeli news.
Life obviously is too short but I shall not die before creating a work inspired by the surrealist and metaphysical poetry of Ezekiel 3 and Ezekiel 5.
Do you espouse an aesthetic of programming design/development and, if so, what does it encompass?
I refuse to see a separating line between art and technology. Learning to program is likely only a matter of motivation.
I think designers should start coding and creating their own tools to overcome the limiting metaphors imposed by mainstream authoring software.
[My objectives were three-fold]: creating a perspective of 2000 years of Bible reading, exploring the evolving concept of “sacred place” through the history of the Jewish people, and suggesting the metaphysical experience associated with desert wandering and reminiscent of the state-of-mind of the Qumran Community.
How does the work contribute to discussions about books and reading in a “post-book” age?
That is the subject of an academic paper titled “The evolving terrain of the book” by Leslie Atzmon, professor of graphic design and design history at Eastern Michigan University.
In another work, using the text and a recording of Apollinaire’s poems, you set up “a dialogue between the spoken voice and the written text.” What would or might we hear when we listen to that “dialogue”?
The association of reading with an additional sense, like hearing, contains some emotional factor—similar to the association mix of reading and touch in the “Ulysses” app.
I think I have done my part as a researcher and artist by defining the experiment and producing the artwork. The next step is to receive feedback.
So far, this self-commissioned work (certainly one of my favorites) has been experienced only by a few, so we will have to wait until it becomes more popular. [In an aside, Malka told me that promotional work “could definitely help but there is a limit inherent to the medium: it’s difficult to convince the audience to download and execute desktop apps. . . .”]
Do you limit yourself to poems or texts in the public domain?
Using texts not in the public domain is problematic. Does it make sense to spend months developing an app that could be removed from the mobile market in a snap at copyright owners’ request? (In 2004, I created a now-defunct browser-based app to experience Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Sand by making text slide over a virtual dune. The copyright owners did not complain, possibly because of the work’s relative anonymity.) [Information about this app is on Malka’s Website.]
What contemporary poet(s) or writer(s) would you like to collaborate with and why?
Currently, being limited to non-contemporary authors is not a critical issue. (I could easily spend my whole life creating works based solely on the Bible or “Ulysses”.)
I would love to collaborate with poet Eran Hadas. We share a common passion for words and computation.
It could be a unique opportunity to either play with the highly malleable Hebrew language or craft the first Chronotext experiment featuring computer-generated text.
How did you become interesting in and recognize your affinity for designing and programming and, more specifically, text renderings?
From a young age, I had a passion for drawing, inspired by my father—an artist, master of colors and etching—and the very rich and accessible comics culture in the France of the 1980s.
As a teenager, I had a passion for video games, and I wanted to create my own. Information was scarce in the middle of the ‘80s and most of us were not members of any computer club. The only way to learn was to hack the software to understand how a soup of hexadecimal numbers instructs the computer.
After conceiving Chronotext, [I found it] necessary to master text rendering programmatically. My experience with typography as a graphic designer in the ‘90s facilitated this.
Did you or do you have a mentor in the digital space field?
How do you promote your R&D work?
R&D takes place on several planes.
One of the most important decisions I have made was to go open-source with the Chronotext toolkit in 2012. My goal was not to disclose the complete code of my experiments and artworks but to share some of the raw building blocks on which they rely. . . This model permits some interesting win/win situations. Recently, for example, a start-up, motivated by its product’s internationalization, substantially funded a significant upgrade of the text-rendering engine.
Open-source is the necessary foundation for future community-driven development of Chronotext. . . with much yet to be done: coding standards must be raised, documentation must be written, software examples must be created. In parallel, promotion must take place, and a dialogue with developers established, with nurturing of those interested following.
Currently, this task is low-priority, because more than half of my time is spent earning a living, and I always favor creation of new works during periods dedicated to Chronotext. If public interest were to reach a critical point, it might make sense to seek public funding.
A representative example of R&D work in practice is the “text wire” component of my “Ulysses” app. Some domain expert might reuse the component in a totally different context. Currently, I see the relative success of the app as an opportunity to test “natural” promotion.
It also would be helpful to inventory all the components created over the years preliminary to some active promotion.
What might be some longer-range implications of your creative design and programming work?
Proposing alternative ways to read, write, understand, and communicate; blurring the barriers among disciplines; democratizing experimentation.
What are some practical applications of your animations?
One might be mesmerization. Is it practical? Certainly, in the context of meditation.
It is indeed possible to put the animations to use to create experiences at the service of a goal defined by some domain expert. In the context of education, we could, for example, imagine a game proposing to “fly over a textual landscape” as a means to language discovery.
Who or what are your sources of inspiration?
I’m inspired by authors like Joyce; artists like Zachary Lieberman; tv channels like Arte; sites like UbuWeb.
To what kinds of creative communities do you belong?
I’m a member of the Cinder community, centered around open-source creative coding.
What kinds of activities fill your “off “ hours?
I enjoy family time, walking or running at the beach, watching good movies, and a small dose of reading.
What are most proud of having created to date, and why?
I could say I’m proud of Chronotext as a whole but the experiment I would take to a desert island is “The Text Time Curvature, ” commissioned for the 2004 processing exhibition. It’s a tool for recording the act of writing, and replaying it later. It features a tree structure to manage thought interruptions. It’s my first and only implementation of an epistemological device. . . It’s also my most intimate work: to demonstrate usage, I expose my own recording (video capture). The potential for collective writing, hand-writing, etc., is promising, and I’m eager to continue exploring this branch of research.
Where do you think the locus of innovation is today?
The most difficult question of the lot to answer. I choose not to play the expert at this stage.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in breaking into your field?
It’s not trivial to provide generic advice. I guess it can’t hurt to read Nathan Shedroff’s “Information Interaction Design: A Unified Field Theory of Design.”
Can you tell us about any new new-media projects you’re working on now?
I’m not working on any new project. I’ve dedicated the last few months to Chronotext and the time has come to address financial matters.
For years, my solution has been to work for the flourishing start-up industry. I sell my ability to implement solutions that can only be executed by a programmer who is also a designer. The work periods range between six months and nine months—the time required to refill my bank account and save money for the next Chronotext round (three to four months). This split is necessary, because having a permanent day job and working on Chronotext only during evenings or weekends is absolutely unproductive. So, year after year, the challenge is to find a start-up willing to have me on board for only a momentary journey.
What’s your idea of a dream project?
An imaginary dialogue reflecting the utopia of my dream project:
Mr. Malka, we like your work. Can you propose a project?
Yes, but a significant part of the project is the proposition itself.
What do you suggest?
Payment in advance covering my expenses for a predefined period at the end of which the final product will be delivered.
Photo by Andreas Levers, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Maureen Doallas, author of Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems.
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L. L. Barkat says
Fascinating thinker and innovator. Tucking this one away to guide my own designer-coder daughter 🙂