Looking for new poetic spaces

The digital poetry of multimedia artist Jörg Piringer

Week of the Festival: Krems, Austria

If you are looking for poetic and artistic questions, answers and inspiration about the digital world, you are certainly well advised to take a closer look at digital poetry. The media artist Jörg Piringer is one of the world’s leading representatives of this art form, as he not only uses existing programmes creatively, but as a trained computer scientist he also knows how to analyse them and how to develop poetic software by himself. This enables him to open doors to enhanced and new forms of artistic expression that are not only up to date but also ahead of times. It is always important to take a critical look at the digital world, as his other projects prove — above all his longtime activity as a founding member of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, which mainly follows lo-fi paths and makes cabbage, carrots and cucumbers sounds, as well as the Institute for Transacoustic Research, which, among other things, is dedicated to the exploration of sounds that are contained in everyday objects. His artistic approach is transmedial and ranges from literature to film and music, enriching existing genres such as sound poetry, visual poetry and literary performance and opening up new genres such as code poetry as well as new artistic media such as apps. His work is most obviously published on the Internet, but also in numerous international anthologies and journals. In 2018, a 287-page selection of his works in book form was published by Ritter Verlag in Klagenfurt / Celovec

Jörg Piringer – Dark Voice © Alte Schmiede

The book begins with stills from a visual-poetic animation, namely a kind of big bang from a primordial point out ofwhich the letters from the Latin alphabet expand spirally. In the five sections thereafter, verse”, question and answer”, search text”, flowing text” and arrangement”, Piringer presents possibilities, but also amusing non-possibilities of contemporary machine poetry. The spectrum ranges from automation-supported anagrams, machine-made translations and retranslations of poems with mistranslations as a calculated stylistic device, or from image to text and text to image to neural poetry, about which the very informative appendix paratext” says: an artificial neural network (multi-layer recurrent neural network) is trained with a selection of the supposedly best German poems. The network generates this text” from it. And it reads for example like this: ich nut dich weinen der lieden / und eine schleinen sleun, / die lied in wang sich der tranen grüben gehen?” A satirised form of German that recalls Matthias Koeppel’s Starckdeutsch or Charlie Chaplin’s imitation of German in The Great Dictator”. The subversive affirmation made by a machine unmasks pathosand casts critical light on human writing styles. The whole literary texts of datenpoesie” were not written in a human language, but in programming languages such as C++, Lua, Objective-C, Lisp, Python, Clojure, Prolog and Haskell, as Piringer states in his notes concerning his methodology. It also involves a critical and accurate examination of the digital world with all its possibilities of surveillance and manipulation, which are countered by a poetic autonomy. For example, the text fuck the überwachungsstaat” (fuck the surveillance state”) — a sequence of numbers, letters and signs — is completely decipherable according to the current state of the arts. datenpoesie” can justifiably be described as a basic work on digital poetry, in which Piringer productively explores and advances experimental genres such as those developed by Dada, Oulipo and Conceptual Art.  

With the DVD darkvoice” (2019), Piringer continues this way impressively. The eleven tracks, three videos and the album’s graphics deal with the role of spoken language, which is threatened by permanent surveillance. darkvoice” stands for a fictitious electronic secret language, comparable to Rotwelsch, which can no longer be understood by anyone,and is no longer decodable, thus making monitoring needless. Jörg Piringer also calls darkvoice” the darkening of language, the code talker whom nobody understands anymore, because his language 1 (remove 1?)  never existed, the blackened language, the indecipherable message”. It is intended as the sound of the new world order, the private language on the net”. The title also reminds us of Darknet, which is not only used for criminal purposes, but also for e.g. the protected communication of human rights activists, and thus can be a free space. A free space that darkvoice” also creates, especially for art. The tracks are rhythmic and by no means as highbrow as experimental approaches are often clichédly described. They are music, both audible and danceable, and — of course — stylistically reminiscent of the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, to some extent a digital version of it. There are also echoes of experimental music styles such as Industrial and No Wave music. The lyrics are both terrific multi-layered sound poetry and music made of syllables. Since language can never be completely detached from meaning and even the most meaningless syllable can never be completely detached from existing lexemes, the texts open up very interesting fields of association that are also suggested by the titles of the tracks, such as dig”, reminiscent of both digital” and “dig”, el sys” contains system”, hoit” sounds similar to heute”, the German word for today” or like the Viennese word halt, i. e. stop. The videos represent the corresponding visual-poetic realisation of the poetic sound samples by presenting rhythmic and dynamic animated character sequences deriving, for instance, from simple punctuation marks by using enlargements and reductions, as well as alternating black and white or light and dark sequences. All this creates huge poetic spaces. It is recommended to enter them.