September 22, 2004

Word and Sound

by Nick Montfort · , 11:43 pm

The exhibit Michael Winkler: Word Images 1982-2004: A New Visual Orthography opened today in the Rosenwald Gallery on the 6th Floor of the Van Pelt Library Center here at Penn. Winkler has based his work on an alternate way of representing words made up of letters in the Roman alphabet; he connects lines within a circle of 26 points, the vowels spaced evenly; “IS,” for example, is a single line between the spot corresponding to “I” and the spot corresponding to “S.” (The image here is worth a thousand words of description.) This new orthography doesn’t correspond one-to-one with existing spellings; reversible pairs words, like “mood” and “doom,” have the same representation, as do “ban” and “banana.” The exhibit includes stone tablets, installation materials bound in a large book, paintings, and a large set of cards with each words a long passage in “normal” and new renderings. Winkler told me at the opening that he was contemplating a computer piece that would go through all the words in a large dictionary (and that he manually did all of the “A” words) but, in the end, he wanted people in this exhibit to be able to look more deeply at the figures of single words. These works reminded me of the different, but related, takes on language and letter in John Maeda’s Tap, Type, Write and in Diana Slattery’s Glide. Of course, Winkler’s procedure for generating his main figures from words is purely algorithmic, even though he doesn’t use an electronic computer to do it. The exhibit is up through December 10.

Douglas Irving Repetto’s SineClock is a wonderfully elegant piece. It’s well worth downloading it and spending at least a few hours (maybe a few weeks) listening to it. I like the concept of the computer application incarnation of the piece better than the “hardware” version, since it replaces, or at least pushes aside, the precision of the computer’s displayed clock with its ambient sound, giving a sense of the change of time and the difference in times of day that is strange but promises to be decipherable. Download here; thanks to Clive Thompson for the link and for his comments on the piece, which are worth reading.

3 Responses to “Word and Sound”

  1. Abject Learning Says:
    [Textologies] – Reactive Books by John Maeda
    P22 is pleased to offer a selection of artist books which transcend the traditional limits and interactions of paper and the computer. These unique books were created by digital artist, John Maeda and produced by our Japanese associates, Digitalogue. …

  2. Michael Winkler Says:

    Nick, I don’t know if I already wrote you to say thanks for writing something about the show–I’ve been a little overwhemed lately, I can’t quite distinguish between my planning and my actions–Meg says I should learn to write myself notes but it’s no fun to be that organized.

    It was really nice meeting you and I hope you’ll keep me updated on your activities via e-mail (a lot of what you’re involved with is of interest to me).

    All the Best,


  3. nick Says:

    I just noticed that Michael Winkler has a website (a new one, I think) with a nice image of the exhibit that I wrote about in this post — along with several other images of his visual transformations of language.

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