The Rhizome Digest merged into the Rhizome News in November 2008. These pages serve as an archive for 6-years worth of discussions and happenings from when the Digest was simply a plain-text, weekly email.

Subject: RHIZOME DIGEST: 11.29.02
Date: Sat, 30 Nov 2002 23:03:54 -0500

RHIZOME DIGEST: November 29, 2002


1. Lev Manovich: COMPUTER ARTIST position | University of California, San

2. Melinda Rackham: - games/gender/girls
3. G a r r e t t: "buy nothing day" contest winner

4. Jim Andrews: "Blue Hyacinth" by Pauline Masurel

5. "t.whid": when Google has achieved the net art masterpiece, what are the
artists to do?

6. Are Flagan: Sign of the times

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Date: 11.26.02
From: Lev Manovich (manovich AT
Subject: COMPUTER ARTIST position | University of California, San Diego



Assistant Professor, tenure-track, beginning July 1, 2003. Salary
commensurate with qualifications and experience and based upon UC pay
scales. We seek an artist with a proven exhibition record whose work
exhibits an in-depth understanding of computing and its relationship to
contemporary art and its discourses. UCSD is a research university that
actively promotes and supports creative work and advanced research in
computing within a broadly interdisciplinary arts department that includes
studio, media, and art history, theory and criticism. Opportunities for
developing research include grants, state-of-the-art facilities including
CRCA (Center for Research in Computing and the Arts), the Supercomputer
Center, and the new California Institute for Telecommunications and
Information Technology, and cross-campus collaborations. Teaching will
include both graduate seminars and undergraduate courses, including courses
in an Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major with the department of
Music. Candidates must demonstrate in their work and teaching a substantial
engagement with the computing arts and their relationship to broader
discourses of contemporary art and culture.

Candidate will actively participate in the ongoing development of curriculum
and facilities. Teaching will draw upon knowledge of networked
cross-platform (Linux, Macintosh, NT/Windows PC) environments. Areas of
expertise might include any of the following:; digital imaging;
multimedia authoring and publishing; graphics or sound programming; virtual
environments; computer based installation; electronics and robotics; history
and theory of new media. MFA or equivalency and teaching experience

Send letter of application, curriculum vitae, names and addresses of three
references (do not send letters of recommendation and/or placement files)
and evidence of work in the field. This evidence may be in the form of
slides, tapes, discs, publications and/or public lectures and should be
accompanied by return mailer and postage.

Susan Smith, Chair (Position #AC03-S)
University of California San Diego
Visual Arts Department (0327)
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0327

All applications received by January 10, 2003, or thereafter until position
is filled, will receive thorough consideration. Please reference position
#AC03-S on all correspondence.

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Date: 11.29.02
From: Melinda Rackham (melinda AT
Subject: - games/gender/girls

Join -empyre- in December ( for our final 02
session featuring cyber chicks Julianne Pierce and Mary Flanagan, both of
whom have investigated the game genres in relation to issues of media,
gender and power. Currently through their individual artistic, textual,
production and critical interventions, Flanagan and Pierce are players in
the construction of theory and culture of our shared online networks.

--->Julianne Pierce, artist, new media producer and co-founder of
pioneering Australian cyberfeminist group VNS Matrix and current
Director of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT), will
discuss shifts in the cyberfeminist movement since its inception in
the early 1990's. Has cyberfeminism emerged as an empowering 'tool'
for engagement with technology, or has it become a factionalised
theoretical movement with little practical outcome? She will also
look at new media art within this context and more generally take a
look at the current concerns and issues of new media artists.

VNS Matrix

--> Media practitioner and theorist Mary Flanagan investigates the
intersection of art, technology, and gender study through critical writing,
artwork, and
activism. She is also the creator of "The Adventures of Josie True," the
first web-based adventure game for girls. Mary has recently show in All Star
Data Mappers at Artspace, Sydney and in the Whitney Biennial,and edited,
with Austin Booth, "_reload: rethinking women + cyberculture" which views
cyberculture as a social experiment with an as-yet-unfulfilled potential to
create new identities, relationships, and cultures.

Mary Flanagan
reload: rethinking women + cyberculture

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David Byrne on northern european Blip Hop music and others in
LEONARDO MUSIC JOURNAL special issue no 12. on PLEASURE.
Orders from journals-orders AT for Table of Contents see CD features experimental music from
EASTERN EUROPE curated by Christian Scheib and Susanna Niedermayr.

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Date: 11.29.02
From: - G a r r e t t - (garrett AT
Subject: "buy nothing day" contest winner

Hello everyone

The Banner Art Collective announces winner of Buy Nothing Day contest.

The Banner Art Collective's Buy Nothing Day contest received 15
banners from artists in France, the UK, and the US. Thanks to all
artists for a great and varied group of entries.

Many entries were strong, so contest officials almost decided to
split the grand prize of $0 (USD) between several entries.
Ultimately, though, the grand prize was awarded to Zebra3's
"buy-sell(f) nothing," a banner which subverts the textuality of
corporate logos to good effect. Zebra3's banner will be featured on
the Banner Art Collective's front page (
through the holiday buying season.

Buy Nothing Day (November 29th in the US and Canada, November 30th in
Europe and elsewhere) is an annual international event held to
protest the unoffical opening day of holiday shopping. It is
organized by the Adbusters Media Foundation
( Now in its eleventh year, Buy Nothing
Day is a 24-hour consumer fast and celebration of sustainable living.
Over one million people around the world are expected to participate.

As always, the Banner Art Collective (
continues to collect new entries for its ongoing banner art
collection. From November 29 through February 4, the site will be
included in the Edith-Russ Site for Media Art exhibition "Total
Ã?berzogen" ( in Oldenburg,
Germany. The group plans to stage several banner art "happenings"
within commercial advertising space in early 2003.


Salut tous

Le Banner Art Collective announce le gagnant de le "Buy Nothing Day"

Le "Buy Nothing Day" (achete rien jour) concours de le "Banner Art
Collective" a recu 15 banniere's de artistes en France, Angleterre et
Etais Unis. On remerci tout qui a participe au concours.

Le qualite de banniere's entre dans le concours etait forte et on a
presque decide a diviser le grand prix de $0 (USD) soit 0â?¬ entre
plusiers artistes. Finalemant on a decide le gagnant est Zebra3 avec
son banniere "buy-sell(f) nothing," un bannier qui manipule le
utilisation de plusiers logo commercial avec de results interessant.
Le banniere de Zebra3 va ete heberge sur le page d'acceuil de le
Banner Art Collective ( juste au fin de

"Buy Nothing Day" (Novembre 29 en Etais Unis et Canada, Novembre 30
en Europe et ailleurs) est un fete international contre cette saison
de Noel qui est de plus en plus un vacances commercialise. Il est
organise par le "Adbusters Media Foundation"
( En existence depuis 11 ans, "Buy
Nothing Day" est un abstinence de toute qui est commercialise qui
duree 24 heures. Plus de un million gens sont estime a participe
cette an.

Le Banner Art Collective ( continue a
herberge de bannieres pour notre exposition de banner art. Jusqu'a
fevrier 4, le site va participe dans le exposition "Total Ã?berzogen"
au Musee de Edith-Russ site pour Media Art
( en Oldenburg, Allemagne.
Nous commence a organise de banner art "evenements" qui reprend de
espace commercial en 2003.

Garrett AT

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Date: 11.26.02
From: Jim Andrews (jim AT
Subject: "Blue Hyacinth" by Pauline Masurel

It's a pleasure to publish Pauline Masurel's piece "Blue Hyacinth" at (requires IE 4+).

There's discussion between Pauline and me concerning "Blue Hyacinth" and
the stir frys at .

"The story has already been written...her blue hyacinth voice. The story
has already been written another in the corner is smoking. The story has
already been written in colour. The story has already been written and
he's just here now to watch it played out."

In one of the four texts, we read of a night club owner's remote
reaction to his blowing up a rival night club called The Blue Hyacinth.
In another, a woman describes the actions of someone who broke into her
house and left voice recordings on all her tapes, leaves voice messages
on her phone, "it goes on for months, her blue hyacinth voice." In
another of the texts, a woman relates of having won money bet on Blue
Hyacinth at the track, and her own inexplicable giving up of the

Masurel has used the mechanism of the stir fry to transform fictive
stories/vignettes into a vortex of poetry...and back again to fiction,
as you please.

Many thanks to Pauline for "Blue Hyacinth" and its transformations
through the shapes of fiction and poetry.

There are now five stir fry texts involving various participants:
Pauline, Brian Lennon, Leo Marx, Jerome McGann, Talan Memmott, Mary
Phillips, Joseph Weizenbaum, Lee Worden, and translation into Chinese of
one of them by Shuen-shing Lee. They have been published in the Iowa
Review Web,, DOC(K)S from France, Taiwan, and offline in
Denmark. The project was started in 1999 and may or may not be finished
according to whether the form inspires others to do something different
with it, as Pauline has.

The stir fry form keys on the DHTML innerHTML method which allows you to
change the HTML code inside a (SPAN) or (DIV). Pauline's "Blue Hyacinth"
can transform into 4^30=1,152,921,504,606,846,976 different texts as you
mouse over it. So the 'whole thing' will never be read. But neither need
all 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 different texts be read to grasp what we
would call 'the meaning' of the piece.

As we move into combinatorially complex works, we realize that what it
means to read a combinatorium with subtlety and comprehension does not
involve the necessarily impossible task of reading all the possibilities
of a combinatorium but, rather, getting a sense of the directions in
which the possibilities tend by sampling them until they begin to
diminish in significant difference. In the end, we see that the mind
ranges very quickly through 1,152,921,504,606,846,976 despite its
seeming insuperability. A text of 1,152,921,504,606,846,976
possibilities is still amenable to the creation of meaning on a human
scale not simply by disregarding most of the possibilities, but by
virtue of the way the underlying 4 texts guide the reader through
primary (spanning set) spaces of meaning.


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Mute, issue 25, is out this week. Conceptually and volumetrically
expanded, (involves more cartographic & artists' projects & has doubled
the pages), this new bi-annual volume is phat. Articles on: WarChalking,
the Artists' Placement Group and Ambient Culture and more.

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Date: 11.29.02
From: "t.whid" (twhid AT
Subject: when Google has achieved the net art masterpiece, what are the
artists to do?

preface: this little text started out very casually, then grew a bit
organically. i attempted to polish, but i'm not a great writer. it now
seems to be uncomfortably sitting somewhere btw tossed off email and a
serious attempt at commentary.

Subject: when Google has achieved the net art masterpiece, what are the
artists to do?

reading this story in the nytimes recently:

"Postcards From Planet Google"

from the article:
"AT Google's squat headquarters off Route 101, visitors sit in the
lobby, transfixed by the words scrolling by on the wall behind the
receptionist's desk: animaciÃ?Ã?n japonese Harry Potter pensÃ?zes et poÃ?ymes
associaÃ?xÃ?so brasileira de normas tÃ?zcnicas.

The projected display, called Live Query, shows updated samples of what
people around the world are typing into Google's search engine. The
terms scroll by in English, Chinese, Spanish, Swedish, Japanese,
Korean, French, Dutch, Italian - any of the 86 languages that Google

Stare at Live Query long enough, and you feel that you are watching the
collective consciousness of the world stream by. "

this article, like many tech-related articles i read, got me thinking
about the two worlds in which many of us on this list exist: the worlds
of art and technology. how they're different. how they're the same. how
are their functions evolving?

in a world where a technology company can display 'the collective
consciousness of the world'(1) as a backdrop to their reception desk,
essentially a marketing ploy for their services; when they can collect
this data, sit on it and ruminate on how to 'monetize' it; when it
takes a fully capitalized, profit-driven corporation employing some of
the brightest engineers around to achieve such fascinating data then
what is left for the artist to do?

it used to be that it was the artist's job to capture the 'collective
consciousness' either through intuition, genius, or dumb-luck. the
artists were the ones who told humans what humans were thinking about,
obsessing over, loving, hating. we no longer need intuition, genius or
even dumb-luck. we've got hard data and more is coming in every

thinking about google's Live QueryË? (check out google's zeitgeist for a
taste: (2)) i start to
imagine what an artist might do with the information. especially if the
artist could get the info in a realtime stream. but, then, i think
about most of the data visualization projects i've seen (Carnivore
clients as an example) and they don't do all that much for me. they are
simply formal exercises which, though are interesting in their
random-seeming behavior, don't have a visual richness to command my awe
(a limitation of screens and projectors) and don't possess a depth
conceptually to make me go, 'aaahh'.

what could an artist add to the GoogleË? Live QueryË?? How could one make
it any more sublime than it is? the artist could add nothing. when the
data-set ITSELF is so conceptually fascinating there is no more to do.
any sort of visualization would simply be distraction. simply KNOWING
that the data is flowing in and stored on some magnetic media somewhere
is enough for me. it's fun to see it stream-in i suppose, but the
knowledge of it's creation and archival is much more than fun; it's

Google has achieved the net art masterpiece. there has not been
anything created in net art that comes close to it and i don't foresee
anything coming from the arts that could rival it. the arts are
underfunded. the arts don't have access to the same resources. the
technologists will always win in this game of art and tech. i feel that
we've strayed to far into their world in some areas; we can't compete
when it comes to the 'awe' factor. sure, we can 'comment', 'criticize',
and 'tweak,' but it mostly comes out thin compared to our market
cousins: the Googles, the Ids, the Pixars, the Rockstar Games. we
simply don't have the tech that they play with and will always be
behind in that area; we can't compete FORMALLY with the commercial
side. though our projects my be much deeper conceptually, the form or
aesthetic allows people to step into the work, if it doesn't stack up
against the commercial counterpart, it's easy for the audience to
ignore it.

To be precise, there are a few areas where artists are going to be
hard-pressed to compete. Those areas are 3D gaming, 'virtual' worlds
and 3D animation; and realtime data visualization and manipulation.

The worlds created in the Sims, Grand Theft Auto, Toy Story, Quake and
etc are complex and exciting in ways which their artworld counterparts
can't match up. They are larger, easier to navigate, more exciting to
interact with, have more sophisticated visuals, are more entertaining,
and are surprising in their level of freedom to interact (the audience
has more options). And why shouldn't they be more interesting? They've
got large teams of developers working on them, they can test the
interaction in focus groups and have almost unlimited pools of capital
to draw from. What individual artist could compete with that?

in realtime data collection and manipulation, IMO, the strength of the
work comes from the intriguing data. the visual representations of this
data should help us comprehend interesting data. if the data isn't
interesting, neither is the piece no matter how interesting the visuals
may be. Research firms, search engines, polling companies create
interesting and therefor very valuable data to the market. There will
always be a technological advantage fueled by capital to the market
technologists as opposed to the artists. They have the capital to put
together interesting data in ways that artists can't compete with.

One area where the artists and the industry can compete head-to-head is
in *web art*(3), this is an area where artists are ahead of industry,
IMO. Web *presentation* technologies (CSS, XHTML, DHTML Flash,
Director, etc) are more readily available so this makes sense. It's an
area where artists are able to achieve technological parity. It's also
the area that is the most similar to traditional art practice; it lends
itself to the individual creator working with limited means.

So what should be done? More funding for the arts is one answer.
Collectives of pooled technology and economic resources would be a
great way to go. Korean immigrants in NYC join credit clubs where
everyone pays into a central pool and they can then receive loans to
start businesses. This model could work for artists working in

it will be very hard to compete it some of these areas however. if
there is no pay-off in the end, capitalists won't put money behind
projects. public funding is almost non-existent, subject to it's own
opaque rules, and wouldn't be enough to achieve technological parity in
any case.

(1) i know, i know, it's not the entire world, but it seems to me that
the sample is large enough that searches wouldn't change much if you
added EVERYONE to the mix.

(2 ) Looking over the google zeitgeist makes one a bit sick by it's
heavy tilt toward USAian pop cultural obsessions. They may be filtering
the data for this page to suit western viewers. Or perhaps lots more
USAians use Google.

(3) I make this distinction btw net art and web art: net art needs to
use a network as an integral part of the medium. if one takes the
network out of the piece, the piece ceases to function either literally
or conceptually. web art simply uses the web for distribution (ie one
can run it without a network connection and it works fine), is
presented through a browser (most of the time), and/or uses web
technologies (HTML, Flash etc).


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David Byrne on northern european Blip Hop music and others in
LEONARDO MUSIC JOURNAL special issue no 12. on PLEASURE.
Orders from journals-orders AT for Table of Contents see CD features experimental music from
EASTERN EUROPE curated by Christian Scheib and Susanna Niedermayr.

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Date: 11.28.02
From: Are Flagan (areflagan AT
Subject: Sign of the times

Sign of the times by Are Flagan

In his influential book The Language of New Media, Lev Manovich prominently
listed "transcoding" among the founding principles of new media. Discussing
the digital practices and operations arising to merit the debated shift into
"new," he singled out the ability of numerically encoded media objects to
translate or transform themselves, with unprecedented ease and according to
hitherto unfamiliar properties and coordinates. Coupled with the widespread
computerization of all media (still and moving images, sounds, texts, etc.),
this technology-driven metamorphosis moreover influences attendant cultural
categories and concepts, as Manovich succinctly notes: "Because new media is
created on computers, distributed via computers, and stored and archived on
computers, the logic of a computer can be expected to significantly
influence the traditional cultural logic of media; that is, we may expect
that the computer layer will affect the cultural layer." [1] Although the
transcoding concept has received its due share of attention since the book's
publication last year, frequently being quoted as the prime example of "old"
cataclysms, the associated grammar of principles has largely ignored many
common, more pragmatic, uses and applications of the term. At its computing
root, transcoding obviously regulates and facilitates the play of presence
and absence through math and logic; thereby making its operations active
across a vast yet proprietary field, ranging from the foundations of western
metaphysics to the latest electronic switches. So considered broadly along
with its profound dispersal, which significantly returns to the
consolidating principles deployed, the impending gravity of computer
transcoding is consequently, and not only epistemologically speaking,
immense. To avoid the neighboring black hole of sweeping generalizations
compiled in rounded nutshells, this brief essay will attempt to theorize
some aspects of this pervasive impact through specific and prominent trends
in contemporary

To once more narrow the focus on these preoccupations, one can in retrospect
appreciate that even the earliest controversies of unauthorized
mirroring were less about repeating the simulacra of postmodernism, which
had already been exhaustively explored through the medium of photography in
the preceding decade, than it was about revisiting questions of authenticity
and authority through the added momentum of transcoding. The act of
mirroring, seen here as always in a differentiated yet fulfilling presence,
in the 1999 actions of did not only clone the
destined-for-stardom site byte by byte under another domain name,
it also downloaded and offered a subversively altered version of
Art.Teleportacia, the first art gallery for the Web. Negotiating these
mirror(ing) phases obviously cast a long backward glance at postmodern
questions of replication and reproduction, but it also recognized that the
cumulative ability to transfer, transport, translate and transform, all
subsumed and made available under transcoding, had leveled the playing field
for a rather predictable set of artistic games to begin anew in a pioneering
context. If we leap three giant net years ahead to the present, an attentive
look at some recent entries to the catalog will garner attention to
a subsequent and related strategy that has become increasingly popular among
dedicated practitioners. A striking number of current works literally employ
and repeat what one may term an expansive approach to the transcoding
principle: they collect and/or generate structured data through various,
often rather novel, forms of input and then output this in a scrambled
appearance, regularly on rather abstract terms and generally according to
very simple rules.

To better illustrate this rapidly overflowing genre, three projects may
suffice: Taxi Art, [2] produced by SAS Design in London, uses the GPS
tracking of London taxis, which is already done for booking reasons, to
offer visitors to the site a series of choices for an online artwork drawn
by the humdrum path of taxis on the streets. First pick your minimalist and
formalist preference for aesthetics that largely resemble pie charts or
graphs in the form of lines or circles, then watch the drivers negotiate the
traffic to render your masterpiece. The result: a GPS doodle of urban
corridors that, from a cartographic point of view, would probably require
that you immediately hailed a cab to get around without getting lost.
Another recent example is Goodworld by Lew Baldwin, which can be found on
the Whitney Museum's lofty artport site. [3] Here you pick any URL and let
the site transform your location into colorful blobs for images, where the
color field is an aggregate of dominant RGB values in the original, and
emotive smiley faces for text. An almost analogous gig for music is the
developing WebPlayer [4] by Pete Everett, which currently prepares the stage
for a filtering of an URL into soft, luscious sounds transcoded from the
ASCII values of the hypertext, sans recurring code brackets. Somewhat
unexpectedly (unless you first read the process notes that pays homage to
how mathematically inspired composers turned repetitive numbers--base note
sequences--into sweet music), the result resonates more like naturalistic
jingles from the oceans than past sounds sampled from data and voiced by
tinny 386 processors to strike a distinctive digital note.

This net can easily be cast much broader and wider in all directions to
catch numerous projects that indulge in the type of transcoding alluded to.
But to save the impressions formulated thus far, we can discern the repeated
predilection toward taking ordered stacks of data and reshuffling the
packets: GPS traces in longitude and latitude turns to coordinated strokes,
graphical RGB values coalesce in bland color fields and HTTP rocks on
through the speakers, all according to Radio Taxis, Goodworld and WebPlayer
respectively. The reason all this reverse-engineered data mining and
logical-mathematical magic can unfold is of course due to the common binary
denominators of all data: 0 and 1. Translated into the bitplane through
binary notation a decimal value of, let's say 97, will read as a series of
0s and 1s. But this string of 97 reinterpreted through ASCII code is in fact
the "a" in the fact just presented and represented (given that this essay
does indeed appear as ASCII). And the 97 may of course also be attributed,
and reassigned, to a medium dark pixel value in an image or the pitch of a
programmed tone. Consider, then, that this 97 already circulates around the
Internet in many wrappings, from the corner of a company logo via the
central "a" in every wording of Mac to a frequency in an embedded sound
object, and you get the basic picture (or word or sound) of the
Esperanto-styled computing these projects are practicing and pointing to.
Within this mind-blowing conundrum of the computer medium lies the rationale
why these types of projects are both incessantly compelling and instantly
mundane: on one hand, since we are indeed talking binaries here, their
claims to isolate the multifarious behavior of data bits to their own
limited operations subdues the potential madness of an arbitrary bit
architecture and thereby grounds protocols in an oppositional, highly
reasonable context. But, on the other hand, the projects themselves reveal
these operations to always already be active and working away within this
selfsame structure. It is not insignificant in this regard that most
transcoding endeavors appear to indulge in rather semantically poor output
at the front end. In the three works discussed, we get abstract shapes and
patterns along with base sensory information scattered in HTML grids and
mellow MP3 music submerged in atmospheric harmonies. This choice, and it is
crucially a choice on the scripters/programmers behalf, basically attempts
to move away from the widely conversant computer literacy promoted by
transcoding, which implies the successive application of established
protocols, toward the linguistic plight of translation as transformation.
The flexible exchange rate of bits remains the modus operandi, but the
currency of the data outlet fluctuates in value--from ordered to scattered,
meaningful to meaningless and so on. Given the identically encoded binary
origin here, this treatment signals a distinctly asymmetrical rupture in
prevailing systems of representation and signification, making
interconnected expressions appear equal despite very obvious differences.

To better appreciate this fascinating move, a tangential and cursory shift
into semiology is desirable to avoid sidelining the fact that computing has,
or even is, a cultural history. Traditionally posited as a science of signs,
which are defined broadly without substance or limits, semiology operates
with a tripartite structure of sign, signifier and signified to
systematically elucidate the processes whereby any form of representation
appears meaningful. Although this premise originally looked at all sights
and sounds that may, in some form, solicit or elicit communication, it
gradually turned toward the primary intelligibility of language to study the
enunciating relations. At its core, however, and this is the crucial
reference to our present concerns, semiology was conceived as a system that,
as Roland Barthes has tellingly remarked, pursued a euphoric dream of
scientificity. By first positing a model that hypothetically supersedes
language through signification, this operative system is able to predict and
precede the moment of enunciation, rendering its inevitable emergence, in
semiological jargon, a transcendental signified. In very simple terms, one
could say that the system reveals something through the operations of the
model, and it appears natural when it successfully hides this fact. A short,
chronological list covering how this science has developed, and implying how
semiology is more broadly understood in this context, may include Charles
Sanders Peirce, Ferdinand Saussure, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, but
this narrow trail of contributions to the discipline branches out just about
everywhere, for example into the psychologism furthered by Jacques Lacan,
or, for those more familiar with photographic theory, the psychosemiology of
Victor Burgin. Only roughly sketching this particular context serves to
drastically shorthand the above scenarios for how the sign, signifier and
signified interact, what roles they respectively serve within the prescribed
signifying chains, and even how or by what each entity and each link is
constituted (every author mentioned gradually gets entangled in solving
questions raised by their own arguments). But the contested point of
acquiring a locus for logos, attached to these conjectural contortions, is
of course far from trivial and essentially perpetuates the debate. The
important legacy of immediate use here is that the presupposed division of
sign, signifier and signified has prevailed along with a preponderance
toward scientificity; it is of direct relevance to how the concept of
transcoding is built into computer logic, and accordingly understood and
practiced within new media theory and

Having acknowledged, in a roundabout yet very economical way, that the
distinction between signifier and signified is problematic at the root (as
it relies on the unity of the sign to make the concept present in and of
itself through, and despite of, this opposition), let us turn briefly to a
quote from an interview with Jacques Derrida conducted by Julia Kristeva
before returning to a more comprehensive discussion of computer transcoding.
Speaking of the opposition between signifier and signified, Derrida notes:

That this opposition of difference cannot be radical or absolute does not
prevent it from functioning, and even from being indispensable within
certain limits--very wide limits. For example, no translation would be
possible without it. In effect, the theme of a transcendental signified took
shape within the horizon of an absolutely pure, transparent and unequivocal
translatability. In the limits to which it is possible, or at least appears
possible, translation practices the difference between signifier and
signified. But if this difference is never pure, no more so is translation,
and for the notion of translation we would have to substitute a notion of
transformation: a regulated transformation of one language by another, one
text by another. [5]

Translation, to playfully paraphrase the same again in other words, implies
the seamless movement of pure signifieds across languages and texts
(platforms and formats) that the signifying apparatus itself supposedly
leaves untouched. It denies any precarious intertextuality, invoking a chain
of substitutions, in favor of an original that effectively surpasses any and
all transformation.

The popular new media concept of transcoding does indeed speak of a
limitless and highly effective translatability. Coupled with the associated
premise of numerical representation, it proposes that the application of
protocols to numbers has conjured up a science that programs closure into
every transaction, every translation, and every transposition of what
presents itself, in each transmuted instance, as the transcendental identity
of the signifier/signified in a sign. There is an unprecedented equivocality
at play here, one that operates in the dark passages of hardware and comes
to light through software, and which is consequently instrumental in
separating itself (and its objects) from the elucidating passage of the
signifying operations. Translation, practiced as the aforementioned
difference between signifier and signified, consequently succumbs to a
science of logical-mathematical notation. As such, it signals the practical
apotheosis of semiology, which has precisely been conceived of as a
systematized science of signs to break the metaphysical bounds. Hence the
longstanding semiotic project--founded and resolved upon the tripartite
sign, signifier, signified--reaches a certain "organic" totality through
computerized transcoding, bringing the necessary presupposition of a priori,
an innocent and independent writing before the letter, to communication.

What is not yet accounted for in this view (although it is of course there
through the founding signifier/signified opposition) is the move that
previously brought out the psycho prefix and applied it to semiology. The
signified, although attributed to the signifying chain that revolves around
the elusive conglomerate of a sign, may instead be part of a general
psychology, a scenario of mind over matter seeking a uniform social body
with a cohesive psychology to ground the sign in a detached collectivity.
This position, explored indirectly by Barthes through the gathering concept
of myth and more directly by Burgin in his reliance on Freudian
psychoanalysis, should of course not be discounted with regards to
affective, as a counterpoint to effective, data. The very human back and
front end--the self-fulfilling cycle--of transcoding will of course always
be subject to the same semantic mysteries as any pre-digital entity when it
comes to these instructive semiotic structures. The key point, however, is
that the appearance, the coming into being, of the signifier/signified
opposition through transcoding hinges on the murky fusion of zeroes and
ones: the base metaphysical counterpoints that now crucially couple through
a machine and not mental conjunction. Although this latter digression is
ripe with the usual analogies of mind and machine, the link between
semiology and psychology when it comes to computer operations essentially
broadens the usual turns of the logical circuit by further implicating a
range of associated discourses in the central transcoding principle.
Effectively, this is where the user figure comes into play, but that's an
interesting biography that remains to be written.

Despite the documented and discussed ability of transcoding to transform,
witnessed in the listed works and noted via Derrida, it appears that
the representational claims to metonymy rather than analogy actually conjure
up directly translatable aspects that perceptively and conceptually manage
to fully survive this revolution. In Taxi Art, does the work not indicate a
blinking orange, signaling left or right, at every turn of the colorful
geometric drafts? Does Baldwin's Goodworld not bring an inebriated textual
smile to blurry color vision only through comparison with the clearly
aliased input URL? Do you not descend into soundscapes of corresponding
hypertext when WebPlayer embarks on its heavily transmuted aural voyage?
Isolating such experiences, sensory as well as conceptually, makes for a far
more complicated analysis of transcoding. The effect produced and described
is doubly stunning: on one hand logical-mathematical notation denies to
confirm the, in lack of a better word, theology of transcoding as the virgin
passage of translation; on the other, it retains an empirical contingency of
unprecedented representational and signifying power. It may very well
contest the formalism of equivalence by logically and mathematically
scrambling the bits beyond recognition (in a classical representational
sense), but the overriding yet obscure science of this operation, the
alchemic feat of numbers and logic, brings an overwhelming empirical closure
to the experience, a strangely distorted yet comforting sense of deja vu.
What sunders then ultimately unites; numbers break apart but finally add up.
The checksum of all this is that each and every one of these projects, and
they only comprise three exemplary instances of an overwhelming trend,
believe in the divine translatability of transcoding to the extent that
complex semantic devices are readily and purposefully sacrificed for an
applied metaphysics of the excruciatingly simple, reflected in Euclidean
cartography (Taxi Art), typographic emoticons that recall Platonic pure form
(Goodworld) and the omnipresent Muzak of the deep network (WebPlayer). This
reductive approach to the semiotic question obviously echoes the
overwhelming progress of logical-mathematical notation, and it does not in
actuality query the unity of the signifying division, or rather the
universal scientifcity of the process that now brings it to bear so
fancifully and persuasively. On the contrary, the troublesome collaboration
between applied science and metaphysics that always promotes an omniscient
empiricism has reached its apotheosis in transcoding, and this is indeed the
sign of our times.

[1] Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001,
p. 46.
[5] Jacques Derrida, Positions, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago
Press, 1981, p. 20.

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