A note from the editors
Digital writing and art is an apt subtitle to The New River—a journal that has for fifteen years championed electronic literature—for new media allows text and art to interact on a digital plane. New media asks for language, sound, images, and technology to work together. In this way, the genre demands collaboration between media because of the facets of its construction, so it only makes sense that these artists would also seek connections with one another.
For the latest issue, the work that engaged our interest the most were the pieces that capitalized upon this human collaboration. In contrast to our past issues, we wanted to place a lens on the results of multiple artists working together on new media projects. We found the digital compositions that utilized collaboration transcended the traditionally singular authorial voice, allowing instead for an electronic chorus of creativity and expertise from a number of established and emerging voices.
Inspired by this collaborative spirit, we decided to enhance the aesthetic of The New River. Through the valuable and tireless assistance of web designer Scott Henderson, we are concurrently launching a new interface along with our selections for the fall issue. We hope you appreciate what you see, hear, and read.
Andy Campbell and Lynda Williams’ interactive digital narrative, “Changed,” charts the dark territories of mind and space in contemporary Britain with Campbell’s images and Williams’ text. Interrogating the consequences of physical abuse and the mental anguish it can cause, the interactor navigates a nightmare urbanscape. Transposing bedroom furniture and accoutrements to a roadway tunnel, the story plays with Freud’s ideas about the uncanny. In particular, the piece superimposes a young schoolgirl’s trauma onto the walls of the tunnel, which are then accessed by the voyeur, you.
Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel’s visual-audio poem, “Sunflowers on Quaker Church Road,” displays a complex marriage of artistic synergy and digital technologies. In turn, the audio’s reverb toys, alienates, and co-opts the viewer into the poem’s sonic resonance. The overlapping sunflowers build into each other, driven onward by the deceptively alluring tones of Funkhouser's voice. Despite the cacophony, he tells a story, replete with personal allusion and anecdote. Beneath the myriad layers of narrative and personae is a code, a mysterious discussion of a woman, which necessitates the viewer to uncover “meaning” by replaying the poem ad infinitum.
Nick Montfort asks questions about how collaboration comes into play on a fundamental level in his three computational poems. “How do pixels come together to form symbols?” asks “Concrete Perl,” a sequence of four Perl programs that splash letters on the screen in patterns that form visual art undulations. “How do words and phrases rely on each other to create implications?” asks “The Two,” a poetry generator that loops to continuously produce new three-line stanzas by randomly combining the same series of sentences. As these sentences come up time and again but with different partners, new and previously concealed implications reveal themselves. “How much can the unsaid interact with the said?” asks “Through the Park,” a poetry generator that displays short narrative poems made up of sentences separated by ellipses. Though the generator produces the skeleton of the story, the poem leaves to the interactor the work of deciding how to flesh out the connections implied by the ellipses, essentially forcing him to collaborate with the text. In a more traditional sense, Montfort turned to collaborator Natalia Fedorova for Russian translations of the three works. This collaboration inspired The New River to partner with Russian journal Сетевая словесность in the simultaneous release of these three poems, widening the audience and pool of interactors.
Longtime new media stalwart Jason Nelson contacted The New River with a proposal to partake in a collaborative endeavor with a group of creative writers at Virginia Tech. The result: “The Olin and Preston Institute.” Based on a campus map, the project is a series of prosescapes penned by ten different artists and then curated by Jason Nelson. As the interactor orients himself across the grid, he encounters pulsating nodes that reveal poems, fictional histories, anecdotes, absurdities, and images. The process of interaction with the map highlights the unique space defined by the community members that inhabit it, allowing outsiders an individualized purview of the campus.
Alan Bigelow’s “Mythwatch.org” presents an exploration of how mythology persists in our world. In addition to seven myths rooted across the globe that execute the interaction of language, video, and audio, the piece culminates with two other collaborators: the world-at-large and you, the interactor. At the close of Bigelow’s text, an RSS feed displays search engine results for headlines containing the word “myth” from U.S. and international publications. This allows us to see in real-time how the world speaks back, continuously producing a new final word. Bigelow also extends a personal invitation to collaborate, to take part in the parsing of myth, by inviting the interactor to type in his own mythical blurbs to be shuffled and shared with the headlines of others. As a result, “Mythwatch.org” allows for all of us to be collaborators—and you may even find yourself on the contributors’ page.