A note from the editors

For sixteen years, the New River has been publishing electronic literature, digital art, and other forms of new media, carving out a space for authors to express themselves in ways not previously possible. In that time, the editors of this journal have seen creative work that ranges from the very simple to the outrageously complex, a spectrum that grows with each passing year. New media, unlike traditional forms of art, is powered by advances in technology that let the writers not only change what they say, but how they say it, giving them the option to be as simple or as visually complicated as they choose--or as their content dictates. As the medium changes, so too can the message. The canvas no longer limits the painting, or the pages and binding the story.

In this issue, we selected a continuum of digital art spanning time and technological complexity. Brianna Stout’s A Tell-Tale Orb  is a visually simple but intellectually complicated series of puzzles that revolve around the modern hobby of geocaching. Jayne Fenton Keane’s Blowpipe and Daydreams, from the start of the millennium, gives us a pleasant retrospective on our digital past. Alan Bigelow’s Silence transmorphs John Cage’s Silence into a hypertext equivalent, while Barry Smylie’s A Camp, Eh? takes the viewer on a digital and literary trip through the wilderness. Dirk Vis’s two pieces, Password Marco Polo and Welcome Stranger, are poems as an art of dynamic words, and Tube Lines, by Chris Joseph, is a visually and auditorily complex view of the living world beneath our feet.

These engaging and interactive texts push not only the boundaries of the authors’ abilities, but also the boundaries of expression and modes of communication. Whatever the writer’s approach, or whatever era of design the pieces came from, they all have one aspect in common: they come from a medium that defines the art inasmuch as the art has begun to define the medium.   


The Works

Brianna P. Stout's A Tell Tale Orb is puzzle-based story where the reader is the character experiencing a series of strange events. Each page is a hypertext puzzle of text and line drawings--and sometimes videos and photographs--which the reader must solve in order to proceed to the next chapter. Her simple approach underlies a complex set of choices and consequences that culminate with a change in the reader.

Silence, by Alan Bigelow, "plays with the idea of what a digital text is, and what it is not. Where is the text located? What does it say? The source code to the text is included in the piece, but it is in binary code and not immediately decipherable (it can be translated off-site using a binary code to text translator). The text of the piece is actually a quote from John Cage's book Silence. The quote is, 'I have nothing to say, and I am saying it.' The audio file that accompanies the piece is exactly 4'33" long and absent of any sound."

Blowpipes and Daydreams, by Jayne Fenton Keane, is an animated series of text, images, and sounds that pulls the reader along into a dreamlike space that straddles the line between beautiful and haunting. The natural sounds, combined with the unnatural transfer of daydreams to the screen, creates a unique form of digital poetry.

Barry Smylie's A Camp, eh is more than just a narration of a hike through the wilderness. As he says: "I asked Tony and Paul if I could accompany them on the traditional canoe camp sketching trip into the La Cloche Mountains of Northern Ontario which was popular with artists at the beginning of the 20th century.  Coming from out west I wanted to experience what has been claimed as the formation of the first real Canadian Art...In the tradition of documentary that idea of three people documenting each other was a possible solution to the inherent problem of documentary… seen from the point of view of one person.  Is A Camp a cubist documentary?  I hope so."

Dirk Vis's two pieces, Password Marco Polo and Welcome Stranger, are multimedia poems. "The first is a poem shaped as an interactive landscape--airplanes, letters, and thoughts of a woman traveling past, according to the position of the cursor. The second is a poem in which the letters visualize the game of musical chairs mentioned in the text; it loops endlessly and the letter-dots float around randomly like micro-animals or persons seen from above. Welcome Stranger is on permanent display at Amsterdan Schiphol Airport." Text: K. Michael.

To let Chris Joseph speak for himself on Tube Lines: "Tube Lines is a set of overlapping narratives – personal and historical, passengers and staff – revealed through a reworking of the central London underground map. Readers may choose to follow the linear love story by tracing a particular journey around the 78 stops and lines. Alternatively they may access the nodes randomly in a kind of dadaist reading of the tale; or instead follow their own particular personal journey in the form of a digital labyrinth. Created in Flash and primarily designed for desktop viewing, I wanted the scenes to be full of competing words and stories, sounds and images, like the tube itself. Too much information, yet for the London immigrant (and even after ten years here, I still feel like a newcomer) there is so much information that it seems an intentional and perverse recipe for confusion."

By Jamie Rand and Jennifer Schrauth