IASLonline NetArt: Theory
History of Computer Art
III. Information Aesthetics
III.1 Computer Literature
The previous chapter on "Cybernetic Sculptures" (see chap.
II.3) presents the development of systems from 1953 to 1971 integrating
self constructed computers (see chap. II.3.1.1, II.3.2.3), analog computers
(see chap. II.3.2.2) and digital minicomputers (since 1969, see chap.
II.3.3, II.3.2.2, II.3.4): Alternatives to mainframe computers were constructed
to make possible the inclusion of computers in installations (that can
be rebuild on several locations).
With the use of mainframe computers in electronic literature an alternative
was developed to electronic data processing as a means for administrative
needs. The history of an experimental utilisation of mainframe computers
to test their possibilities for word processing began in the fifties.
In contrast to the cybernetic sculptures the computers are not a part
of a work that can be categorized as computer literature or computer graphics
(see chap. III.2) but a means to produce the work. The results of the
computing processes are printed by plotters.
In reactive installations cybernetic circuits support the integration
of the observer. In computer literature and computer graphics the circuits
are reduced to the sequence from input media punch cards or magnetic
memories to the mainframe computers executing the computing processes
and the printers or plotters as output media writing letters or graphic
signs on papers. These prints present the results of computing processes
executing the program´s instructions. If the computing process will
be restarted then the results can vary. This variety is not seldom caused
by algorithms for pseudo random sequences (see chap. III.1.2, III.2.2).
III.1.2 Christopher Strachey´s "Love-letters"
Christopher Strachey met Alan Mathison
Turing during his studies (of mathematics and physics, from 1935 to 1938)
at King´s College in Cambridge. From 1949 to 1952 Strachey was a
teacher at Harrow School (Harrow on the Hill/Middlesex). In 1951 Mike
Woodger introduced Strachey to the project Pilot
ACE at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington/Middlesex. Since
1950 the laboratory developed the reduced version of Turing´s "Automatic
Computing Engine" called Pilot ACE. 1 In February
1951 Strachey developed for Pilot ACE a program for a game of draughts
running for the first time in 30th July 1951. As soon as Strachey received
informations about the bigger main memory of the mainframe computer Manchester
Mark I (1948-50) he wrote his program for a game of draughts in the
machine code of this computer (October 1951, see chap. VII.1.1). 2
Mark I (1951) was constructed on the base of the Manchester Mark I.
It was the first purchasable computer. In February 1951 Manchester University
received its exemplar. A program for computer music was developed by Strachey
for this Ferranti Mark I. It generated songs like "God Save the King"
(1951). 3 After having presented his program Strachey
was hired by the National Research and Development Corporation as a "technical
officer" (June 1952).
Link, David: Ferranti Mark I Emulator with a reconstruction
of Christopher Strachey´s "Love-letters" 1952 (Link: Angel
2006, p.16, fig.1).
In 1952 he wrote a program to generate "Love-letters".
The program combined words by selecting them form a database via the random
generator of the Ferranti Mark I. The stored word library contained a
selection from Roget´s Thesaurus. The words supplied with syntax
indices "adjectives", "substantives", "adverbs"
and "verbs" are combined following two syntactical structures:
—Your—[adjective]—substantive" or "You are
my—adjective—substantive". In the case of repetitions
the second structure was reduced to "My—adjective—substantive".
After a salutation combined by using a database called "Letter Start"
to select words followed five sentences generated by combinations of stored
words using the syntactical schemes described above. The end of the letter
was constructed with the scheme "Yours—adverb—MUC"
(MUC = Manchester University Computer). The program "Love-letters"
could generate 318 billion different letters. The results of the computing
processes were presented without commas by a teleprinter. Meanwhile Strachey´s
"Game of Draughts" had to choose the best of all possible moves,
"Love-letters" recognized only the syntactical structures but
no semantic restrictions. Noah Wardrip-Fruin proposes to understand "Love-letters"
as to produce semantic accidents as parodies of "normative expressions
of desire". 4
Strachey anticipates basic elements of the sixties´ computer literature
and computer graphics with his structuring of the programming into a selection
of elements, a random generator, a syntax for combinations and the presentation
of a plotter output.
Until 1959 Theo Lutz studied mathematics, physics
and electrical engineering at the Technische Hochschule of Stuttgart.
As a degree candidate of Max Bense he knew the philosopher´s information
aesthetics. Bense proposed Lutz to install in his text generating program
"a database with 100 words from Franz Kafka´s novel `The Castle´
 and simple sentence structures." 5
Max Bense´s "Aesthetica" was published
in five parts from 1954 to 1965. In the first part Bense explained the
"classical and nonclassical Seinsthematik [epistemology]". He
situates Hermann Melville´s "Bartleby" and Franz Kafka´s
"The Castle" between a reality derived from divine possibilities
in the sense of the classical epistemology and the nonclassical opposition
between the "term of a (human, personal) existence" and the
"term of a system containing everything, transcendence as well as
immanence, god as well as the world, reason as well as history".
This epistemological discourse presented Bense in
part 1 of the "Aesthetica" as a central problem of the artistic
and literary avant-garde. It was taken over in later parts (since part
3, published in 1958) by explanations of the "aesthetic" and
"semantic information". Bense defines "information"
among others as "a measure of a scheme´s regularity".
In 1959 Theo Lutz´s "stochastic texts" were produced
at the Rechen-Institut of the Technische Hochschule of Stuttgart in the
time when Bense developed a new core subject in "Aesthetica".
In Lutz´s texts the selection of words is determined by a syntactical
scheme, a random generator and frequency criteria. Lutz´s program
used a word database to generate with the valve computer Z22
of the firm Zuse (1958) sentences with a correct syntax. Lutz´s
procedure to use the stored words provides a model for Bense´s change
of "Aesthetica´s" core subject.
Lutz, Theo: Stochastic Text, Zuse Z22, teleprinter
Lutz used punch tapes as input medium to start his in ALGOL written program
in the computer Z 22 of the Rechen-Institut. Then he could read the result
on the teleprinter´s output. The database contained a selection
of 16 subjects and 16 predicates as they were found in Kafka´s "The
Castle". Four "logical constants" ("and", "or",
"if...then", ".") for the syntax of the combinations,
four "logical operators" for the subject´s existence ("one",
"each", "no one" and "not each" in feminine,
masculine and factual German forms) as well as the stored subjects and
predicates should appear with equal frequency in a computer-generated
text. Only the "relative frequency" of the point (the sign for the
negation) was determined higher than the frequency of the other logical
Between subject-predicate pairs the logical constants create
irritating relations for example:
Jeder Fremde ist nah, so gilt kein Fremder
ist alt (If each stranger is close, then each stranger is old). 8
The second part of the if/then
operation seems to be a conclusion from the first part of the phrase but
this is wrong for our world knowledge. Which roles play such wrong conclusions
for the poeticity of a computer-generated "artificial" literature
9: Does the artificial literature try to provocate us
to understand the "aesthetic information" as a quality being
independent from the "semantic information" 10
and ignoring the truth content of the message?
based his integration of the semantic terms `true´ and `false´
in the information theory 11 on theories of Donald M.
MacKay and Rudolf Carnap. 12 The semantic information
in logics and the information in cybernetics (see chap. II.1.3) are presented
as alternatives 13 that can be combined in "Aesthetica"
in a "general communication research" to be able to discuss
the relations between "semiotics" and "information theory".
Shannon´s model of a reconstructing production of a language based
on frequency statistics of the use of basic elements and their combinations
(see chap. II.1.2) is turned in Lutz´s "Stochastic Texts"
into a procedure to obtain "aesthetic information" renouncing
any dependence on conventional forms of literature. The frictions between
text production and the conclusiveness of a statement in relation to the
experience of reality, between "aesthetic" and "semantic
information", are a key issue. The results of a machine production
become experiments for readers who decide if the tension between reliable
and unreliable statements is attracting or if the text provokes a collapse
of their attention.
In 1960 Brion Gysin utilised a program developed
by Ian Somerville for the permutation of words without regard to syntactical
structures. In contrast to Lutz Gysin doesn´t install a database
as an archive with combinable words but selects five words to be used
in all combinations. The sequence of the words in the start phrase "I
AM THAT I AM" was permuted from one line to the next until all variants
were realised. 15 The relations between syntax and semantics
can appear to readers of "I AM THAT I AM" cancelled by the permutation
of the words with the recurring vowels "i" and "a"
in varying changes with the recurring consonants "h", "m"
and "t": Semantics are replaced by visual and onomatopoetic
Balestrini, Nanni: Tape Mark I, Flow Chart, 1961 (Reichardt:
Serendipity 1968, p.65).
Balestrini, Nanni: Tape Mark I, 1961. Left: plotter
print. Right: print version (Balestrini: Tape 1962, p.150s.).
Nanni Balestrini invented for "Tape Mark I"
a method to generate poems that fall between the concepts for desemantising
procedures and for procedures to integrate syntax and semantics. Balestrini
selected 15 words from three textual sources for an archive with stored
words to be combined in October 1961 by an IBM
7070 (since 1960) of a Milanese bank. 10 words were selected from
the archive and were combined with regards to syntactical structures.
These combinations were merged in texts with six lines, each constituted
by "four metrical elements". This process led to poetic results
provoking readers to search for meaning. The poems perform neither radical
semantic breaks nor do they include elements comparable to Lutz´s
"logical constants" being able to cause the construction of
statements without conclusiveness in relation to our experience of reality.
Stickel, Gerhard: Autopoem No.1, 1965 (Herzogenrath/Nierhoff-Wielk:
Machina 2007, p.159).
In 1965 Gerhard Stickel reconstructed the forms of
poetry. In his "Autopoems" generated between 1965 and 1966 by
a mainframe computer IBM
7090 (since 1959) he circumvents the problem of the conclusiveness
of a statement in relation to the experience of reality that Lutz posed
with his use of "logical constants": The relations with references
to reality described in Lutz´s computer-generated texts get a peripheral
character by the poetic forms of Stickel´s "Autopoems".
In its selection of words from a database Stickel´s program follows
syntactical criteria. A random generator selects the words, the syntactical
structures of phrases (280 structures in all) and the number of lines
(between 4 and 26 lines). 17
Dr. Thomas Dreher
Homepage with numerous articles
on art history since the sixties, among others on Concept Art and Intermedia
Copyright © (as defined in Creative
Commons Attribution-NoDerivs-NonCommercial 1.0) by the author, November
2011 (German version)/September 2013 (English translation).
This work may be copied in noncommercial contexts if proper credit is
given to the author and IASL online.
For other permission, please contact IASL
Do you want to send us your opinion or a tip? Then send us an e-mail.
1 Hodges: Turing 1983/1992, p.442s.; Link: Angel 2006,
p.17; Turing: Proposal 1945/1992; Wardrip-Fruin: Media 2011, p.304s. back
2 Copeland: History 2000, chap. "The Manchester
Machine"; Link: Angel 2006, p.17; Strachey: Machine 1954, p.27; Wardrip-Fruin:
Media 2011, p.304s.,312ss. back
3 Fildes: Computer Music 2008; Link: Angel 2006, p.17s.
4 On "Love Letters": Bülow: Sinn 2007,
p.148-151; Hodges: Turing 1983/1992, p.477s.; Link: Angel 2006; Wardrip-Fruin
2011, p.302-316. Examples: Bülow: Sinn 2007, p.150; Strachey: Machine
Re-engineering: Link, David: LoveLetters_1.0. MUC=Resurrection. A Memorial.
Exhibited in: YOU_ser 2.0. Celebration of the Consumer. ZKM/Center for
Art and Media. Karlsruhe 2009. In: URL: http://www02.zkm.de/
you/ index.php? option=com_content& view=article& id=98%3Aloveletters10&catid=
35%3Awerke&lang=en (8/10/2013). back
5 Walther: Bense 1999. back
6 Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.85. Bense mentions Gottfried
Wilhelm Leibniz´s "Theodicy" (Essais de théodicée,
1710) as an example for the "classical Seinsthematik" and Søren
Aabye Kierkegaard´s "Philosophical Fragments" (1844) as
an example for the "nonclassical Seinsthematik". back
7 Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.220. back
8 Lutz: Texte 1959. Cf. Bense: Einführung 1969,
p.111; Bülow: Sinn 2007, p.152-156; Cramer: Statements 2011, p.186s.;
Funkhouser: Poetry 2007, p.37s.; Gunzenhäuser: Synthese 1963/2004,
p.175-178; Hartling: Autor 2009, p.300s. (referring to Lutz´s manual
postprocessing on the prints); Herrmann: Programmierung 2004, p.155,161s.;
Moles: Art 1971, p.167; Stürner: Poesie 2003, p.18-21.
Re-engineering: Auer, Johannes: free lutz. Municipal Gallery Wroclaw/Poland
2005. In: URL: http://copernicus.netzliteratur.net/index1.html
9 Max Bense on "artificial art" ("Künstliche
Kunst"): Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.337s.: "In all, as it is
possible to formulate it, differ the `artificial´ and the `natural´
production category in introducing a scheme mediating between creator
and work, as it is constituted by the program and the programming language,
and this leads to a division of labor which is unfamiliar in the aesthetic
process." Cf. Nees: Computergraphik 1969/2006, p.XIII. back
10 "Aesthetic" and "semantic information":
Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.224,282,327; Moles:Théorie 1958, p.133-139;
Moles: Art 1971, p.34-37. back
11 Bense: Begriff 1963/2000, p.151: "It makes
no difference for the statistic information theory if a sequence of signs
is true or false. Only its statistic innovation, novelty, information
is relevant. But the semantic information theory takes into consideration
if a statement is true or false." back
12 Carnap/Bar-Hillel: Outline 1953. back
13 Bense: Begriff 1963/2000, p.152. Cf. Bense: Aesthetica
1982, p.304 (part IV, first published in 1960). back
14 Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.303 (part IV, first published
in 1960). back
15 Funkhouser: Poetry 2007, p.38ss. with ann.9 (p.279):
"The programming details are not available." back
16 Balestrini: Tape Mark I 1962/2012; Balestrini: Tape
Mark I 1968. Funkhouser: Poetry 2007, p.12,41s. with ann.13 (p.280) on
the uncertainty about the software being used (Autocoder, FORTRAN or RPG).
Balestrini: Tape Mark I 1962/2012 refers on page 268 to "punched
cards in Autocoder language" and names Dr. Alberto Nobis as programmer.
17 Programmed in FORTRAN (main program) and FAP (sub
program). In: Bense: Aesthetica 1982, p.111s.; Bense: Einführung
1969, p.111s.; Bülow: Sinn 2007, p.156-162; Funkhouser: Poetry 2007,
S.37f.; Herzogenrath/Nierhoff-Wielk: Machina 2007, p.107,466s.; Moles:
Kunst 1973, p.176; Stürner: Poesie 2003, p.22s. back
Table of Contents |
Bibliography | Next
[ Top | Index
NetArt Theory | Home