“Zig and Zag” by Sérgio Caparelli and Ana Cláudia Gruszynski.

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Open “Zig and Zag” by Sérgio Caparelli and Ana Cláudia Gruszynski.

Zig and Zag” is one of ten ciberpoems created by the writer Sérgio Capparelli and the graphic designer Ana Cláudia Gruszynski for “Ciberpoesia” website that features a series of 28 visual poems created by the Brazilian duo. Like “Bembo’s Zoo,” this is more than just digital versions for visual poems also published in a printed book, the ciberpoems of Capparelli and Gruszynski has an important educational role, it catches the interest of children and youth for digital poetry through creative and stimulating presentation.

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“Rubber Traits” by Why?

Screen capture of "Rubber Traits" by Why? A dog drools the lyrics to the song next to a razorblade; a pug with a human mouth (mustache included) sings the words of the song. Text: "A Blade / But I want... / But I want... / Oooo"
Open “Rubber Traits” by Why?

Indie rock/ alternative hip-hop band Why? has always prided itself on befuddling listeners with a distinct blend of unorthodox beats, lyrics that fluctuate between rap and the nonsensical, and a surreal approach to their melodies. “Rubber Traits,” although one of their “poppier” singles, does not disappoint in this respect. The single touches on lead singer Yoni’s frequent bouts with depression, yet the video utilizes kinetic typography to complement Why?’s eccentric musical stylings, which underscores the bands ability to display a valiant sense of humor despite the lyrical content being weighty.

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“Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

Screen capture from "Right Action" by Franz Ferdinand. Cyan background with four grey arms holding each other to form a square. Text: "Right Action"
Open “Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

“Right Action” is a music video that incorporates static and kinetic typography from Scottish alternative rock band Franz Ferdinand. In the video, as the band performs the song, the music video progressively shows the viewer the lyrics to the song, every time with a different variation as to the form of how the word is written out. Aside from the typography, the music video also contains various images that appear to associate themselves one way or another with the lyrics of the song. When the band is shown in the video they are blended into the background while the images that cover both the background and the foreground of the video have brilliant colors, attracting more attention to the images and typography than the band itself. The blend of typography, color schemes, and almost subliminal messages through its images makes the video keep the viewer ever so attentive.

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“The Seven Wonders” by Alan Bigelow

Open “The Seven Wonders” by Alan Bigelow

This webyarn takes us on a journey through the mind of the speaker triggered by ingredients while he explores his kitchen. The speaker makes a bizarre connection between seven ingredients (flour, pepper, sugar, salt, olive oil, vinegar, thyme) and his romantic relationship with a woman who has abandoned him. It is structured as a linear narrative that follows the same pattern with each kitchen ingredient: the revealing of the ingredient, the explanation its historical significance or its use in both positive and negative ways, a video is incorporated as a companion, and finally the connection between the ingredient, the speaker, and his relationship.

Similarly to another one of Bigelow’s works, “In a World Without Electricity,” the speaker of “The Seven Wonders” reconstructs past events in order to make sense of them. In the earlier work, the speaker reminisces over the death of someone close to him, while in “The Seven Wonders” the speaker examines his seemingly finalized amorous relationship with a long gone woman in the hopes of finding closure.

Seven Wonders Pepper

Each ingredient serves a purpose. The speaker is comparing each one to romantic relationship and its components. By doing so, in sixteen days the speaker comes to terms with the apparent end of his relationship. The flour represents the foundation any relationship should have, and without which it can crumble. Pepper is the most traded spice in the World which the speaker compares to how people use superficial love to spice up a burgeoning relationship. The speaker is implying that “love” has been cheapened and commercialized the same way pepper has. Next comes sugar and so on with the remaining ingredients. The photos of the ingredients are in close, macroscopic scale, comparable to the way the speaker is analyzing his relationship, and also evoking the monumental Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The GIFs represent the journey the absent lover is taking starting at the Niagara Falls and ending…

Well that’s for you to discover, dear reader.

“Alan Wake” by Remedy Entertainment

Open “Alan Wake Official Launch Trailer”

Alan Wake is a survival horror video game released for the Xbox 360 and Windows platforms and developed by Remedy Entertainment, a Finnish company known mostly for their Max Payne video game series. In the plot of the game, a best-selling thriller writer named Alan Wake is trying to overcome his two year writer’s block and mending his marriage by going out on vacations with his wife to a place called Bright Falls. It is here where the storyline starts to develop itself as a thriller narrative, seeing as the game itself from its beginnings alludes to this aspect through a nightmare the main character has, by showing dark corners, mysterious characters and eerie ambiance in plain day during the prologue of the game. As the game progresses the player learns that there are  pages scattered around the game environment which foretell events warning the player of dangerous circumstances ahead. These pages add more depth to the transformation of the game from a thriller to a horror game, immersing the player in its structure and pace while wrapping it up in cinematic genres that perform language like episodic storytelling similar to a television series.

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“Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” by Shu Takumi

Open "Turnabout Beginnings", a case in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations.
Open “Turnabout Beginnings,” a case in Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations.

A thrilling courtroom drama delivered through a medium which blurs the line between visual and textual narratives, Ace Attorney, whose first release in 2001 proved unexpectedly popular in the West, can be counted among the works most responsible for bringing the visual novel paradigm to the mainstream. It, along with selected others which can be strictly categorized as true “visual novels”, such as:

…are most easily described as text-based adventure games which require minimal player input, since visual novels are formally labelled as ‘computer games’ by society at large. In practice, however, they are essentially a novel-length narrative retold through text and animation.

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“Snowfall” by Kentai-P

Open “Snowfall” by Kentai-P (Video embedded below)

“Snowfall” is a great example of music written using Vocaloid software. When listening to this artificial synthesized singer one can appreciate the software’s sophistication and realistic results.

The choice of musical instruments– xylophone, drums, snare drums, and bells– visuals in the video– blue background with snow falling, and white font for the lyrics– all evoke Winter. It isn’t long after the voice stops singing the first stanza that the most astonishing part of the song takes place: a choir joins in to sing the chorus. It is common to see choirs used in Vocaloid pieces, but it is very unusual for that choir to be formed by one single Vocaloid library. The melody also evokes a Scottish or Celtic culture by playing bagpipes before and during the choir. The overall effect is evocative of a medievalist fantasy adventure: a love song by a singer who yearns to be reunited with her love.

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iPoe: Effecting the Text

iPoe by Play Creatividad
iPoe by Play Creatividad

The Play Creatividad Editions are more than illustrated editions of Edgar Allan Poe’s texts. The reader can interact with the illustrations to discover what lies beneath (and, Poe being Poe, what lies beneath is generally a nasty surprise). The tales have been supplied with sound and music. But not with the kind of music that one would expect of a repetitive video game: each text has its own piece with a mood and rhythm that complements it perfectly. It is a labor that requires ideas, but also talent and love.

If we take “The Oval Portrait,” for example, the music is sweet and haunting, ultimately sad. The opening of the story, which describes the “chateau” in which the narrator will discover the oval portrait, is set over a grey scene on the background of which is the mansion, illuminated by the moon and surrounded by grey pine trees. In many of the illustrations, the movement of the device causes them to shift their angle. When we least expect it, the howl of the wolf merges with the melody.

The opening of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe
The opening of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe

As we advance in the tale, we discover that some of the phrases of the story are emphasized by using a darker and larger font. Eventually, the candlelight, allows us to illuminate the oval portrait, just after the narrator has discovered it.

The degree to which “The Oval Portrait” achieves the merging of the interactive features and multimedia elements with the original text  goes beyond what the reader would expect. In a print edition, for example, we read:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice: ‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!

This could be modified with clever design, but in iPoe, we have a story presented with skilled subtlety.  In one screen we have:

And then the brush was given, and then the tint was placed; and, for one moment, the painter stood entranced before the work which he had wrought; but in the next, while he yet gazed, he grew tremulous and very pallid, and aghast, and crying with a loud voice:

"The Oval Portrait" in iPad
“The Oval Portrait” in iPad

The typography of the last phrases bold and increasing in size (in the iPhone version, the iPad has the same size through that paragraph, as it can be seen in the image above) perhaps referring to the state of excitement exhibited by the character.  In the next page we have the portrait, covering blurry letters.

The portrait in "The Oval Portrait," photographed in an iPad.
The portrait in “The Oval Portrait,” photographed in an iPad.

The reader is forced to move the portrait out of place to discover the dead woman and the text above the corpse: “‘This is indeed Life itself!’ turned suddenly to regard his beloved:- She was dead!”

The end of "The Oval Portrait" in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.
The end of “The Oval Portrait” in iPoe, photographed in an iPad.

The wonder is of iPoe’s “The Oval Portrait” is that it can enhance the reader’s experience. This is not just Poe’s text in a new edition, it is Poe for the 21st century reader. I, for one, will never teach Poe from print again.

“sc4da1 in new media” by Stuart Moulthrop

titleImagesc4da1 in new media“, a Flash poem/rage-game by Stuart Moulthrop, is as outrageous as it is delightful. The piece is composed of two alternating interfaces: a rage-game remediation of Pong; and a transient text. Every time you beat a level of the remediated Pong, you access a new installment of the transient text. There are six levels to the remediated Pong. The perversity of this rage-game version of Pong makes Chiku’s “Syobon Action” (“Cat Mario”) a piece of cake in comparison. I almost broke a vocal cord when I made it to level 6.

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Born-Again Digital: iPoe

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iPoe on iOS and Android

In the next few weeks, a series of entries will appear here that will concern themselves with the notion of a digital rebirth, a sort of digital reincarnation of printed texts. These entries will not refer to merely digitized versions of classic texts. Instead, they will highlight digital publications that present printed texts in a completely new light and that share with born-digital literature the need to be read in specialized devices.

In March last year, my attention was caught by iPoe, an edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories specifically designed for mobile devices.  In turn, this sparked my interest in other similar publications and my involvement in the CantApp, an edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales conceived for reading in mobile phones and tablets which will be published this year.  This reimagining of classical texts for modern multimedia devices is what I refer to as born-again digital literature.

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