“MUPS” by David Jhave Johnston

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Screen capture of "MUPS" by David Jhave Johnston. Plain white background with a rectangle made out of minuscule black squares, although a small amount are painted red. Charts appear on the other side of the big rectangle.
Open “MUPS” by David Jhave Johnston

This “online sonic mashup engine” assembles 1260 poetry audio recordings from the Penn Sound archive and provides simple, intuitive tools for very specific kinds of analysis. Whimsically toned like much of Jhave’s work, he could’ve easily used this engine to create an e-poem or a series of them: expressions of the tool and his vision. Instead, he released the tool for users to have their own creative explorations and analysis of the material.

There is a long tradition of creating and releasing similar frameworks— what Judy Malloy calls “authoring systems”— in the electronic literature community. Some examples from the “Avenues of Access” exhibition are Jim Andrews’ “Aleph Null,” Nick Montfort’s “Taroko Gorge,” Nick Montfort and Stephanie Stricklands “Sea and Spar Between,” Jody Zellen’s “Spine Sonnet,” Jörg Piringer’s “Konsonant,” and Jason Lewis’ “Speak” app. These works aren’t just literary expressions informed by each writer’s poetics, they are also poetically and artistically motivated computational tools for some kinds of analysis associated with digital humanities methods. Artists and scholars in the electronic literature community, of which Jhave is exemplar, work primarily with born-digital materials, which makes their work naturally use methods and share concerns with what has recently been understood as the digital humanities.

“MUPS,” for example can be used to study prosody, whether of a specific poet in the archive, comparatively, or in any other kind of group. The screen captured image above reflects a MUPS study I performed of some of William Carlos Williams’ poems. Selecting all of his poems for simultaneous play creates a kind of incomprehensible chorus, from which one can perceive some of his poetic rhythms beyond the specific poem. More interesting than this kind of distant reading, is the “weave” option, which switches from one selected poem to another when it detects a pause (or several pauses), providing simple controls to fine tune the size and speed of units mixed. For example, the default setting seems to detect pauses in line breaks (at least in Williams), before moving on to the next poem, creating a mashup of one or several of his poems. Fine tuning the controls can allow one to find the size of a pause between syllables, words, phrases, lines, and stanzas and control the number of pauses, and even what counts as a pause, to produce a new poem that is still informed by the poet’s prosody. Another fascinating use is to place poets in conversation, line by line, back and forth for entertainment or comparative analysis.

Jhave has created a surprisingly versatile poetic analysis tool that can be used as a kind of generative poetry engine with the capacity of producing an astronomical number of permutations… and insights.

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