This scheduled concrete poem presents us with a grid of 1s and 0s— five rows of 10 numbers, which could be interpreted as a 10-bit binary code but what that decodes to is uncertain. I attempted to decode this into ASCII or Unicode and was unable to find anything verbal about it, which suggests that this is not a signal representing something else, but a message in and of itself. Smith’s statement for this piece (linked to above) in the ELMCIP Anthology of European Electronic Literature reinforces the idea that this isn’t really a signal meant to be read by a machine, which is why it is written in Times New Roman— a font that isn’t considered machine readable, for OCR purposes. We can only conclude that this piece is meant to be read by humans, but if so, what is its message?
The key to understanding this poem is in looking and not reading, and it is important to see the program running to understand what there is to see. As the program runs, it begins by changing the binary numbers at a slowly increasing rate, creating a kind of dance of 1s and 0s reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique (see this video clip). This portion may be best apprehended from a distance, to see the rhythms of change, which at its speediest is just under the frame rate at which we would start thinking of it as motion. This is a tactical speed decision because the fonts and other graphical information of the characters start to change, as seen below.
Is a number the same number in a different font?
A computer reading this may have difficulty recognizing the same character, optically speaking, but humans are apt to forget to remember there that there is information in fonts, boldface, italics, and handdrawn renderings of the same number. For a computer (and for most people who haven’t read Jerome McGann or Johanna Drucker), this is noise— to be discarded once the signal is apprehended. But in this piece, the noise is information.