Aleph Null 4.0 documentation
Adeena Karasick/Jim Andrews collab
“Videopoetry recognizes that poems and stories, voices and plays have all been pressuring their respective mediums to expand their borders and yield before unapprehended expressions and multiple interpretations of what it means to produce that undefinable experience we call art. Sound poetry and vispo (visual poetry), language poetry and performance poetry can attest to the gains won in the discoveries along the path of experimentation. One of these discoveries is Checking In.”
Tom Konyves
Checking In 1, Checking In 2
Checking In 2 is a collaboration between me and Adeena Karasick. This 2023 piece follows 2018's Checking In or Checking In 1, as I sometimes call it here. Both Checking In 1 and Checking In 2 contain a If you're counting, that's described a piece of at least six parts. More, actually, cuz there's more than one slideshow for Checking In 2. If you're interested in a picture of the overall project of Adeena's involvement in Aleph Null, eyeball the collection of links at the bottom of the page.
All parts of both versions feature fat, screen-sized text filled with images, one word at a time, and a background of sharded samples of 350+ images relevant to the text, selected by Adeena.
In Checking In 2, I threw in an additional few images, at her request, from my collaborations with bill bissett and Daniel F. Bradley, given that Adeena's poem says "Dirty concretists are overwriting". We are. The whole lot of us. Multi-layered, palimpsesty, "eros-ey apocryphalic poesie". Dirty concretists are stacking it up.
Checking In 2 was already intensely involved in visual language; the addition of visual language image fills complements the foregrounded visual language in a multiplication of languages. Checking In 2 is all about language, in a sense. Adeena's poem is all about language, in a sense. Or that's one strong dimension of its meaning and exploration.
3rd Party Cookies are getting some candy
Overdots are ascending on high
Bold Italics are refusing to move into an upright position
The plums that were in the icebox are getting juiced
Overdots are part of language; so too is bold italics; 3rd party cookies are expressed in code; the plums that were in the icebox were stolen from the poet William Carlos Williams long, long ago, from one of the most famous poems of the 20th century. Checking In is concerned with language, at that level--and poetry--but also in others. Checking In rarely dishes statements of fact, but fanciful inventions of language and idea, of breath, music, and song of a special sort. This is media poetry. Video poetry. Digital poetry. Computer art. Generative art. Spoken word. Visual poetry. Sound poetry. Language poetry. Performance poetry. And who knows what else.
Some songs are spun as melodies that arise from the ways notes go together pleasurably. Checking In is very much spun from generative aspects of language. Puns. Ambiguity. Rhyme. Alliteration. Parallel structures. This's are doing that's. Whatsit is drinking sitWhat. Checking In develops its own set of language/poetry formulas and then really goes to town with the form.
One of the responses I get to both versions of Checking In is that it's a new visual language. Checking In 2 expands that into audio space and fuses it with visual language via synch of Adeena's voice with the visual language on the screen.
The Checking In 2 videopoem
The Checking In 2 videopoem features a reading by Adeena, and it's synched with the onscreen text. Adeena's reading is strong, percussive, breathy. She's been a well-known performance poet for decades--although she's also very bookish and has a doctorate from Concordia in Montréal. She constantly tours all over the world performing her poetry. It's sort of like rap/hip hop but more literary and media art rather than musical. The music of her poetry is more jazzy than rap/hip hop and usually there's no instruments but her voice. She's deservedly a star in the global poetry firmament.
I met her around 1989 when she started touring with bill bissett. She's been touring with him, from time to time, ever since. She moved from Vancouver, where she was brought up, to NYC and made it there, and teaches poetry at Pratt. She has about 11 books of poetry out, at this point, most of them with Talonbooks in Vancouver. The text of Checking In 2 will be published in 2023 by Lavender Ink Press in New Orleans as part of Adeena's forthcoming book Ærotomania: The Book of Lumenations.
In the videopoem of Checking In 2, I wanted the synch of the text with her reading to be something you could feel, not just hear, so that the visuals share in the spirit of Adeena's poetic music. One of my favorite types of media to make is visuals that go with music. I've done those sorts of projects in my own interactive music projects, such as Enigma n2022 and NeoNio. In these works, the visuals dance to/with the music. The visuals aren't of actual people dancing, but nonetheless, the visuals dance to/with the music. Just as interesting physical dancing gives us a visual manifestation of the music, a bodily embodiment of the music, and turns the human body into the world's most expressive visual music instrument, animated/synched text or other material can 'dance' to or with the music in very expressive ways, adding to the energy of the event like dance does, and like accompaniment does; it's another instrument in the 'song'; it's all vibrating together.
You know the old idea that art aspires to the condition of music. What is less well known is that music aspires to the condition of the body. But dancers know. Maybe not my body today, and maybe not yours, but it has been so for me and probably you, also, at times. Anyway, I wanted the videopoem of Checking In 2 to present a different sort of simple but poetic dance than people may have seen before, to go with Adeena's fantastic poem and transportive reading/performance.
As the name indicates, Checking In 2 follows Checking In, which was in Aleph Null 3.0 (2019). Versions 1 and 2 have different texts--and are from different eras. Checking In (2018) was a pre-pandemic piece. The tone of Checking In 2 (2023) is darker. But they both consist of imaginary status updates from the living and the dead, from things and ideas. Checking In 2 is a status update of our time.
Checking In 1 videopoem
The original Checking In appeared in Adeena's 2018 book Checking In from Talonbooks in Vancouver.
The associated videopoem was central to the 2022 show Videopoetry: 1980-2020 at the Surrey Art Gallery in Vancouver. In the below video of Tom Konyves, the show's artist-curator, talking about the show, he described it like this:
This is really a new art form that you are experiencing emerging since the late 1970s. It is the first time ever that this has been put together [in an art gallery] in a comprehensive, very carefully selected group of works from all over the world, that I've been able to experience myself.
Tom called Checking In "eye candy". He said that if there's one piece, among all the works, that would draw people in to the show, it's Checking In, which is why it was featured as the first thing you saw when entering the gallery. The other pieces were on screens that showed multiple artists' works. Checking In 1 had a 55" TV to itself near the gallery's entrance for the duration of the months-long show. It's also the first work in the show's catalog. Eye candy.
Tom Konyves talking about Videopoetry 1980-2020 and Checking In
In 2022, when Adeena said she was working on a new and different version, I felt that could be a good candidate for synching the text with Adeena's voice and make it snappy as visual music, in rhythm with her performance. I suppose the success we had with the first version of the Checking In videopoem made me interested in doing something beyond that with a second version. After the Surrey show, we felt encouraged to create more work together, and delighted to have met like-minded poets doing fab work in video poetry. Onward and upward.
The Surrey show had put us in touch with people doing video poems. I had not been involved so much in video poetry as eLit, print, generative art, computer art, net art, new media, digital poetry, sound art, radio, live readings / performance / presentations, that sort of thing. It came as a very pleasant surprise to see that there was so much going on in video poetry. Lots of festivals every year around the world, and considerable energy and excitement about forging ahead with new art.
Certainly more activity than in eLit, where there's a preponderance of scholars/artists at universities (I'm not). Whereas video poetry seems to have a little wider audience and base of practitioners. This is not surprising. The skills to make videopoems rarely include writing computer programs. Not that all eLit involves writing computer programs. But it's certainly a sweet spot. And the videopoetry audience has to merely press the play button, not interact with a program possibly more confounding. Consequently, video poetry is more accessible, widely created and viewed than is eLit.
Which of course is not a criticism of eLit. We see continuing fracturing and multiplication of audiences. eLit is a good source of hybridity because hybridity is rocket-fueled by the digital coding of all digitizable arts in 0s and 1s. The brine of the binary mixes media, arts and other fields in strong cross multiplication. It's all written together in 0s and 1s, so sound, text, image, and moving image can all be in closer proximity and new relation than previously. That territory is more eLit's than videopoetry's, certainly. And that isn't the only strong value in eLit. eLit is not going away. Cuz the possibilities continue to multiply rather than stagnate, and cuz computers are so central now to communications, art and culture more generally. They are the new media machines, and they are always capable of being more and other than that.
That is sustainable in computer land cuz computers are the most flexible of machines, flexible even unto the level of thought itself. The medium itself is flexible, editable, reworkable and instantly responsive as thought. The possibilities of digital art will continue to multiply as long as the boundaries of computing itself continue to expand, and this process can continue indefinitely because of the unlimited scope of the universal Turing machine. Computer art will continue to be at the forefront of hybrid art. It is an utterly protean medium. Today. Tomorrow. Forever. In other media, the art changes. In computer art, the medium itself is almost as dynamically changing as the art.
I've been rethinking my relationship with video. At this point, it's one of several media and art forms that I work with in a single project. The Aleph Null 4.0 art projects I create almost always involve an experience inside Aleph Null 4.0 itself. This is a never-quite-the-same-twice experience of generative art. The animation spends most of its time becoming. Whereas the slideshows of selected screenshots show things fully arrived, fully there. Completely.
And then there's the matter of video in Aleph Null 4.0 projects. Videopoems such as Checking In and Checking In 2 have moved from quick documentation of what anyone could generate in Aleph Null 4.0 to things created not only in Aleph Null but also in a video editing program such as Camtasia or Da Vinci Resolve. And a bitmap editer such as Gimp or Photoshop. And possibly a sound editer such as Audacity. When coding is involved, I use VScode. When the results are most interesting, they couldn't be done in any one of these programs alone. They're strongly intermedial. Among various arts and media. The best of my video work builds on the Aleph Null experience.
Far from replacing the interactive art/media I create, video works well in concert with it. They feed into one another in a work flow that provides a multitude of experiences and perspectives on the material. The Aleph Null, never-quite-the-same-twice experience is protean, like a babbling brook. The slideshows are of solid stills fully realized in their moment, like studied photos or paintings. The videos involving Aleph Null range from documentation to fully realized works of art such as Checking In 2 .
Some of the Aleph Null 4.0 videos are strictly documentation, recordings of things that anyone, given some luck, might create themselves in Aleph Null 4.0. The look, anyway, if not the text.
But I spent several months of work on the videopoem of Checking In 2. I got to know the poem quite well, consequently. I read it repeatedly. In shards. I put the shards together. Figuratively.
I began to think in Checking Inisms. When someone on Facebook opined that "chatGPT and associated AIs will do for literature what photography did for painting", I saw it could be but slightly twisted into a Checking Inism: "AI is doing for literature what photography did for painting." Or, better: "AI says it's doing for literature what photography did for painting." And when the poem said "Minute Maid is taking minutes", I wanted to add "and having seconds".
When you immerse yourself in, say, The Fairie Queene, it isn't long before you begin to think in Spenserian stanzas. When you read Checking In 2, you begin to reshape what you hear and read into the forms that Checking In so playfully sets up in one's head. That's the sign of a pretty interesting poem, I'd say. It reconfigures your world view.
My attitude to video used to be that I was not involved in video art at all, but simply in video as documentation for my interactive, generative, online, browser-based art. It was old media. I was working in new media. But now I see lots of exciting possibilities in combining projects such as Aleph Null with real video art/videopoems. Of course, it's the videopoems that mainly interest Adeena, as the results of our collaborations together. To me, the mix of our videopoems with slidvids, Aleph Null itself, books, performance etc signals an interesting richness in the art. I believe this is the sort of thing Tom Konyves is getting at in his remarks about Checking In, for which I should thank him. Checking In 2 is even more intermedial than Checking In, cuz of Adeena's vocals synched with the text. Multimedia puts the emphasis on the multiple nature of the media. Intermedia stresses the relations between media. Which is why intermedia has always had more art cred than multimedia. Art is about putting it all together. In many senses. And in many ways.
We started the video of “Lorem Ipsum” after I read it in Adeena's 2018 book Checking In. I had no idea of the method of composition. Turns out it's a homophonic translation of Cicero's “De finibus bonorum et malorum”. I was just really struck by the poem. Which goes to show that you don't really need to know how a poem came to be to enjoy it. I felt it was both passionate and intensely eloquent in an excitingly strange way. It's compellingly erotic but also has a kind of yearning toward poetry and art, a lust for poetry and art—for beauty, in a sense—that you don't see much. If at all, ever before, in just this way. And yet it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's seriously goofy, at points. “Wild logos” is beautifully contradictory but the poem has, yes, that kind of energy.
Lorem Ipsum is another of our collabs. The text is in Adeena's 2018 book Checking In from Talonbooks
I approached Adeena about doing a videopoem of “Lorem Ipsum”. She sent me the text, and I created an initial version with no audio. I used Aleph Null to create the visuals. Aleph Null is a graphic synthesizer I wrote in JavaScript/HTML/CSS.
The text of “Lorem Ipsum” is filled with samples of screenshots of one of my Aleph Null projects called Alchemical Cosmography. The underlying images are, primarily, images from the 9th to the 18th centuries concerned with alchemy and/or cosmology. I had a sense of the congruence of these images with “Lorem Ipsum” before I knew that it's inspiration was a text from the ancient world. Cicero, a Roman, lived from 106-43 BCE. There's a kind of classical feel to “Lorem Ipsum”, a sense of it being connected both to the contemporary avant garde but also to the bards of the ancient world, to a long and venerable tradition of the quest through romance for satisfaction and even enlightenment, and to the poetry of lust, romance and bawdiness. It's a timeless piece.
Adeena's an amazing reader/performer of her work—she's got a great voice—so of course it was desirable to add audio to it. Adeena sent me a recording probably in 2018 or 2019. But I didn't get back to it until 2023, after we'd done “Checking In 2”, which was the first vid we made where her voice was synched with the text.
It took about a week of solid work to synch the text and voice of “Lorem Ipsum” cuz they're synched word by word. The poem has about 1100 words. Each word took, I don't know, about 3 minutes of work, so that's 3300 minutes or 55 hours of work to synch the text and voice. And that's just near the start of the editing process involved in “Lorem Ipsum”.
After that, I started introducing a few other touches. The poem starts several sentences with the word “Come”; I made the transition to that word look a little bit different. And that seemed to work rhetorically, structurally, musically, emotionally. There's a bunch of other transitions that are similarly patterned throughout the poem, to give it structure and congruent motion with the music of the poem.
Unlike “Checking In 2”, there's no background visuals to this videopoem, just a white background. But I felt the text and Adeena's voice were sufficient. It even displays a bit of austerity or restraint to go along with that classical strength. Also, the white background makes the foregrounded text more pronounced, more strongly the focus.
Mind you, it turns out that the background in “Checking In 2” is doing some work that is done in “Lorem Ipsum” with little animations and other similar touches that give the visuals some life beyond simply the synch of text and voice which, let's face it, gets dull--visually--after a while. I spent months on developing those little animations. I used a video editor called Camtasia. I think I will use a more appropriate video editor for my next one! Camtasia's wonderful but I'm hoping for a more extensive animation tool in something like DaVinci Resolve. In any case, those little animations carry an interest, visually, as we move through the video, that help to keep it interesting--interesting not simply by virtue of added motion or shape on the screen as, instead, animations that explore and contribute to the meaning of the poem.
“Lorem Ipsum” goes with “Checking In”, “Checking In 2”, and “Ærotomania”. These are all videopoems with big text filled with images frame by frame, word by word, videopoems Adeena and I collaborated on using my Aleph Null graphic synthesizer. There's other work in our collaboration related to this such as “Similily”, which also uses big text filled with images.
The below links collect and arrange the above links.
Checking In 2
Checking In 2
in Aleph Null 4.0
Checking In 2
slidvid 1
Checking In 2
slidvid 2
Checking In 2
videopoem on

Lorem Ipsum
Made with Aleph Null 4
285 creenshots of Lorem Ipsum
Made with Aleph Null 4

Checking In 1
Checking In 1
in Aleph Null 3.0
Checking In 1
Front door to Adeena in Aleph Null 3.0
Checking In
the book
Tom Konyves talking about Videopoetry 1980-2020 and Checking In at Surrey Art Gallery