Re: [-empyre-] upgrading downtime?

On Nov 20, 2005, at 3:42 PM, Kenneth Newby wrote:

>This has also come up for some of our graduate students who come from
>professional careers in that industry who want to move into a more creative
>relationship with media practice.

Just some thoughts -

is it necessary for someone who makes software as art to make software that is actually useable?

I liken it to a something similar of tired old (but oddly continuing and heavily hybridised) realist/abstractionist argument:

Software that is built to work: realist
Software that is built with no intention of working: abstract


write an extremely complex piece of software that say, eternally shuffles data from one register to another, and doesn't necessarily do it very well. Or continuously.

The "user" might see nothing, sense nothing, except that the computer's getting warmer from working and the resource manager is fluctuating around 100%...

Or, the program might spin out of control, and run the memory right off the table, crashing the computer in an instant.

As a former Scientist/Engineer at Apple Computer, I would sometimes find that the "failures" of software could be quite entertaining. Like, capturing some video, going to File / Save and have the computer lock up so badly, I had to unplug it from the wall. Or stacking the same short video loop on a dozen tracks, and each track's loop is one frame shorter than the previous, creating a kind of video version of Steve Reich's tape music, and the result? It would freeze so hard I'd have to unplug it, or it would get stuck and stutter and then freeze out, and blow up. Eventually these "bugs" were worked out, but I often thought about the joke of a bug being an "undocumented feature" and how that is essentially true, especially when a product might ship with 800 known bugs. It "works" but only within a set of socially negotiated parameters of acceptibility. Pull those parameters apart - explore code functions metaphorically, or even mythologically.

The code might not be about usability - it might be about relationships of data and forming complex arrays. It might not have a UI or even want one. The software itself may not "work", but it might be written in a very beautiful way.

Or, it might not even be code - it could be pseudocode, a sketch - we admire artist sketches - they're obviously incomplete - but they might say something interesting.

Where is the place for that kind of creativity in "media practice?"

I feel that present "media" is so tied to engineering and computability that often it seems to be indistinguishable from commercial design, and frequently comes off as half-baked attempts at something more well funded industries do for the simplest purposes (on one end of the spectrum) or completely dismissive of other notions of digital creativity (on the other end). And it seems anything that specifically flouts the unspoken (and often boolean/ manichean) regulations of engineering that underpin much of new media and computer arts are tossed right out with no questions asked.

Is there a beautiful new media / software design failure? Or is the intention of "working" always a precondition of realisation?


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