Word Up! I mean, words in the sky, words in your eye. I mean, sometimes out of print books loaned 5 years do come back. Here’s looking at you, Cobralingus by Jeff Noon.
A Toolkit For Language Bending
“Cobralingus comes completely from my love of electronic music, attempting to give language a little of the freedom that music enjoys. How can language refer to itself? Can it be bent, mutated, made liquid? Sometimes this will bring on certain poetic effects. I wouldn’t myself label it as poetry, because I think that should refer to a more heightened sense of language. I like to fire up words, energise them, drug them, destroy them, bring them back to live in some other form. Cobralingus is the end result of this process.”
Jeff Noon, author of Cobralingus, interviewed by Vladislava Gordic.
Almost like a blueprint for his well received novels in the nineties ( Vurt, Pollen, Automated Alice, Nymphomation) and beyond ( Needle in the Groove, Falling Out Of Cars ), Cobralingus is an instructional book revealing Noon’s attraction to experimental music and processes, offering a series of experiments for remixing text. The introduction brings us ‘the cobralingus engine’, for manipulating language into new shapes and meaning, and which interprets text as a signal, which can have various filters and re-routing applied to it. Noon outlines his filters ( eg decay, randomise, search and replace, sample, release virus etc ), then jumps into a series of chapters, each starting with a paragraph sample of text taken from a classic, and proceeds to transform this gradually with his filters, until it’s final iteration at the end of the chapter.
The results are varied, sprawling about in unusual page layouts, but for the most part have gained something compelling. It’s the process overall which is most intriguing though, itself part of a wider manifesto Noon has argued for elsewhere ( in this Guardian article ).
“We have to accept that English writing has been far too slow in its adoption of avant-garde techniques, in comparison with popular music, art and films. The narrative fabric of the latest cult movie is woven through with jump cuts, freeze-frames, montage, slow motion shots, tracking shots, hand-held camera techniques, and the like. House, hip-hop and garage recordings contain elements of remixing, scratching and sampling. What are the prose equivalents of the tracking shot, the hyperlink, the remix, the freeze-frame?”
Which is not to say that the Surrealists, Dadaists and the likes of James Joyce, William Burroughs / Brian Gysin haven’t already explored text mutation and cut-up techniques in the past, but perhaps suggesting that we don’t have very advanced tools or frameworks for doing so in writing as compared to other artforms. There are a few believers out there though, visible in a quick scan of the dub text universe :
cutnmix.com – a mac+pc application which ‘helps creative writers generate new ideas through the use of different methods of text randomization and manipulation. Cut’n’Mix expands the pallete of tools available to writers with functions not available in standard word processors’. ( eg randomisation, word blends, random rhythm and rhyme functions, ‘word shredding’ and ‘word gluing’.
The Text Mixing Desk – offers a range of filters to apply to a text ( eg transgenderiser, rasta rack, cut-up engine, expletive deleted ).
http://zelea.com/project/textbender/ – Textbender is a system of collaborative writing based on recombinant text. It implements a social Web medium with potential applications ranging from open art to open democracy. The underlying mechanism is evolutionary genetics.
languageisavirus.com – a few experimental writing widgets available.
Liptikl is a ‘cut up’ word arranger; a lyric generator.
writerhymes.com – “option-click on a word to find a rhyme for it”
Noonworlds : jeffnoon.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Noon, http://tinyurl.com/dhtwkd : a flash version of cobralingus- which only seems to animate the text into it’s new formations – vastly less interesting than allowing the remix of inputted text.
– and there are plenty of sites for remixing text or a website into a particular dialect, be it smurf, rastafarian, hAcK3r speak etc eg http://speaklolcat.com, with special mention for the wiki project that aims to translate the entire Bible into Kitty Pidgin English ( lolcatbible.com ).