Jaromil: TBT [Time Based Text]

Published on February 1st, 2008

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Time Based Text offers a creative, experimental, joyful and critical way of handling digital text by implementing interactivity, new software and network communications. Time Based Text is a type-performance that illustrates feelings. The emphasis of the software is on the process of writing/typing. TBT is a tool for time-based recording and playback of the process of typing a message, with the accuracy of milliseconds...

TBT [Time Based Text]
An interview by Annet Dekker with Jaromil

Published at Impakt – Adventures in Sound & Image, 2008

Time Based Text is a type-performance that illustrates feelings.

Time Based Text can be considered software art, but above all it is a new form of digital poetics. Time Based Text offers a creative, experimental, joyful and critical way of handling digital text by implementing interactivity, new software and network communications. The emphasis of the software is on the process of writing/typing. TBT is a tool for time-based recording and playback of the process of typing a message, with the accuracy of milliseconds. The basic interface for typing records all typing and plays it back exactly the way the text was typed the first time, including all hesitations and misspellings. It reveals additional information on digital poetry, because the speed of typing and reading it, are visualised. E-mail, blogs, all kinds of digital media can be given a “human touch” by TBT. The software has been kept as basic as possible, is free to use and users are encouraged to add functionalities. The special TBT website offers space for TBT-created messages, haiku’s and poetry, so that visitors can admire each other work.


AD: TBT was born as an idea formulated by you and Jodi. An interesting relation, a computer programmer/artist and an artist couple who like nothing more than to deconstruct soft -and hardwares. Could you describe your relation and your shared interest?

J: It is definitely a result and very much inspired by Jodi. What brought us together, besides the curiosity we nurtured about each other, was this commission for “Net art is dead” by Impakt. So we spent two weekends together.

Jodi initially thought of taking the dyne:bolic operating system and subverting its functionalities, but the perspective of working further to subvert something I already invested a lot of effort on building was really discouraging for me. So I opposed their intention and argued that, if we have something in common, surely it is a minimalist aesthetic and a passion for text and inner processes.

At that point Jodi mentioned their interest in building a “key logger” that would record keys typed in any program running, in particular word processors. I insisted in focusing on the aspect of literary production, stripping down the approach to a reference implementation of a time-based text protocol for recording time-based literature – I was extremely excited about developing a software tool for literature.

We all realized we like literary experiments in automatic writing and we would be interested in a tool to publish online time-based poetry as well to be used in email communication, where hesitations in writing can be a vehicle for sentiments…

AD: One of the important changes in the way of thinking about language, typography and poetry came from Italy, Marinetti said “my revolution is directed against the so-called typographical harmony of the page, instead I want to grasp words brutally and hurl them in the reader’s face.” is this something you can relate to? Does your own background, also coming from Italy has been of influence in your work?

J: Yes, I was born in Italy, but I’m part of a generation that starts, for necessity and virtue, to think about a common European heritage rather than a restricted (and in case of Italy over-celebrated) national identity. I guess this opens even more ways to play with language than Italians used to do in Italy anyway.

My education was as classical as it can get in the south of Italy, mostly focusing on literature and philosophy, in particular ancient Latin and Greek; such traditions of written poetry respect metrical schemes and sometimes adopts a richer punctuation than the modern one we are used to. This is certainly a point of contact with the concept of Time Based Text, but by now I’d say my frequentation of digital haiku circles as the ‘five7five’ mailing list played a more important role in this project.

I find it very difficult to relate to Futurism, which I consider a decadent re-use of Symbolism. While it might be considered true that Marinetti’s furor has contributed to syntactical innovation and modern design, I do believe that was too functional to the mission of the industry to be considered art. Furthermore I fear the aggressive attitude of futurists, but that has more to do with personal taste I guess?

My inspiration is coming from writers as James Joyce, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, to name just a few that challenged in various ways the performative act of what used to be called “automatic writing”.

AD: As the title indicates an important aspect of TBT is that it is time based, something that seems almost paradoxical when linked with a computer. How do you see this relation?

J: TBT is about the dimension of time in literature. The act of writing a flow of consciousness discards information. Such information is very abstract when compared to words and concepts, it can intimately describe the writer’s thoughts with all the hesitations occurring in the creative act. TBT offers also to preserve all the sentimental information that is related to the mediation of text in human communication.

With TBT we preserve the emotional information produced when writing, at the same time opening the media art domain to the world of literature. The existence of a software as TBT draws complex relationships between code and language: it softly unveils the mutual influence between literary art and computer programming suggesting they can benefit from each other not just in terms of productivity.

AD: TBT reflects much the Japanese haiku’s or dada experiments. Most of these actions in poetry have a strong relation with the human, organic and emotions. Very little do they relate it seems with the ‘hard’ and ‘cold’ language and command lines of computers. How do you view this difference or better, change? Can we finally start to emotionally engage and understand our mechanics?

J: I guess the exploration of our mechanics (as opposed to the mechanics of machines) is always doomed to a sweet failure, the one that poetry celebrates with the best tears one can cry.

The literary approach shifts the analysis to a produced fact, which reflects our inner sentiments: a production that is written out of our inner emotions but still sub-consciously shaped by them.

Today the act of writing is arguably the most natural act of creation human kind engages on a regular basis, so there are chances to access a precedented undisclosed intimacy of thoughts there, in everyone who writes, between the lines.

AD: What do you think is more artistic the TBT software, as being software art, or the poetry that can be made by using it?

J: I think what is most artistic is the concept of TBT.

The software itself and the poetry that can be made by using TBT are also a propagation of the artistic value of this exploration, but the artistic value is rather conceptual, probably definable media art.

There is a formal approach in the realization that also can be argued as artistic: it is not by coincidence that both from a programmer’s and user’s point of view TBT will result minimalistic and, when adopted, extremely flexible. At least I refuse the usual rhetoric of presentation for “artistic software”, instead caring very much for functionality and a design that is faithful to text.

AD: In the past you have also talked about making the net more ‘organic’ by devising ‘new ways for information’, is TBT a step in the right direction?

J: Hopefully yes, at least it is an attempt. I hope that it can work in a natural and spontaneous way. That is why the work consists of a portable source code that works as a clean reference implementation and can be included in any other software (being open source and licensed GNU GPL), rather than building a TBT software that does it all for you, that would probably limit its usefulness on the long term.

I also expect it to inspire people to think about less superficial ways of communication: right in a time in which our media-scape is getting polluted by opportunist automatas abusing our attention, the difference between us and them might be just… sentiments.

AD: How can you use TBT in your email program?

J: As an external editor: it can be called when the message needs to be written, once done will quit giving back the TBT message, which can be sent in an attachment.
The reference implementation is working with the mail client Mutt, but hopefully some mail client will implement TBT natively in future.

AD: Could you tell me step-by-step what I should do to make TBT poetry?

J: once you have downloaded and compiled the source code (or you have booted a dyne:bolic liveCD or downloaded the OSX binary), just open a terminal and type ‘tbt -h’, you will get this help:

TBT – Time Based Text – v0.7 – tbt.dyne.org
Usage: tbt [options] [file]

-h print this help
-v version information
-D debug verbosity level – default 1
-c console interface mode (S-Lang)
-r record tbt – option alias: rectext
-p playback tbt – option alias: playtext
-m mail composer – option alias: recmail
-s save format in [ bin | ascii | html ]
-x convert binary tbt to html or ascii

which suggests various possibilities to write your message, for example to simply write a message type:

tbt -c -r mymessage.tbt

and type your message, once done quit pressing ctrl+c

you can then play the message on the screen with:

tbt -c -p mymessage.tbt

in case you want to create a web TBT do

tbt -c -r -s html mymessage.html

then type and quit with ctrl+c

you can then upload mymessage.html to your website together with the tbt javascript code to be put in the same directory.

TBT currently also include a full website with “guestbook” functionality for others to upload their TBT, it is written in PHP and quite easy to setup on a normal web server.

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