Poetry, music, and color

March 5, 2008 at 3:08 pm | Posted in artsy, computers, design, literature, music, programming, school | Leave a comment
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[poem visualizer, designed by me]

One in the morning isn’t always the best time to embark on programming projects of indeterminate length and scope. I learned that last night when, after having spent most of the afternoon and evening on a take-home midterm for my visualization class, I was beset with the dilemma of the extra credit problem. “Design your own poetry visualization,” along the lines of Poetry on the Road. This is a series of graphic designs commissioned each year by the Internationales Literaturfestival Bremen, designed by a team of professional graphic artists led by Boris Müller. The two things that immediately struck me about these graphics were 1) their juxtaposition of visual complexity and conceptual simplicity, and 2) their obvious requirement of a vastly greater number of hours — and sheer programming virtuosity — than the 24 hour maximum allotted for my midterm.

I must’ve been struck with temporary amnesia, or just had an acute attack of masochism, because I promptly forgot about the 3 problem sets that I had been saving up my sleep-hours for later in the week, and proceeded to bang away at Processing (coolest programming language ever) for the next 3 hours. The result, humble by the standards of any legitimate computer artist — but hopefully not of my exam grader — is this, a grid of colored squares representing “The Wasteland” by T.S. Eliot. I chose the poem mainly because it was long enough to really show patterns in my algorithm, but not so long as to crash the program. (although I would like to run Paradise Lost or The Iliad through, just for kicks.)

The algorithm is a little boring, in the sense that the colors of the squares, each representing one word, are modulated only by two variables — the length of the word and its vertical position in the poem. I would much rather encode some sort of semantic information, like part of speech, word meaning, or even basic syntactical information (e.g. how the 2006 Poetry on the Road design connects words used in the same sentence by a curved line). Alas, it’s time to move on to the next item on the to-do list — running simulations of biological systems on Matlab. Yay science! Nay for my eyeballs!

(and while we’re on the topic of visualization, let me leave you with the following, unbelievably cool visualization. Scroll to the bottom, turn on the sound, and press play — you’ve never seen anything like this on your Windows Media Player or iTunes)


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