Liminal Processes: The Living Utterances of Speaking Applications

Liminal Processes: The Living Utterances of Speaking Applications

Can a machine, a computer, create a living utterance? A talking machine is required to follow a strict set of linguistic rules that govern the English language, but how different is that for the average English speaking person? In the sixties, Bell Telephone Labs developed computerspeech programmed with punch cards that allowed them to control a set of nine control signals. These “signals correspond to voice pitch, voice loudness, lip opening and other speech variables. When every instant of sound is specified, and every variable accounted for, such a machine produces human-sounding speech.”1 This assumes that what is programmed is, of course, a rational set of commands, a sentence, or a specific word. Does this strict assignment of meaning, that has to exist as computer code for the machine  to speak, make the words that are spoken “fixed realities with consistent referents?”2 Is the computer then a fundamentalist of language? George Quasha, an artist, poet, and musician, writes in his essay Configuring Principle about a thinking language, one that is not bound by a program, but is living, coming & going; it is what he calls “poetic thinking.”3 He speaks of WORDS that can be “viewed as a continuum between extremes of meaning. Therefore, they are sites of more or less continuous transition. And they are thresholds, what I have called limens, logoic zones of liminality.”4 He calls for “wider circles of referential engagement, and then a reflective level, much like the thinking we are doing here, and then: what? A certain leap, a nonordinary giant step, a break in the frame, shadows with no projective light, figurings and unnamables- The apparition of these faces in the crowd; Petals on a wet, black bough.”5

The installation Liminal Processes: The Living Utterances of Speaking Applications is made up of eight Aesthetic Interfaces (custom computer software that was developed in MAX/MSP). These applications are “Aesthetic” because the applications are not logically programmed and diagrammed for efficiency or easy reading, but are arranged subjectively as a drawing. Placed within the interfaces are the sentences listed above. The computers are programmed to speak the words in order from left to right. However, this is not always what takes place. Each application, as an individual, has its own random procedures in which to operate; procedures such as changing the speed, pitch, and rhythm of the voice. As these real-time operations are performed, confusion has the potential to arise, ordering becomes mumbled, and at times the speed being asked of the computer reaches the threshold of the processor’s capabilities. In these moments, the computer is at PLAY. It reorganizes the structure of language asked  of it to perform. The computer acts like young child: it does not know how to comprehend what it is saying. Children learn by mimicking their parents; the computer is not learning, but it is playing, and there is a lot to be learned from playing. Each application has each word in the sentences spelled correctly and has the chance to be said correctly. However, several of the applications also contain a play on each word that explores the limits/parameters of the computer’s pronunciation. This creates a language game that the applications can play by utilizing random selection. There is a constant shifting and maneuvering through the predetermined sentence structure. Do these utterances have life, or at least live in the “poetic thinking” of the viewer?


1 Written and directed by D.H. VanLenten, Contributed by Russell Scholl, Acessed Jan. 2011
2-5 George, Queasha. Configuring Principle, Acessed Jan. 2011

The Interface of Max is organized as a drawing, it is apart of the piece aesthetic. I call my patches that I develop like these 'Aesthetic Interfaces'. Applications that are not neutral, but are an subjective interface, a Interface in drag, a Interface that is over the top, the Interface of more, the Baroque Interface, and extravagantly organized Patches/Applications.

More Links

Jul 11 2012 | 2:07 pm

Very interesting, thank you.

However, your headline link ( is 404.

Jul 11 2012 | 4:31 pm

Thank you for the compliment and the heads up. Just updated my website and hadn’t thought about updating external links. It’s fixed now if you want to take a look.

Viewing 2 posts - 1 through 2 (of 2 total)

Explore More

Subscribe to the Cycling ’74 Weekly Newsletter

Let us tell you about notable Max projects, obscure facts, and creative media artists of all kinds.

* indicates required