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<nettime> TBT [Time Based Text]: an experiment(al) (in) writing

*TBT [Time Based Text]: an experiment(al) (in) writing*

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.
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. 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.

TBT was made by Jaromil and conceived by Jaromil and JoDi. Following
is a short interview with Jaromil about this new tool.

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

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

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

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...

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

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 -
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.

/Jaromil is a free software programmer, a media artist and activist.
He has made significant contributions to the development of multimedia
and streaming applications on the GNU/Linux platform (the free
counterpart of commercial brands like Microsoft and Macintosh). He
was born in Pescara, Italy, but now lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
He is author of the dyne:bolic GNU/Linux liveCD, and of various free
software projects, including MuSE (a streaming server) and FreeJ (a
free VJ software to live mix and adjust images and sounds). As an
artist, he has created performances and netart works as the :(){ :|:&
};: forkbomb (when typed in the command line of a Unix system the
computer crashes). He also founded in 2000 under the flag of
Freedom of Creation, playing hybrid between the fields of politics,
art and technology./

/Annet Dekker is program manager at Virtueel Platform and freelance
curator and researcher based in Amsterdam. / Follow this link to the
TBT project:

TBT was a commission of Impakt Online –

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