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Journal ArticleDOI

Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator

01 Mar 2014-Journal of Writing in Creative Practice (Intellect)-Vol. 7, Iss: 1, pp 213-221
TL;DR: Nathan Walker's 'Action Score Generator' (ASG), an online writing machine that randomly arranges words into six-word-length performance scores, belongs to a lineage of language-based artworks and practices that relinquish authorial control to the viewer.
Abstract: This article discusses Nathan Walker's 'Action Score Generator' (ASG), an online writing machine that randomly arranges words into six-word-length performance scores. The generator belongs to a lineage of language-based artworks and practices that relinquish authorial control to the viewer. Exploring the methods of Event Scores developed by George Brecht the ASG is a website that distributes an infinite number of scores as both instructions and poetry. This is articulated in relation to Christopher Strachey’s ‘Love Letter Generator’ and other permutational and computational writing programmes that use randomness and code to produce writing in modular forms.

Summary (1 min read)

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Contributor details

  • Nathan Walker is an artist, curator and writer.
  • His work and research investigates writing and speaking in performance.
  • His artworks exist as live performances, bookworks, online projects, sound poetry and video.
  • Alongside artist Victoria Gray he is co-director of Oui Performance an arts organization committed to developing the practice, discourse and education of performance art in the United Kingdom.

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Walker, Nathan ORCID:
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8419-9018 (2014) Permutation and
Randomness in the Action Score Generator. Journal of writing in
creative practice, 7 (1). pp. 213-221.
Downloaded from: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/591/
The version presented here may differ from the published version or version of record. If
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Nathan Walker ‘Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator’ 2014
Permutation & Randomness in the
Action Score Generator
Nathan Walker
The following is the authors accepted manuscript for an article published in Journal of Writing in
Creative Practice.
Suggested citation: Walker, N. (2014), ‘Permutation and randomness in the Action Score
Generator’, Journal of Writing in Creative Practice 7: 1, pp. 213–221, doi: 10.1386/jwcp.7.1.213_1
Abstract: This article discusses the Action Score Generator (ASG), an online writing machine that
randomly arranges words into six-word-length performance scores. The generator belongs to a
lineage of language-based artworks and practices that relinquish authorial control to the viewer.
Exploring the methods of Event Scores developed by George Brecht the ASG is a website that
distributes an infinite number of scores as both instructions and poetry. This is articulated in relation
to Christopher Strachey’s ‘Love Letter Generator’ and other permutational and computational writing
programmes that use randomness and code to produce writing in modular forms.
Keywords: Event Score, George Brecht, computer generator, Christopher Strachey, e-poetry,
Nathan Walker
Knife, Teeth, Towel, Rope, Glue, Carabiner, Chair, Microphone, Cone, Whistle,
Glass, Book, Rope, Door, Hammer, Nails, Underwear, T-Shirt, Postcard, Dust,
Slate, Bricks, Rocks, Wood, Shoes, Bags, Picture, Pencils, Flag, Dirt, Bucket,
Water, Coins, Stick, Shirt, Nail, Tongue, Hair, Arm, Shoe, Tape, Lemon, Comb,
Spit, Slates, Turps, Polythene, Photo, Photos, Branch, Branches, Plant, Plants,
Plank, Planks, Roses, Sand, Buckets, Typewriter, String, Bag, Bags, Strings,
Object, Objects, Torch, Trousers, Jacket, Coat, Flowers, Placard, Placards,
Curtain, Curtains, Sock, Socks, Scissors, Braces, Whiskey, Soap, Sheet, Swan,
Paper, Newspaper, Newspapers, Ribbon, Ribbons, Chairs, Stool, Table,
Weight, Glitter, Sponge, Sponges, Belt, Pen, Bells, Tambourine, Chimes,
Drawing, Haunt, Concrete.
These objects are a list of materials that I have used in performances. They are
not arbitrary but specific, belonging to an archive of practice in action art from
the last eight years. They are indexical of specific task-based actions and
symbolic of a kind of object-vocabulary present within my performance practice.
Like the other words in the Action Score Generator (ASG), they are prewritten
source words that, together, create instructions, descriptions and poems. As a
writing programme the structure of the texts in the ASG are fixed in word-length
but their appearance and layout on the page, shifts depending on the size of the

Nathan Walker ‘Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator’ 2014
words chosen by the generators code. Building upon a practice that moves
between live performance and performance for the page or screen, this
performing webpage is informed by concrete and visual poetry.
I have been influenced by artists using language as art and, for me, this begins
with concrete poetry and extends to the works developed by George Brecht with
his Event Scores. This practice became more explicitly explored in the
conceptual practices of the 1960s and 1970s, and these lineages run in parallel
to one another. The scores of the ASG are considered to be akin to Fluxus
Event Scores, which in Emmett Williams’ words were ‘born out of experiments in
concrete poetry as it “got off the page”’ (Dezeuze 2002: 79). Getting off the page
and beyond the screen is explored by considering different ways to interpret,
read and realize these text-scores as art.
The ASG is accessed as a website and has been constructed as a simple piece
of HTML, CSS and JavaScript that can be viewed across browsers and devices
making it available as a portable reading experience. This also builds upon a
key concern of Fluxus artists to disseminate and disperse material. For George
Brecht the issue of distribution was a concern as early as 1959, when he
asked: “shouldn’t scores be simply published in the newspaper, or available on
printed cards or sheets of paper, to be send to anyone”’ (Dezeuze 2002: 79).
That the material is concise enough to be distributed easily is suitable for
contemporary modes of communication that have appeared in our increasingly
digital lives. It is easy to see that Event Scores could exist as part of a 120-
character-long twitter feed which is, co-incidentally, the same amount of
characters that are statistically produced on the back of a postcard.
My writing practice has almost always engaged with language-games,
anagrams, concrete poetry and the physical re-arrangement of words as things
and also belongs to an extended practice of working with performances as
collage and collage as performance. It is no surprise to find that I am drawn to
digital writing practices that enable machines to perform these re-arrangement
functions more efficiently and rigorously than my mind or body.
I originally imagined that these texts could be read aloud as poetry, however,
as Liz Kotz states ‘Event scores were rarely read aloud the linguistic
performativity they propose is closer to that of the iterability of the sign than to
that of an overtly oral (and more conventionally literary) performance poetics’
(2001: 106). The repeatability inherent in Event Scores, in both form and
content, realization and conceptualization, is present within the ASG through the
shifting processes of repeating structures, words and continual transformations.
Kotz goes further saying that,
Rather than pulverizing language into sonorous fragments scores focus on the
instructions themselves as poetic material. This alternate poetics, of deeply prosaic
everyday statements, comprised of short, simple, vernacular words presented in the
quasi-instrumental forms of lists and instructions, emerged in the postwar era as a
countermodel to the earlier avant-garde practices of asyntacticality, musicality, and
semiotic disruption. Yet this poetics by no means represents a simple departure from
or rejection of collage aesthetics, but a complex transformation of its semiotic
engagement, one that pursues the logic of the fragment to unprecedented levels of
isolation, focus, and reduction. (Kotz 2001: 106)

Nathan Walker ‘Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator’ 2014
The ASG is a website that functions as a text generator using the ‘logic of the
fragment’ (Kotz 2001: 106) to arrange scores for performance. Text is produced
via a JavaScript code that is initiated by loading the site. When a user visits the
site, the computer parses the code and produces what is called a JavaScript
‘event’. This event begins a timed generation of texts that automatically appear
on-screen for the user to view. In this sense there is no directly interactive
function for the user, they become viewers of randomly written scores that exist
in the form and development of Brecht’s Event Scores. Indeed Brecht’s first
one-person exhibition in New York at Reuben Gallery 1959 was titled ‘Towards
Events: An Arrangement’, which provides a useful way of thinking about the
ASG. In the press release of Towards Events Brecht declares that the exhibition
‘be enjoyed as an unfolding experience’ (Robinson 2009: 88) and the same is
true in the ASG. The constant unfolding, shifting and shuffling of these texts
allow us to see them as arrangements towards an event.
Julia Robinson’s historical overview of the event score explains that scores were
‘indeterminate propositions: realizable equally as an object, a performance, or
even a thought. Simply to read an Event score and reflect upon it without acting
already constitutes an adequate realisation’ (2009: 105). Which is echoed in
text-artist Lawrence Weiner’s famous statement: ‘The artist may construct the
work. The work may be fabrication. The work need not to be built’ (in Robinson
2009: 105). Weiner’s use of modular forms of writing were influenced by the
work of George Brecht. The small, simple and poetic texts in the ASG are not
only instructions but ideas; they offer a linguistic proposition that asks the viewer
to interpret the work and relinquish authorial control from the creator. Event
Scores are specific, concise, and often reduced to the shortest form possible to
communicate the idea. Their graphic depiction on cards or reprinted in
newspapers and magazines behave as modular segments. Although they are
visually basic they are typographically specific so that ‘[t]he relationship between
spatially arranged words are not fixed but are open and flexible and subject to
continual redefinition [during the process of reception]’ (Schaffner 2010: 180).
The ASG continually redefines its possible readings by working with what Brecht
calls the ‘concept of strict randomness’ (Robinson 2009: 83) within the
framework of a digital writing machine. The continual redefinition and
resampling of the index of source words here reflect the systematic
permutations of works like Emmett Williams’ ‘Cellar Song for Five Voices’, which
reorders a sentence of fifteen word-length into each possible combination. An
anagrammatic game, Cellar Song follows a logical and methodical system of re-
arranging the sentence:
Somewhere bluebirds are flying high in the sky, in the cellar even blackbirds are extinct.
Somewhere bluebirds are flying high in the sky, even blackbirds are extinct in the cellar.
Somewhere bluebirds are flying in the cellar high in the sky, even black birds are extinct.
Somewhere bluebirds are flying in the cellar even blackbirds are extinct, high in the sky.
(Williams 1967)

Nathan Walker ‘Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator’ 2014
This process of working with ready-made materials in performance, and in the
generator, deals with language in the way one might deal with cards; as a
methodology of fragmentation, collage and arrangement that are employed in
many concrete and Fluxus poetic practices. In John Cage’s words ‘Making
something out of a store of raw materials’ (Dezeuze 2002: 83). The store of raw
materials in the ASG are categorized as variables in the JavaScript code. Whilst
the texts that are generated are random and automatic their structure is
restricted in length and by their position in the string of the text. Each text uses
any combination of single words within the variable code text-nodes, one to six,
and so the content of the text follows a strict pattern of:
1. Object
2. Preposition
3. Thing
4. Verb
5. Preposition
6. Place
Each text is bookended by the ‘object’ (1) and the ‘place’ (6), the four central
words indicate what happens but the beginning and end of each text supply the
content of the task, its contextual data. This harnessing of systematic
indeterminacy in the ASG begins with George Brecht’s Event Scores and moves
to, for example, Merce Cunningham’s use of the computer programme
LifeForms’. LifeForms can produce randomly generated movements that, like
the linguistic propositions in this generator, do not always go together. For
Cunningham and for me the poetics of the disjunctive and the awkward
combinations of fitting and not fitting are where the poetics of the work lie.
Notably, the first random text computer generator was Christopher Strachey’s
‘Love Letter Generator’ (1952), an extraordinary computer program that
generated letters through a combinatorial system. The generator, as Noah
Wardrip-Fruin has argued is the first known experiment in digital literature and
‘perhaps the first digital art of any kind’ (2011: 303). The program, developed for
the Manchester Mark I at the University of Manchester, used two kinds of
sentence permutations as outlined by Strachey:
The first is My-(adj.)-(noun)-(adv.)-(verb) your-(adj.)-(noun).’ There are a list of
appropriate adjectives, nouns, adverbs, and verbs from which the blanks are filled in
at random. There is also a further random choice as to whether or not the adjectives
and adverb are included at all. The second type is simply ‘You are my-(adj.)-(noun),’
and in this case the adjective is always present. (Strachey in Wardrip-Fruin 2011:
308)
Using vocabulary based on the Roget’s Thesaurus, the generator selects words
from each category of adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs with a choice of
adjectives at the beginning and the end of the letter. In this respect, like the
ASG there is a structural framework that ‘fills in the blanks’ through random
selection process. Using small units of data, Strachey’s generator produces love

Citations
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Peta Murray1
TL;DR: In this paper, the authors explore the paradox of the pandemic as proliferation meets obliteration, and alternate randomization with red randomization for COVID-19, which they call RED randomization.
Abstract: If there is any throughline to COVID-19, it lies within a narrative of capriciousness. To explore the paradox of the pandemic as proliferation meets obliteration, I alternate randomization with red...

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Cites background from "Permutation and Randomness in the A..."

  • ...…for slantness, oblique and not so oblique resistances, push-through, and importantly, processual thinking” (Rendle-Short, 2020, p. 7), alongside material practices that perform “the poetics of the disjunctive and the awkward combinations of fitting and not fitting . . .” (Walker, 2014, p. 217)....

    [...]

References
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Journal ArticleDOI
06 Mar 2009-October
TL;DR: Brecht as mentioned in this paper traces the use of chance in art from Duchamp and Dada through Surrealism to Pollock and Cage, and finally proposes ideas for current practice.
Abstract: ing Chance via Pollock and Cage Brecht wrote about Cage and Duchamp before coming into close contact with the work of either. While Allan Kaprow’s essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” published in Art News in January 1958, remains the most noted (and the most explicit) of this generation’s responses to Pollock, Brecht’s extensive research in this area is less known.8 With Pollock’s example as a springboard, Brecht developed a paper called “Chance-Imagery,” which traces the use of chance in art from Duchamp and Dada through Surrealism to Pollock and Cage, finally proposing ideas for current practice.9 In tandem with this writing, Brecht conducted systematic OCTOBER 82 5. Recent scholarship has tilted this record slightly. Branden Joseph mentions the original score in Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003), p. 49; and Liz Kotz has expanded upon her own earlier accounts (which focus on the final text score) to discuss the three scores, in Words To Be Looked At: Language in 1960s Art (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007). 6. To elaborate: in 1952, 4'33'' was conventionally notated. In 1953, when Cage began to frame the piece in relation to his project at large, he reformulated the score as a graphic object. It appeared as a series of vertical lines on white pages (where 1/8 inch equaled 1 second), elegantly echoing the abutments of Rauschenberg’s white canvases. At the end of the 1950s, as he was teaching his class, the most radical transformation came. Since the artists and poets among Cage’s students could not write music, they composed their own experimental works with words, widening the conceptual scope of the score in the process. At this time, Cage redefined his 4'33'' for the last time, casting it into text, with one word for each of the three movements: “tacet,” “tacet,” “tacet.” 7. The term “Combine” was Rauschenberg’s: to define his own work, as not painting and not sculpture. “Intermedia” was coined by Dick Higgins (Brecht’s Fluxus peer and fellow member of the Cage class). 8. Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Art News 57, no. 6 (1958); repr. in Jeff Kelley, ed., Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life: Allan Kaprow (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1993), pp. 1–9. 9. The text was published, almost a decade after it was written, as “Chance-Imagery,” Great Bear Pamphlet (New York: Something Else Press, 1966). chance experiments, and by 1956–57, he was working on a series of paintings registering uneven deposits of dye—captured in pockets, twisted with marbles, and drying at different rates—on the surface of bed sheets. The expressive appearance of these “paintings” was an illusion. In fact, they intensified the relinquishing of authorial control Brecht had seen in Pollock, because their chromatic incident was generated by indirect means, if not quite via systematic “indeterminacy” (Brecht did not yet have that Cagean concept fully integrated in his repertoire). In 1957, he explained the conceptual basis of his process: Each painting is an entity which organizes itself and guides its own development. Because of my method of working, each form in the painting exists from the first as paint, rather than as an idea in my mind, later to be transformed into paint. Thus my paintings have no pre-existent life, external or antecedent to themselves, and my function consists, not in design, but in choosing among various elements already present. Since I am not concerned with the origin of the elements from which I choose, recent paintings have placed intentional emphasis on a chance genesis of the first forms, and some experimental paintings have been based on a concept of strict randomness.10 From Abstraction to Model 83 10. Brecht, brochure for exhibition, Old Mill Gallery, Tinton Falls, New Jersey, March 8–April 11, 1956. Collection Hermann Braun, Remscheid; repr. Alfred Fischer, ed., George Brecht Events: A Heterospective (Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2005), p. 222. Left: Brecht. 6/57. 1957. Right: Brecht. 8/57. 1957.

26 citations

Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: Kiintberg as discussed by the authors describes the Fluxus artists as creating simple pieces filled with energy and humour, pieces without any personal stylistic features, pieces that could be transmitted orally just like folklore and performed by everyone who wanted to.
Abstract: What attracted me so much in the work of the Fluxus artists in the sixties was that they reacted against the pompous image of the artist as a genius with a unique, personal style, an image that fits perfectly to the art market and an exclusive art concept. The Fluxus artist ... created simple pieces filled with energy and humour, pieces without any personal stylistic features, pieces that could be transmitted orally just like folklore and performed by everyone who wanted to. (Kiintberg 1991: 69)

16 citations

01 Nov 2010

3 citations


"Permutation and Randomness in the A..." refers methods in this paper

  • ...Anna Katharina Schaffner discusses another random machine-generated poem by Theo Lutz under the instruction of Max Bense in 1959. Here the computer programmes used similar rules of recombination and reorganization on Franz Kafka’s The Castle. Schaffner (2010) states that ‘because pragmatic selection restrictions are violated, syntactic compatibility clashes contrasts starkly with semantic incompatibility....

    [...]

Frequently Asked Questions (7)
Q1. What is the meaning of the modular form?

In the ASG these kinds of circularity and overlap are a logic of the fragment, the modular form enables a communication of transferrable subjectivity whereby the meaning may be communicated by the code or by the message. 

In the ASG finding the event, or discovering it, is a temporal experience, one of transferrable subjectivity and semiotic disturbance. 

(Strachey in Wardrip-Fruin 2011: 308)Using vocabulary based on the Roget’s Thesaurus, the generator selects words from each category of adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs with a choice of adjectives at the beginning and the end of the letter. 

the first random text computer generator was Christopher Strachey’s ‘Love Letter Generator’ (1952), an extraordinary computer program that generated letters through a combinatorial system. 

Alongside artist Victoria Gray he is co-director of Oui Performance an arts organization committed to developing the practice, discourse and education of performance art in the United Kingdom. 

The JavaScript event is singular, only occurring once, the repetition of rewriting by reorganizing that happens on-screen is automatic and occurs every 4.5 seconds. 

Nathan Walker ‘Permutation and Randomness in the Action Score Generator’ 2014 ‘[t]he visuality… would predominate over their performative dimensions, encouraging the reader to look at them rather than using them as scores for performance’ (Dezeuze 2002: 86) and this is the case for the ASG.