»Spasmo« by Alan Sutcliffe | i |
creators: Alan Sutcliffe
title: Spasmo
also known as: Poems for SPASMO
year: 1969

text, computer-generated

Computer Generated Poem
Ink on paper
22.5 × 26.5 cm

artwork type: text, computer-generated

" Performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall, February 1969.

In the composition, every member of the audience was given a program with a front cover made of aluminium that was a little thicker than baking foil (to ensure that every piece would be accompanied by the sound of people trying not to make a sound). Each A4 program also had an individual copy on line printer paper of a concrete poem produced by by the artist’s program running on an ICL 1900 computer. There were four controls affecting the layout of the words and each one had four possible values. Each run of the program went through all 256 possible combinations of these values. printing that number of poems per run. Over 1000 poems were needed for the concert. The content of the poems came froma passage in “Waiting for Godot” . The vocabulary was adevelopment of this with words grouped by the number of letters. A lone printer used a fixed width font so the number of charaters fixes the width of a word on the page.

Each poem had a serial number made by the values of the four controls, so the numbers ran from 1111 to 4444 in a modified base four. Words of a required length were selected from the vocabulary somewhat at random. Random values affected the rules used to determine each layout, so that both the form and the wording of the poems changed from one run of the program to another, assuming the random number generator was seeded diffrenetly. the random number generator was the only bit of code that was carried over from the program which composed ZASP.

On the stage was the PDP 8 (for the entire duration of the concert), an 8 mm film projector showing war scenes in black and white, the main screen showing a collection of slides, a tape recorder playing pre – recorded sounds, an upright piano at the back of the stage with it’s back to the auditorium, and a colored screen at the front of the stage.

The composition was called ‘SPASMO’ , a word used to signify inadequacy and being in a disjointed state.

In the Months after the concert the poem was reused sometimes under the title “LIKENESS”. One version is reproduced in the catalogue of Event One, London". White Heat Cold Logic : British Computer Art 1960-1980 p. 184-186

“For Tendencies 4, Sutcliffe created a special program using a vocabulary chosen from Lyall’s Guide to 25 Languages of Europe. According to Sutcliffe , a set o f 256 poems in Serbo-Croat and a set of 256 in English were probably sent to Zagreb; however, nothing has been found that indicates SPASMO was read out aloud or presented as a performance”. [Rosen, 2011] p. 386


White Heat Cold Logic : British Computer Art 1960-1980 Figure 14.2; Page 185.

ZKM Collection

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