Adventures at the edge of culture

Here’s video of the talk I gave in May at The Odditorium, about ideaspace and algo-culture, alongside Alan Moore, John Higgs and others.

I talk about @factbot1, @theresamaybot, MachineImaginedArt and Algo-incantations amongst other things.

It’s 23 minutes long, of course.


Here’s a video of Alan Moore in conversation with John Higgs, later on in the evening.

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Algo Incantations

I recently had the pleasure at speaking at ‘Adventures on the edge of culture‘ with John Higgs, Melinda Gebbie, Alan Moore and others.

I wanted to create a new algorithmic work which could be distributed to the audience, and knowing they would be of an magickal bent, I entered Chapel Perilous and took a look at the True Will of the machine.

True Will is a term found within the mystical system of Thelema, a religion founded in 1904 with Aleister Crowley’s writing of The Book of the Law. It is defined at times as a person’s grand destiny in life, and at other times as a moment to moment path of action that operates in perfect harmony with Nature. This Will does not spring from conscious intent, but from the interplay between the deepest Self and the entire Universe.

(from wikipedia)

Crowley‘s famous aphorism ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law” refers to this notion of True Will – if you are acting with your true will, you are in sync with the universe, and therefore whatever you do cannot be considered ‘wrong’.

Is a computer not, in some way, enacting its true will when it executes an algorithm? It can only do what it does, it has no other option – perhaps machines are more in tune with the universe than we are.

For this project, I took the incantations of the Necronomicon and produced a linguistic model capable of producing novel incantations.


Another algorithm took each sentence and turned it into a sigil and arranged them into a geometric form.


I then asked the machine to produce hundreds of unique incantations and sigils and distributed them to the audience.


A manifestation of the True Will of the machine…

Some examples below, click to view full size.


Disclaimer: Incant and/or charge these sigils at your own risk.

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New Year’s Switch

Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband recently released their ‘New Year’s messages’ full of platitude and hollow promise. I could see little to discern them, (though Cameron’s straight to camera style lends itself more to audiovisual abuse), and though I’ve covered the interchangeability of contemporary politicians before, I still wanted to see their words tumble out of each other’s mouths, just to see what it would look like.

So I enlisted the help of the wonderful Echonest API to first splice them along loosely musical lines, then created an algorithmically generated video remix based up the musical similarities of their voices.

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Last week it was revealed that The Conservative Party have attempted to erase their historical speeches from the internet.

Understandably, this has caused much scorn, prompting a Streisand effect of drawing more attention to this misdeed.

But the internet never forgets, and the speeches are still available, if you know where to look. Whilst the idea of actually reading this historical record of lies and broken promises is rather unappealing, I have built something that turns them into poetry.

Poems are much nicer than speeches.

Click the image below to create a new poem.


Here are a couple of other poems I generated while working on the project, based on the obvious linguistic idiosyncrasies of the politician:

We will

We will be tested.
We will change that.
We will confront it.
We will reform the NHS.
We will be accountable.
We will protect the NHS.
We will always defend it.
We will be radical reformers.
We will make a start in 2010.
We will do all of these things.
We will be there to protect you.
We will scrap the ID Card scheme.
We will get Britain moving again.
We will create new river crossings.
We will spend more on it, not less.
We will reduce this deficit together.
We will fight that every step of the way.
We will start by doubling that to two years.
We will keep flexible working, and extend it.
We will play our part in breaking the log-jam.
We will be the government for people who aspire.
We will continue our ruthless pursuit of tax evasion.
We will also give our schools the final say over expulsion.
We will give doctors back their professional responsibility.
We will need to make big changes to fix our broken politics.
We will put responsibility at the heart of our national life.
We will be unashamedly pro-enterprise and pro-wealth creation.
We will give the same relief from bureaucracy to our employers.
We will publish every item of government spending over £25,000.
We will more than halve the cost of facility time to the taxpayer.
We will make aggressive tax avoidance more and more uncomfortable.
We will continue to expand cycle hire and plant thousands of trees.
We will want a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
We will come out with the mission completed and British heads held high.


Promises, Promises

I promise you this.
Our aid promise – kept.
He promised “full employment”.
He promised to end boom and bust.
Not a promise of a perfect country.
And he promised three million new homes.
Where are the laws that we were promised?
Every promise he’s made has turned to dust.
I’m not going to make promises I can’t keep.
So I won’t promise things I cannot deliver.
I can promise you – these are lies, lies, lies.
Labour promised they’d do something about this.
Not vague aspirations or vacuous pledge card promises.
You can read my lips, that is a promise from my heart.
And I promise that we will continue to show that resolve.
We were promised Second Reading before the summer recess.
And we’ve kept our promises to the poorest at home too.
We do not stand here and make the usual politicians’ promises.
Think back to those big promises on the steps of Downing Street.
Just as promises on aid need to be kept, so do promises on trade.
Don’t promise action on immigration – it’s simpler to say nothing.
It is, and it does, and I promise you this: I will see it through.
Now I know you’ve heard politicians promise this kind of thing before.
That’s why we promise to oppose all wasteful spending throughout the EU.
He promised to make Britain “the great global success story of this century”.
Won’t that sap people’s faith in these meetings and the promises that are made?
He promised it when he launched his leadership for the Labour Party two years ago.
I’ve challenged the Prime Minister about his broken promise at every opportunity.
By signing this pledge, Conservative candidates promise to act on all these fronts.
Because government got too big, promised too much and pretended it had all the answers.
I’m not going to stand here and promise you a country where nothing bad ever happens.
And I make this promise to everyone in Britain: you will not be left on your own in this.

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How do you model the mind of a book? This was the question John Higgs and I were discussing in the pub one night. John’s excellent book The KLF: Chaos, Magic, and the Band who Burned a Million Pounds was due to be released in paperback, and we wanted to see if we could make it ‘come alive’ on the internet in some way. I’d already run a generative radio station for 23 days for the initial release, Radio Eris, and wanted to do something different.

John gave me a copy of the book in it’s print-ready format, and I set about pondering how best to extract the tangled web of people and events inside it, with a view to creating some sort of interrogatable representation, that could then be shoe-horned into the internet in some way. I set about creating a program to extract the named entities in the book, all the people mentioned, and their position inside the text. From this skeleton, I looked at each entity and examined which other entities were mentioned nearby in the text. This, to my surprise, gave me a model of interconnections which bears a remarkable likeness to the ideas contained in the book.

The view below picks 3 names from the book at random – if you click on them, their relative relationships are revealed. Beware, some nodes like Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty are (unsurprisingly) highly connected.

Having built an index into the text, I set about attaching it to twitter, responding to questions with lines from the book. While this was quite pleasing, it didn’t quite capture the spirit of Eris who permeates the book, so I mined the text for all the adjectives and used this to form a custom dictionary of John’s descriptive style. Thus the responses of @klfbook are modified, with nouns and adjectives substituted at random inside the sentences.

John has written an excellent post about how he feels, as the author, seeing his words mangled in this way.

In addition, the book posts animated GIFs to a tumblr, based on quotes from the book. It does this at 23 minutes past midnight, 6am, mid-day and 6pm.

These GIFs are created automatically, combining a quote from the book with images harvested from google. The images are based on 23 search terms (which I’m not going to reveal here).

Much like @shardecho this project looks at how a corpus of text can behave like an intentional being, with actions, and reactions to it’s environment. Everything it does is derived from the text – the book is all it knows, and all it can ever know.

Talk to the book at @klfbook and watch the GIFs appear at

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