INTRODUCTION // In 2009 I created a “font machine” that generated typography based on textual input. Early prototypes of this system were mainly based on randomness (a number of yes/no questions that roughly determined the shape of a letter). Since then, the system has evolved to a rule-based algorithm that creates compositions and typography based on the content of textual input.
You can view all the artwork and read about how everything works in the ISSUU publication below (If its invisible follow this link). You can also download the book by right clicking this link SATCIC-020315 and saving the file ( also use this link on IOS and open in Ibooks as the ISSUU version is less convenient to read).
If you want to purchase a print (matrix or large) just contact me through the contact form in the sidebar and tell me which one suits your fancy.
Example text analysis, every category impacts the resulting image in a different way.
Example Visual Result
Example difference in impact on image for specifically positive & negative adjectives.
Example matrix print ( Twitter on Amelia Earheart 24.07.12 )
Interview for Sounding Drawing WORKS by Anne Douglas and Kathleen Coessens August 2012
Tim de Cort: The general idea is that I transform text into an image. That’s nearly impossible to do overnight (it’s been three years now) so I focus on short-term goals. I just keep working and make changes with each new idea I have. With each addition: a new dictionary, installation concept, or a new composition impact, the entire code changes. I just experiment with ideas that use the functionality of translating words into imagery. For example with Dragon Naturally Speaking, which is an application to talk to your laptop that writes down what you said so you can write texts by speaking.
Anne Douglas: Voice recognition.
Tim de Cort: Voice recognition. That’s an example of something that came along. I experiment with an idea, try it out and then implement it or leave it on hold like with Dragon Speaking. Everything grows from that one thing, so there isn’t a specific work that I make besides works that are derived from the core functionality, which is the translation. For example the installations could be considered as separate works, but the installations from last year wouldn’t be the same if I would repeat them now, because the core has changed already and it would look and behave quite different. There’s no going back in a way. To use the functionality of the translation around a subject – that is, in a way, a work. The Google lines for example: I used Google’s image culture and taxonomy to make a point about the control a position like that exercises. With Google I used the images from Google to make compositions and looked up Google News hot topics to use them as keywords to download twitter opinions on that Google hot topic for that specific date. That’s like a work, in a way, but I don’t have specific goals besides that core and utilizing it on specific points in it’s development. In a way it is one big work that evolves. Is that clear?
Anne Douglas: So Google News provides you with the subject matter and you then manipulate or undergo a process of developing text into image.
Tim de Cort: I develop text into image, which is composed out of edited Google search images. I choose a topic out of the 5 hottest Google topics (voted by the readers) to then use the opinions on Twitter to get the general online opinion atmosphere around the subject. The idea is to make an image with Google’s image culture on topics picked out by Google itself. Only, I use Twitter to get the opinions of people on that topic and use that as a textual basis.
The idea of using Google for both the content and the imagery is something I haven’t gotten around to yet. Because the idea behind that is to have something that lives online and creates imagery dynamically based on the changes in the news.
Anne Douglas: So, in a sense, it is self-generating?
Tim de Cort: Yes, but that’s not possible yet. Nodebox, the application I use, doesn’t support it yet. The people from NodeBox – told me they would implement it somewhere in the near future, but they have too much work for the time being. But that’s the ultimate idea for Google – to make it something that lives online without my interference. Yes.
Anne Douglas: Can you show us an example?
Ann Eysermans: The program language is NodeBox?
Tim de Cort: The program language is Python; the programming environment is NodeBox. Nodebox is an application, like “Processing”, that creates diverse media through code.
These are prints on hot topics that I followed for some weeks – Google hot topics.
Kathleen Coessens: You don’t know yourself which topic it is?
Tim de Cort: I noted it on there, that’s the death of president Mills. I remember most of them, but every day I chose a number of news items so it’s a lot to remember. A lot of them are on famous people because the problem is that if you use general keywords the visual summary loses accuracy.
Kathleen Coessens: Oh – Twitter on Scientology. Look! This is Twitter on Scientology.
Ann Eysermans: North Korea Olympics.
Tim de Cort: Scientology and Katie Holmes.
Kathleen Coessens: [_____].
Tim de Cort: That’s the funny thing about it considering my expectations, the divorce with Tom Cruise the news and I just thought: I’ll try Katie Holmes and Scientology and see what happens. I expected that online Scientology (as a cult that apparently aggressively pursues positive information distribution) would push itself to be perceived positive online. So I expected it the other way around because of the news on Katie Holmes’ “betrayal” I expected Katie Holmes to be negative and Scientology to be positive, but it was actually the other way round.
Kathleen Coessens: So it is also linked to positive and negative judgements?
Tim de Cort: There are a lot of dictionaries (26 in total), which consist of large word lists that I compose and each dictionary has a personal impact on the image. I have separate dictionaries with visual categories like: objects, nature, culture and architecture. The idea is that those create the visual aspect of image you see, based on the simple idea that those dictionaries represent visual things. So for each of those categories I make visual building blocks in the form of lines that can be used to make up the final image. I look up ‘architecture’ in Google and take the first hundred images that according to Google are related to the word architecture, which are sometimes relevant and sometimes less relevant. I use all those images to create lines that form the visual part of the imagery. Then I have other dictionaries that use other more abstract words like positive and negative adjectives or adjectives that imply more or less quantity or intensity and I use those as multipliers to create a structure for the image. If you have a negative content, it becomes more dense and dark –that’s by the way the simple relevance of white and black because it automatically creates a suggestive atmosphere.
Kathleen Coessens: Scientology is black and Sarkozy? has become black!
Anne Douglas: And Tom Cruise is freed from …
Kathleen Coessens: Yes, free from the black, from the devil.
Tim de Cort: Black and white as positive and negative reference basically suggested itself. When you look at the black imagery, it’s not nuanced on the prints, but if you look at the digital versions the positive ones have more harmony in them.
Almost every word impacts it the final image in a specific way. The impact of words is also something that constantly evolves. You have to think on how to visually translate a word like hard or little and the difference between both. Everything changes around every few months of working and everything becomes something else as more words get involved. You have to subjectively divide language into something visible, which is impossible to consequently do in one take. So thinking on the structure and making small changes is what I mean by how the general work grows.
Anne Douglas: Can I just ask about taking moments – like, these are moments in a process that is ongoing and intermittently changing – how do you think about those moments? What do you think they are?
Tim de Cort: It’s something that reoccurs every time. The first installation I did with Kiritan Flux was already centred on taking moments and making an image that would change based on the participation of visitors. Each image produced was a summary of that moment in time and the final image at the end of the evening being the event summary. The installations afterwards were also about capturing moments in time either by the participants themselves or what people were thinking on a subject on that specific moment in time.
I can’t really explain why it is important, but I even have the dates of the exact seconds when the data was taken. It is important to me, but it’s difficult to say why, besides on a personal level some kind of neurotic tendency.
Kathleen Coessens (to Ann): Why do you decide, for example, to do this black and this grey? Is it just random?
Ann Eysermans: That’s random – yes.
Anne Douglas: You don’t mind if I take these images?
Ann Eysermans: Of course not.
Anne Douglas: But probably you have also electronic images. Tim, and you also?
Tim de Cort: Yes, but the big problem is the difference between the digital ones and resultant pictures.
Anne Douglas: Ok, so they’re just references for me.
Kathleen Coessens: It’s quite interesting as a moment in time – these two projects.
Anne Douglas: Yes, that’s what is so extraordinary. I’m going to move on.
Let’s try to connect the Sounding Drawing Project with what you’ve just told us. First of all, you know, in outline, what it is. I just wondered, from each of you, what is your response? How do you see it in relation to your work?
Tim de Cort: For me, in a way, you could see the preparation behind everything (the code and the building blocks) as a score and the final image as an ambiguous result. I give outside parties (small) control over the result, to use my score to create an image. There are also a number of random choices in the code. So I can’t recreate images, when each run generates a result, but I can’t recreate that specific image. I can’t repeat it.
Kathleen Coessens: You can repeat it, but then you’ll have another result.
Tim de Cort: I can enter the same text and it will resemble it, but it will never be exactly the same. So, in a way, I thought it’s the same as with a score the difference between the plan and the final result.
Kathleen Coessens: Yes, each performance is different.
Tim de Cort: Yes, and I mean, one thing is exact, and the other thing is not exact.
Anne Douglas: It’s infinitely variable, in a way.
Tim de Cort: In a way, yes. The more it evolves, the more it becomes stable. Most randomized elements are placeholders for multipliers that aren’t implemented yet. But still there are so many variables that are still random, that depend on choice.
Anne Douglas: There is also an issue, I think, that I pick out in both your work, which is, in what sense does randomness become a real problem or an issue?
Kathleen Coessens: Is it a problem?
Anne Douglas: Tim, do you know what I mean by ‘randomness’?
Tim de Cort: Yes, I know what you mean, but also I don’t know …
Anne Douglas: It’s not an issue?
Tim de Cort: It’s not really an issue, because there is already a lot of randomness in it by itself.
Ann Eysermans: Randomness generates something and you can do something randomly. It’s self-referencing in a certain way. For me it’s not a problem. It’s never a problem. I really like it.
Anne Douglas: So constantly being surprised by what …
Ann Eysermans: Yes, because everything … Sometimes I feel that everything is a copy of everything and random gives surprises. I think it’s nice. Always.
Tim de Cort: With me I tried to work out the randomness in the beginning so you would have that image for that text and make everything rigid, but it made things less interesting to work so I re-implemented it, though more limited. Every word has its impact and I want it to have a structure that implies a certain content so the more advanced it becomes the less random it will be. But I also want to have a certain amount of randomness because I think it’s very important to have that. In a way the surprise of a result is what keeps me going.
Anne Douglas: Yes, it would be great to explore this. We’ve been working on the idea of improvisation across the visual and musical and this whole idea of relationship of structure to … ‘Randomness’ is not quite …
Kathleen Coessens: The unexpected.
Anne Douglas: Yes, or the thing that you can’t control is very crucial.
Tim de Cort: Sorry – I didn’t answer your question before because I think I answered what does ‘Sounding Drawing’ mean to you.
Anne Douglas: Yes. Well, you’re in a slightly different position because you’re not in music or sound – although sound … Words sound … I suppose there’s a connection in and around the verbal and the act of verbalising. Words are to be sounded, so in that sense.
Tim de Cort: But that was the question.
Anne Douglas: That was my question, yes.
Tim de Cort: What ‘Sounding Drawing’ means to you.
Anne Douglas: Yes – that’s fine. I suppose one thing we could explore more deeply is, in what sense does this crazy activity that we’ve invented present you with an opportunity that’s maybe confirming, or different, or challenging?
Tim de Cort: For me, I was already interested in it, but in another way – to convert the images that I create into sound, but I have no knowledge of music whatsoever. I am interested in the translation itself, but it is different because the idea I had was to use other programs. I a way not so different to what you do with greyscale and use the tone levels of greyscale as some kind of input. I have a friend who is into music and he looked into that not so long ago, but we haven’t gotten around to trying it out. But that was basically the idea – to create a chain installation – a chain that prints and scans and reads and creates music and make a full circle.
Yes, that’s something that came up with voice recognition. With voice recognition, if you go like this [knocking] it looks for the word that sound could represent: table? tree? philosophy…? This is also the reason I haven’t used Dragon Speaking yet, because it is fine tuned to the timbre of one person. That’s an of experimenting with something that didn’t turn out useful at first, but will probably return in another way.
Anne Douglas: So you’re working within a medium that already has the potential for sound – a digital medium that already co-exists in the same space. It has data that can be converted into the visual and into the sound so there is a kind of natural connection there – [an extended] connection. That’s interesting.
Anne Douglas: Yes – the construction, the feedback loop – yes. What about you, Tim? If I use the word ‘experiment’, what is your interpretation of it? [Guessing – inaudible.] Is it meaningless? It can be meaningless.
Tim de Cort: No, no. It is difficult. There is certainly experimentation considering I don’t have specific goals and just try out as I go. I have ideas that I try and work out if they turn out useful. The visual part is something that grows – that comes along – so, in a way, everything I do is experimenting, but it is not really experiments. It is, but … It is difficult to answer.
Anne Douglas: I suppose you are, in a way, posing questions as to this medium, ‘Can it do this; can I do that; where are the parameters?’
Tim de Cort: For installations I use other applications like the hardware and that’s not really … Voice recognition has a goal – so that’s maybe not really experimenting, but it is, in a way, so I find it difficult to answer.
Kathleen Coessens: Why don’t you think it is real experimentation?
Tim de Cort: Maybe I don’t understand the nuance of experimentation that you’re asking about. That is why I say, in a way, everything is; but in another way it isn’t because I have a set of goals that I want to actually achieve, so that makes it planned in a way. I don’t know…
Like with voice recognition and the printing – it’s not really an experiment because I have a goal for using them, but the results are more like experimentation. I’m sure my problem lies in my idea of what experimentation is.
Anne Douglas: I think we’ve more or less covered the fourth question which is, ‘How did you arrive at the point that you are as an artist’.
Do you want to try that? How did you arrive at the point at which you are now, as an artist? How did you select …
Kathleen Coessens: [Inaudible.] [It is in the moment that you create it.]
Tim de Cort: Originally everything started with an assignment for my course graphic design, to create typography based on coincidence. Which led me to creating a typography subjected to randomness. I made a typography that could be randomly generated and out of that (through experimentation!) I discovered the concept of creating images out of text, by accident actually. I wrote some faulty code and got this tiny image of all the lines together, but I thought it was really interesting because then I had an image that resembled a word. I went further and further on that premise, to sentences that became landscapes and from thereon it just grew. After that I started thinking (about a year later) that I wanted to create sentences that created content-relevant imagery.
I mainly did the Manama because didn’t feel related to art, this might sound strange, but I was really a graphic designer in my head. The artistic level is actually something that just developed in the last two years because I looked at what I did more in terms of functionality or hobby got out of hand, than artistic practice. I knew I wanted to keep on working because I was passionate about it, but it didn’t fit into graphic design and to be honest I didn’t feel like an artist. I just kept on working on it and perfecting it without any goal in mind.
With the Manama, I unravelled all those ideas and I started to think on what I was doing as artistic practice and treating it as such.
Anne Douglas: In a sense you’ve appropriated what, very often, becomes a very tied-down and technological space as a space of play which probably has technological ramifications – implications – in terms of the development of self-[_____].
Tim de Cort: No, but that’s a false perspective about the functionality of it. I’m far from being a real programmer, I’m proficient at what I do but it’s more play considering programming as a field of study. It can be used to generally summarize textual content in which it already preforms pretty good (if I say so myself), but there are other people, like Tom de Smedt from Nodebox for example, who are going further from what I’m doing on a technological base. So that leaves me in some kind of technological amateur area from the functionality perspective. Even beside SATCIC I spend almost all my time in code, but I’m an artist with ambitions to master the technology, which is an important nuance because the artistic aspect comes first. It’s intermingled of course as I can’t create anything without knowing anything about the technology, but this leaves me in a freer atmosphere. That’s what I came to understand. Yes – I lost my thread.
Anne Douglas: I suppose the final question is about time. Is time or temporality important in the work, and how does it manifest itself if it is important? Clearly, time is a theme that runs through both of your approaches in really interesting ways.
Tim de Cort: First, the general work evolves, in a way. Since it evolves, time is important because it keeps changing and there is only one basic work. Do you understand?
Anne Douglas: So there is a continuity.
Tim de Cort: Yes, and in that way all my works are snapshots on the timeline of the translation core’s progress – but on another level, what people are thinking or doing on a specific moment in time is also of importance.
Also, my reason for using matrix printers and chain paper – mainly the chain paper – is because it suggests continuity like a timeline. Printing on a canvas or something is a different statement in that perspective. Also the matrix prints are a more characteristic considering time in a temporal perspective, as in fast on flimsy paper and still not printing fast enough – when the time-stamped prints are printed, the moment has already passed. The way I got to the matrix printer as a medium was through an installation that printed descriptive summaries at certain time intervals. So – yes – in that way time is of importance and resurfaces in all the works. I suppose my obsession concerning time borderlines neurosis.
Anne Douglas: It is interesting – within the visual arts, there is this tension with time; that the work is produced through an experience of time [and revelation], but it ends up being an object which becomes, in a way, locked in that moment, which is the thing that you’re exploiting, I guess, in a very interesting way, I think. Yes, the modulation becomes an image and a kind of memory of a process.
Kathleen Coessens: You can’t capture everything, so his moment of decision to say, “Now I’ll enter these words; now I will look on Twitter; now I print it out” is a random decision, but it is subject to the decision of the moment when he wants to work. It’s very strange. What he makes is really dependent upon what happens in the world around the topic he is searching for and just that moment when he decides to push a button, in a certain sense. It’s strange because you could have done the same thing an hour later and it would be completely different.
Anne Douglas: I also think it is interesting that when we looked at your images, we started to talk about those almost emotional modulations that the one was very dark and dealing with dark subject matter, and the others were unexpectedly showing a lighter view on something that you anticipated could be very dark – so that kind of modulation is very time-dependent, in a way, and also dependent on the system, but it’s …
Kathleen Coessens: I think very dependent because he has categorised the objectives following what he finds, which is dark and light – so, there is kind of the decision of the artist in the process.
Anne Douglas: Absolutely. There is a formal categorisation at work. If one pointed to anthropology – I studied Indian music and dance and ritual. In Indian culture there is a system for the emotions, the [nine rasas or NavaRasas]. They’re categorised and they are attributed to very particular gestures and postures and colours and sounds – configuration of sounds, but you would work with that system, in a way anticipating its result – knowingly – whereas you reversed that. You work with the system in such a way that you can’t anticipate. It surprises you – maybe. I don’t know. That’s what I understand.
Tim de Cort: Yes. Katie Holmes and Scientology – that was like a quick experiment – and I expected it to be the other way round. When I choose topics I have to choose specific ones and most of those are names, because if I enter ‘economy’ the result is too ambiguous. One of the fist topics I used was ‘Economy of America is going down’. So I naively gave ‘Economy America’ a try, but that gave very positive results. Because when you have a word like economy will return quite general non-outspoken results and besides, most of the official channels on Twitter like companies, newspapers and such use the word ‘economy’ in conjunction with positive words. The same goes for ‘America’ also. So you have to use specific keywords and names that are as specific as it gets. So this reality limits my choice in 5 hot-topics on a given time. But the result of a name (mostly celebrities or criminal cases) in those 5 choices also generates a result that can be anticipated. The plan is also to follow a specific topic or person and represent the changes and nuance over time.
On choice, I do tend to choose names with a certain expectation towards the result, although that doesn’t always end up the way I expect it to be. When I did the Kirsten Stewart and Rupert Sanders images – the hot topic for a few days was that they had an affaire that had leaked to the press – and I chose them as input anticipating a negative result for both. But Kristen Steward was neutral and only Rupert Sanders was negative. In a way this was to be predicted because one is a famous actress whom people are mostly talking positive about online. The other is a quite famous director, but with much less coverage as a popular icon.
Anne Douglas: Kudos.
Tim de Cort: In a way, I do choose … I’ve forgotten what the original question was …
Kathleen Coessens: Time.
Anne Douglas: Yes, also about modulation. It’s about emotion – yes, sorry, I’ve gone off-script a bit. Very often, in the history of art, you would minimise, to a degree, the level of surprise and try to control your power over certain ways of manipulating or modulating material. That emotional content becomes a critique of either the system that is producing it or a surprise that, in fact, life it not what you expect it to be. It’s constantly nudging your preconceptions – something around that.