Shannon McMullen | Fabian Winkler

The Elocuter: I must remind you we live in DADA times...

still from Elocuter video
play video (Quicktime, H.264, 19.4MB) | Elocuter paper, CHI2010 (.pdf, 976KB) | download project .pdf (.pdf, 2.9MB)

The Elocuter is a direct response to the absurdity of the current global economic crisis and its representation in online media. Similar to Dada poems reflecting the absurdity of world events in the 1910's, the Elocuter reads out news headlines in a new, seemingly non-sensical language. It emphasizes the failure of language to describe the falter of global capitalism and its complex implications.

The elocuter is a small device that attaches itself via suction cups to a computer screen. It has a speaker with volume control, a light sensor and a simple pushbutton for sensor calibration. It receives its power from the computer's USB port. Technically, the Elocuter is harvesting news headlines reflecting the economic crisis from online sources such as CNN, Bloomberg and the New York Times. A custom program displays these headline as scrolling text, similar to stock market quotes, in white letters on a plain black background. The Elocuter reads the brightness value of each letter with a photocell and pairs this value with an allophone.

In this process words are translated into impossible sequences of allophones similar to a Dada poem. Inspired by Dadaism, but addressing our own digital context, we are consciously creating a paradoxical situation: mixing the extreme rationality of computers and the irrationality of dada language play.

The name of our project references the technique of elocution, taught as a remedy for stuttering and autism and as an improvement of spoken language skills enhanced by body gestures. We also reference news media as inspiration for new poetic forms, such as French poet Tristan Tzara's Dadaist poetry engine, introduced in 1920 as a set of instructions on how to turn newspaper clippings into poetry. Finally, this project can be placed in the history of combining human and machinic components into instruments for performance. Luigi Russolo's Intonarumori created human, animal and machine sounds mechanically whereas the experimental use of phonetics in Kurt Schwitters' Ursonate evoked the sounds of machines using the human voice.

Still Images (click on thumbnail for larger image)

still 1 from Elocuter installation  still 2 from Elocuter installation  still 3 from Elocuter installation  still 4 from Elocuter installation
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