While Covid-19 may have fractured our public, private, and professional narratives of normalcy, out of this slow-moving and surreal catastrophe, new images of the future imaginary began to emerge, as well as new creative practices for collaborative (re)imagining. The Digital Literacy Centre is a collective of researcher/academic/artists at the University of British Columbia who are interested in exploring innovative approaches to literacy, digital media research, and experimental methodologies for technologically enriched meaning-making practices and collaboration. Like everyone in the world, each of us in the DLC experienced the pandemic individually as a diffracted and intensely intimate encounter and yet also collectively, as a shared story, one that we were narrating together in real time, however virtually. We decided to take up this evolving pandemic moment as a technological and creative research challenge to engage with the innovative digital platforms at our disposal towards collaborative futures imagining during a time of crisis. Skunk Tales is the result— a multimodal, collaborative futures fiction that we wrote/composed/sonified/and performed in chapters that map an imagined future of human interactions with literate technologies.
In this paper, we describe a collaborative, technologically-mediated storying methodology that enacts “the diffraction patterns that arise when specific aural experiences are rubbed against specific narrations of human-technological coupling” (Cecchetto, 2013, p. 3). During our storying sessions, we simultaneously sonified the emergent narrative data using Singling, a Text-to-MIDI (Musial Instrument Digital Interface) linguistic data sonification software. We developed Singling for the sonification and visceralization of textual data in qualitative research and analysis. Capable of sounding discrete characters, symbols, and punctuation, as well as word forms in lexicogrammatical categories of English language texts, Singling transforms text into user-determined soundscapes. As we wrote Skunk Tales, we invited the emergent soundings to permeate the futures imagining and become entangled with the movements of the narrative. As Cecchetto (2013) argued, “It is precisely the forceful quality of sound that makes it an agent of modulation that can help to amplify certain elements of narratives of human-technological coupling, making them audible” (p. 4). This paper maps our creative futures research generation that is informed by technological posthumanism and how “different technologies of text production suggest different models of signification… initiat[ing] new experience of embodiment; and embodied experience interacts with codes of representation to generate new kinds of textual worlds” (Hayles, 1993, p. 69). Sound permeates the methodology and the resulting diffracted narratives, both theoretically, materially, and thematically.
We first began the narrative face to face, in the early days of the pandemic, and then diffracted outwards into social isolation and virtual jam sessions; we extended the narrative beyond the limits of our collective and into a storying performance at the 2020 Artful Inquiry Research Group virtual conference, during which we wrote and sonified a chapter live in virtual space. As such, Skunk Tales is a pandemic tale, sounding the evolution of a future now receding into the past, while simultaneously signifying new possibilities for dynamic arts-based conversations between subjectivities, technologies, sounds, and meanings.
Cecchetto, D. (2013). Humanesis: Sound and technological posthumanism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Hayles, N. K. (1993). Virtual bodies and flickering signifiers. October, 66, 69-91. https:/doi.org/10.2307/778755
July 23, 2021