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‘Intertwingling’ is, first, hypertext pioneer Theodore Nelson’s coinage for the combinatory and path-based (intertextual, twisting, mingling, etc) processes of hypertext and its experience for the user. It’s also an extensive, immersive hyperfictive piece devised by Hazel Smith and Roger Dean with streaming soundtrack from the austraLYSIS Electroband (Roger Dean with Greg White and Sandy Evans) now set up at the overland express site.

Having been somewhat disappointed by the coldly self-reflexive Swatch-watch clunkiness of other web-based fiction purporting to dramatise the experience of hypertext, I was delighted by the narrative drive and zippy, lyrical speculation of Intertwingling. It’s minimalist in design (few pretty jpgs and no swfs: this is not about illustration or simulation, not another game-derivative series of tableaux), just coloured text precisely positioned, so narration and voice provide the hook, and performativity (plus curiosity and fast-track links) the impetus. Mood courtesy the trancy soundtrack.

DK Why and how? Does analysis always happen at the cost of story?

HS Hypertext’s the perfect medium for me because I’m very interested in the tension between narrative and anti-narrative, in crossing genres, mediating between poetry, prose, performance, theory and intermedia work. This kind of heterogeneity works extremely well in hypertext and creates the kinds of tensions you describe. I think hypertext also brought out a different sensibility in me which resulted in a lot of satirical aphorism. I wanted to adapt my writing so that each “screenful” would make an immediate impact. I knew that readers would be impatient and would cycle through the text at break neck-speed!

DK No need to be static or distanced even when mixing modes and minus graphics?

HS You can be as intense or emotional in writing hypertext as you might be in any other medium. But hypermedia is at a very early stage of its history: there is a lot of scope for development of the form.

Much work for the web is very image-based and we wanted to concentrate on the visual possibilities of the words. Also there seem to be new possibilities here: writers have not engaged much with colour historically, even visual poetry has been largely a black and white affair. I wanted to create an aesthetic of cybercolour which engaged with the heterogeneity of the text through a multiplicitous and open use of colour.

RD The web similarly underemphasises sound. This is why we chose to make available a lot of different sounds in Wordstuffs. These sounds challenge the text, the animations, and each other. The screener can play 3 pieces of midi-based music at once, drive them to any point, and hear them all in reverse; or play an assembly of body- and city-related sounds.

DK But in Intertwingling it’s more soundtrack than DIY.

RD Sound is still much less than ideal on the web, because of limitations of bandwidth [speed at which data can flow to the screener-listener]. This means that audio files have to be highly compressed [ie degraded]. On the other hand midi files mainly play preformed ‘instruments’ resident in the user’s computer, which have a limited sonic range, and, as yet, alternative midi-drivable sounds are not widespread and are still limited. So the musical action (as opposed to the sonic structure) has to be the primary feature. In Intertwingling I made a sound work of about 7 minutes from a live performance of the piece by austraLYSIS and compressed it into only a couple of megabytes of RealAudio data. It involved computer manipulations which drastically modified the timbres, so that the loss of fidelity in the subsequent compression was no longer overly problematic.

DK Um. Ah. Right. Your technical expertise sounds as extensive as your combined teaching, performing, writing and art experience. There’s not a helluva lot of grounded critical work on hypermedia available in an Australian context from mature practitioners, or not that goes beyond catalogue-essay or site-specific blurb, but you’ve written a substantial book. What’s it like in less than 50 words?

HS-RD Improvisation, Hypermedia and the Arts since 1945 (Harwood 1997) theorises and analyses improvisation and discusses developments across the arts since 1945. It also analyses the relevance of improvisation to hypermedia work.

DK Great title, to which the book lives up. What’s next?

HS-RD We’re currently working on a piece which combines hypertext and performance called The Erotics of Gossip.

An earlier Smith, Dean and austraLYSIS collaboration, the award-winning Wordstuffs: The City and the Body, is at [expired]

Intertwinglings is a work in progress and will be available for online viewing soon.

RealTime issue #33 Oct-Nov 1999 pg. 12

© Dean Kiley; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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