Friday, 6 June 2014

A Robotic, Artificial Intelligence 'Local Poet'

On Friday I was a guest on William English's Wavelengh on Resonance FM (currently in residence in Aleks Kolkowski's Exponential Horn installation at the Science Museum).  It was a broadly book-based theme, and we both brought with us various books and ephemera.  W. English, being an established book-dealer, presented some absolute gems as predicted.  I'd anticipated that my own selections would be lacklustre in comparison, so I attempted to dig out some 'exclusives' for him.   (The 'exclusives' may not be particularly satisfying, but they're as-yet-unheard exclusives nonetheless!).

In 1996, a cache of poetry pamphlets by a local poet named Bill Cooper were discarded by a bookshop where my dad worked.  The title of the publication was The People's Poet.  Unhappily, it appeared that The People were not so interested in The People's Poet, and all copies were thrown out - however, I rescued a few.  Bill Cooper, through his poetry, appears a down-to-earth romantic who likes chicken, sparking Russett cider, roast pork, prawns, beef, beer, darts, Kirsty Macoll and moments of tenderness.  His publication started me off collecting what I used to call "crap poetry" - but now the term "rustic poetry" seems more respectful.

Some other examples of ultra-middle-of-the-road poetry.
Here are two examples of Bill Cooper's poetry:

Barbed Wire Dreams

I've been dreaming
Barbed Wire Dreams
That cut and shock inside.

I've not been sleeping too well

Irish Coffee

If feels so cold
And damp and chilly
I wish I could be
An Irish Coffee.

Bill Cooper, in his obscurity, represents an archetype of rustic local poetry.  His ultra-middle-of-the-road style was so rustic, in fact, that it appeared to me that it could be easily replicated by statistically analysing the text and generating new "robot Cooper" poems using a computer running a Markov chain, that is, a system of probabilistic text analysis.  In practice, however, it was quite difficult.  A few years ago, I typed out the entire text into a special computer program I had built for this purpose (using the data processing parts of MaxMSP), creating a tweakable Markov chain - the foundations of 'artificial intelligence'.  This program would be a 'robot local poet' modelled on Bill Cooper, and it was hoped that the poetry generated would retain the distinctive deliciously bland style of Cooper himself.

The results were generally too abstract to pass as true 'Cooperisms'.  However, certain iterations of text generation spawned some rustic profundities that seemed passable as Bill Cooper musings.   I added punctuation, inflection, and fed the results into a speech synthesiser.  The results were played on Wavelength, and can now also be heard below:

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