Frequency: Sort of a Project (Description) in Progress

A friend recently emailed to ask me what the hell I’m doing on my blog. A first tentative stab at explaining my plans for Frequency:

It started out as a poem using a list of 200 of the most common words in the English language (from an arbitrary list found online at, which is not necessarily accurate), each word serving as the first word of ten lines, and each line using only the words from the list. I was going to do a combinatory Flash thing with that. But then I decided to add a couple of other constraint components, turn it into a novel, and maybe skip using Flash (or not, I’m still not sure). I’m using the 100 most common flickr tags and downloading 20 creative commons photos marked for each tag. The prose texts each include a single word from a sequence, according to wordcount (, of the most commonly used English words beginning in order from the word “frequency.” The prose texts are meant to respond in some way to both the photo and the line of the poem they will go with. I think that that user will navigate by selecting any word in each given line of the poem, which will take them to one of the ten lines that begin with that word (either via a random link or I may let the reader choose which line from a dropdown menu under each word). On each given page, the poem text and the photo will appear, and the prose text will be read as audio (and probably will also be visible with a mouse-over on the photo). So in terms of the narrative, the presentation will be completely nonlinear (or nonchronoogical) and arbitrary, though the poem text will have a kind of logic to it, as the lines will come in a kind of chain (the next line will always begin with the last word chosen). Anyway, it’s ballooned from an idea for a project that I thought I could get done fairly quickly to a 2000 segment poem/fiction/image project that will take me some months to complete. I’m posting the sequences (sans images) on my site, mainly because it’s forcing me to read and revise them as I go, and also so that I have some sensation of progress as it comes along (and so that the couple of people who read this site and aren’t spambots can, well, read something — there ought to be some reward for being human and reading at the same time). The way that I’m writing this is a bit different from other new media projects that I’ve done, in that I’m separating out the design/layout from the writing. First the words, then the rest of it.

Some things I’m interested in exploring in Frequency include:

  • an obviously constrained writing practice that nonetheless results in a coherent narrative.
  • a hypertext intended to deliver multiple fragmentary but coherent reading experiences in multiple reading sessions.
  • the idea of the collective (un)conscious — will a text derived in part from the words most often used and in part from the tags that people most often choose to put on their photographs in some way reflect a collective consciousness (or not)?
  • a Creative Commons fiction. I’ll be releasing the work under a CC non-commercial attribution license — the same one as I’m getting the photographs under — and I’ll encourage people to remix the work under the same license.
  • a story that is also a separate but related poem.
  • the idea of “atomistic fiction” — in some ways this is a continuation of a thread that Nick and I were exploring in Implementation — the idea of writing a novel that both “works” in whole and is composed of distinct “narrative moments” that can be isolated from each other.
  • creating a work that could be delivered in different ways (and in different formations) in different platforms. The blog draft, the more complete eventual online version, a print book, and I’d like to be able to read it in some fashion on my mobile phone or iPaq.
  • a weird fun word game I can play every day for a good long while that is more fun than a crossword and more productive than Scrabble.
  • And well, contemporary America in the late age of fear, of course.

I’m not sure I’ll successfully address all these things, and given that I’m only 14% done with the fiction texts, I hope it doesn’t get boring before it ends, but anyway, that’s what I’m up to here now. Any of the above may change. Who knows? I’m hoping to use some of the upcoming research time in Chicago to put a further dent in it, but I’ll likely be working on it interspersed with other research things (articles, ELO projects, and the ahem, academic book) well into next year.

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