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Super-Spectacular Day at WRT: Writer Response Theory




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In 1980 (c1979), MAD Magazine featured a possible example of what Christy has been calling Quantum Writing. Amidst the pages of the magazine was a free record.  Upon placing the needle on the record, you hear a song begin with a pre-Prozac, bright sunny intro about what a wonderful day it is going to be….

Its a great big, beautiful, wonderful, incredible, super-spectacular day
And your heart is humming with good times coming
And you got that happy feeling things are going your way
All the bells are ringing and a little birds singing while he sits on your windowsill
Singing yessiree, I can surely see, it will plainly be, most definitely
A super-spectacular day! Untilllllllll…

                          Super Spectacular Day

Until marks the forking point.  From this stretched-out syllable, the needle would slide into one of eight groves, featuring eight distinct nightmare scenarios of terrible family house guests, mafia guys, bad dates, and more. The super mustve refered to the multi-dimensional state of this very auditory (not spectacular) day.  Not very interactive, but I can remember my brother an I listening to it until we knew the words by heart and the record no longer played. 
Super Spectacular Day appeared on scar stuff blog, which offers a link to a sound version of the record, that could conceivably be played in shuffle mode to recreate the effect, although that would involve eight different songs rather than one album. (Download here.) Also, Here is Super Spectacular Day remediated as html, confirming another recent statement by Christy:

I think everyone knows now that media never dies, but the level of awareness every generation seems to have about previous media and entertainment forms is fascinating.

The technology strikes me as a piece of analog, material ingenuity, along the lines of lenticulated images.  Like those images whose variability is built into the hardware of the medium, this record has a fork or a kind of randomizer built into it.  However, unlike those images, the person listening to the Mad record cannot choose which ending they here, at least not purposefully.

Snopes offers some insight into the multiple-groove technology, citing a three-sided Monty Python Album, Matching the Tie, as the most famous instance fo the technology.  According to their post,

One side of the album (both sides were mischievously labeled Side 2″) was normal; the other contained a pair of grooves, each of which held different material. Which groove the listener heard depended upon where the needle was dropped.

Returning to quantum writing, then, we can see how these records meet one part of the criteria, since they are bound in a single text, yet I dont think this meets the heart of the criteria. The record is by no means ambiguous.

It does however meet the criteria of other literatures of multiplicity, particularly those that have random elements.  Whats unique about the records is the hard-coding of the random selection device.  I put random in quotations because there are surely physical conditions that lead to the selection. (Could the same be said, on some level, for an electronic random number generator?)  Perhaps these records do not demonstrate quantum writing but chaotic writing, referring to mathematical principle as popularized by Jeff Goldblum dribbling water down his hand in Jurassic Park.

Where else do we see this kind of material hardcoding of a chaotic text?  Arguably, books can achieve the same effect as this album, but which kind?  Where is the book of sand that reads differently depending on how it is picked up? 

Perhaps the famous MAD fold-in offers an example, as readers mangled the back page of each issue to find out what was hidden in the image, creating the sub-image.  But what is interesting about this record is that it physically produced its own variability, unlike the fold-in, which requires that the reader perform some action. (Yes, these questions do stray towards the realm of Aarseths Ergodics).

The question for WRT may be:
When does digital art take on the properties of material chaotic writing? 

(I also wonder, were there other MAD Magazine ventures into Quantum or chaotic narratives, Digital Character Art, chatbots, IF, CYOA?)



2 Responses to “Super-Spectacular Day”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

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    What a great example of early interactivity! Gee, that would of been so much fun to listen to. The closest sort of example I have is a Ren and Stimpy comic that is a CYOA playing with time. I spent hours charting every possible route through the work.

    And thanks for quoting me! Though, I should of explained myself better. :( Instead, here is a quote of Marshall McLuhan I just read that illustrates the pointeloquently:

    I think one of the things that happens when a new medium comes on the scene is you become aware of the basic characteristics of older media in a way that you were not when they were the only things around. (McLuhan, M. (2003) Understanding Me, p:35).

    As for quantum writing. I think I’ll pull on the Saussurian notion of the ’signifier’ and the ’signified’ to elaborate. Where a word is the signifier, for instance a ’stop’ sign (!) and the signified is ‘your car must come to a complete stop, and check for traffic before you continue driving’ (though maybe it signifies just the first part). As you’ve gathered, quantum writing is about having a single ’signifier’ (a single sentence or word or image) with multiple ’signifieds’. So, although the record is a single object, the multiple grooves, indeed, the multiple sentences/tunes, are multiple ’signifiers’. As you guessed already.

    However, we could complicate the issue by inverting the process. Are there multiple ’signifiers’ (versions/grooves) of a single ’signified’: the ending?…

  2. 2 Gabrial

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    Hi there

    I eagerly wanted to play this song for my kids but the link to the downloaded audo version of this song didn’t work. If you could get that up and running, that would be fantastic.

    Thanks,
    Gabrial

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