Mark Sutherland's Code X, the packaging for the original CD-ROM (published by Coach House Press) boasts, turns its “readers” into collaborators on an intermedial sound and concrete poem by turning their computer keyboards into sound poetry producing machines. The pressing of each key places a Courier-typefaced collection of seemingly-randomly-placed letters on the screen while at the same time queuing an audio track of Sutherland’s vocal performance of the letter. In Code X, “readers” become engagers and players who make some interesting agential choices in the text. Engaging with the keyboard does appear to alter the text—the way it sounds, the way it looks—but the voices and visuals are predetermined, and though they look random at first, they do ultimately form a pre-written textual “whole” that speaks of the reading process of the digital text as leading to the end goal of making adequate and substantial meaning from the text at hand (or cursor): “reading was a road a car a mnemonic mechanism driving towards form and meaning.”
The influence of the history of concrete and typewriter poetics in Canada and globally is evident in the visual presentation of Code X; similarly, the work's aural properties display its indebtedness to the traditions of sound poetry both in Canada and globally as well. The features of early concrete and typewriter poetics get matched with the common vernaculars of sound poetry’s major players like Kurt Schwitters, and especially their interpretation by the Canadian sound poetry collective The Four Horsemen.
Ultimately, Code X represents an important link between the significant and influential history of the Canadian avant-garde in poetry and the rich community of authors, artists, and programmers creating electronic literature and digital poetry in Canada. Interrogating the ways that codes--programming codes, linguistic codes, cultural codes, and so on--permeate and inflect our daily lives as well as poetic and cultural production, Code X turn readers into engagers in the process of producing and reading digital poetry.