Individual Work
Code X

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.

On format, Code X has undergone several changes since its first inception. In its earliest distribution format, Code X was released as a CD-ROM in 2002 through the Toronto-based publishing house Coach House Press. In 2009, Code X was re-programmed as a Flash web site by Jesse Brouse of Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre in Toronto. But, following the gradual obsolescence of Flash, Code X was reimagined in 2020 in JavaScript, programmed by Toronto-based programmer Jonathon Orsi.

Author statement: 
Code X Instructions: Code X is an interactive exploration of text, image and sound. Interaction is directed from an exploration of the letters on the keyboard, the mouse, and the space bar. Press any letter on the keyboard to activate your performance. Press the space bar to erase the screen (page) and begin your performance again (on a new page). If the keyboard is left untouched for 30 seconds Code X will enter a random automated-mode. Moving the mouse up or down the screen in random automated-mode will change the audio pitch. While in random automated-mode pressing any letter will reengage the interactive programming-mode. Code X History: Code X was conceptualized in 1999 during a residency at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, New York. A Code X prototype was created by Senater upon my return to Toronto, Canada. The project was copy-written at that time, and Coach House Books agreed to the future publication of Code X as a CD ROM. Programming tweaks and platform adjustments in Director file occurred throughout 2000 and 2001. The first public installation and performance of Code X was in the summer of 2002 as part of my Scratch exhibition at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto, Canada. Coach House Books published Code X (ISBN 1-55245-075-9) as a CD ROM in December 2002--their very first stand-alone new media project. Code X was re-programmed as a Flash web site in 2009 by Jess Brouse of InterAccess Electronic Media Arts Centre, Toronto, Canada. Code X Concept: Code X is a collision of text and voice generating circuits and networks of possible meanings. It is a language game that probes the binary conflict between literature and orality using the computer keyboard, mouse, and the formal characteristics of computer technology: sound, moving image, and interactivity. Structurally, Code X is based on a dichotomy of containment (interactive computer program) and indeterminacy (automated computer program). The title Code X is an obvious pun on the word "codex" which means an ancient manuscript, the title also, refers to the myriad of cultural codes that permeate our lives: linguistic codes, visual codes, computer programming codes, etc. Please note that the text is composed in "courier": courier was the coded default font for all computers in 1999. Code X, likewise, refers to orality/aurality, the paragram "ode" found within the word "code". An ode is a lyric poem marked by exaltation of feeling. In keeping with the intermedial integrity of my creative practice, Code X is a sound poem, a visual poem, a bookwork, a gallery installation piece, and a public or private performance vehicle.