ZNC browser by Peter Luining
ZNC is a browser that translates html code into ascii numbers which in turn are translated in sound and colors. The first version (1.01) of this browser was made with the intention to show the arbitrariness of code and make the proces of how software (in this case the browser) works totally transparent. The 2.0 [...]
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ZNC browser

ZNC is the revenge of colour and sound on text. The browser calls up a site selected by the user. Every site on the web is usually a long string of letters and numbers, arranged to be read by the software with which their ordering has co-evolved.

Many of the browsers produced by artists, and by others (see for instance the funny Opera take on Microsoft's attempt to exclude this browser from their portal also included here) situate themselves precisely at this point. Given that the codes and conventions of sites and the browsers that read them develop in linked but slightly separate ways, what are the opportunities for reinterpretation of this ready torrent of data?

Within the area of electronic art, there is X amount of work predicated upon taking a stream of data from any source whatsoever and using it as a way of generating outputs in another system. Sometimes it can be telling, sometimes trivial.

When it reads a website, ZNC responds to each alphanumeric character as they are received. Each character from the ASCII set triggers a reaction in one of two ways. There are 256 colours on the world wide web, exactly twice the number of characters in the ascii character-set. Each letter, number or symbol triggers a particular colour. It flashes up on screen in any one of the windows made for them. There's a clear relation then between stimulus and response in terms of colour. When it comes to sound, the artist behind the software, Peter Luining makes a relatively arbitrary choice of timbre. 'Dirty' and electrical. It could have been, given the 'universality' of the computer and kind of sound. There's no inherent or any easy match to the data being parsed and the sound that might be composed here. Does it just come down to taste? One could say that the relation between colour and character is simple.

What are the ways in which the sound could reveal more about, or make more of the data it ploughs through and its process of combination with it?

In terms of the way it sets up the working process, ZNC shows a window which allows a user to see every symbol as it runs through the system, establish controls for sound, and allows for multiple windows of fluctuating colour. That the windows are edgeless allows for a real process of patterning between the array of colour fields. Stripe painting went through about three generations of styling before ending up as a trope on permanent occasional revamp in contemporary art. Here, with the numerical purity and luminosity only available on screen, you can run through entire civilisations of stripery in a matter of minutes.

The style of the interface mixes the normal GUI conventions with something approaching 'Swiss Modern'. That is to say, clear, in this case slightly overlarge, sans serif fonts, spaciously laid out in black to a grid against a white background. As with the design approach that underlay early Macintosh interfaces - before the vile, uncustomisable, glowing brushed aluminium blobscape took over - the focus is on clarity (the instructions are an image file). Embedded as it was so much in a certain idealism of stability this design style reached its apogee and collapse at the same time as first wave stripe painting. The world changed, or the way it could be pictured and made did. Stability couldn't keep up. Perhaps it could only survive in bank reports and school text books as what was always expected to be a lie. It now looks at odds with a process that is so much about streams of absolutely identifiable but always reusably mutable data. But perhaps this is what ZNC points to. In itself, software can only give you a piece of the world, a bit of data. It is what it connects to, how it connects, how it flows, sets up rhythms and streams, how it makes breaks: how when, to which terms and in what way something becomes something else that marks the space of software out as something to run with.

by Matthew Fuller, posted 06 May 2003


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