R E V I E W S   O F   N I O












  WA NA time-lapse onion skin word

Jim Andrews’ work Nio presents the reader with a complex aesthetic experience that makes use of phonemes and letters but not of words. Andrews’s piece is a cross between a sound poem, kinetic visual art, and an interactive musical instrument. In two verses, Andrews provides the reader with two different ways of mixing clusters of letters, each of which have a musical voice track attached to them. In the first verse, those clusters of letters then do a kind of animated dance in the center of a circle as the voice loop they signify is sung. The loops are layered on top of each other, allowing the interactor to compose a shifting doo-wop melody/animation. In an accompanying essay, ‘Nio and the Art of Interactive Audio for the Web’, Andrews explains that he’s ‘trying to synthesize and transform image, sound, and text, not simply juxtapose them. I seek some sort of critical mass to fuse them’. He describes the work as a ‘synthesis of literacies’. In Nio and in much of his other work, including his visual poetry, Andrews attempts to rethink the relationship between poetry and language, creating interactive poetic experiences that utilize texts of various kinds that don’t rely on words to provoke a response from the reader. Letters in motion and the human voice alone, devoid of explicit denotation, can impart a great of emotional and semantic content. Nio is proof of the idea that poems needn’t be composed of words in order to be poetic and evocative.

Scott Rettberg, from
Dada Redux: Elements of Dadaist Practice in Contemporary Electronic Literature

Jim Andrews’ Nio (2001) is a digital “lettrist” poem that not only combines different medial processes, but also merges art with technology and technological applications. Here, as in much other digital poetry, the concept of play has pride of place as a bodily (re- )activity: Nio only materializes in a ‘ludic’ interaction with the reader/user. Displayed as a circle of icons issuing images and sounds, Nio’s design and appearance is to a certain extent dependent on my actions and interferences as a reader/player: the icons I bring to live participate in a dance of letters that change their shape with every new addition or deletion, the music changing only minimally in its repetitive gestures. If Wallace Stevens once claimed that «poetry is the subject of the poem», Nio performs this quite literally as the constant (re-)creation of lettrist shapes acting as the protagonists of the poem.

Kiene Brillenburg Wurth from
Multimediality, Intermediality, and Medially Complex Digital Poetry

Jim Andrews, who gives us the term "langu(im)age," works with individual letters which he can animate and overlay with sequences of sound loops in his Nio engine. He is not primarily, or at all, concerned with providing a reading experience. He says:

Much of my work is lettristic in the sense that rather than working with words and extended texts, I work with individual letters. Part of my attraction to working this way is philosophical and sonical... but part of it is also out of interest in treating literary objects/material, and individual letters are quite well suited to such treatment. Individual letters are graphically more interesting than whole words... [they] take up less memory, and are thereby manipulated more quickly. And they spin nicer than words do, for instance, because of their shapes. There is more variety in their shapes than there is in words. And they are quite mysterious to me. Geometry and basic architectures of language. (E-mail to Webartery list, February 10, 2001, on thread "re: teaser 2" [2001b])

Later, he says: "... it's really when you get down to the word and the letter, rather than the paragraph, that language cracks open and code spills out" [Webartery list, February 24, on thread "checkout counter"]. One feels the difference from the stenographic model, a model of accommodation rather than breaking and entering. But one also feels, and can sympathize with, an attraction to a different arena, the world of the purely sonic and visual, where compounds stay themselves and are thereby experienced more fluidly. However, oscillation does occur in Andrews's Nio, between the visual and the sonic elements, and this oscillation is elegant, playful, and deeply pleasing.

Stephanie Strickland from
Moving Through Me as I Move

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