Skunk Tales

a collaborative, multimodal, futures narrative

The above soundtrack was recorded live at Connections @ AIRG 3rd International Symposium in October of 2020. This was a Zoom performance during which we wrote a chapter of Skunk Tales live in Padlet, while simultaneously sonifying the narrative strands in Singling.

Like everyone in the world, each of us in the Digital Literacy Centre experienced the pandemic individually as a diffracted and intensely intimate encounter, and also collectively, as a shared story, one that we were narrating together in real time, however virtually. We decided to take up this evolving pandemic moment as a technological and creative research challenge to engage with the innovative digital platforms at our disposal towards collaborative futures imagining during a time of crisis. Skunk Tales is the result—  a multimodal, collaborative futures fiction that we wrote/composed/sonified/and performed in a series of chapters that map an imagined future of human interactions with literate technologies.

 

Chapter One

This composite and interactive digital artifact combines our five individual narratives into one ever-shifting composition. For this chapter, we used Jim Andrews’ excellent stirfry coding available here

Chapter Two

The above artifact was composed of the following narrative strands. We wrote simultaneously in Zoom and Padlet.

Although the walls that are surrounding the professor’s house had a noise cancelling system, the persistent typhoons and the thunderstorms in the past 5 weeks, which is virtually the default weather in the ‘wet coast’, are loud enough for the sensitive person to be bothered by them.

 

Windows, perhaps in the past were installed to let the natural light into the house, are now mere screens that create the illusions of life that are still happening outside. Skunk, for example, was a kind of animal that had a friendly appearance, but the smell they produced was something to be avoided, is now displayed in the window=screen.

 

The professor had a taste for the retro, and he archived pieces of pasts in his storage carefully catalogued, so that their waves are easily streamed and simulated by pulling them out of the storage using a neat search engine that does not now require the help of language but will. Will? Well, it is not the sort of ‘free will’ enlightenment thinkers thought humans might possess, but it is individualized fragments of datasets that are deliberately encrypted and differentiated from a collective pool of quantum data collected via BMIs (brain machine interfaces). You are we, but humans decided to keep the illusion of individuality to an extent that they do not allow conflicts to arise- the world cannot afford such human stupidity anymore, anyway.

Planted in the soft, moist soil are plants that have lived long lives and are as healthy and strong as ever, their leaves full and free of any types of scars or damage. The sound of birds singing fills the air. The rainbow of light shining through the leaves warms the body of the skunk. There is a house nearby. On a full stomach and with nothing better to do and driven by curiosity the skunk makes his way slowly, cautiously, meticulously towards it.

 

Looking like something out of a book of fairy tales, this picturesque house defines the word quaint. The shadow of some tall Western red cedars in the forest behind overlooks much of the place which serves as cover for him. There are some squirrels in the are, doing squirrel things. They are a curious bunch, squirrels, and not very likely to look both ways behind crossing. Focused on his destination and not one to be easily amused, the skunk continues his way towards the house.

 

Peering through the windows on the ground floor he sees unfamiliar silhouettes. The figures resemble those form folklores told by his ancestors from a time before the metallic humanoids roam the lands.

We speak by sound. Each of us unique in our sounds. We don’t worry about making sense, we make sound. For example the last person to arrive, to get their sound on, was the first to realize that something was wrong. The hum in the room, perhaps it was the way the 60 cycle hum created enharmonics against the background of some 150 year old jazz artist. Jazz? Yes, ancient by todays’ standards.

 

Like a motet. Jenny was a motet. Crass (that is his real name, although pronouns are useless now was more like a chanson from the Burgundy region, a simple peasant song that would lull farmers under the shade of a tall tree eating their lunch. None of this makes sense to Shane. Shane has never seen a tree, never eaten ‘lunch’ because he has a bifurcated biofeed unit permanently attached to his trachea. So he speaks, only when he has to, in a garbled way, as if he has something stuck in his throat. Which he has. If you asked them to hum a tune together the only one they all know is twinkle twinkle little star. None of them, except, perhaps, the salty professor, has ever seen a star.

 

Slow logic making sense. We are almost blind. Real sunlight can fry a retinal implant, but these screens. How would people have lived their lives looking at these screens? Shane is vacillating between silent terror and wanting to scream at the sight of a skunk. The screaming winds wind their way through his thoughts. Slowly the professor moves over to the virtual glass holo and turns off the image of the skunk. The stimulus package had worked. Funny, how do you get upset by something you have never seen? He tones strange cool blue strands to reassure. But he is all too well aware that strange sounds frighten everyone. Like the ancient early warning systems with their penetrating beeps, their piercing whistles, their shuddering horns, their gut wrenching sirens. They are hear together. Here. Together. And the books, and the discs and old boxes with armatures and moving parts, it all seems like a primitive fantasy, like something that needed to be forgotten or eroticized, and some trickster came along and reminded us that we were once this, an assemblage of moving parts, of pieces of the pasts that we carried around with us. Pieces of ourselves that we could pick up, put down, put in storage. Would, could, wouldn’t couldn’t must, must not, will can might or just maybe. Like baggage handlers and hoarders of stuff. Long live free will, free listening, unencumbered. Instead they we will all be subjected to the ancient vibrations of a single groove, a masterful link between shape and electricity. The needle as the punctum of time taking you back to before the noise cancelling began, before we rode the filters to a place of calm. To a noisy world, filled with strange and unpleasant sounds. Exploding motors, waterfalls, garage doors, insects and air ducts, blenders and coffee grinders, rubber tire friction, office chit chat, clanking bottles, an old green house creaking in the typhoons of the catastrophic present tense. Tense, but quiet. Not a sound except for these four voices quietly vibing.

You are. In an old room, filled with old disks and CDs where screens with slow logos move from one side to the other while people talk and talk. The screens, ancient as the room itself, are dusty and pixelated – nothing like what we can see these days. You smell the dusty screens and you know the smell I am trying to describe but you feel yourself, even before you walk into this holy room of classical music, that you are in a space that transcends time itself.

 

Music, as we know it now, does not exist in this room. It is not going straight to your brain. It does not smell clean and vaccinated as it is recommended now.

 

It smells like our ancestors used to smell. And oh well it sounds like that as well. There is even a guitar exactly like those you have seen in the museum in the corner. You can see and smell the skunk, that must have been playing around the guitar – you know we have to respect the animals these days there are not a lot like those anymore.

 

You grab the guitar and play a single note. Your computer knows this sound – hell, any old computer can play exactly this sound. But you feel it vibrate in your hand, as sure as the wind outside of this house, and this feeling is a whole different thing. Music moves in your hand, and technology still can’t catch up with that feeling. Everybody moves around the professor’s museum of old music, walking with respect, as the steps and the occasions string interrupt the sound of the inclement we coast weather.

and feels the warmth emanating from the surface, shudders, moves away from the light as the humans become aware that he has passed. The humans sit around the table vacilating between a collective consensus and individuating trajectories of fancy: they are imaging the future. There is a low hum of dread and the concern that the future is shrinking – that there is less and less of it available. But also the concern that thinking in this way will enact the shrinkage. The skunk moves along the sharp blades and rocks and…

 

we make sound — something was wrong…. Jenny Crass, this is all history, hum a tune together and twinkle twinkle persists. People talk and talk and the screens are dusty — dust in the future> and walking and holiness. Time does not go straight to your brain, it smells. Old times,

 

default weather. sensitive person.

 

Time does not go straight into your brain: the concern was about the weather — but not the weather raging outside the confines of the house, the professor’s house, this remote enclave within the steaming, roiling, wildness of earth smashing against earth. The skunk nudged a pile of shimmering circuitry and surface, pushed at it with its nose and saw that it was wet-seeming in the afternoon light. pressed a paw upon the coils and felt within its own digital enclaves an affinity and it opened its mouth while the students in the house leaned back to take in the sound of a single record. The professor indulged them in the decadence of listening to the last revolution, watching as the vinyl turned to dust before their eyes as the sound unravelled into their ears. It would last in their memory alone. To play it was to destroy it. And that was a decadence. Beneath their feet the ground shifted and settled and caused an ochre hue to intensify around the cacti, coiling about eachother and pointing in the way of fingers.

 

Here together, hear together — present tense

Chapter Three

This following video is a composite of our sonifications, computer generated narration, and visualizations of the Singling platform.

Chapter Four

The following are narrative data poems composed during two PATCH workshops: one with the DLC, and one with the excellent students of LLED565S.

A bag of conflicting skunks
Sounds of surface memory, evaporate!
thinking ears mind the sunlit bodies
Accompanied by dreams with the fingerprints of thought
Moments drown in sunlight

 

 

The default is fire in a Human house,
An Ultimate travel into the immediate space
A fulcrum of the bothered infinite blend
A giant fulcrum, what?
Why here in this moment when humans leave?

 

 

Human bodies are windows of wonder
Couldn’t load user, anonymous blobfish
Like an empty guitar plays upon the student’s mind
windowed in wondering air
Old loneliness listening to sunlight

 

 

A house of spatial circuits
Thoughts? Soups of air
Listening, chance
Metallic shadows of fingerprints
Metallic bodies clanking and typing wonders in the electric city

Default room are space

Reconcile those brief connections, then you see the network collapses

Like fire consuming literature

Living fingerprint baggage

I look at you and it’s like…“Empty network indicated”

Briefly reconcile with your ancient connections

digitized holy enlightenment

Who can’t see the forest for a holy living network

A vaccinated catastrophe, the end?

Everybody’s irritated, everybody is calm.

Circuit, wonder, and exist

time travel to the future

Connections are made and we briefly reconcile

forest leaves creates shadow

Fire consuming networks data

Inducted by vibrant disappearance

The vaccinated forest disappears

could we dream of collapse differently?

Flat book, a house full of cartoons

Future makers forested differently

Embarking on a book travel is like music

Empty finger prints, that’s what a digitized skunk professor dreams of.

He’s a Georgian skunk professor creating forests of extinct leaves

“The illusion of a vinyl? Think.”

Funny spontaneous feelings create creativity

Possible ecologies mirror telephonic disappearance

A possibly skeptical future professor

A catastrophic travel trickster

 

Thanks for your visit

If you have any questions or comments about the narrative, our methodology, or the platforms we used, please don't hesitate to drop us an email at dlc@ubc.ca.

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