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ELO 2015: The End(s) of Electronic Literature

Death Of An Alchemist

Chris Rodley (University of Sydney, Australia) and Andrew Burrell (Independent, Australia)

Interventions: Engaging the Body Politic
Friday, August 7 • 17:30 - 18:30 (Visningsrommet USF)

Death Of An Alchemist is a multimedia novel written by Big Data – a detective story generated in real-time from live online content.

The installation consists of an 8m wall displaying 128 pages of projected text, symbols and charts. This content is generated by scraping Twitter, Google and social platforms for today’s headlines, social media conversations, memes and more.

The text flickers and updates as new data is received, yet still creates a coherent narrative that can be read from beginning to end. This is thanks to a bespoke technique we have termed the “poetics of search”: using a combination of search operators and algorithms to mine data, then string manipulation to fit it cohesively into a new plot.

In the story, readers investigate the death of 16th century alchemist Trithemius. He has left behind a supposedly magical book, Steganographia, said to reveal the “clavis magna”: the idea from which all knowledge flows. Readers must decode the book to find the clues to Trithemius’ murder. But this is no ordinary leather-bound volume…

The work is an extended allegory for coercive uses of Big Data by technology companies such as Google and Facebook, which aim to create their own “clavis magna”. For further information, including a thematic statement and images, please see the attached PDF.

Death Of An Alchemist is an official selection of the 2015 International Symposium on Electronic Art, to be held in Vancouver, Canada. It also being made available as a free iOS/Android app.

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