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Machine Language: Quantization, Computation, Assembly, Dependency

May 30, 2023 Winter 2023

A glimpse of the Quantization tab, created by Arushi Bandi, Shakti Mb, Souha M.Y., and Cameron Morris. [Alt Text:] screenshot of part of a spreadsheet, including the headers for the columns and rows; the cells include the word FALSE in white text on black backgrounds as well as the word TRUE in black text on white backgrounds. The words “the analog computer maps” appear in the lower left corner, as black text on yellow backgrounds—each word in a separate cell.

The spreadsheet as form

Within the course of Machine Language, we addressed ways in which we communicate to, with, and through machines. In the first half, we discussed questions of quantization and computation. In the second half, we interrogated notions of assembly and hardware dependency. Within the last 3 weeks, we also collectively created both an experimental spreadsheet-based website and produced materials that we’re turning into a paper zine that we’ll also post about online this summer.

A glimpse of the Computation tab, created by Lizz Thabet, Pelenakeke Brown, Lluvia Nisayé, and Amalia Mayorga. [Alt text:] screenshot of part of a spreadsheet, including the headers for the columns and rows; purple, green, light grey, dark grey, and white cells appear on a medium grey background. The text asks questions about computing and gift economies and includes diagrams with boxes and dashes.

Encompassing the themes of the class, we divided the spreadsheet website into four tabs: quantization, computation, assembly, and hardware dependency. Those class participants who contributed to the collective project self-organized into 3 of the 4 groups. The 4th topic was built from putting 3 participants’ work - produced through the course of the class, and self-driven by those participants to respond to one another - in conversation.

We asked each group to fulfill a list of minimum requirements within their content. These items included: (a) writing, of any length, that could be experimental and/or explanatory (b) at least one image (c) at least 3 references - citations, links, mentions, or others and (d) one or more references to a fellow participant’s work/project/response to (bi-weekly) course prompts. By asking for this baseline, we reflected the character of our 10 weeks together, weaving together texts and images, references and conversations, others’ thinking and their own reflections. Each group determined how to combine their own ideas and interests, and each approached the task in a completely different way. All allowed the participants’ varying interests to surface—sometimes separately (and coherently beside one another) and sometimes synthesized into one approach.

A glimpse of the Assembly tab, created by Blair Johnson, Herdimas Anggara, Michelle Santiago Cortes, and Xizi Hua. [Alt text:] screenshot of part of a spreadsheet, including the headers for the columns and rows; the majority of cells include drop down buttons that include various single characters. An undefined image emerges from the bottom and right of the image, including drop down buttons in red, black, grey, pink, and white on a light grey background.

Class participants brought widely varying backgrounds to Machine Language. These differences (and similarities) of perspectives and skills were part of what made our ongoing conversations so incredibly generative. By choosing a spreadsheet as a base form, we both ensured that anyone could find a way to use the platform regardless of their background and allowed those who wanted to utilize their technical skills to explore the technical possibilities on their own terms. The spreadsheet itself is one form of machine language, and we asked our participants to create in ways that considered the form’s limitations and opportunities. We asked the participants to then supply us with the same, similar, or related content in a form that could be integrated into a black-and-white, homemade, print publication. Again, we asked them to think about the limitations and opportunities for basic printing. In discussion, we described it as translating the content into something that a printer could understand. For some, the zine content included extractions or translations from their experimental website/spreadsheet tab content. For others, the group provided related, but completely different content for the zine form.

A glimpse of the Hardware Dependency tab, which includes work created by Arushi Bandi, Blair Johnson, and Xizi Hua (alongside references to Chris Marker, Ranier Maria Rilke, and others). [Alt text:] screenshot of part of a spreadsheet, including the headers for the columns and rows; the image includes text, images, and drawings in (and surrounded by) multiple color boxes in blues, greens, oranges, white, and various shades of grey.

When the zine is completed this summer, each Machine Language participant will receive physical copies, as will the SFPC library. We’ll also post a downloadable link on the front page of the Machine Language spreadsheet website. This will include both a .pdf copy to view on-screen and a diy .pdf file, in case you want to print and assemble your own.

The collective project website can be found here.