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Machine Language

Sherri Wasserman, Jace Clayton
January 24, 2023 to March 28, 2023 (10 classes)
Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm ET
Online (Zoom)
$1200 Scholarships available learn more...
Applications closed on December 2, 2022

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All software programs contain “machine language” — the low-level digital code to which machines can respond directly. This course seeks to expand our critical and creative understandings of how communications with machines occur, and to create agency to influence or redirect how these interactions shape our comprehension of ourselves, each other, and our worlds. Over 10 weeks, we’ll frame our examinations through four lenses: quantization, computation, assembly, and hardware dependency. In what ways does constant interfacing with a multiplicity of machines contour our sensory perceptions, informational structures, and bodily abilities? How do we identify and interrogate our sociotechnical imaginaries in ways which recognize our entangled relationships? How might we better understand the machine languages that surround us, and how might we start to build alternatives? Weekly readings, in-class discussion, example projects, and creative prompts will all be used as we explore our personal and collective relationship to machine language.

Images courtesy of teachers, participants and class documentarians.


Course of Study

  • Week 1: Introduction – We’ll begin with discussion of the four framing themes vis-a-vis our various situated knowledges. What competencies and assumptions inform our perspectives, and what are the sociotechnical nodes that we’re most excited to engage with critically within our own practices? Students will leave this class with expanded notions of the concept of machine language and questions about why both the technical and conceptual comprehensions matter.
  • Weeks 2 + 3: Quantization – This is the process by which the unbounded analog world gets sensed, categorized, and digitized into binary values that machine language can interact with. Yet a bit marks a boundary: the digital, by definition, cannot tolerate ambiguity. We will seek a robust understanding of what data –the result of quantization - is, then consider how data is not neutral, but informed by the design of the machine / software / collector / perceiver.
  • Weeks 4 + 5: Computation – The machine-readable world can only be computed, and machines can only comprehend what they are built to read. Machine language can sort or synthesize, but it can neither describe or interpret without human intervention–and even the precepts of machine readability are programmed in ways that embed biases. How do quantitative limitations influence our interactions with qualitative realities? What are solutions without descriptions? And, how do computational approaches of different levels of complexity impact ways in which we understand data, ourselves, and the world?
  • Weeks 6 + 7: Assembly – In 1947 Kathleen Booth created the first Assembly Language: the lowest-level language to communicate with machines that humans can read. In the decades since, technologists have transformed human-machine interfaces to include increasingly narrative, graphic, and haptic interactions. Though posed as universal developments, for whom are these interfaces intended? Who is left out, and how do alternatives emerge?
  • Weeks 8 + 9: Hardware Dependency – From Andean quipu to corporate supercomputers, even the most abstract computation requires material support with specific algorithms to run on it. We will interrogate our relationships with hardware. Amongst other questions, we’ll ask: What are hardware’s opportunities and impacts? How may agendas may be forced on machine configurations, and what are the implications? Why might we transform and/or subvert hardware limitations, how, and towards what ends?
  • Week 10: Cumulative Reflections and Sharing – Machine Language will conclude with a collective showcase and celebration on our time together. Critical reflection and cake.


Time & Workload
  • The course will culminate in a collaborative MACHINE LANGUAGE zine. A portion of each week will be dedicated to conceptualizing and executing the zine, which will be a tool through which to work through transmission, translation, and storage of information/ideas– formal variety and play is highly encouraged.
  • Participants are expected to invest 2-3 hours per week outside of class for readings / viewings / listenings and personal journaling / studio time.
  • This course is tech-agnostic. Students will need access to device(s) through which they can read PDFs, access websites, access and contribute to shared documentation (via Google docs or sheets, or online whiteboard software provided by instructors) and respond to weekly prompts via a medium of their choice (writing, visual, audio, code sketches).

Is this class for me?

This class is for you if:

  • You engage in some sort of creative practice, whether coding, visual art, design, sound, writing or other, and/or related research practice
  • You are interested in the past, present, and future of both the technical and sociological aspects of technology
  • You want to apply a critical, but cautiously optimistic, lens to your views of our relationships to, with, and through technology
  • You want to add to your knowledge of theory, projects, and perspectives
  • You want to imagine alternatives to our existing sociotechnical landscapes
  • You are interested in bringing your situated knowledges to class dialogues and open to engaging with others who will do the same

Meet the Teachers


Sherri Wasserman

Sherri Wasserman is a designer, writer/researcher, and multidisciplinary collaborator who constructs experiences at the intersections of physical, multimedia, and informational landscapes. She makes things for print, digital, and architectural/environmental spaces, creating content-rich exhibitions, installations, publications, websites, and mobile apps for wide-ranging audiences. In addition to her experience on projects ranging from individual artist partnerships to initiatives for major institutions, she has a background in visual art and history (Oberlin College), design and programming for emerging technologies (ITP at NYU), and science and technology studies (ASU’s Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology PhD program). Her work increasingly focuses on expanding collective survivability through engagement with complex systems, sustainability and environmental justice principles, ethical documentary and design practices, and futures methods.

she/her · website · twitter · instagram


Jace Clayton

Jace Clayton is an artist and writer based in New York, also known for his work as DJ /rupture. He is the author of 'Uproot: Travels in 21st-Century Music and Digital Culture' (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Clayton is currently an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts and Interim Director of Columbia University’s Sound Art MFA Program.

he/him · website · twitter · instagram


Our programs are conducted in spoken English with audiovisual materials such as slides, code examples and video. Online programs are held over Zoom.

Please take care and be well. We hope you are comfortable in your housing, living, and working situation in general. Never hesitate to ask us for advice and reach out if you have accessibility requests or need any assistance during your time at SFPC. We will work closely with you towards co-creating the most accommodating learning environment for your needs.

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How do I apply?

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Tell us about a beautiful or frustrating experience you had communicating with a machine.

Applications open until Applications closed on December 2, 2022.

You can expect to hear back from us about the status of your application on December 16, 2022. Please email us at with any questions you have.

more about what we look for in participants...

How much does it cost to attend?

For 10 classes, it costs $1200 + $39.24 in processing fees, for a one-time payment. We also offer payment plans. Participants can schedule weekly or monthly payments of the same amount. First and last payments must be made before the start and end of class. *Processing fees apply for each payment.

SFPC processes all payments via Withfriends and Stripe. Please email if these payment options don't work for you.

Upon payment, your space in the class will be reserved. We offer scholarships for those who cannot pay full tuition. Read more about scholarships below.

I can’t pay for SFPC. Can I come at a reduced rate, or for free?

If you can’t pay full tuition, we really still want you to apply. Our application will ask you how much you can pay. We will offer subsidized positions in all of our classes, once each one has enough participants enrolled that we’re able to do so.

We have also started a scholarship fund, and we will be offering additional scholarships as community members redistribute their wealth through SFPC. We direct scholarship funds towards participants who are low-income, Black, Indigenous, racialized, gendered, disabled, Queer, trans, oppressed, historicially excluded and underrepresented.

Right now, tuition is SFPC’s main source of income, and that is a problem. It means that we can only pay teachers, pay for space, and organize programs when participants pay full tuition to attend. Tuition is a huge barrier to entry into the SFPC community, and it disproportionately limits Black participants, indigenous participants, queer and trans participants, and other people who are marginalized, from participating. Scholarships are not a long term solution for us, but in the short and medium term we hope to offer them more while we work towards transforming SFPC’s financial model.

How can I help others to attend SFPC?

For SFPC to be the kind of place the community has always meant it to be, it needs to become a platform for wealth redistribution. If you are a former participant, prospective participant, or friend of the school, and you have the financial privilege to do so, please donate generously. There is enough wealth in this community to make sure no one is ever rejected because of their inability to pay, and becoming that school will make SFPC the impactful, imaginative, transformative center of poetry and justice that we know it can be.

What if I can’t go, can I get a refund?

  • Yes, we can give you 100% refund up to 10 days before class starts
  • 50% refund after 10 days, until the first day of the class
  • No refunds can be given after the first day of the class

Interested in more learning opportunities at the School for Poetic Computation? Join our newsletter to stay up to date on future sessions and events, and follow us on Instagram and Twitter. Support our programming through scholarships. Get in touch over email.