Under Language (2007) by Stuart Moulthrop is a literary instrument providing ten lines of computer-voiced poetry, and interspersed computer-voiced code and/or comments that express a second sense or esoteric meaning.
Under Language is one in a series of "textual instruments" created by Moulthop, an artifact akin to literature but structured like a game. The work shared the 3rd International Digital Literature Award Ciutat de Vinarós Prize for Digital Narrative with Isaias Herrero Florensa's Universo Molecula.
Despite a visual, interactive interface, Under Language is a work of audio in five layers. The first layer is a series of computer-voiced renditions of ActionScripts programmed by Moultrop that operate the work. The second layer is a series of ambient recorded collages of tunings across radio broadcasts. The third level consists of pseudo-code, again voiced by computer text-to-speech technology. Comments and summaries, ostensibly voiced by the ten-line poem at the heart of this work constitute the fourth level. All these components and their resulting layers are produced seemingly randomly by Moultrop's programming. The result is an audio collage, the fifth and final layer. The reader/player is responsible for making sense of the result.
[Textual instruments is] a term I borrowed from John Cayley many years ago to describe things that might look like literature, but also like structures for play, though not necessarily what we would call games. In fact, this one lies pretty close to game space, having rules, a scoring system (albeit invisible), and even a simple agon in which you compete against the perversity of the puzzle-maker, and constraints of the clock. The phrase "under-language" was invented by the comics artist, Alan Moore, in an interview he gave in the early 1980s. He used it to describe the essence of comics art, which is neither verbal nor visual, but something that underlies and infuses both modes. The term gets at the essence behind Moore's great genius for irony and verbal-visual puns. It also provides a convenient reminder that everything, these days, tends to mean more than it seems.
Under Language website maintained by Moulthrop. Play the game here.
Works by Stuart Moulthrop are part of Pathfinders: Documenting the Experience of Early Digital Literature, an effort funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve seminal works of early electronic literature by Stuart Moulthrop, John McDaid, Judy Malloy, and Shelley Jackson. Dene Grigar and Moulthrop are the principal investigators of the Pathfinders project. The Pathfinders project curates information about Moulthrop's Victory Garden.