John Cayley, with Giles Perring, 2004, refactured for the web 2019

translation investigates iterative, procedural 'movement' from one language to another.

In early 2019, translation was, at last, reengineered for the web, prompted by its curation into a marvelous exhibition that was put together by Matthew Reynolds for the Bodleian Library in Oxford, UK. 'Babel: Adventures in Translation' displays treasures from the collection and related work concerned with practices and theories of translation.
    The same basic version of translation as the one in the exhibition can be experienced by anyone suitably equipped online, and there is a development version here.
    Matthew Reynolds has also edited an excellent volume of essays on Prismatic Translation, forthcoming before end of 2019 from Legenda, Cambridge, UK. A new essay by myself is included as, '[Mirroring] events at the sense horizon: translation over time.'

The series of pieces I now call translation developed from the earlier overboard. All these pieces are, in one sense, examples of literal art in digital media that demonstrate an 'ambient' time-based poetics. The earlier brief description of overboard on this site gives some explanation of ambience, and there is also a more detailed, related exposition of overboard's inner workings in dichtung-digital.

While running the same algorithms as 'overboard', passages within translation may be in one of three states - surfacing, floating or sinking. But they may also be in one of three language states, German, French or English. If a passage drowns in one language it may surface in another.

The main source text for translation is extracted from Walter Benjamin's early essay, 'On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.'[NOTE] Other texts from Marcel Proust's The Way by Swann's may also, less frequently, surface in the original French, and im one or other of its standard German and English translations.

The generative music for the translation pieces was developed in collaboration with Giles Perring who did the composition, sound design, and, in the first versions of translation, performed and recorded the sung alphabets. In current versions, the base alphabets are sung by Melanie Pappenheim, produced by Giles.


For the web-accessible Javascript version, no special preparation or installation should be required.

For the earlier QuickTime versions (which can still be made to run), because Apple no longer supports programmable QuickTime, you must install QuickTime Player, version 7, or (for those willing to undertake the configuration) reinstate the QuickTime browser plugin (only for some browsers).

IMPORTANT. To hear the generative musical soundscape designed for the pieces by Giles Perring, you must first download and install a total of four 'sound font' files, following these instructions. If you have already installed the sound fonts for 'overboard' you only need the two new 'translation' sound fonts, 'dfe1.sf2' and 'grins.sf2'.

- download the archive(s) containing the files from:

- if your browser doesn't do this for you, unpack the archive.

- depending on your system, move the files 'overboard bell.sf2', 'overboard rolls.sf2', 'dfe1.sf2', and 'grins.sf2' into the following folders:
   Mac OS 9: System/Extensions/QuickTime Extensions
   Max OS X: Library/Audio/Sounds/Banks
   Windows XP: Program Files/QuickTime/QTComponents

NB: 'BordoFixed' truetype font retired. I've abandoned this font and reverted to Monaco (likely to be preinstalled on most Mac systems) for Mac playback, because access to this font seems to be intermittently broken by OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which also threatens to make certain other features of QuickTime projects difficult of access (Midi, in particular). See this Apple Support article.

how to read translation

There are, currently, four published versions of translation, the most developed version of which is translation5. For each version below, two links are given. One – click the icon – downloads the archive of a .mov file. Run these locally using QuickTime Player 7. The other links are deprecated. If you have a working QuickTime plugin installed, you will be able to open the works in a separate tab or window, using certain browsers. PLEASE NOTE AGAIN: that to have the intended audio experience of the piece, you should have downloaded and installed the sound fonts as described above.

[deprecated browser version]

t r a n s l a t i o n 5 - In this version the audio correlative is performed in three voices from a set of three sung alphabets (German, French and English) using a similar harmonic scheme to that composed for translation3. Click the icon to download.

See an article by Rita Raley with some discussion of translation: ‘Algorithmic Translations.’ CR: The New Centennial Review 16, no. 1 (2016): 115-137 (accessed March 17, 2018).

t r a n s l a t i o n 3 - This was the first published version of translation in which the audio correlative of the ambient text-generation was rendered by two bell instruments scanning the morphing texts. This version appears to be broken for current technologies. I've allowed it to be downloadable, for the record.

[deprecated browser version]

t r a n s l a t i o n 6 - This version was produced in relation to a presentation at the conference 'Writing Europe,' Kyiv, Ukraine, June 28-July 2, 2005. In a workshop after the conference I introduced some of my working methods and principles to a small group of Ukrainian students and asked them to help me translate the Benjamin passages and incorporate a romanized Ukrainian text into translation. This is the result. As in the case of translation 5, German and English texts are provided with an audio correlative in two sung alphabets. Because I do not have recordings for the Ukrainian alphabet, the audio correlative for Ukrainian reverts to the bell-like sounds of translation 3. Click the icon to download.

Please note that there are technical problems with incorporating and displaying the Ukrainian version of the cyrillic alphabet because there are anomalies in the way that programmed QuickTime handles Unicode. Interested parties are encouraged to lobby Apple so that Unicode is handled better in the future. translations are not all equal in the worlds of networked and programmable media.

Thanks to the British Council, Kyiv, for their support in attending the conference and arranging the workshops. Thanks to the students for their translation and their enthusiastic participation and response to the workshop.

[deprecated browser version]

t a x i l a t i o n 3 - An 'occasional piece,' this version was done for Mark Jeffrey of the Goat Island performance group and his collaborator, Judd Morrissey, a colleague and fellow writer in programmable media. While it retains the fragments of Proust in three languages, this version substitutes English texts by Jeffrey and Morrissey selected from the materials accompanying Goat Island's most recent performance work, 'When will the September roses bloom? Last night was only a comedy'. Benjamin's German is retained with a bell sound audio correlative. Audio for the English is based on a 'grinning dog' sound inspired by the Goat Island work. Click the icon to download. The title of the piece refers to its being made for and first performed on the occasion of the closing celebration for Jeffrey and Morrissey's installation, '38 Stanesfield Road: The Mooring of Richard Anynumber,' for the Taxi Gallery in Cambridge, 12 March, 2005.

The translation pieces are intended, primarily, simply to run in ever-shifting patterns of language. However, you can hold down key combinations to produce a limited range of effects, as follows (you will need to hold the keys down for 3-5 seconds before the effect begins):

shift-s: restart the quasi-randomization of verse states (resume normal ambience of the piece)

shift-d: surface in German

shift-f: surface in French, or, in translation6 shift-u: surface in romanized Ukrainian

shift-e: surface in English

shift-q: fade to black


[NOTE] Complete references for the supply texts of translation are as follows: Benjamin, Walter. ‘Über Sprache überhaupt und über die Sprache des Menschen.’ In Medienästhetische Schriften, edited by Detlev Schöttker, 67-82. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2002. p. 76. The essay is dated 1916 and was only published posthumously by Suhrkamp in 1955. French: ‘Sur le langage en général et sur le langage humain.’ Translated by Maurice de Gandillac, Rainer Rochlitz and Pierre Rusch. In Oeuvres: Tome I, 142-165. Paris: Gallimard, 2000, p. 157. English: ‘On Language as Such and on the Language of Man.’ Translated by Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter. In One-Way Street and Other Writings, 107-123. London: Verso, 1997, p. 117.
    And, with respect to the less frequent glimpses of Proust: Proust, Marcel. À la recherche du temps perdu: I: du côté de chez Swann. Paris: Gallimard, 1992. This edition originally 1954, text established 1987, pp. 177-178. German: In Swanns Welt. Translated by Eva Rechel-Mertens. Auf der Suche nach de verlorenen Zeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1997. This translation first published by Suhrkamp in 1964, pp. 245-246. English: The Way by Swann’s: Translated with an introduction by Lydia Davis. In Search of Lost Time. Edited by Christopher Pendergast. London: Penguin, 2002, p. 185.