Friday, August 17, 2007

pynchon in semaphore

Over a year ago the artist Ben Rubin installed a piece ("San Jose Semaphore") on the Adobe building in San Jose, California with four LED semaphore wheels that broadcast a mystery text, accompanied by an audio component. It took over a year, but two men finally deciphered what the text is -- Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49."

From the San Jose Mercury News, 8/14/2007:

The solution was discovered by two Silicon Valley tech workers, Bob Mayo and Mark Snesrud, who received a commendation at San Jose City Hall today.

Using both the rotating disks and the art project's audio broadcast, they deciphered a preliminary code based on the James Joyce novel, "Ulysses," which was the key to solving the entire message. It took them about three weeks.

"It was not a real easy thing to figure out," said Snesrud, a chip designer for Santa Clara based W&W Communications.

Ben Rubin, the New York artist who developed the project, applauded the duo's "computational brute force" in finding the message. "I'm especially glad the code was cracked and that it was done in a very classical way," Rubin said.

The Pynchon book, written in the mid-1960s, is set in a fictional California city filled with high-tech campuses. It follows a woman's discovery of latent symbols and codes embedded in the landscape and local culture, Rubin said.

The semaphore is made up of four 10-foot wide disks, which are composed of 24,000 light-emitting diodes. The disks each have a dark line going from one end to another and twirl around every eight seconds to create a new pattern. It made its debut on Aug. 7, 2006 as part of the ZeroOne digital art festival. Rubin said there are no plans to stop the semaphore or change its message - at least for the time being.

"It'll change the way people look it," Rubin said of having the solution known. "Maybe in a few years, we'll revisit it.
The choice of text is inspired. I hope that he updates it.

No comments: