Blog Post

Help with the history of filk music?

Dear scholars,

I hope everyone is off to a great new(ish) academic term!  I have not been as active on my HASTAC blog as I have wanted to be, but I am in the process of preparing a piece on Nokia's now perished alternate vision of tablet computing as well as a multipart work outlining a new approach to writing the history of computer programs.

For the latter piece, I'm trying to find more information about the history of filk music (filk, not folk) and I was wondering if anyone might be able to point me to some good resources.  I'm particularly interested in filk that involves computers, a la David Weingart's "filksongs and pietry" site (http://www.weingart.net/myfilks.html).

Any ideas?

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2 comments

The projects sound cool - can you give us some more context? I'd love to know more about the history of computer programming from another perpsective - what kind of work are you doing on it?

As for filk music, sorry, don't know much about it, but would love to lear! What is Filk music? To be honest I thought it was a typo and you were talking about folk music!

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Thanks for the comment, Fiona, and my apologies for getting back late.  I'm writing a piece on the history of a Windows 3.1 computer program, Deliverance, that was used to control a euthanasia machine that killed four people under the world's first legal euthanasia law, the Australian Northern Territory's Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of 1995.

My work is in part a response to the critical code studies/software studies folks who have done a fantastic job looking at the affective attachments of the syntax of code and programs but whose agenda negates the very real and intense affective value of the code and the programs themselves.  (Or rather, reprioritizes what counts as affective without looking at the intense emotions that programmers feel when writing code.)  At the same time, I am trying to move past these terms "digital" and "virtual", which relegate computer programs to the status of crucial objects or subjects in dramatic narratives.

The problem with positioning a computer program as an object, of course, is that we lose its raw emotional and spiritual power by describing it as a tool, no matter how important that tool is.  I include studies of virtual communities, video games, and the such in this category, all of which get at the emotions inside the users of these tools but not of the tools themselves.  When we talk about programs as subjects, as some CCS folks have been pushing for, we fall for a red herring, losing sight of the fact that all dramatic narratives rightfully have humans at their center (excuse me for being so rustic).

So, I've been writing about the computer program as the site of historical action, a site where subjects and objects, both "real" and "virtual", interact in narratives.  The important thing here is to understand not the "digital" or the "virtual" or the "electronic", but rather what I have termed as the "computeral"; that is, the world of semantic relationships and associations between computer programs themselves and their elements that is distinct from the "real" world but that is affectively related to it.  It means not talking about programs and their paradigms as metaphors relating real things to virtual things (e.g., the desktop, the Web), but to talk about how things in the computer relate to each other with their own sets of metaphors, rhetorical tropes, and so on.  How do friended classes in C++ relate to friends on Facebook?  How does a Unix pipe relate to a Duff's device?  And so on.

Turning to this approach, I hope that we can begin to tell computeral tales, ones that capture the drama of a computer program.  The stakes are high as we lose more and more people to the vapid digital world (excuse me for being so rustic) without having prepared them for the computeral.  I think our existence is at stake, as I have written elsewhere (http://vorpolinux.sourceforge.net/about.html).

Will write more soon once I put on the finishing touches.

P.S.: Didn't get too far with filk.  Actually, it did start as a typo for a folk music gathering in the 50's, I think associated with a scifi convention at the time.  Filkers write a lot of parodic folk music about scifi, computer technology, etc.

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