Coal Code

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This is a program written in P5.js by Kenneth Sherwood as part of the Coal, Code, Node exhibit with Bob Sweeny, October 2018, Kipp Annex at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Text is adapted from _Code of Signals_ (Moria Poetry, 2017), which was itself based on an earlier generative digital poem written in php. 

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Hard Coded controls

Initial Rate is 15.

Use "<" and ">" keys to accelerate or decelerate

Clear limit ranges from 1 tile to 32 (a full grid)
Use keys 1  - 9 to adjust this.

Mouse-click triggers audio and a postcard tile.

Space-bar clears screen and fades audio out.

Audio sequencing. Default audio sequence is random 
(pulling one of 187 audio files). This can be toggled.

R = random
S = sequential
D = duet (alternating l, r ... )
G = gaps (i.e. semi-sequential, with omissions of 1-3 samples)



This poem (in its several variants) explores western Pennsylvania, past and present, as a space and culture grounded in fossil fuels -- from ancient dead organisms, to historical tatters of 19th-century mining, to current landscape and social transformations in the era of so-called Clean Coal and Green Energy.

Conceived as a digital work, and produced as a chapbook and installation work, the piece is nonetheless informed by modernist books including W.C. Williams' Paterson, Charles Reznikoff's Testimony, and Louis Zukofsky's "A" ... with their interests in form, materiality, and language in relation to self, place, and history.

In fact, a remembered passage from Zukofsky served as catalyst for this piece when, in tracking down the reference to "striking coal miners in Penna.", a line from his poem "A"-1, I learned of the infamous Rossiter strike, which transpired in a nearly forgotten town just up the road from where I now write.

In this sense, the coal project could also be seen as an auto-documentary or an exercise in self-location, as I try to use the composition of the poems as a means of reading the muted texts and landscape into which I have migrated, where coal extraction continues, powering the digital machines with which I make my art. Coal eschews the controlling energy of the lyric voice in order to compose itself as the reader "mines it," using algorithmic rules to fragment and recompose original and found texts and manipulated images in dynamic, varying patterns. The challenge has been in how to "repurpose" without doing violence to these lost discourses, to appropriate materials and, in a sense, reanimate them by placing them into new, poetic contexts.



Fell, Jesse. On the Discovery of the Use of Coal for Domestic Purposes, 1808. Explore PA History Web. Rpt. from Samuel Harries Daddow and Benjamin Bannan, Coal, Iron, and Oil: or, the Practical American Miner. Pottsville, PA: Benjamin Bannan, 1866.

Chesapeake Charlie children's coloring book. Chesapeake Energy, 2008.

Jones, Mary Harris. Autobiography of Mother Jones. Ed. Mary Field Parton. Chicago: Charles Kerr, 1925.

"Pennsylvania Coal Region," Harpers Magazine. No. 160, Vol 27. Harper and Bros., September, 1863.

Repression at Rossiter, PA: Hearings Before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee, 1928.