Tuesday, June 01, 2021

David Bowie – the Verbasizer – Mac Terminal Code

David Bowie's Verbasizer

The Verbasizer was a digital version of the cut-up technique writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin used for decades.

The Verbasizer was a digital version of the cut-up technique writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin used for decades.

The Verbasizer was a digital version of the cut-up technique writers William Burroughs and Brion Gysin used for decades. The process involved cutting up a piece of text with an eye toward recombining the words into new and unexpected structures.

It was a popular method among experimental writers but had fallen out of favor by the 1960s.

Bowie worked on the Verbasizer with Ty Roberts, who later co-founded Gracenote, an audio fingerprinting company. Bowie spent a lot of time taking bits of words from newspapers and other sources and then arranging them into lines of lyrics. He would cross out words that didn’t fit to create the lyrics that ended up being on his final album.

I’ve written a few lines of code that do the same exact thing that David Bowie’s Verbasizer did. My process in the following example was to copy the first five paragraphs of an article in today’s New York Times about the drought in the West. I saved it in BBedit as a file called water.txt.

Through the marshlands along the Oregon-California border, the federal government a century ago carved a whole new landscape, draining lakes and channeling rivers to build a farming economy that now supplies alfalfa for dairy cows and potatoes for Frito-Lay chips.

The drawdowns needed to cover the croplands and the impacts on local fish nearing extinction have long been a point of conflict at the Klamath Project, but this year’s historic drought has heightened the stakes, with salmon dying en masse and Oregon’s largest lake draining below critical thresholds for managing fish survival. Hoping to limit the carnage, federal officials have shut the gates that feed the project’s sprawling irrigation system, telling farmers the water that has flowed every year since 1907 will not be available.

Some farmers, furious about water rights and fearing financial ruin, are already organizing a resistance. “Tell Pharaoh let our water feed the Earth,” said a sign erected near the nearly dry irrigation canal that would usually be flowing with water from Upper Klamath Lake in southern Oregon.

The brewing battle over the century-old Klamath Project is an early window into the water shortfalls that are likely to spread across the West as a widespread drought, associated with a warming climate, parches watersheds throughout the region.

In Nevada, water levels have dropped so drastically in Lake Mead that officials are preparing for a serious shortage that could prompt major reductions in Colorado River water deliveries next year. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed 41 counties under a state of emergency.

Then the magic: I ran the following code in Mac Terminal. The code creates a word list from the file, randomizes the words, arranges the words in six columns (the Verbasizer was in six columns), and then combines it all into a single paragraph.

Here’s the text you can copy:

awk ‘{for(w=1;w<=NF;w++) print $w}’ water.txt > water2.txt
cat water2.txt | perl -MList::Util=shuffle -e ‘print shuffle();’ >randomlist.txt
paste -d ” ” – – – – – – < randomlist.txt >water3.txt
sed ‘s/$/ /’ water3.txt > water4.txt
cat water4.txt | tr -d ‘n’ > water5.txt

You can run the program as many times as you wish to get different results. Here’s what one of my results looked like.

drawdowns parches for usually into counties levels has associated carved West that now potatoes the dropped to water next en financial and Oregon’s channeling preparing alfalfa sprawling emergency. telling southern farming that Pharaoh thresholds flowed a farmers, largest our are a drought, could resistance. fearing Gov. 41 under that the state rivers Earth,” a California, drought Lake conflict window Project “Tell salmon the limit flowing Oregon. to brewing water for water region. drastically the in a century-old Oregon-California century at for and fish been fish shortage are nearly and Klamath croplands so needed chips. federal Project, border, with to survival. be ruin, Klamath cows Gavin nearing for canal let widespread federal would the system, the will officials near project’s heightened the said Frito-Lay prompt Lake water dry landscape, build Hoping year that be government farmers battle sign whole Mead with dairy shortfalls In River a irrigation of Colorado dying marshlands shut new every point draining organizing the Newsom The a that the Nevada, and in lake the early likely impacts of is about that from have 1907 feed are year’s rights over has the managing a placed below to stakes, along with across carnage, a The since local economy the the irrigation cover that available. officials In an water water year. historic this Some spread the as warming extinction a have but feed on ago deliveries has and masse supplies Through Klamath not watersheds serious in a draining have reductions throughout climate, long major the the already Upper erected critical the water gates lakes furious

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