The ancient art of falconry is the practice of taking wild quarry in its natural state with a trained bird of prey. Falconers must work with their birds daily, and many hours of training, feeding and care may result in a few exhilarating moments of watching the bird hurtle towards the earth at over a hundred and fifty miles per hour to make a kill.
I have found in falconry a pattern that is similar to the pattern in the work I am currently creating. This work is based on the relationship between humans and computers mediated by voice-recognition software. I am concerned with the poetics of making my computer understand my voice, and the elusive qualities of spoken language. It is not a search for the meaning of spoken words, but rather a shared meaning. The dialogue between my computer and I is intended to expose a fundamental aspect of language itself â€“ meaning arises from common use. It is possible for a language to have only two speakers. I have trained my computer to understand my very particular mode of speaking, and I in turn can understand and interpret the flawed output it produces. Though no one else may understand our customized dialogue, based on our intimate understanding of each otherâ€™s flaws, perhaps we (my computer and I) can create a common discourse.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
– William Butler Yeats, excerpt from â€œThe Second Comingâ€, 1921.
In Yeatsâ€™ poem, a rupture has occurred in an ancient practice, the partnership of man and beast through the art of falconry. Taming a wild creature to the extent that it becomes a hunting instrument that can be used by man takes years of practice, and this process is very much an exchange between man and bird. This exchange is captured quite nicely by an old adage in falconry: â€œwho is training who?â€
The falconerâ€™s cry must be heard to be effective; as the voice must be understood by the computer to produce a result. Any art or craft requires dedication, and any relationship between two radically different entities results in each partner shaping the other, and meticulously creating a shared understanding. Manâ€™s relationship with beast or machine is an ongoing process, and much patience and training may result in some form of mutual dialogue between the two. To engage in these crafts also means one must understand the stakes: years of effort may yield little or no progress, and an error at a crucial moment may be catastrophic.