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other tools: more about Verbasizer

September 15, 2010

Let David Bowie tell you how it’s done:

“Well it’s a program that I developed with a friend of mine in San Francisco, and it’s called the Verbasizer.”

“It’ll take the sentence, and I’ll, I’ll divide it up between the columns. And when I’ve got say three or four or five– sometimes I go as much as twenty, twenty-five sentences. Going across here.”

“And then I’ll set it to Randomize.”

“And it’ll take those twenty sentences and cut in-between them all, all the time picking out, choosing different words from different columns. And from different rows of sentences. So what you end up with is a real kaleidoscope of meanings and topics and nouns and verbs all sort of slamming into each other.”

“The choices that I now make from this form, I can then reimbue it with an emotive form if I want to. Or, take it as it writes itself. So. I mean, some of the things I’ll emphathize with terrific. And I find that even maybe four words in here would… ‘The top kills himself.’ That sounds like a boss, doesn’t it? And suddenly I get a vision of a boss in the 30s throwing himself out of a window in the Great Depression. That might be enough to set me off writing a song about that.”

“‘fry metals’ becomes ‘fry the metals’. ‘release bookman’ becomes ‘release the bookman’. ‘top the kills himself’ becomes ‘the top kills himself.’ such, such,… ‘Top the order’, ‘dead men medal’, ‘release the admiral’, then I just sort of went from there to ‘release the bookman, release the admiral, fry the medals, hoist the mainsail,’ (laughs) only because it felt like that sort of patterning. which would take me to a kind of a chorus area. ‘Dead men don’t talk but they do. Dead men don’t talk but they do.”

in the youtube video he goes on to talk about how this makes him more creative or something… it’s pretty interesting. anyway, here’s another version of the YouTube video:

Youtube comments suggest this came from a documentary called “David Bowie: an Earthling at 50” from 1997. (UPDATE: I think it’s actually from “”Inspirations,” directed by Michael Apted in 1997) I’m not really into Bowie, but people whose opinions I respect seem to dig him. He hung out with Iggy Pop and Freddy Mercury so he can’t be too bad. Anyway, I submit this as an example of ways that generation tools can be used to make song lyrics. I suppose I should give it a UUID to classify it among the other generation methods I’ve been studying, but it seems wrong for the UUID to be the primary means of classification in this case; so in the cases of a pre-existing method I’ll say the UUID becomes parenthetical. Like: Verbasizer (Method 8101df50-4da0-4fac-9a69-fe2124b25947) which is using token-level cut-ups on arbitrary-length sentences, from which phrases are selected and re-arranged as described above.

Unfortunately Verbasizer doesn’t seem to be publicly available, but the basic cut-up generation functionality is present in WpN and JanusNode and the process of selection and re-arrangement can be used with any of the tools we use. The innovation seems to be in the GUI, which seems to take sentences and break them up such that you can easily remove every nth word and then randomly generates based on a template built by the token’s position in the sentence.

at least that’s what it looks like from the video – it may be doing Part Of Speech tagging with more sophisticated templates, it’s hard to tell.

P.S. I’m eager to learn more. If anybody reading this knows more about the Verbasizer, please comment!

UPDATE: there’s an article with more info on this at a site called Hypebot. Apparently it was developed by someone called Ty Roberts:

Roberts described Bowie as taking multiple word sources, from the newspaper to hand-written words, cutting them up, throwing them into a hat and then arranging the fragments on pieces of paper. He’d then cross out material that didn’t fit to create lines of lyrics.

Roberts suggested he could create software for Bowie to speed up the process and did so for use on a Mac laptop. The app was called the Verbasizer and you can see it in use by Bowie in the video above in which he refers to a “friend” aka Ty Roberts. It allowed for different input methods including simply typing in words and then arranged them in columns which could be restricted to nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. Each column could be weighted and have multiple words if desired. With a push of a button lyrics would then be created.

More info at the article, including a screenshot of an updated version of the Verbasizer (which may or may not be a part of an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum…)


10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 23, 2013 3:53 pm

    UPDATE: apparently you can take a look at a Verbasizer re-write at an exhibition running at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 23 March to 11 August 2013, according to The Independent, Gigwise, and blogger Julie Eagleton (this last of which includes another picture). It’s not clear whether the version at the museum is interactive, or just a static display.

  2. February 7, 2014 9:37 am

    A similar take using Bowies own lyrics to create new random cut-ups


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