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Contents © 2020 Golan Levin and Collaborators

Golan Levin and Collaborators

Interviews and Dialogues

Interview by Carlo Zanni for MicheleThursz.com

Golan Levin, March 2003.

What kind of media do you use for your work?

I generally develop my artwork by writing code in a language like C++ or Java. Occasionally I use Lingo and Perl. I use the software I write to gather input from some kind of sensing medium, like a mouse or camera, as well as to control of some kind of display medium, like a video projector, sound system, etc. Increasingly I am using these languages to control more sculptural elements, like motors.

Could you please write the tech specs of each technology? (Java, C...)

Java and C are nearly identical languages. In fact, Actionscript (the language used in Flash animations on the Web) is also nearly the same as these. There are some fundamental things which every computer language needs to be able to do, like iteration and conditional testing, and so that is why these languages are all so similar. So the differences chiefly amount to small divergences of syntax. To people's perception, however, these languages seem very different, not because of the languages themselves but because of how they are typically used. The companies which make these languages have made it easy to use Flash on the Web, or C in embedded systems. But it could easily have been the other way around.

Could you please tell us why you chose to use that particular language or software for that particular work?

The language I choose to use under given circumstances is a purely pragmatic question, whose answer ultimately comes down to extremely dull details of efficiency tradeoffs. People say things like "It's easier to make things quickly in Java, because the syntax is simpler," or "C is better for making things robust and fast, because you can control all of the memory allocation," or "Lingo may be a dopey language, but it provides powerful kinds of connectivity to many other kinds of systems," etcetera. I think it depends on the circumstances of the project. I usually don't prefer to discuss the tools I use, since I think it gives people the wrong idea about the substance of a given project. The people who like to argue in the so-called "Language Wars" are very tiresome.

In practice, sometimes there is a toolkit for controlling something I'm interested in, like graphics or sound, and then I'll choose the language that works with the toolkit. I used Lingo for my piece "JJ" because Mark Daggett was kind enough to share his Lingo Carnivore interface, so he saved me some effort. But I could have made the piece in any number of languages, and I don't think that the piece would have come out much differently. More importantly, I don't think that knowing that the project was made in Lingo versus Java is very helpful information... it certainly does not describe what the project is about.

Are some languages better than others for specific works? (i mean: java is better for ....... while C is better for ..... and html for....) ?

I think the answer is no. But it is easier to run some executables than others.

Do you think it is possible to understand your work without any kind of computer schooling?

I hope so. But understanding my work is different from understanding how I programmed it. Sometimes I look at code that I wrote a year ago, and I myself don't understand it anymore.