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Poetry, frozen into a Crystal

Voice Gems Astropoeticon – a Project by Herbert W. Franke, Harry Yeff & Trung Bao

Voice artists Harry Yeff and Trung Bao have realized a new Voice Gem Astropoeticon, “Destination in the Uncertain,” using Artificial Intelligence. It is part of the Astropoeticon poetry cycle penned by Herbert W. Franke and recorded by himself. The Voice Gems are based on the visualization of the individually different paramters of human speech and they are “frozen” into a crystal structure. To do this, factors such as pitch, resonance, harmonics and tempo are translated into 200,000 data points in a virtual space. The collaboration between Franke and the duo Yeff/Trung had begun in 2021 with the first three poems of Astropoeticon.

Herbert W. Franke first encountered the work of Harry Yeff in the summer of 2021 in Linz. Both were part of the Proof of Art exhibition at the Francisco Carolinum, the first museum to tell the brief story of NFTs. Franke, who is also a speleologist and mineral collector, was interested in the work of Harry Yeff and Trung Bao, the Voice Gems, and a collaboration quickly ensued: for Yeff inquired about the possibilities of realizing Franke’s voice as a Voice Gem, and Franke responded by sending one of his voice gems, a vocal work of art. Now you have to know something about Franke, the pioneer of early computer art, to understand his enthusiasm for human speech frozen into crystals: Franke’s greatest scientific achievements are his cave-theoretical works, including the discovery of the age determination of stalagmites with the C14 method and – building on this – his research on geochronology, which he carried out primarily with Mebus Geyh of the Lower Saxony State Office for Soil Research. For his scientific work, he undertook numerous expeditions, during which he spent many days in caves with research teams in order to be able to penetrate previously unknown depths.

Franke, a native of Vienna, began documenting the expeditions photographically during his first cave expeditions as a student in his late forties in Austria. They are also the beginning of his artistic work, which in the fifties led him via generative photography to computer art. The problem with cave photography was the illumination of large cave spaces. At that time, flash units were not available, and magnesium-based chemical mixtures had to be ignited by the photographer himself for lighting. What began as a hobby quickly developed into a career. Here, too, Franke distinguished himself through his wealth of ideas, in that he was able to make even large cave spaces visible in aesthetically appealing pictures in the darkness of caves through the targeted placement of several beacons.Thus, he quickly became a recognized cave photographer whose pictures were published in both popular and professional journals, often with articles written by himself.

Cave selfie by Herbert W. Franke with light effects from the 1950s (right) – stalactite information in the Krasnohorska Cave (top) – Franke with a Turquoise found in the Chilean Atacama Desert (left).

Until old age, he photographed in caves, as well as collected minerals all over the world. Thus, Franke was fascinated by the concept of Harry Yeff and Trung Bao to freeze human voices in crystal structures. The two voice artists set out to build an extensive archive, because no two voices are alike; they form a unique, distinctive part of human identity and are also a marvel of biological engineering. Humans use 100 muscles to speak. To be able to visibly freeze them in a crystalline structure, Yeff and Bao have developed parameters for this with the help of artificial intelligence.

Hence, Franke was very pleased to participate in this worldwide project of language visualization with a voice sample. However, he did not want to provide just any voice sample, but to offer language that was itself art as the basis for the visualization. So Franke decided to make the 16 minimalistic poems of the cycle Astropoeticon available for the Voice Gems. They had been created for a project by space artist Andreas Nottebohm, who wanted to self-publish a book of 16 images after completing his art studies and had contacted Franke to ask if he could write a text for the book. Franke came up with the idea of writing an associative poem for each abstract image.

In the collaboration, which began in 2021 with the first three poems, the entire cycle of concrete poetry will be realized as Voice Gems Astropoeticon. Franke had recorded them himself in the studio on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2007. The poem “Ziel im Ungewissen” (Destination in the Uncertain) has now been published as Open Edition in the Blockchain at the end of March 2023.

Destination in the uncertain

Solar sail stretched

Ride on the ion beam

Home port: Beyond space and time

Sensors, directed into the void

Signals from the dark field

Circuits on hold

Ice crystals in the cells

the veins without blood

the memory erased

the past extinguished

existence between dream and death

if there is an awakening?

if there is hope?

in front: clouds and cosmic dust

behind maybe

a galaxy

star systems, suns

planets, bathed in warmth and light –

Wake-up call from the tape:

New territory!

behind it, perhaps: