Subtext (2008): Architecture

Transcribing the hidden discourses of network communication.


Subtext is an installation comprised of eight "glyph" plinths, each of which contains eight light sources in a uniform configuration. When a client computer accesses the network, it is assigned to one of the plinths, which then displays the outgoing messages from this client in the form of encoded light patterns.

Schematics for the installation are adapted from those used by the monome 40h, with a Maxim MAX7221 LED matrix driver powering 64 ultra-bright LEDs via USB. Each glyph corresponds to a separate digit of the MAX chip.


The software system used to capture, translate and transcribe the network data is available under the GPL. It is comprised of three components:


                                OSC     +--------+
                           +----------> | SCRIBE |  (onscreen)
                           |            +--------+
+---------+          +-----+----+
| NETWORK | -------> | LISTENER |
+---------+   pcap   +-----+----+
                           |            +--------+
                           +----------> | GLYPHS |  (hardware)
                              serial    +--------+

The Listener is a command-line application written in Python;
the Scribe is a graphical sketch written in Processing;
and the Glyphs are a series of hardware units, running custom firmware on an Atmel chip interfaced via USB.