Thursday, August 17, 2006


Today I would have given you the Bretz materials, the result of scanning
the coke-ovens down the hill to the right across from the post office down
the hill to the left. But failure lured, ruled; it waited until the tripod
was set us, the yoke was mounted on the tripod, the laser housing was
secured to the yoke, the cables were connected to the laser, the laser was
connected to the power supply and data control, the data output was cabled
to the laptop, the laptop was powered by a battery, the battery was dead.
The battery was charged at 10:30 in the morning, the laptop wouldn't power
up, there was no data output or input or control to or from the laptop,
Nick and George and Don and Azure and I paced, George worked the laptop,
the laptop was quiet, quiescent, peaceful, there were no birds flying,
there was a snake discovered in one of the few images taken while we wai-
ted, the video turned out for four minutes, there was no scanning, there
would be no downloading, no processing, no stitching, no post-processing,
no warping and merging, no scaling and coloring, there would be no Bretz
directories, no Bretz digital images of scans, no Bretz videos of rotating
scans, no post-processing of scans in Blender, no transforming of selected
points, no fly-through and no digital video or still image output. There
would be no discussion of Bretz coke-oven beehive architecture, no consid-
erations of the histories and generations of local brick-work, no evidence
and no history, no written or spoken speculations on historiographies
merging digital and analogic worlds, techniques, equipment, organisms,
processes, languages, cultural and financial economies. There would be
discussions of budgets, of equipment wear and tear, of obsolete software,
obsolete laptops, obsolete batteries powering a laser otherwise capable of
scanning an entire statehouse in West Virginia, an entire Buddhist temple
in Japan, an entire archaeological dig, but not this local archaeology,
not here, not now, not these deteriorating coke-ovens whispering in the
mountain-topped heat, in this humidity problematic for the scanning unit
itself, flat or matte-black in coloration, gathering sun against the hills
and flowers, what flowers, what amazement of flowers, in the distance, or
the mine number thirteen or number twelve sealed above the SUV and the
tripod, and Don, George, Azure, Nick, and i somewhat below the ridge which
may or may not have been constructed by other than God, within which still
remain the maws of one-hundred and forty coke-ovens, the last working site
of beehive construction, only stopping in the 1970s or 1980s and then
abandoned against this peculiar meadow, the result of surface mining,
depredation, of the mining company, resulting in an exhausted land, an
unproductive land, a land of poisons, but for this glorious meadow and its
neighbors writing ATVs useless around in circles or into and out of the
surrounding woods, guns and ammunition hanging off the back. We looked at
each other, Azure standing with her sun-umbrella, uncomfortable in the
heat, and Azure, Nick, Don, and George proceeded to begin to pack up the
tripod and yoke and laser housing and power supply and cables, placing
them carefully back in their large metal cases, filling the back of the
SUV while I videotaped in NTSC a slight, a very light segment of failure,
with a graceful camera capturing a moment simultaneously lost and recor-
ded, present and impresent, all of us gaining a ride back in the now-
crowded SUV back across the dirt road, up the hill to the post office
somewhat across from the exit, where Nick, Azure, and I changed vehicles
and drove back, following the SUV, through Masontown, Manon somewhere in
the vicinity, through Sabreton or Saberton, or Manan and Monon left behind
us, on Route 7, up through and past the Mile Ground, still wondering what
mile and what ground, down and back into the Evansdale campus and the
Virtual Environments Laboratory, the VEL, where we unloaded the laser
cases, the tripod, the laptop, our video and still cameras, went into the
cool of the room, comforted by the hum so nearly like our own. Here was
the edge of success and failure, of the many things which could go wrong
but needed a password or keyword for the witnessing; here we were, there
we were, tired, used, with little to show for our efforts, no residue
beyond three or four minutes of videos, some stills of the outside of the
ovens - and how beautiful! - some images of coming and leaving, some sky.


Richard Taylor said...

Alan -this is marvelous writing! I don't share your "dark vision" - but, big but: (there is a lot of truth here if seen via Alan's eyes), I had look via the net at the ovens in question ... fascinating.

This somewhat reminds me of some writing Wystan Curnow did about "events" he and others had or did in the 70s...e.g. in an abandoned gas works or on Mt Eden (a volcanic cone here in Auckland.. there are many).

Keep on trucking (or 'netting') Alan!

But you fiddle while Rome burns!

Such beautiful - incredible fiddling!

When you write - and I read it - it blows me away mate!

sondheim said...

Wow - I'm glad you found this! This summer I was supposed to be back in West Virginia - we never made it down since we didn't have a place to stay...