Afghan War Report Report

About the Project

“A poem is worth a thousand images.” – Anonymous

Information technology has created a deluge of data; the challenge is how to understand it, how to extract meaning from megabytes. Many techniques are being developed. Since, poets have distilled complex experiences for millenia, we were curious if poetic license could be applied to transform an enormous textual dataset into a concise series of impressions that reflect the original meaning.

As an experiment, we took WikiLeaks initial public release of 90,000 redacted memos related to the US war in Afghanistan between January 2004 and December 2009. We used standard tools to create a histogram of the most frequent words, found the 400 most common words, and then wrote a poem paying attention to word structure and rhythm. We are not professional poets by any stretch, but given the hundreds of visualizations this data has given birth to, we thought that a non-visual representation was in order. After jointly composing the text, we then sought a musician to collaborate with on an audio track as another avenue of possible exploration. Any route is only one of thousands of possibilities, and we've made the project and the data available under a Creative Commons license to encourage further experimentation in the realm of "non-visual data representation. If you come up with something particularly inspired, please share it with us.

The original data used in the project can be downloaded here.

This project was conceived of and executed during the Spring 2011 ARC research colloquim.


Concept & Text - Ken Goldberg & Kris Fallon

Music: Arrangement & Recorded Text - Nils Bultmann
Audio Info:
Nils Bultmann - Fender Rhodes
James Wood - Electric Guitar

Data Analysis - Siamak Faridani

Creative Commons License
Afghan War Report by Kris Fallon & Ken Goldberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.