The history of the telegraph is inseparable from that of Morse code, the rapid sequence of dots and dashes that has been ingrained in popular imagination as the ur-protocol of information transfer. Yet the telegraph lines also carried another signal—the distinctive style of each operator’s “hand” came through regardless of the message, a personal rhythm tied to the body. With A Question of Style, subjects are asked to communicate with each other over telegraph lines, with no knowledge of Morse code. These “conversations” are recorded as digital pulses and re-performed by vintage telegraph sounders in the gallery.
The piece asks whether the “hand,” on its own, is enough to communicate, and if it constitutes language, music, or something in between. And by occasionally substituting an artificially intelligent “telegraph-bot” for a human operator, unbeknownst to the human on the other side, it is also a twist on the familiar Turing Test. Is rhythmic contact, rather than meaning, the more fundamental means of discerning intelligence?