User:Laurier Rochon/work/listener

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The Listener

This project is a collaboration with Mr. Lieven Van Speybroeck

To see The Listener live go to

The Listener is a multi-person chatting program. The conversations are mediated by a "third person", a computer script that adds, subtracts and replaces words to deliberately create discrepancies in what is shown, and understood by the users. Every chatter sees their own unaltered version of the transcript, but every other person sees a transformed version.

As these subtle changes are secretly operated on a secure server, a large plotter instantly prints out the complete transcript with both original and altered versions, shedding light on the inner workings steering The Listener's behavior and creating an eternal, physical artifact to embody these fragile, ephemeral variations.


If the assertion that text and reader implode to create a 'new' third thing (often called meaning, or subjectivity) holds true when one reads a text, then it is this new creation I am trying to address. By slipping itself between the textual exchange, The Listener shifts the conversation slightly by altering certain words and sentences. In most cases, confusion ensues and new trajectories are followed by the participants, depending on the level of alteration (ranging from none to extreme).

When a user sends a message to the other ones, he or she sees the original text but the others see the altered version. This technique of showing/concealing is a sneaky strategy meant to underline the subtle inner workings of computer programs when mediating the information we consume online. I have written some words on this subject here.


The chatting program code is based on Kenrick Beckett's chat engine using only 4 files - the main index.php, a CSS file, a javascript file (ajax functions) and a php functions file. Using ajax, people send textual data to a file stored on the server, and when returned to the users' screens, a filtering process (in python/cgi) occurs to show different contents if mediation has occurred. All conversations are logged in flat text files, eventually to be reused for a naive AI engine.

Data Pipeline

user input (js) -> ajax call to php function -> medtiation script (python) in CGI -> writes to conversation log file -> ajax call to php (read the text file, check for changes) -> js send to users' screens (content dependent on the author)

Belhuis 1.jpgBelhuis 2.jpgBelhuis 3.jpgPlotter 01.jpg

Lieven's awesome work on the plotter. This was our test piece, but it shows well the substitution patterns.

In Action
  • Splash screen

The Listener Laurier Rochon 1.jpg

  • Mediation occurs. The author sees their original text, the others see the mediated version.

The Listener Laurier Rochon 2.jpg

  • What the text file looks like - the delimiters could be a bit more intelligent, I know.

The Listener Laurier Rochon 3.jpg