In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

The first public manifestation of The Listeners was as a gallery installation in November 2015. On my personal website, the work is described in these terms:

The Listeners is a linguistic performance, installation, and Amazon-distributed third-party app or skill – transacted between speakers or speaker-visitors and an Amazon Echo. The Echo embodies a voice-transactive Artificial Intelligence and domestic robot, that is named for its wake-word, Alexa. The Listeners is a custom software skill built on top of this infrastructure. The Listeners have their own interaction model. They listen and speak in their own way – as designed and scripted by the artist – using the distributed, cloud-based voice recognition and synthetic speech of Alexa and her services.

Transactive synthetic language and its emergent art has statements to make about: synthetic language and human embodiment; the robot imaginary; identity, integral embodied identity and new modes of being; the voice and individuality; the ‘neutral’ voice; the inner voice; the voice of reading; artificial intelligence and identified artificial intelligences (AIs); network services and personhood; network services, AIs, and surveillance; Big Data and Big Software; artificial intelligence, AIs, and social relations; network services, AIs, and privacy; the ‘smart’ home; transactive synthetic language and domotics; the terms, control, and ownership of network services and their artifacts; the future of reading; the future of literature; the future of the archive as language. It is difficult to exaggerate the consequences of the developments that make The Listeners possible – for the art of language, and also for political economy and culture as a whole.

For Cream City Review and for the first time, I give instructions here that enable anyone with access to the internet and WebRTC-compatible browsers to converse with The Listeners without having to own one of the devices in the Echo family. [End Page 173]


As a third-party ‘skill’ for Alexa, owners of the Amazon Echo, Dot or Tap may ‘enable’ The Listeners and ‘interact’ with this skill by saying: “Alexa, ask The Listeners.”

If you do have an Echo device, you may enable The Listeners by using the Alexa app on a mobile device or going to, finding the ‘Skills’ tab, searching for ‘The Listeners,’ clicking the result and then the ‘Enable Skill’ button.

If you do not have such a device, you will need: an Amazon account and a recently updated Chrome, Firefox, or Opera browser.

  • • Navigate to and log in with your Amazon account. At this point you will be able to experiment with Alexa’s built-in transactive synthectic language skills. You must still:

  • • Enable The Listeners for your account. To do so, you should go to, (as above for Echo device owners) where your login will appear as a ‘device.’ You should be able to enable The Listeners as described above: finding the ‘Skills’ tab, searching for ‘The Listeners,’ clicking the result and then the ‘Enable Skill’ button.

  • • Finally, return to, click and hold the speech button and say: “Ask The Listeners.” (clicking and holding the mic icon button serves the same function as vocalizing the wake word, “Alexa.” And once a conversation is underway, you do not have to use “Alexa” to address The Listeners in any case.) [End Page 174]


You may begin your transactive conversation by addressing Alexa and The Listeners wherever and however they are sited, saying clearly:

“Alexa, ask The Listeners.”

As set out above, when you are using the site, you do not have to use ‘Alexa’ (the wake word) because clicking and holding the speech button performs the same function.

Whenever Alexa and The Listeners have finished speaking and while their blue lights are still illuminated, you may continue the transactive performance by saying such things as: “Continue” or “Go on” or – if you are so inclined – “I am filled with anger” or some other indication of how you are feeling at the time.

If Alexa and The Listeners’ lights have gone out – with the device, this happens after eight seconds of silence – you must begin any further transaction by saying something like...


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pp. 173-187
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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