Exquisite Code began with a conversation between a writer and a programmer. The writer, after a powerful joint, asked the programmer what it felt like to program. The programmer began to describe the process in language suited to the writer's experience of writing and the writer began to understand that programming was like writing in many ways and that perhaps the intersection between the two was more creatively alligned than previously assumed.
In a dark bar in Kreuzberg, the writer took a pen and began drawing a little diagram on the back of a Beck's coaster. "What if there were a panel of writers all plugged into the same program and the program dictated the rules of their writing?"
The programmer began to get excited, which the writer knew, because his moustache was foamy with beer and he didn't even notice. "The program could randomly select a writer from the panel and the chosen writer would dictate the path the story took. Each time a section of the story was completed a random writer would be chosen, and the story would be a collaborative work based on different writers scrambling to make sense of what came before."
Over dark and bitter beer, the details of their endeavor unfolded. The element of randomness had to be offset by something instructional. It was decided that the writers would receive prompts from a collection of "How-to" writing manuals. Within this framework, a variety of "How-to" genres would be interwoven. A writer might begin with a Sci-fi prompt asking for a description of another world, but the next prompt might come from the rules of a Dan Brown fan-fiction website.
The writer and programmer also envisioned the performance elements of the project. "There could be a proctor--someone who oversaw the writers and the program and read aloud to an audience." added the programmer.
The first Exquisite-Code performances took place in the apartment the writer and programmer shared. There were 3 writers and a proctor and an audience of about 15 people. The writer spent too much money on cheese and olives and beer. The writers were nervous and jittery and once the performance began, they had to sit for an hour and write pretty much non-stop. Sometimes one writer wouldn't be chosen the entire time and that was very frustrating, but the stories were weird and wonderful and the concept was easy to grasp. The programmer himself played the proctor in these apartment performances and he was a very sonorous reader with perfect ennunciation. Over time more visual elements were added to make things more interactive for the audience. While the writers furiously typed for 6 minute intervals, words would float onto the projected screen indicating a mix of words being written by the writers themselves. The words were like little windows into the writer's brains.
The Exquisite-Code performances became more and more complex and the concept continued (and continues) to evolve based on the range of programmers and writers involved.