menu Language Is A Virus

Cobralingus Engine - Metamorphiction Process

by Jeff Noon


It uses the Metamorphiction process to apply the techniques of electronic dance music to the production of words, dissolving language. In this mutated, liquid state, words are manipulated into new forms; borrowed text is sampled and transformed.

The Cobralingus Engine allows the user to manipulate language into new shapes and new meanings. The device takes an inlet text as a starting point, which is then processed to create another text entirely, known as the outlet. This outlet text can be seen as the ghost, or the unconscious desire, haunting the original text.

The Cobralingus Engine makes use of the Metamorphiction process. This process imagines text to be a signal, which can be passed through various filter gates, each of which has a specific effect upon the language. Each gate allows the writer to access different creative responses within his or her imagination. The effect of each gate is to produce an interim text, which is transmitted further along the pathway. For instance, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein contains the following sentence: 'I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open.' This text could be pushed through the randomise gate, producing: 'I lulled open the creature of the eye's low way.' We could then enhance this, by changing way into direction, and by adding another letter 's': 'I lulled open the creature of the eye's slow direction.' The words can be altered in these and other ways until, finally, the outlet text is created. This progress is entirely dependant on the user's inspiration, moment to moment, as the text makes its journey through the machine.

This book contains various examples of the Cobralingus Engine in operation. In each case a word-snake diagram allows the reader to follow the transformation of the text as it travels from gate to gate. Along the way it is hoped that each interim text will be of individual interest; however, the real pleasure of Cobralingus comes from enjoying the pieces as a whole. From inlet to outlet, the journey is the goal.

Filter Gates


Denotes that the Cobralingus device has been activated.


The start-up text. The initial signal on which the device will act.


Brings the text down to earth. Forces language to behave itself.


Gently breaks down the text. Dissipates. Introduces corruption to the signal.


Injects artificial stimulant into the language. Type of drug will always be specified.


Creates elements of beauty.


Breaks up signal into highly disordered fragments. To be used with caution.


Forces text into the nearest possible narrative, however nonsensical.


Kills the text. Calls up a ghost to haunt the language.


Temporarily halts the Cobralingus process.


Significantly enhances text. Increases readability.


Combines all elements into a single entity.


Drastically increases image density of text. To be used with caution.


Mischief maker. Encourages craziness. Results may surprise the user.


Loses deadwood. Selects images or phrases from the text.


Disorders text. Parts of text may be lost or changed.


Attacks text, changing words of choice into others of a similar sound. Recommended for advanced users.


Introduces new element to signal. Source of sample to be specified.


Uses machine function to introduce new elements to text. Elements always specified. For example, 'Search and Replace: day with night.'


The final result of the filtering process.


Denotes that the Cobralingus device has been deactivated.

Cobralingus Source: Instructions

Cobralingus Example

Cobralingus Source: Filtergates