Talks from Media Systems

Noah Wardrip-Fruin was an organizer the Media Systems workshop at UCSC just over a year ago, August 26-29, 2012. It was an extraordinary gathering about computational media and its potential, with famous participants from a variety of disciplines and practices. The workshop’s sponsors were also remarkable: the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Research, and Microsoft Studios. Now, Noah is working to put high-quality videos of talks from this event online, and to offer some very useful framing discussion of those talks.

This month, three have been posted. The first of these is a talk by Ian Horswill: “Interdisciplinarity is Hard.” I’m collaborating with Ian now to edit a special issue on computational narrative and am looking forward to seeing him at AIIDE. In addition to his talk, I recommend (and assign) his short but rich article “What is Computation?,” which discusses some of the fundamentals of computation as a science along with its intellectual and cultural importance. Those with access to ACM content can also get the later version of the article that was published in Crossroads.

The second talk posted is from the inestimable production designer Alex McDowell: “World Building.” McDowell (The Crow, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Fight Club, Minority Report, Watchmen, etc., etc. ) describes how the development of movies is no longer a storytelling process driven by a single person or idea, but is becoming a process of world building in which a variety of concepts, including design and in some cases engagement with urban planning and spaces, influence each other. McDowell made his points with some of the most beautiful and byzantine diagrammatic slides since David Byrne was doing work in PowerPoint.

The most recent talk is mine – Nick Montfort: “The Art of Operationalization.” I spoke about my experience implementing humanistic ideas (in my case, about narrative) in computational systems, ones that not only can produce narrative results, but which can advance our understanding of the humanities and arts. Prof. Janet Kolodner (now serving the National Science Foundation) seemed to be uncertain about the value of this work, and questioned me about that during my talk – in a way that surprised me a bit! But looking back, I see that our discussion was one of the benefits of having a diverse yet fairly small in-person gathering. I seldom have these discussions either on this blog or in larger, multi-track conferences.

I think of Curveship and even the development of small-scale programs such as Through the Park as research activities (in the humanities, but potentially also in computation) that as connected to narrative and poetic practice. While some people (such as Ken Perlin, who was also at workshop and whose video will be up next week) work in this sort of mode and see the value in it, the benefits are not obvious. The result may not a direct educational outcome, an incremental advance that can be directly measured and evaluated, or a work of art or literature that is recognizable in a traditional way. So, whether I was able to answer well at the time or not, I appreciate the questions, and hope to get more of those sort in other workshops such as these.

Software Freedom Day

Next Saturday (September 21, 2013) is Boston Software Freedom Day. This event, like the Boston Festival of Independent Games yesterday, is also taking place in Cambridge rather than Boston – at Cambridge College, 1000 Mass Ave, between Central and Harvard Squares.

Come by to hear about and discuss freedoms on the computer and online, privacy, and government transparency. I’ll offer one of the very quick lightning talks at the end of the day, discussing some of the history of creative computing and its relationship to software freedom.

The event is not only libre, but also no-cost. And the cake to celebrate the 30th anniversary of GNU is not a lie.

Zombies, Run! Enhancement Instructions

Beginner: Run up behind the participant unseen, assume the attitude of a zombie, and say “ggrgrghrhrhHHH BRAINS!” and the like.

Intermediate: Run up alongside the participant, assume the attitude of Michael Jackson in Thriller, and say “It’s only a movie!,” “What’s the problem? Come on, I’ll take you home,” and the like.

Remix Redux

Of my “Taroko Gorge”:

“Take Ogre” by John Pat McNamara, remixed Febuary 16, 2013 on Achill Sound, Ireland. The piece trades off the images of the natural world for language of the mind, and sports a nice recursive background. (View source for some further information in a comment up top.) Thanks to publisher Michael J. Maguire for noting this remix in a comment here.

“TransmoGrify” by Leonardo Flores of I ♥ E-Poetry, published in Springgun Press Journal, issue number 8. (There’s a note on the piece in the journal.) This one is also about contemplation and mental work, endlessly describing the process of remixing “Taroko Gorge.”

In a different way, “TransmoGrify” is as meta as the remix “Argot Ogre, OK!” by Andrew Plotkin, whose titular monster also returns in John Pat McNamara’s work. Take my ogre — please! Take my gorge…


Pad, Steven Zultanski, Make Now Press, 2010
Pad, Steven Zultanski, Make Now Press, 2010

Can God be a big enough dick that he cannot lift himself? This is one of the many questions suggested, though not posed explicitly, by Pad, in which Steven Zultanski catalogs every item in his apartment, indicating whether or not each can be lifted with his penis:

>My dick can lift the third clove of garlic from the windowsill. My dick cannot lift the sink.

Some sentences read like interactive fiction error messages, indicating how items that are fixed in place, or are part of the apartment, cannot be taken (by Zultanski’s dick).

However remarkable a part of the book it is, the dick is a distraction, offered in the same way the burglar provides a bit of meat for the house-dog. Yes, masculinity in poetry is treated, etc. But what makes the exercise interesting is the pudendum’s gymnasium. The domenstic inventory reveals a personal history, a personal moment, through possessions — ones always in the shadow, or perhaps in some sort of grip, of authorial presence.

My dick couldn’t put this book down.

Ultraconcentrated and a Suit that Outdoes the Moon

I went to New York to attend the opening of Ultraconcentrated, Casey Reas’s solo show at bitforms. As a rather pure computationalist, one who always tries to maximize code and minimize data, I was a teensy bit wary of the data-driven nature of Casey’s work in this show, which is based, to some extent, on digital television. This idea of using data wasn’t completely offputting, though; Casey and collaborator Ben Fry have done a nice mural here at MIT, which I often walk by, called Signals and based on the interconnections of proteins.

The works in the show certainly didn’t display data in a straightforward or disappointing way. There were prints (Control Room (Forward Command Post)) that seemed studies of color. There were also two laser etched anodized aluminum pieces, each with two semicircular segments, which present television signals as if they were converted to a monochrome and very uncanny landscape or cityscape. The main screen that turned on — two screens, actually — was a diptych video that shifts very rarely into a somewhat figurative or identifiable image. The work (including that on the 6th floor) was all appealing and interesting. It certainly justified the packed house at the opening.

Overall, the trip was great, as we caught up with several friends in New York. The other art-related encounters were excellent, too. I met Ben Fino-Radin and others at the XFR STN exhibit and project at the New Museum, where video and born-digital materials were being recovered for artists.

Most oddly, as I was walking though Chelsea after seeing Casey’s show, I noticed an opening of collage art by someone who — however conventional, however absent from today’s avant-garde — has written a great amount of poetry that has pleased and provoked me over the years: Mark Strand. (Among other things, such as dozens of poetry books, he is the author of a very offbeat book of prose, Mr. and Mrs. Baby.) He was wearing a white suit, as I expected (see, for instance, the beginning of his book Dark Harbor). And while I couldn’t think of anything to say to him that would have merited interrupting the excellent time he seemed to be having talking with others, it was nice to see his collages and share the room with him for a bit.

10 PRINT in enculturation

I don’t seem to have linked to this yet, but there’s a thorough review, by Chris Lindgren, of my and my nine co-authors’ book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 in the journal enculturation. Here are the final sentences of it:

>The book is a rich example of what a possible fusion of theory and techn? might look like in future academic scholarship. In the conclusion, the 10 argue that “reading this one-liner also demonstrates that programming is culturally situated just as computers are culturally situated, which means that the study of code should be no more ahistorical than the study of any cultural text” (262). Code is a text, but, as the 10 indicate, it also operates and “can be representational” of cultural ideals, people, and things. “10 PRINT,” they conclude, “is not just a line of code; it defines a space of possible variations” (266). This insight is perhaps the most useful, since the 10 themselves produced this “assemblage of readings” from a cast of diverse scholars and scholarship. For me, as a rhetorician who is interested in literacy and the fostering of computing cultures, this assemblage also serves as a potential baseline blueprint for the means, processes, and types of cross-disciplinary relationships necessary to build an infrastructure in which Kemeny and Kurtz’s BASIC vision can come to fruition.

Is ppg256 Green?

I recently answered a series of interesting questions about ppg256, questions that pertained to digital preservation among other issues.

I just wanted to share the one that I thought about the longest. Although I care deeply about properly addressing issues of energy use, recycling, and ethical sourcing of computer components, I think that there are some problems with putting a great deal of weight on these when one is specifically in digital art and digital poetry contexts. I was asked:

> What effect does the environment, both location and ecology, have on the
> work?  Does it have long term implications such as power usage, recycling,
> etc?  Are those addressed in the work itself?

And I replied:

> Centrally, my project is to show that computer programs can be poetic. The
> ppg256 programs can be run on any computer; they do not require a museum,
> gallery, proprietary operating system or Apple Store. So, practically anyone
> with access to computing can run them at any location. The development and
> running of computational poetry, to be honest, is not killing our
> environment. The mindset that computers are for business, war, and science
> but cannot be used to make poems and art does risk — to be honest —
> killing our future.

Books O’ Poems

I’ve read a few books of poetry recently that I found particularly interesting, so why not mention them here?

Man Years by Sandra Doller. Beautifully damaged utteraces that are highly unusual, resonant with known ways of speaking, and allusive. E.g., in the poem “Eggphrasis,” which begins “eggs / eggs / baby”.

The Container Store by Joe Hall and Chad Hardy. Urban space is explored, and its commercial division and compartmentalization. The typography is compelling, with black blocks often occluding the text like the blind eyes of office buildings.

Meditations 1-52 by Matthew Klane. Also quite engaged politically, also quite well-done typographically, but in another interesting mode. Includes a list of things Vannevar Bush did not invent.

Round and Duels — Duets Published

I have two new digital pieces (one a collaboration) that have just been published by James O’Sullivan’s New Binary Press:

Round is a computational poem that is non-interactive, deterministic, and infinite (boundless), since it simply substitutes text fragments for the digits 0-9 and presents a representation of the digits of pi. See the note for further information, and if the concept intrigues you at all, please, run the piece for a while.

Duels — Duets, by Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort, was developed after Stephanie suggested we write something about collaboration based on our experience developing Sea and Spar Between. We co-created a combinatorial poem based formally on A House of Dust by Alison Knowles and James Tenney, producing about the amount of text that was requested of us for print publication.

New Binary Press has a news item about the publication of these two pieces, too.

How to Read a Page of the Worl

If you visit this page on the Worl, you may wonder how to read it.

Now, if you just click on that link, you’ll be taken to that page on the Web. To get to the Worl page, you’ll need to install The Deletionist bookmarklet and, once you get to the Web page, click on it. If the page is exactly the same as when I viewed it (it may change, as it’s a wiki front page) you can be sure that your Worl page looks the same as mine did — we’re both looking into the same Worl.

So, you may wonder how to read it.

I read it like this: