ICCC-11 is Happening

Thursday 28 April 2011, 4:17 pm   ////  

Just a quick note that ICCC-11, The Second International Conference on Computational Creativty, is going very well here in Mexico City. We’ve had five sessions of brief presentations followed by lengthy discussions among the panelists and members of the audience. The research into computational creativity that is represented here includes work on theory and on creativity in many of the arts. We’re looking forward to this afternoon’s keynote speech by George E. Lewis.

By the way, for those who couldn’t make it here and for those who did, the complete ICCC-11 proceedings are online.

Why Watson Can’t Dance

Saturday 23 April 2011, 5:07 pm   /////  

Here’s the abstract from a presentation I gave yesterday, from my pedestrian stance as a non-dancer, at a high-energy workshop on dance technology:

Why Watson Can’t Dance: Attempts at On-Screen Dance in Popular Digital Media

Nick Montfort

Dance Technology and Circulations of the Social v2.0, MIT, April 21-23, 2011

Of all the ways that computing can connect to dance, one of the simplest but also most pervasive is seen in the animation of dancing bodies on screen. To inquire about how computers have done this sort of virtual dance over the decades, and how it relates to interactive games that require the player to dance, I begin by considering very simple digital media objects that represent dance. The first is a non-interactive BASIC program from the 1982 Commodore 64 User’s Guide: “Michael’s Dancing Mouse.” Comparing this to a dancing computer animation from the decade after — the dancing baby, which was one of the first viral animations or videos online — is instructive in considering the way digital media developed and whether or not the computing concept of dance developed. I then turn to focus on one game originally for the arcade and one home video game: Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution and Harmonix’s Dance Central. In examining these systems, I try to articulate the model of dance that underlies them and to understand what aspects of dance are foregrounded and which are left aside. Finally, I consider how well the computer can dance (in this one narrow sense of displaying an animated dancing figure) and how this compares to the computer’s ability in other domains, including the other arts.

Some relevant videos:

Digital Poetry at Dartmouth

Saturday 23 April 2011, 5:04 pm   /////  

My thanks to Mary Flanagan, Aden Evens, and the others at Dartmouth who put on the digital poetry symposium last Friday (April 15). I was very glad to participate along with Marjorie Luesebrink, Braxton Soderman, and my collaborator Stephanie Strickland. With Stephanie, I showed, discussed and read from our “Sea and Spar Between.” I also presented some of my smaller-scale poetry generations, including words from the ppg256 series, “The Two” and its French translation by Serge Bouchardon, and “Taroko Gorge” and its transformations by Scott Rettberg and J. R. Carpenter.

Mary has a writeup of the symposium on her blog, Tiltfactor, describing the excellent work that my fellow presenters showed. I was familiar with and pleased to hear more about the projects that Margie and Stephanie showed; it was great to see the work in progress, a provocative textual platformer, that Braxton was doing with Daniel C. Howe and that he showed.

Creativity and Cognition Deadline – Soon!

Monday 11 April 2011, 12:40 pm   /////  

As the call for papers for ACM Creativity and Cognition explains, we’re only two weeks away from the deadline. Papers, artworks, and proposals for tutorials and workshops are all welcome!

ClubFloyd Plays Book and Volume

Monday 11 April 2011, 9:13 am   ///  

On April 2, “ClubFloyd,” a group of players of interactive fiction, took on my Book and Volume, which was released on the [auto mata] label in 2005. They played the game on ifMUD and conversed online about it. Reading the discussion was a treat for me. Not because every bit of it was positive – I found out about some bugs. For instance, since the current time is only reported in the status line, it can’t be easily determined when playing the game via a bot on a mud, the way this group was playing. But the feedback from these sessions was very useful, and would have been hard to come by otherwise.

I think some of the ClubFloyd players had fun, although I’m not exactly sure how to interpret statements such as “This game boggles the mind.” In any case, the transcript of ClubFloyd’s play is online.

Unicode Gone Wild

Sunday 10 April 2011, 5:29 pm   ////  

Jörg Piringer has a sweet new video of every displayable character in Unicode, one character per frame.

On netpoetic.com, you can used to be able to find Piringer’s discussion of this piece. Now, check his page on Unicode.

Records of Oulipolooza

Monday 4 April 2011, 5:38 pm   /////  

Video and audio of Oulipolooza, a festive tribute to the Oulipo in which I participated, is now online. The event was held on March 15, 2011 at the Kelly Writers House at Penn and was organized by Michelle Taransky and Sarah Arkebauer. Speakers were:

KATIE PRICE
LOUIS BURY
JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ
GERALD PRINCE
and NICK MONTFORT

It was quite an honor to be part of this group, which included one of my Ph.D. advisors – Gerry Prince. I may have been the least distinguished Oulipo scholar among these speakers, but I tried to make up for that by being the only one to wear a party hat.

An Amazing Linked List

I strongly encourage those of you who haven’t seen it yet to check out Brian Kim Stefans’s Introduction to Electronic Literature: a freeware guide.

Right now it is “just” a list of links to online resources, from Futurism through 2010, that are relevant to understanding different important aspects of electronic literature – making it, reading it, sorting through different genres, and understanding its historical connects.

It’s extremely useful in this form, but Stefans is also hoping to put these selections together in a Lulu.com book that he’ll sell at cost. To that end, he’s selected only texts – work that will fit in a book – as opposed to pieces that need to be read on a networked computer. Stefans also intends to put together a website that collects and mirrors these writings, uniformly typeset in a legible way, as PDFs.

I’m of course pleased that Stefans was inspired by The New Media Reader, which Noah Wardrip-Fruin and I edited for the MIT Press, and that he included a few of my pieces.

As I have a strong preference for assigning publicly available texts instead of scanned articles that live being a university paywall, I find these texts very useful for teaching. Stefans is taking suggestions for how to revise his Introduction over on his netpoetic.com post.

Practice Safe Public Art

Monday 28 March 2011, 10:23 pm   //  

Unmentionable.

(Seen at a university in Cambridge, MA – not MIT or Lesley University.)

Keynote, Papers Announced for ICCC-11

Monday 28 March 2011, 6:50 pm   /////  

The 2011 International Conference on Computational Creativity will be held in Mexico City April 27-29. We now have information on the keynote address by Prof. George E. Lewis, “Improvising With Creative Machines: Reflections on Human-Machine Interaction.” And, there’s a list of accepted papers and demos. I’m looking forward to seeing those of you who are presenting at the end of April in Mexico City. And if any others with an interest in the field can make it to the gathering and be part of the discussion, attend the presentations, and learn about systems through demos, please do!

My Curveship Talk at PAX-East 2011

Monday 28 March 2011, 9:34 am   /////////  

I gave a talk about Curveship in the “IF Suite” (actually an ordinary hotel room with a few upturned beds, not a suite) at PAX-East 2011 earlier this month. It was great to present to fellow IF author/programmers from around the world at this event, which was effectively the second annual Festival of Interactive Fiction. The IF Summit was organized by Andrew Plotkin, a.k.a. Zarf, once again this year. Thanks to Jason McIntosh, there’s pretty good-quality video (very good, considering the ramshackle setup) of the first 22.5 minutes of my talk:

Nick Montfort on Curveship at PAX-East 2011: Watch on Vimeo

The parts where I actually demo the system and discuss how games are written are missing, unfortunately, but my comments do introduce Curveship and its motivation.

Also check out the video documentation of the “Setting as Character” panel with Andrew Plotkin, Rob Wheeler, Stephen Granade, and Dean Tate. (This one took place in the more capacious Alcott Room, which we had on Saturday, March 12 thanks to Dave Cornelson.) Also, there’s video of the panel on “Non-Gamers Gaming,” with Caleb Garner, Tim Crosby, Heather Albano, Sarah Morayati, and Andrew Plotkin.

La Muchacha y el Lobo

Friday 25 March 2011, 11:50 am   ////////  

In 2001, Beehive was the first Web publication to print a creative digital media piece of mine, “The Girl and the Wolf.” I had written this story back in 1997 in Janet Murray’s Interactive Narrative class at MIT. (These days, I teach this class here at MIT.) It was strongly inspired by the readings of folk tales we had done in Henry Jenkins’s Children’s Literature class. “The Girl and the Wolf” is a very early creative piece of mine, but I remain pleased with the systematic concept and with what I wrote. It’s a simple arrangement of nine versions of a story, allowing the levels of sex and violence to be increased independently. With some contemporary references and a few other turns of phrase, I introduced only a few deviations from well-known folkloric versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story.

Ruber Eaglenest has now translated this “variable tale” into Spanish as “La Muchacha y el Lobo.”

Eaglenest describes himself as a “wannabe” game programmer, but has participated in the Spanish IF community in many ways using the name El Clérigo Urbatain. In addition to writing many reviews and articles and doing several interviews, he has written and collaborated on several pieces of interactive fiction: Por la necedad humana, Astral, Aventurero en el Sega Park, El extraño caso de Randolph Dwight, and an episode of El museo de consciencias. He has also adapted several interactive fiction games and translated several to Spanish – most recently, Graham Nelson’s Relics of Tolti-Aph.

Eaglenest has also provided a lengthy and very useful post about the Little Red Riding Hood story and “The Girl and the Wolf” on his blog (in Spanish).

Death and the Powers Permieres in the U.S.

Sunday 20 March 2011, 10:31 pm   /////  

Death and the Powers had a brilliant and resonant U.S. premiere on Friday at the Cutler Majestic in Boston. I’ve been looking forward to the opera’s completion, and then to its coming to the U.S., for several years. My mentor from the B.U. poetry program, Robert Pinsky, wrote the libretto, and my current colleague Tod Machover composed the opera. Congratulations to all those who put this production together, including Tod’s Opera of the Future group at the Media Lab. Death and the Powers is technically intricate and thematically ambitious, and all of that came together perfectly. (Image source.)

Rettberg on After Parthenope

Thursday 17 March 2011, 9:21 pm   /////  

If you’re interested in story generation or Processing, do check out Scott Rettberg’s new screencast describing the process he undertook in writing and programming After Parthenope. He goes through the nuts and bolts of the piece and how it rolls out language using a hand-crafted trigram model; he also explains some of the pleasures of authoring a system like this.

Improviso is Out

Wednesday 16 March 2011, 11:40 pm   /////  

Jeff Orkin, of Restaurant Game fame, has just launched Improviso, a system that allows players to improvise (online) and make a somewhat corny science fiction film by taking the role of director or lead actor. Orkin developed the system with collaborating students at the Singapore MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. I was pleased to see an early version of the system this summer, and very glad that the project has now blasted off. If you do Windows, download Improviso and see what you can make of it and with it.

The IF Summit Peaks

Monday 14 March 2011, 12:39 am   //////  

I had a great time showing Curveship, and explaining the motivation behind it, at the IF Summit next to PAX-East today. And it was generally a great weekend of catching up with the people who are continually discussing this system (and many other matters) with me online. My thanks particularly to Zarf, the main organizer of the IF suite, Dave, who set up us the conference room, and Emily, who ran the IF Demo Fair on Saturday night. And generally, hooray for interactive fiction and the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction – I hope we have many other productive gatherings in years to come.

March 15 in Philadelphia: OuLiPoLooZa

Wednesday 9 March 2011, 6:35 pm   //////  

[An announcement from Penn’s Kelly Writers House:]

We’re pulling out all the constraints for our OULIPOLOOZA next Tuesday, March 15, at 7:00 pm. Organized by our own Sarah Arkebauer (C’11) and Michelle Taransky, this celebration of all things Oulipo will feature five experts and aficionados talking about the “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle,” the highly-influential French school of avant garde poetry. The evening will be rounded out by the launching “An Oulipolooza,” a collection of new Oulipian writing, and a constraint-inspired reception. This is one celebration you should not A Void!

The Kelly Writers House presents

OULIPOLOOZA a celebration of potential literature

featuring

KATIE PRICE
LOUIS BURY
JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ
GERALD PRINCE
and NICK MONTFORT

Tuesday, March 15, at 7:00 PM in the Arts Café
Kelly Writers House | 3805 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA
No registration required – this event is free & open to the public

Come help us celebrate the continuing potential of literatures by attending the OULIPOLOOZA, a Kelly Writers House-style celebration of all things Oulipo. The OuLiPo, or “Ouvroir de littérature potentielle” (workshop of potential literature), is a group of experimental French poets founded in 1960, devoted to exploring the potential of literature, language and freedom through the lenses of different constraints. Oulipolooza will include readings about the Oulipo by five experts and aficionados, a reception full of Oulipo-inspired foods, and the launch of “An Oulipolooza”: a collection of oulipian texts.

KATIE L. PRICE is a Ph.D. candidate in the University of Pennsylvania’s English Department completing her dissertation, tentatively titled “‘The Tangential Point’: Pataphysical Practice in Post-War Poetry.” She is also an associate editor for Electronic Poetry Center, co-coordinator of the Poetry & Poetics graduate group, and will teach a course in the fall entitled Poetry, Technology, Gender and Globalization.

LOUIS BURY teaches literature at New York University, is a part-time professional poker player, and is completing a constraint-based dissertation about constraint-based writing, titled Exercises in Criticism, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

JEAN-MICHEL RABATÉ is Vartan Gregorian Professor in the Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania.  Co-founder and curator of Slought Foundation, he is a senior editor of the Journal of Modern Literature. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, he has authored or edited more than thirty books on modernism, psychoanalysis, contemporary art and philosophy. Recent titles include Lacan Literario  (2007), 1913: The cradle of modernism (2007),  The Ethic of the Lie  (2008) and Etant donnes: 1) l’art, 2) le crime (2010). Currently, he is editing a collection of essays on Modernism and Theory. He is the president of the Samuel Beckett Society and completing a book on Samuel Beckett and philosophy.

GERALD PRINCE is Professor of Romance Languages and Head of the French section at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of many articles and reviews on narrative theory and on modern (French) literature as well as of several books (including A Dictionary of Narratology and Guide du roman de langue française: 1901-1950) and his work has been translated into a dozen languages. A co-editor of the “Stages” series for the University of Nebraska Press and a member of a dozen editorial and advisory boards, Prince is working on the second volume of his Guide du roman (1951-2000).

NICK MONTFORT writes computational and constrained poetry, develops computer games, and is a critic, theorist, and scholar of computational art and media. He is associate professor of digital media in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is now serving as president of the Electronic Literature Organization. He earned a Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania.

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