The Gathering Cloud

Tuesday 15 August 2017, 4:41 pm   ////////  
The Gathering Cloud, J. R. Carpenter, 2017

The Gathering Cloud, J. R. Carpenter, 2017. (I was given a review copy of this book.)

J.R. Carpenter’s book is an accomplishment, not just in terms of the core project, but also by virtue of how the codex is put together. The introduction is by Jussi Parikka, the after-poem by Lisa Robertson. While social media and ethereal imaginations of the network keep us from being lonely as a cloud these days, they obscure the material nature of computing, the cost of linking us in terms of wire and heat. Carpenter’s computer-generated Generation[s] was concerned with the computational production of text; The Gathering Cloud also engages with the generation of power. This book and the corresponding digital performance, for instance at the recent ELO Festival in Porto, yields up the rich results of research, cast in accomplished verse. As with Carpenter’s other work that is rooted in zines and the handmade Web, it is personal rather than didactic. Deftly, despite the gravity of the topic, the book still affects the reader with a gesture, not a deluge of facts — more by waving than drowning.

Great Workshop for New Programmers at Babycastles

Monday 25 April 2016, 1:41 pm   ///////  

I had a launch event Saturday afternoon for my new book, Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities. Not a typical reading or book party, but a workshop for people completely new to programming but interested in pursuing it. It was at the excellent gallery and venue, Babycastles, on West 14th Street in Manhattan.

I don’t actually have the list of attendees – I’d like to sent everyone a note, but it will have to wait! – but two people I knew beforehand participated and ten others joined in, with some people from Babycastles also participating and helping out. (Special thanks to Lauren Gardner for hosting!) I was very glad that the group was diverse in terms of gender, race, background, interests … also, pleased that this time around we had more people who were genuinely new to programming. I’ve done similar workshops before, prior to the publication of Exploratory Programming, and often there are folks who have had some programming classes and done some programming projects before. I’m glad to help such people as they re-start work with code, but I tried to make sure this time that there was no crypto-prerequisite suggested; the session really was for those wanting to program but lacking background.

Of course we dealt with programming as culturally situated and meaningful within art, poetry, writing, and inquiry. We used the historical Memory Slam examples that I prepared a few years ago for another event in Lower Manhattan.

Because the book is out and registration for the workshop included a copy of it, I didn’t feel the need to go through particular code examples that are in there. I was able to frame the whole idea of programming and focus on a few early specifics in both JavaScript and Python – showing that code is just editing a text file; that there’s a difference between code and data (and parameters, too); and that error messages can be helpful rather than frustrating. We did work with specific code, but didn’t cover specific code discussions in the book or the exercises in there. The book is for use in a classroom, but also for individual learners, to allow people to continue their work as programmers formally and informally.

Many people introducing a new book will have book parties, with or without readings, that draw a much larger crowd that this event did. But, as Brian Eno said about the Velvet Underground’s first album, not many people bought it but all the people who did started a band. I hope everyone who participated in this modest event at Babycastles goes on to start a band, by developing a programming practice engaged with the arts and humanities.

Update: I should have mentioned – we’ll have a similar workshop on May 15 at the School for Poetic Computation!

Running All Night

Tuesday 11 August 2015, 11:39 pm   ////  

A recent production of mine, Running All Night, was shown at Babycastles in New York recently during the Playdate, July 23-August 7, 2015.

The piece is a 128-byte Commodore 64 program that functions as a clock or timer. It was executing during the whole show and presented a different image every moment of the day. Here’s once glance as what it looked like as it ran on a TV turned to face the window.

Running All NIght at Babycastles

There was also a TV inside and a single page (dot-matrix printed) of the assembly source code.

Are Poems Conceptual Art’s Next Frontier?

Saturday 28 March 2015, 12:27 pm   ////  

[Some excerpts.]

… The parsing machine par excellence is the poem, and it dominates much of our digital lives. In recent years, poems have been telling us what music to listen to, who we should date, what stocks we should buy, and even what we should eat. It comes as no surprise, then, that it should also tell us what art we should view. But what happens when the art we are looking at becomes the poem itself?

… Are poems art? What happens to the intellectual property at the point of sale? What is actually acquired when one purchases a poem? Who would even buy a poem?

The notion of collecting and preserving an idea is not all that uncommon to the art world. … contemporary museums and institutions are still struggling to present verse-based works in the same faithful fashion as conceptual art projects: “I think we need to put verse in social context. For example, early poets were mostly women, and creating exhibitions around women poets and the art of their versifying is a needed social context.”

… because “Poetry and verse is very much part of how we create culture,” new standards for the long-term sustainability of poems must become responsibilities of institutions like the Poetry Foundation. …

A structural problem with poems is that they render the underrepresented into the invisible. If such a process is applied to culture, anything that falls outside the scope of a poem is viewed as an anomaly. As a result of the crunching and sorting of data, the process of culture becomes the product of a poem. Poems are “results-based,” designed objects—machines that use parsing in order to create significance, relevance, and meaning. Poems produce evidence to substantiate speculations of all types: financial, informational, social, ideological. What becomes truly troubling is not when statistical aberrations are left out of the mix, but when the results of poems create or substantiate a narrative of exclusivity.

Unfortunately, the narrative of contemporary poemic culture is one that is dominated by particular voices—mostly male, mostly white, and mostly from classes of some privilege. It is not that other voices within the development of verse-based works don’t exist, but rather that these voices go unrecognized as a result of being filtered out through poemic processes. Although many initiatives are currently undoing and combating exclusion and under-representation, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so when the poems we use (and are impacted by) are built upon parameters that disavow the existence of populations that defy categorization or exist contrary to a privileged narrative.

In her germinal 1985 text, A Cyborg Manifesto, Donna Haraway identifies the emergent system of oppression within networked cultural as an “informatics of domination.” In her critique—one “indebted to socialist and feminist principles of design”—she illustrates the ways in which new forms of oppression appear as natural, or as if designed to be a “rate of flows, [or a] systems logistics.” Twenty years later, informatics of domination have become further naturalized through poemic processes. Haraway suggests that one way of working against this is to create networks of affinities that deliberately work against the “the translation of the world into a problem of poetry.” Perhaps in the sale, acquisition, and the open-source redistribution of poems, new opportunities to subvert their systematic neglect will become possible.

ATNE Salon Today in Boston: Reditions of Artworks

Wednesday 19 November 2014, 2:47 pm   ////////  

Today I’ll offer a discussion of porting and translation in computational art and literature at the ATNE Salon, Boston Cyberarts Gallery. The event’s at 7:30pm; the gallery is in the Green Street T Station, on the Orange Line in Jamaica Plain.

My Boston-Area Events This Fall

Friday 12 September 2014, 3:19 pm   //////////  

Yes, the first event is today, the date of this post…

September 12, Friday, 6pm-8pm

Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
“Collision21: More Human” exhibit opens – it’s up through October 26.
“From the Tables of My Memorie” by Montfort, an interactive video installation, is included.


September 18, Thursday, 7pm-8pm

Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA
Montfort reads from #!, World Clock, and the new paperback 10 PRINT
http://www.harvard.com/event/nick_montfort/


September 24, Wednesday, 7:30pm

Boston Cyberarts Gallery, 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA
Montfort joins a panel of artists in “Collision21: More Human” for this Art Technology New England discussion.
http://atne.org/events/sept-24th-collision21-more-human/


October 22, Wednesday, 6:30pm-7:30pm

The Atrium of MIT’s Building E15 (“Old Media Lab”/Wiesner Building)
Montfort reads from #! at the List Visual Arts Center
http://counterpathpress.org/nick-montfort


November 15, Saturday, 9am-3pm

MIT (specific location TBA)
Urban Poetry Lateral Studio, a master class by Montfort for MIT’s SA+P
http://sap.mit.edu/event/urban-poetry-lateral-studio


December 4, Thursday, 5pm-7pm

MIT’s 66-110
“Making Computing Strange,” a forum with:
  Lev Manovich (Software Takes Command, The Language of New Media)
  Fox Harrell (Phantasmal Media)
  moderated by Nick Montfort
The forum will examine the ways in which computational models can be used in cultural contexts for everything from analyzing media to imagining new ways to represent ourselves.
http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/forums/makingcomputing.html

More Human to Open September 12

Tuesday 9 September 2014, 12:54 am   ////////  

An upcoming exhibit, a group show here in town, features a work of mine…


Collision21: More Human

The exhibition Collision21: More Human will be at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery September 13-October 26, 2014, with an opening on Friday, September 12th from 6 to 9pm. This is a group show dealing with two closely-related concepts: human self-modification and the human modification of our environment. Formed by artists and technologists, the COLLISIONcollective is premised on the sometimes abrupt intersection between art and technology.   

Art Technology New England (ATNE) will be hosting a salon which will feature COLLISIONcollective artists from this exhibition discussing their works and the show. The salon will be held on Wednesday, September 24th at 7:30pm at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery. The gallery is located at 141 Green Street in Jamaica Plain (inside the Green St T Station on the Orange Line). The salon is free, but please register for it by emailing info@atne.org.

Artists Include

Matt Brand, Ben Bray, Alicia Eggert, Joseph Farbrook, Antony Flackett, Rob Gonsalves, Hwayong Jung, Gloria King Merritt, Georgina Lewis, Robin Lohrey, Mark Millstein, Nick Montfort, Andrew Neumann, Sarah Rushford, Fito Segrera, John Slepian, Sophia Sobers


My piece in the show is “From the Tables of My Memorie,” documented at nickm.com. It’s an interactive video installation.

10 PRINT in Clock 52

Sunday 13 July 2014, 7:29 pm   /////  

Clocks are great machines to design, at least from my perspective as a designer of software machines. My classes have had unusual clock design as an exercise; time-telling systems are not interactive, provide a lot of freedom to the designer, and yet require programmers to develop general functions that work for any time of the day. I know that Michael Mateas and Paolo Pedercini have students program clocks, too. I’ve appreciated software clocks by John Maeda and others, and it’s nice to have a clock as a standard example in Processing.

So, I was delighted to see that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 inspired Vincent Toups to create a another of his many aesthetic software clocks, Clock 52.

Clock 52 by J. Vincent Toups

Bitcoin for your Warhol!

Thursday 24 April 2014, 12:59 pm   ////////  

Thanks to Golan Levin’s “atypical, anti-disciplinary and inter-institutional” FRSCI lab, the CMU Computer Club, and ROM hacking bit-boy Cory Archangel, several instances of previously unknown visual artwork, done by Andy Warhol on the Amiga 1000 in 1985, have been recovered.

CA$H for your WARHOL sign

Warhol’s use of this classic multimedia system is but one of the many surprising, rich aspects of Amiga history that are carefully detailed by Jimmy Maher in The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga. An early topic is the launch of the first Amiga computer at the Lincoln Center, with Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry in attendance and with Warhol producing a portrait of her on the machine during the festivities. Maher also writes about how Warhol’s attitude toward the computer was actually a bit retrograde in some ways: Rather than thinking of the screen as a first-class medium for visual art, he wanted better printers that could produce work in a more conventional medium. The discussion of Warhol’s involvement is but one chapter (actually, less than one chapter) in a book that covers the Amiga’s hardware development, technical advances, relationship to image editing and video processing work, and lively demos — from the early, famous “Boing Ball” demo to the productions of the demoscene. The Future Was Here is the latest book in the Platform Studies series, which I edit with Ian Bogost.

The Future Was Here cover

With these images surfacing now, after almost 30 years, the age-old question “soup or art?” is awakened in us once again. Do we need to print these out to enjoy them? To sell them for cash? Did Warhol invent what is now thought of as the “MS Paint” style, back on the Amiga 1000 in 1985?

Amiga soup can

Note, finally, that there is a detailed report on the recovery project provided in PDF form.

A Superreboot

Tuesday 22 April 2014, 9:52 pm   ///  

There’s a remake (or maybe a reboot?) of superbad.com, the classic, off-kilter, uncanny art website that was employed back in 2008 in a Grand Text Auto April Fool’s joke.

It’s www.orworse.net.

I guess they made it worse by adding a “www.”

E.T.‘s Material Mess

Wednesday 26 March 2014, 2:20 pm   ////  

My comments were part of a brief piece on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday. NPR only turns to me when there’s a very serious issue at stake; this time, some documentary filmmakers were thwarted, at least for the moment, in their quest to visit an Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill and dig up the large number of E.T.: The Extraterrestial Atari 2600 cartridges that, according to reports, are buried there.

Lots of people read the story of E.T. (the video game) as one of monumental punishment for a media company’s disrespect for users/players. To me, there are at least two other important points.

One is that digital media is material. As much as we love to speak of “the Cloud,” “Steam,” and even “the Web” with its gossamer immateriality, the computers that we use are matter, they are physical stuff, and all of so so-called software is ultimately inscribed materially. Digital media is part of our world, capable of being buried and dug up, part of our environment and able to influence its quality.

Another is that when you’re innovating and creating work in a truly new form, it can be easy to cross the line between success and failure. Howard Scott Warshaw takes the rap for creating, under tremendous deadline pressure, the difficult-to-play, difficult-to-enjoy E.T. Before that, he created a hit game, a similar style of adventure, that was also based on a movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark. And, before that, he created a game with a compelling appearance and complex but engaging gameplay: Yar’s Revenge. Ian Bogost and I wrote a chapter about this Atari VCS game in Racing the Beam; it was Atari’s best-selling “original” game for the system. Last year, Yar’s Revenge was added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, becoming one of only twenty videogames in their collection.

We might need tales of corporate hubris and downfall to remind us not to invest our money, or all of our lives, in today’s digital media companies. But it’s worth noting, too, that media we think of as insubstantial can sometimes be inconveniently material, and that poor work is sometimes not just the result of scorn – it can also happen when a great artist tries to do too much too quickly.

“Envisioning the Future of Computational Media”

Thursday 20 March 2014, 3:55 pm   ////////  

The final report of the Media Systems workshop has just been released:

“Envisioning the Future of Computational Media.”

You can download either the executive summary alone or the whole report.

I took part in the Media Systems workshop in 2012 with about 40 others from across the country. The workshop was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research. As Noah Wardrip-Fruin, co-author and co-organizer of the workshop, writes on the HASTAC site:

Our report, “Envisioning the Future of Computational Media,” starts with the fact that the future of media is increasingly computational — video games, smartphone apps, ebooks, social media, and more.

As media evolve and change, the stakes are high, on many fronts — from culture and the economy to education and health.

To create media capable of continuing the expansion of computational media’s impact, we need to combine technical research that develops media possibilities with innovations in the creation and interpretation of media projects and forms.

Instead, today, we generally separate these activities. Technology research organizations generally don’t have disciplinary, funding, or organizational support for making or interpreting media. Media making and interpretation organizations generally lack support for long-term technology research.

Our report is focused on recommendations for how to fix this.

Although I see the success of people who have integrated technical and humanistic viewpoints all the time – in my colleagues and collaborators, to be sure, but also in MIT students who bring together technical depth and with humanistic inquiry and artistic creation – I realize that there is still a gap between computation and media. I hope this report, which offers a dozen recommendations to address this disconnect, will be helpful as we try to improve our own skills and those of our students.

A “Programs” Writeup

Wednesday 19 March 2014, 11:37 pm   //////  

Matthew Battles has a nice post about the “Programs at an Exhibition” show, up now on the metaLAB blog.

“Programs at an Exhibition” Cards

Tuesday 11 March 2014, 10:46 pm   ///////  

From the “Programs at an Exhibition” exhibit, the C64 BASIC (Montfort) card, and the Perl (Thayer) card – both are being offered for visitors to take.

Photos from “Programs at an Exhibition”

Tuesday 11 March 2014, 3:57 pm   ///////  

Here’s some documentation of “Programs at an Exhibition” by Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer, an exhibit of five Commodore 64 BASIC programs and five Perl programs at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, March 6-16, 2014.

Exterior

The front of the gallery hosts a Commodore 64 running Nick Montfort’s “After Jasper Johns” (left) and an Intel/Ubuntu computer running Páll Thayer’s “Flag” (right). These two pieces respond to and rework the famous 1954 painting, Flag, which is in the collection of the MoMA. Jasper Johns, we salute you.

Take some code

Visitors are invited to take cards with all of the code to the five one-line BASIC programs and the five Perl programs that are running in the gallery. For you online visitors to this documentation, a disk image of the five C64 BASIC programs can be downloaded; VICE or another C64 emulator can be used to load, run, list, and modify the five programs on that image. (Except for “Zen for Commodore 64,” the programs do have to be retyped or broken into several lines to be modified.) Also, Páll Thayer’s entire Microcodes series, which includes the exhibited programs and which Thayer began in 2009, is online.

How to explain...

Páll Thayer’s “How to explain Perl to a dead hare,” based on the similarly-named 1965 performance by Joseph Beuys. The Perl program reads the Perl documentation aloud, one word at a time. The Perl documentation, incidentally, is really quite amusing to listen to.

Erased...

Páll Thayer’s “Erased de Kooning” enacts (repeatedly, in this instance) the erasure of one of Willem de Kooning’s drawings by Robert Rauschenberg.

Not shown but also in the exhibit are Páll Thayer’s “Seedbed” and “Untitled composition.”

All_5_C64s

Nick Montfort’s five Commodore 64 programs running on five of the taupe keyboard-and-CPU units. Two of the monitors, the smaller ones, are NEC 12″ CRTs; the other three are Commodore 1702 CRT monitors. On the middle display, one of the zip paintings generated by “After Barnett Newman” can be seen.

Morellet_and_Johns

On the left, Nick Montfort’s “After François Morellet,” which presents in one-character form all of the paintings that Morellet would have eventually painted if he continued to do other panels in his 1958 “6 répartitions aléatoires de 4 carrés noirs et blancs d’après les chiffres pairs et impairs du nombre Pi.” On the right, the instance of Nick Montfort’s “After Jasper Johns” that is running on a CRT monitor.

As with all of the programs, the complete code is presented along with the work’s title, the year of development, and the aritst’s name. The BASIC programs are also written out in a clearer form, with comments.

Not shown up close but also in the exhibit, in addition to “After Barnett Newman,” are Nick Montfort’s “Zen for Commodore 64” and “After Damien Hirst.”

“Programs” Previewed at Boston.com

Monday 3 March 2014, 8:17 pm   /////  

Here’s the Boston.com article on our exhibit “Programs at an Exhibition,” which opens Thursday (March 6). Hope to see you at the opening, which is 6pm-9pm.

Get Yer Consumer Survey Here

Friday 28 February 2014, 7:33 pm   ///  

I like clicking through this: “Psychographics: Consumer Survey” by Dane Watkins. And I learned something about myself by doing so. I think. Yes.

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