A Book on the Song “Hallelujah”

Saturday 22 March 2014, 8:08 pm   /////  

Acting on a tip from The Kelly Writers House at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, I recently learned about, and then read, Alan Light’s book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah.” This intrigued me as an admirer of this song in particular, Leonard Cohen’s songwriting and singing generally, and other aspects of his literary art (particularly the incredible novel Beautiful Losers). It also appealed to me as an entire book written about a single, short work. In this case, the work isn’t a Commodore 64 BASIC program – as in the book collaborators and I wrote, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10 – but a popular song with many lines and many covers, one that has been used in a wide variety of contexts.

The author discusses those many contexts well, covering the original release, the famous Jeff Buckley cover, and many other versions. There’s discussion of Shrek, the VH1 9/11 memorial video, manifestations on Idol and X Factor TV shows, and uses in religious ceremonies. The book is not really a deep dive into the music or the lyrics, although the etymology of the world “Hallelujah” and the differences in how the term is used in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are discussed. Cohen declined to be interviewed, so the book also doesn’t spend too much time on origin myths, just recounting a bit from previous interviews. The book works to tease out the many things the song has meant to people and how it has managed to have all of these meanings.

It’s quite a different book from 10 PRINT, both in methodology and because the BASIC program is quite a bit different, culturally, than the song. I found it a quite enjoyable read.

The Hunting of the eBook

Wednesday 12 March 2014, 6:47 pm   ///  

I’m quoted in this article on the origins of ebooks, published today in The Guardian. The news hook is the exhibition of Peter James’s Host in its 1993 floppy-disk edition.

xkcd’s Answer to World Clock

Monday 17 February 2014, 7:22 pm   ////  

From xkcd comic 1331… is today’s comic.

And it’s true, Randall probably did not know about World Clock (book, code). Maybe he didn’t even know about my inspirations, Harry Mathews’s “The Chronogram for 1998″ or Stanislaw Lem’s One Human Minute.

In that case it’s an unwitting answer.

In any case, it’s a nice one.

BITS Are Now Flipped On

Wednesday 5 February 2014, 11:29 am   ////  
BITS: Stella and Combat

MIT Press has just launched the BITS series of excerpts from the press’s book publications. They are offered as DRM-free e-books, and come with a 40% discount on the purchase of the entire print or e-book from which the excerpt comes. I’m glad to see a collaborator and a colleague topping the list, and I’m also pleased that one of the first selections featured is from my and Ian Bogost’s Racing the Beam.

Warez Copy!

Tuesday 19 November 2013, 8:50 pm   ///  

I’m lucky to have a print copy of Amaranth Borsuk’s Tonal Saw, a long poem created by erasure from the pamphlet National Sunday Law.

But that print chapbook, which was printed in a small edition of only 100 copies, is now sold out.

So, I was pleased to find (for everyone else’s benefit) that Tonal Saw is available as a PDF from the press that published that print chapbook, The Song Cave. Here is is!

You can find other quality PDFs on The Song Cave’s site.

It’s a Good Word. Maine.

Monday 18 November 2013, 11:03 pm   ///////  

Just back from several travels, I’ve found that there’s a video record online of me, Patsy Baudoin, and John Bell presenting 10 PRINT at the University of Maine way back in April of this year. In our presentation, we answer questions and discuss the origin of the 10 PRINT project and the nature of our collaboration. And I do some livecoding. Pretty often, actually.

Please note that 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 is available as a beautiful MIT Press book, designed by our co-author Casey Reas, ans also as a free PDF.

Here’s the video of our University of Maine presentation on the “10 PRINT” program and book.

Fox Harrell’s Talk and New Book

Friday 25 October 2013, 7:02 pm   ///  

Fox Harrell’s talk on evaluation at the Media Systems workshop, in August 2012, was great, and I remember many things from it vividly. Fox really helped us see some of the absurdities of trying to apply the evaluation techniques from one domain (such as engineering) to another (such as the arts) — but also the potential of cross-cutting work for new insights. See “Matching Methods: Guiding and Evaluating Interdisciplinary Projects” on YouTube.

This is one of many Media Systems talks that have been uploaded so far.

Fox, who is my colleague at MIT, has also just had MIT Press publish his book, Phantasmal Media: An Approach to Imagination, Computation, and Expression. I have been following the book from early stages. Reading it has been provoking and informative. It presents a new, powerful concept of digital media that deeply engages with our concepts of identity and our cultural imagination. I highly recommend it.

Gamebooks and IF Conference at Villanova

Tuesday 22 October 2013, 11:37 am   /////  

Gamebook guru Demian Katz is putting on a conference on interactive fiction, print and online, in Villanova’s Popular Culture Series. The conference does have an academic focus, but also seeks to introduce new sorts of academics to IF.

Info is up now at the vupop site, where you can read about the conference or submit a proposal. Or, if there’s enough light available, examine yourself/take inventory!

Aha – and the deadline for submitting something is November 1!

Ouliperrata and Palindromes

Friday 4 October 2013, 7:02 pm   ////  

The End of Oulipo? : An Attempt to Exhaust a Movement by Lauren Elkin & Scott Esposito (2013) claims that “Georges Perec … wrote a palindrome of over 5,000 words …” (p. 15, also mentioned on p. 25). However, this is wrong, unless these authors have access to an extraordinarily surprising never-before published palindrome of Perec’s. His long palindrome does not have this many words.

In 1980, Hachette published Perec’s La Clôture et autres poèmes, which contains “Le Grand Palindrome,” written in 1969. “Le Grand Palindrome” is also online; it is posted on another page without its title but with a declaration that the palindrome is 1247 words long.

Wikipedia states that this text has 1247 words and 5566 letters, and the French entry on Perec agrees. (The number of letters was probably the source of the confusion about 5,000 words in Elkin & Esposito’s book.) Since the palindrome is online, we can do some original research to determine the word and letter count – someone must have, because the cited source does not say how many words and letters there are; the source is simply the text itself. The Web is littered with different numbers that are supposed to be the length, in words, of Perec’s palindrome. David Bellos, who quoted and translated the beginning and ending of Perec’s long palindrome in his extraordinary biography, Georges Perec: A Life in Words, described the palindrome as consisting of two halves, each of five hundred words (pp. 428-429).

Standard word-count programs come up with a larger number of words than either Bellos or Wikipedia have: The Gnu utility wc counts 1367, for example. In part, that’s because some of the punctuation is set off with spaces. But it may also have to do with a reasonable way of counting words in French being different than wc’s method.

So, leaving aside the question of words for the moment — but noting that the answer seems to be in the 1000-1400 range, and couldn’t be 5000 – let’s take a look at the number of letters. I placed the palindrome’s text (all of it, including the strange title that is a reversal of Perec’s name and the place and date of writing) in a file called perec.txt and did the following to count the letters:

% fold --width=1 perec.txt | grep -c '[[:alpha:]]'

The result is 5219. Yes, I checked to make sure that accented letters are being counted on my system. I’m not sure where the extra 5566-5219=347 letters are supposed to be. There are only eight digits, so the ’1969′ at the end (and ’9691′ at the beginning) couldn’t account for the larger number. And I counted 736 punctuation marks, so the puzzle isn’t solved by considering punctuation marks to be letters, since that (in addition to being incorrect) would make the palindrome too long. Unless my text is corrupt, I suppose that some of the punctuation marks were counted as letters before.

You can read in Daniel Levin Becker’s 2012 book Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature that Perec “wrote a palindrome of more than 1,200 words, the world’s longest until a computer program eclipsed it” (p. 181). The approximate word count seems right, but what about the rest of the statement?

On January 1, 2002, the first edition of Nick Montfort & William Gillespie’s 2002: A Palindrome Story was published. This text, published in a much nicer edition later in the year and made available in several formats online, is a 2002-word palindrome that we wrote together. We had actually hoped that the suite of software we developed, Deep Speed, would generate text for us and serve as a third co-author, but unfortunately its main use ended up being to check our work. In the end, 2002 was about as much generated by computer as “Le Grand Palindrome” was generated by typewriter.

(Perhaps Becker was referring to the data-driven palindrome found by Google’s Peter Norvig? That was composed and published on February 20, 2002, weeks after 2002 was first published in celebration of the new year. Also, while I consider it a brilliant hack, and while I certainly think that computer programs can produce literary output, I’m not sure how to understand or learn from this program and this text as a literary project. In terms of pure length, it’s a long palindrome, yes, but so is this; in fact, that one is longer than any that Norvig has produced.)

Now, to reassure Oulipo fans, 2002 and “Le Grand Palindrome” are written in different languages, so it would be awkward at best to claim that we directly outdid Perec. Also, it took two of us to write our English palindrome and only one of Perec to write his palindrome in French, so Perec still holds the record per-person per-palindrome. And finally, as my parenthetical remark and link above is supposed to show, it’s just silly to compare palindromes’ length alone; it’s important to read them and see how compelling they are. Writing a palindrome of more and more words involves conducting a more lengthy and profound exploration of language. Perhaps that type of exploration means falling off a cliff – as some thought Perec did; as some surely thought that William & I did in writing the exceedingly difficult text 2002. But it’s an exploration, and for us, as for Perec, it resulted in a radical and unusual literary work.

2002 received praise from members of the Oulipo and a positive review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction. It certainly wasn’t the usual one-line palindrome fare that many are used to. Although it’s challenging, I hope that more intrepid readers will eventually engage with text. I’m disappointed that a major magazine article on palindromes and the Wikipedia page on the topic don’t mention it. I’m disappointed that scholars and literary critics (who have devoted time to other works of mine and of William’s) haven’t delved into 2002. And it doesn’t give me much hope when the well-known long palindrome of a tremendously famous and influential French writer, however well-known it is, is still widely unread. We can’t even figure out how many words and letters it has.

Books O’ Poems

Thursday 29 August 2013, 12:15 pm   ///  

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.

A Trend in My Reading?

Friday 26 July 2013, 5:26 pm   //  
burials

Sometimes I examine the books I am reading and detect an unnerving trend.

These are only two books, though. I wouldn’t want to be … PREMATURE.

Neural has the Nerve for 10 PRINT

Tuesday 23 July 2013, 5:56 pm   ////  

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 has been reviewed in Neural, an excellent long-running magazine, print and online that covers creative computing from digital art and music through hacktivism. The reviews in Neural (which is published in Italy, in Italian and English) are short and to the point; I’m pleased to see that they neuronally grasped the concept of 10 PRINT and appreciated the work that my collaborators and I did on it.

&NOW AWARDS 2

Monday 20 May 2013, 2:00 pm   /////  

Although the &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing may appear at first to be an HTML character entity reference, it’s actually a new book. Arranged back-to-back like Chow Yun-Fat and Danny Lee in The Killer, it offers copious amounts (400 pages) of recent provocative writing in various genres. It’s published by Lake Forest College Press.

I’m delighted to have my work in the good company of that by many excellent writers, including J.R. Carpenter, Craig Dworkin, and Michael Leong. My contribution to the volume is just a page each of output from the Latin and Cyrillic versions of “Letterformed Terrain,” from Concrete Perl.

How to Buy Some of My Most Obscure Books

Thursday 7 March 2013, 2:06 pm   ////  

2002: A Palindrome Story

By Nick Montfort and William Gillespie. Illustrated by Shelley Jackson. Designed by Ingrid Ankerson. (24 pp., acknowledged by the Oulipo as the longest literary palindrome.) Spineless Books, 2002. $16.

The First M Numbers.

By Nick Montfort. Edition of 80. 4 pp. No Press, Calgary, Canada, 2013. $2.50.

In New York, Saint Mark’s Bookshop has copies of these two books for sale; in Cambridge, MA, they are available from the MIT Press Bookstore. 2002 is also available from the publisher, Spineless Books, and other online and local bookstores. I believe that No Press is out of copies of The First M Numbers.

Implementation: A Novel

By Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. (270 pp., a 4-color book documenting the 2004 project Implementation.) 2012. $77.95.

This book is only available for purchase directly from the printer, Blurb.

An Auto-Interview about All the Way for the Win

Wednesday 6 March 2013, 9:03 pm   ////  

Poet Michael Leong “tagged” me, not by spray-painting me or by assigning me a folksonomical string, but by sending me the following template of interview questions. This process is part of the project “The Next Big Thing,” in which people answer robotic, monomaniacal questions about recent or forthcoming books. I was supposed to post this on Wednesday, apparently, so it’s a good thing that I can set the date arbitrarily on my blog posts.

What is the working title of the book?
All the Way for the Win.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Decades of intense poetic engagement with the English language.

What genre does your book fall under?
In terms of literary tradition, it’s an example of the sort of constrained writing that was pioneered by the Oulipo; in terms of the retail channel, it will end up in the poetry section if anywhere.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
Mos Def, Zhu Zhu, Rex Lee, Won Bin, and (although I don’t think he’s a member of the SAG) Tan Lin.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A book written using only three-letter words.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I haven’t written anything close to a complete draft. I’ve only been working on the project seriously for about four years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
All the Way for the Win is 0% inspiration.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The English langauge bursts with words brought to us by commerce and colonialism, is scarred by decades of wars and invasions, and both traces and propels our thinking as a culture. It is an urgent and important project to find principled, unusual subsets of this language and to make new works out of these, revealing qualities of our language through poetic practice. Readers of this book may also considerably improve their Scrabble play.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
No.

New 10 PRINT Story from the MIT Libraries

Thursday 10 January 2013, 11:43 am   /////  

The MIT Libraries have posted a story on 10 PRINT that includes discussion of the book from Patsy Baudoin and me, describes how the project came amount, and gives the latest information on how royalties are being donated. The story was written by Katharine Dunn.

10 PRINT Marches on

Monday 7 January 2013, 11:34 pm   //////  

The news service of my school at MIT, the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, has an article about 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10.

Also, there has been some furious and pretty amazing program creation and compaction going on in DOS/x86 land. It all seems to have started when demoscener Trixter (a.k.a. Jim Leonard) decided to port 10 PRINT to x86 assembly. His first, straightforward version was 42 bytes long, but he was quickly able to chop it down by replacing the random number generator with a single instruction: 25 bytes. Getting ready of some of the nice and tidy but strictly unnecessary startup and shutdown code brought the program down to 15 bytes. Then, thanks to the clever use of an opcode that I’d never heard of before which is meant for string comparison and is called SCAS, he was able to trim the code to 13 bytes — the shortest he thought it could ever be.

Of course, someone (Peter Ferrie) found a way to get rid of another byte, so the program sat at 12 bytes long.

herm1t came along to provide an optimization that assumed DOS was loaded, reducing the program to 11 bytes.

And, most recently, Peter Ferrie returned to lop off another byte, showing that the program (on Intel CPUs, at least) need only be 10 bytes long.

Trixter provides the full story (so far!) on his blog, Oldskooler Ramblings.

My joke about this is that the shortest possible 10-PRINT-like program will be a single jmp instruction to a run of 8 or 9 bytes that happen to already be in memory. However, this is probably only a joke: the number of possible 8-byte combinations of bits are 256^8 = 18446744073709551616, so it really isn’t very likely, even for an extremely short program of this sort, that it will just happen to be lying around somewhere in memory initially.

Speaking of the demoscene, I mentioned in my last post that viznut has checked out the book. He’s also written a very nice VIC-20 version of the program that uses two of the tiles from the Black Path Game instead of the original diagonal lines:

0 FORI=7168TO7183:READA:POKEI,A:NEXT:POKE36869,255
1 PRINTCHR$(64.5+RND(.));:GOTO1
2 DATA16,16,32,192,3,4,8,8,8,8,4,3,192,32,16,16

The result:

VIC-20 Black Path Game version of 10 PRINT

Finally, we had a great time exhibiting the 10 PRINT program and the 10 PRINT book at the 2013 MLA’s electronic literature exhibit and presenting the program and modifications of it at the MLA offsite electronic literature reading. Thanks to Dene Grigar and Kathi Inman Berens for curating the exhibit and the reading. And, thanks to Patsy Baudoin, Mark C. Marino, and Mark Sample for joining me for that presentation and for offering commentary (play-by-play and color) as I coded on the Commodore 64.

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