Concise Computational Literature is Now Online in Taper

I’m pleased to announce the release of the first issue of Taper, along with the call for works for issue #2.

Taper is a DIY literary magazine that hosts very short computational literary works — in the first issue, sonic, visual, animated, and generated poetry that is no more than 1KB, excluding comments and the standard header that all pages share. In the second issue, this constraint will be relaxed to 2KB.

The first issue has nine poems by six authors, which were selected by an editorial collective of four. Here is how this work looked when showcased today at our exhibit in the Trope Tank:

Weights and Measures and for the pool players at the Golden Shovel, Lillian Yvonne-Bertram
“Weights and Measures” and “for the pool players at the Golden Shovel,” Lillian Yvonne-Bertram
193 and ArcMaze, Sebastian Bartlett
“193” and “ArcMaze,” Sebastian Bartlett
Alpha Riddims, Pierre Tchetgen and Rise, Angela Chang
“Alpha Riddims,” Pierre Tchetgen and “Rise,” Angela Chang
US and Field, Nick Montfort
“US” and “Field,” Nick Montfort
God, Milton Läufer
“God,” Milton Läufer

This issue is tiny in size and contains only a small number of projects, but we think they are of very high quality and interestingly diverse. This first issue of Taper also lays the groundwork for fairly easy production of future issues.

The next issue will have two new editorial collective members, but not me, as I focus on my role as publisher of this magazine though my very small press, Bad Quarto.

Using Electricity readings, with video of one

I’m writing now from the middle of a four-city book tour which I’m on with Rafael Pérez y Pérez and Allison Parrish – we are the first three author/programmers to develop books (The Truelist, Mexica, and Articulations) in this Counterpath series, Using Electricity.

I’m taking the time now to post a link to video of a short reading that Allison and I did at the MLA Convention, from exactly a month ago. If you can’t join us at an upcoming reading (MIT Press Bookstore, 2018-02-06 6pm or Babycastles in NYC, 2018-02-07 7pm) and have 10 minutes, the video provides an introduction to two of the three projects.

Rafael wasn’t able to join us then; we are very glad he’s here from Mexico City with us this week, and has read with us in Philadelphia and Providence so far!

My @party Talk on Computer-Generated Books

I just gave a talk at the local demoparty, @party. While I haven’t written out notes and it wasn’t recorded, here are the slides. The talk was “Book Productions: The Latest in Computer-Generated Literary Art,” and included some discussion of how computer-generated literary books related to demoscene productions.

Trope Tank Writer in Residence

The Trope Tank is accepting applications for a writer in residence during academic year 2016-2017.

The Trope Tank, 3 August 2016

Our mission is developing new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language. More can be discovered about the Trope Tank here:

http://nickm.com/trope_tank/

The main projects of the Trope Tank for 2016-2017 are Renderings and Heftings, as I’ve described for a forthcoming article in _Convolutions 4_:

> The **Renderings** project is an effort to locate computational
> literature in languages other than English — poetry and other
> text generators, combinatorial poems, interactive fiction, and
> interactive visual poetry, for example — and translate this work
> to English. Along the way, it is necessary to port some of this
> work to the Web, or emulate it, or re-implement it, both in
> the source language and in English. This provides the original
> language community better access to a functioning version
> of the original work, some of which originates in computer
> magazines from several decades ago, some of which is from
> even earlier. The translations give the English-language
> community some perspective on the global creative work that has
> been undertaken with language and computation, helping
> to remedy the typical view of this area, which is almost always
> strongly English-centered.

> **Heftings,** on the other hand, is not about translation into
> English; the project is able to include translation between any
> pair of languages (along with the translation of work that is
> originally multilingual). Nor does it focus on digital and computational
> work. Instead, Heftings is about “impossible translation” of all
> sorts — for instance, of minimal, highly constrained,
> densely allusive, and concrete/visual poems. The idea is that
> even if the translation of such works is impossible, attempts at
> translation, made while working collaboratively and in conversation
> with others, can lead to insights. The Heftings project
> seeks to encourage translation attempts, many such attempts
> per source text, and to facilitate discussion of these. There is no
> concept that one of these attempts will be determined to be the
> best and will be settled upon as the right answer to the question
> of translation.

The Trope Tank’s work goes beyond these main projects. It includes developing creative projects, individually and collaboratively; teaching about computing, videogaming, and the material history of the text in formal and informal ways; and research into related areas. Those in the Trope Tank have also curated and produced exhibits and brought some of the lab’s resources to the public at other venues. The lab hosts monthly meetings of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction and occasional workshops.

There are no fees or costs associated with the residency; there is also no stipend or other financial support provided as part of the appointment. A writer in residence has 24-hour access to and use of the Trope Tank, including space to work, power and network connection, and use of materials and equipment. As a member of the MIT community, a writer in residence can access the campus and check out books from the MIT Libraries. We encourage our writer in residence to attend research and creative discussions and join us in project work and other collaborations, but this is not expressed with a particular requirement to be in the Trope Tank some amount of time per week.

To apply, email me, Nick Montfort, at moc.mkcin@mkcin with short answers (in no case to exceed 250 words each) to the following questions:

– What work have you done that relates to computation, language and literature, and the mission of the lab? Include URLs when appropriate; there is no need to include the URLs when counting words.

– How would you make use of your time in the Trope Tank? You do not have to offer a detailed outline of a particular project, but explain in some way how it would be useful to you to have access to the materials, equipment, and people here.

– What is your relationship, if any, to literary translation, and do you see yourself contributing to Renderings, Heftings, or both? If so, how?

– What connections could you potentially make between communities of practice and other groups you know, either in the Boston area or beyond, and the existing Trope Tank community within MIT?

Include a CV/resume in PDF format as an attachment.

Applications will be considered beginning on August 15; applicants are encouraged to apply by noon on that day.

We value diverse backgrounds, experiences, and thinking, and encourage applications by members of groups that are underrepresented at MIT.

NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

There were so many excellent novel generators, and generated novels, last month for NaNaGenMo (National Novel Generation Month).

I thought a lot of them related to and carried on the work of wonderful existing literary projects — usually in the form of existing books. And this is in no way a backhanded complement. My own NaNoGenMo entry was the most rooted in an existing novel; I simply computationally re-implemented Samuel Beckett’s novel Watt (or at least the parts of it that were most illegible and computational), in my novel generator Megawatt (its PDF output is also available). For good measure, Megawatt is completely deterministic; although someone might choose to modify it and generate different things, as it stands it generates exactly one novel. So, for me to say that I was reminded of a great book when I saw a particular generator is pure praise.

Early in month, Liza Daly’s Seraphs set a high standard and must have discouraged many offhand generators! Liza’s generator seeks images and randomizes text to produce a lengthy book that is like the Voynich Manuscript, and certainly also like the Codex Seraphinianus.

Allison Parrish’s I Waded in Clear Water is a novel based on dream interpretations. Of course, it reminds me of 10,000 Dreams Interpreted (and I am pleased, thanks to my students from long ago, to have the leading site on the Web for that famous book) but it also reminds me of footnote-heavy novels such as Infinite Jest. Let me note that a Twine game has already been written based on this work: Fowl are Foul, by Jacqueline Lott.

I found Zarkonnen’s Moebius Tentacle; Or the Space-Octopus oddly compelling. It was created by simple substitution of strings from Moby-Dick (one novel it clearly reminded me of), freeing the story to be about the pursuit of an octopus by space amazons. It wasn’t as polished as I would have liked (just a text file for output), and didn’t render text flawlessly, but still, the result was amazing. Consider how the near-final text presents the (transformed) Tashtego in his final tumult:

A sky-hawk that
tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its unnatural home
among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Lazerbot-9 there;
this spacebat now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the
hammer and the plasteel; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill,
the submerged robot beneath, in her death-gasp, kept her hammer frozen
there; and so the spacebat of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and her
imperial beak thrust upwards, and her whole captive form folded in the
flag of Vixena, went away with her spaceship, which, like Satan, would not sink
to transwarp till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and
helmeted herself with it.

Sean Barrett wrote two beautiful generators (at least) – the first of which was How Hannah Solved The Twelve-Disk Tower of Hanoi. Deliberate, progressing, intelligent, and keeping the reader on the edge of her seat – this one is great. But, that generator (drafted by November 9) wasn’t enough, and Barrett also contributed (only a day late) The Basketball Game, an opera generator that provides a score (with lyrics) and MIDI files. It’s as if “I got Philip Glass!” indicates that one is rebounding.

Eric Stayton’s I Sing Of takes the beginning of the Aeneid as grist, moving through alternate invocations using WordNet. I like the way different epics are invoked by the slight changes, and was reminded of Calvino’s If on a winter’s night a traveler.

Sam Coppini’s D’ksuban Dictionary, although also just a text file, is a simple but effective generator of a fictional language’s dictionary. Less like the Devil’s Dictionary, more like the (apparently unpublished) lexicon of Earth: Final Conflict. I’m sure literary works in D’ksuban will be forthcoming soon.

Ben Kybartas’s Something, Somewhere is wonderfully spare and evocative – more Madsen than Hemingway.

Finally, Thricedotted’s The Seeker is an extraordinary concrete novel in the tradition of Raymond Federman’s Double or Nothing. The text, based on wikiHow, is good and serves well to define a protagonist who always wishes to do right, but the typographical framework is really excellent.

These are just a few comments before NaNoGenMo goes as stale as a late-December pumpkin. I hope you enjoy tis work and other work that was done last month, and that you keep an eye peeled for further novel generators – next November and throughout the year.

A “Trope Report” on Stickers

Not literally on stickers, no. This technical report from the Trope Tank is “Stickers as a Literature-Distribution Platform,” and is by Piotr Marecki. It’s just been released as TROPE-14-02 and is very likely to be the last report of 2014. Here’s the abstract:

Contemporary experimental writing often directs its attention to its writing space, its
medium, the material on which it is presented. Very often this medium is meaningful
and becomes part of the work – the printed text transfered to another media context
(for instance, into a traditional book) would become incomprehensible. Literature
distributed on stickers is a form of writing that is divided into small fragments of texts
(a type of constrained writing), physically scattered in different locations. One of the
newest challenges in literature are books with augmented reality, AR, which examine
the relation between the physical (the medium) and the virtual interaction. Sticker
literature is a rather simple analog form of augmented reality literature. The stickers
have QR codes or web addresses printed on them, so the viewer who reads/sees a
random sticker in the public space can further explore the text online. The viewer can
read other parts of the text on photographs (the photograph being another medium) of
other stickers placed in different locations. The author will discuss the use of stickers
throughout literary history, beginning with 20th century French Situationists, through
different textual strategies applied by visual artists and ending with literary forms such
as the sticker novel Implementation (2004) by Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg or
Stoberskiade (2013). The author shall try to explain why writers decide to use this form,
how the text is distributed and received and how the city space is used in such projects.

Megawatt

Megawatt coverThe fruits of my National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) labors are now online; the _Megawatt_ generator is available as a single 350-line Python file, while the novel it deterministically generates can be obtained as a PDF, megawatt.pdf or in epub format, megawatt.epub. From the program’s docstring and from the preface to the book:

_Megawatt_ is the title of both a computer program, the source code
to which you may be reading, and the output of this program, which in
many ways is like a standard novel and which you may instead be reading.
This note appears at the beginning of both.

The program _Megawatt_ is based on passages from Samuel Beckett’s novel
_Watt,_ first published in 1953 but written much earlier, when Beckett
was aiding the French Resistance during World War II.

The novel _Megawatt_ leaves aside all of the more intelligible language
of Beckett’s novel and is based, instead, on that which is most systematic
and inscrutable. It does not just recreate these passages, although with
minor changes the _Megawatt_ code can be used to do so. In the new novel,
rather, they are intensified by generating, using the same methods that
Beckett used, significantly more text than is found in the already
excessive _Watt_.

(Please note: The following information is handy if you want to, for instance, modify the program and generate a PDF or epub yourself. You don’t need to do this to read the novel. You can download it in PDF: megawatt.pdf or in epub format: megawatt.epub.)

To produce the novel in markdown format, run megawatt.py (a Python 2
program) with TextBlob (a text processing library) installed.

% python megawatt.py > megawatt.text

To produce PDF and epub documents, use pandoc:

% pandoc -V geometry:paperwidth=5.5in \
-V geometry:paperheight=8.25in \
-V geometry:margin=.7in -o megawatt.pdf \
megawatt.text
% echo ‘% Megawatt’ > info.txt
% echo ‘% Nick Montfort’ >> info.txt
% pandoc -o megawatt.epub info.txt megawatt.text

_Megawatt_ was written/generated for the second NaNoGenMo (National
Novel Generation Month) in November 2014, and is free software.

World Clock Punches in on The Verge

Some kind comments about World Clock and NaNoGenMo in the article “The Strange World of Computer-Generated Novels” by Josh Dzieza.

Nick Montfort’s World Clock was the breakout hit of last year. A poet and professor of digital media at MIT, Montfort used 165 lines of Python code to arrange a new sequence of characters, locations, and actions for each minute in a day. He gave readings, and the book was later printed by the Harvard Book Store’s press. Still, Kazemi says reading an entire generated novel is more a feat of endurance than a testament to the quality of the story, which tends to be choppy, flat, or incoherent by the standards of human writing.

“Even Nick expects you to maybe read a chapter of it or flip to a random page,” Kazemi says.

There were many great generated novels last year, and are already many great ones this year. I don’t think among this abundance that World Clock is a very good poster boy for NaNoGenMo. Still, my experience with the book does make a strong case for having your generated novel translated in (or originally written in) Polish.

NaNoGenMo 3000!!!!

Er, sorry. I exaggerated a bit. It’s actually just
NaNoGenMo 2014. But that’s still really cool.

“Spend the month of November writing code that generates a novel of 50k+ words.” As is traditional, the event occurs on GitHub.

Zegar Światowy, the Polish World Clock

World Clock in Polish, displayed
World Clock (book, code) has now been published in Polish. The translation is by Piotr Marecki, who translated the underlying novel-generating program and generated a new novel in Polish. ha!art is the publisher, and the book appears in the Liberatura series, which also includes some very distinguished titles: The Polish translations of Finnegans Wake and of Perec’s Life A User’s Manual, for instance.

The Polish World Clock on the shelf

Updated 10:01 — Time Still Ticks

Lance Olsen and Tim Guthrie have updated their classic and palindromically-titled electronic literature work, 10:01.

This piece was included in the first Electronic Literature Collection and the first edition can still be seen there. Since it offers links out to the Web, and some of these became stale since the piece was first published in 2005, the prolific and edgy experimental writer Olsen and developer Guthrie have revised the piece for the Web for 2014, also reworking a few other elements. One is still able to select among movie patrons to read their perspectives. The piece is a companion to the print-novel version of 10:01, published by Chiasmus in 2005.

I cannot explain how apropos it is that I blog about this after returning from an AMC theater.

The audience is listening! Check it out.

Senderos que se … Intimate, Infinite

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

Robert Yang’s latest is a first-person-shooter version of Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Garden of Forking Paths.” With a lovingly off-kilter translation (befitting its “original”) and with visuals and (quite minimal) interaction that suits the experience, this is an extraordinary set of linked mini-games, well worth the short amount of time it takes to get through them, and worth offering at least a bit for this pay-what-you-will game.

Check out Intimate, Infinite.

Intimate, Infinite by Robert Yang

New Report on Nanowatt & World Clock

The latest technical report (or “Trope Report”) to issue from the Trope Tank is TROPE-14-01, “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock by Nick Montfort:

>My Winchester’s Nightmare: A Novel Machine (1999) was developed to bring the interactor’s input and the system’s output together into a texture like that of novelistic prose. Almost fifteen years later, after an electronic literature practice mainly related to poetry, I have developed two new “novel machines.” Rather than being works of interactive fiction, one (Nanowatt, 2013) is a collaborative demoscene production (specifically, a single-loading VIC-20 demo) and the other (World Clock, 2013) is a novel generator with accompanying printed book. These two productions offer an opportunity to discuss how my own and other highly computational electronic literature relates to the novel. Nanowatt and World Clock are non-interactive but use computation to manipulate language at low levels. I discuss these aspects and other recent electronic literature that engages the novel, considering to what extent novel-like computational literature in general is becoming less interactive and more fine-grained in its involvement with language.

This was the topic of my talk at the recent ELO conference. Share and enjoy!

Computational Narrative and Games (Special Issue)

A special issue of IEEE Transactions on Computational Intelligence and AI in Games (TCIAIG) is now out — I mention it because I was one of the editors, and the issue deals with computational narrative and games.

Here’s the link to the computational narrative and games issue. It was edited by Ian Horswill, Nick Montfort and Michael Young. And here’s what is in it:

Guest Editorial
Horswill, I.D; Montfort, N; Young, R.M
p 92-96

Social Story Worlds With Comme il Faut
McCoy, J. ; Treanor, M. ; Samuel, B. ; Reed, A.A. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.

p 97-112

Versu—A Simulationist Storytelling System
Evans, R. ; Short, E.
p 113-130

A Computational Model of Narrative Generation for Surprise Arousal
Bae, B.-C. ; Young, R.M.
p 131-143

Automated Story Selection for Color Commentary in Sports
Lee, G. ; Bulitko, V. ; Ludvig, E.A.
p 144-155

Skald: Minstrel Reconstructed
Tearse, B. ; Mawhorter, P. ; Mateas, M. ; Wardrip-Fruin, N.
p 156-165

Designing User-Character Dialog in Interactive Narratives: An Exploratory Experiment
Endrass, B. ; Klimmt, C. ; Mehlmann, G. ; Andre, E. ; Roth, C.
p 166-173

Personalized Interactive Narratives via Sequential Recommendation of Plot Points
Yu, H. ; Riedl, M.O.
p 174-187

Lessons on Using Computationally Generated Influence for Shaping Narrative Experiences
Roberts, D.L. ; Isbell, C.L.
p 188-202

A Supervised Learning Framework for Modeling Director Agent Strategies in Educational Interactive Narrative
Lee, S.Y. ; Rowe, J.P. ; Mott, B.W. ; Lester, J.C.
p 203-214

Shall I Compare Thee to Another Story?—An Empirical Study of Analogy-Based Story Generation
Zhu, J. ; Ontanon, S.
p 216-227

Analysis of ReGEN as a Graph-Rewriting System for Quest Generation
Kybartas, B. ; Verbrugge, C.
p 228 – 241