The Mutable Stanzas

Wednesday 20 August 2014, 11:20 pm   /////  

Yesterday first-person-shooter Borges, intimate, infinite, and based on prose; today cut-up Spenser, mutable and poetic.

The Mutable Stanzas

This dynamic digital poetry piece, by Stephen Pentecost, is quite compelling. The author writes:

The Mutable Stanzas is a digital poetry installation and deformance experiment inspired by Raymond Queneau’s Cent Mille Milliards de Poèmes, by the work by Jerome McGann et al on “Deformance and Interpretation,” and by the work of my collegues in the Humanities Digital Workshop.

The Mutable Stanzas disassembles Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene into its constituent lines, groups lines according to terminal rhyme, then randomly reassembles lines into new stanzas.

While the stanzas are structured by end rhyme, and each line is not independent of others, I wonder, as a reader, whether it’s best to avail myself of the pause button or whether I should simply continue reading down the page.

#! Makes July’s SPD Bestseller List

Thursday 7 August 2014, 3:16 pm   /////  

#! ('Shebang')I was delighted to see that my latest book, #!, a book of programs & poems, made the July Poetry bestseller list for Small Press Distribution. SPD is the distributor for my press, Counterpath, along with many other fine presses that publish poetry. #! (which is pronounced “Shebang”) came in at lucky number 13 last month.

It’s particularly nice to see since the book was just becoming available online and in bookstores around the middle of the month, and given that if you search for the book by title on Amazon.com you get 47,921,926 results, presumably due to the title having no letters or numbers. (You can search for it using my name.) There’s also the issue that the book consists entirely of short computer programs and their outputs, which I think is very neat, but which some believe to be a bit esoteric. Actually, I hope the book is rather intelligible and fun, by connecting some of the popular programming of the 1970s and 1980s to contemporary conceptual writing and poetry.

By the way, if you are having trouble getting the book from a local store or online, you can order it directly from SPD.

While I read some from #! in Michigan recently at the Postscript symposium and exhibit, I’ll be beginning to do readings in earnest next month. The first one is planned for September 18, 7pm, at the Harvard Book Store. More on that soon…

Half of My Two Cents on E-Lit

Friday 1 August 2014, 3:52 pm   ////  

Long ago (well, at the end of 2012) I was asked by .Cent magazine, a free-to-read, nicely designed online multimedia publication out of London, for a few comments about my work and my approach to electronic literature. Amazingly, having recently unearthed my responses, I find that they are still relevant! You can read my answers and the rest of the issue in its full splendor, but, very belatedly, I’ll offer my response here as well:

I see electronic literature as a something beyond a genre or a literary movement: It’s an argument that literary art and literary experience have a place in our digital environment alongside the many other ways that networked computing is used. Those of us working in electronic literature are demonstrating that we can have poetic, imaginative, narrative, conceptual, and other sorts of work and experiences online, in addition to commercial, communication, and gaming experiences. We don’t have to share an aesthetic or hold similar political ideas in order to make this argument together, because we’re arguing for something fundamental to future work: The chance to develop literature (of any sort) using the capabilities of the computer and the network.

My own focus is on projects that engage collaboration and computation to bring us into a new, disoriented, and potentially productive relationship to the computer and the world. A recent project that is both highly collaborative and highly computational is Sea and Spar Between, a poetry generator Stephanie Strickland and I developed. In it, we bring together words from the vocabulary of Melville and Dickinson, present a sea of textual data that is far beyond the human ability to read but which can be understood in some ways, and suggest a collaborative, computational, and literary-historical perspective on the natural world. In my “solo career” I have written very short programs such as those in the ppg256 series and those in the set Concrete Perl, to investigate, poetically, how computation and a particular programming language hook into the English language. Some of my other collaborative e-lit projects are Implementation with Scott Rettberg and Three Rails Live with Scott and Roderick Coover, both of these dealing with urban and global experiences buy cutting up narrative forms in new ways.

Do Bots Need to Sit Down?

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 10:49 pm   /////  

(My Philosoraptor question for the day…)

Check out Tully Hansen’s riff on one of the poems from bpNichpol’s First Screening – authentic or not …

This New Book by Sawako Nakayasu Is Formidable

Tuesday 29 July 2014, 8:06 pm   ////  

The Ants

Stalking the Wily #!

Tuesday 15 July 2014, 12:05 am   //////  

If you’ve been looking for my latest book, #!, and are looking to buy it online, check isbn.nu. At the moment of posting, it’s available from three sellers, one on pre-order. Barnes & Noble is the bookseller with the lowest price and fastest delivery; Amazon.com offers to get it to you 3-4 weeks later.

In Cambridge, I have yet to see the book on shelves, but I know copies are at least on order (if not readied for purchase) at the MIT Press Bookstore and the Harvard Bookstore. And, Grolier Poetry Book Shop also had a few copies.

Update, July 17, 5pm: The local place to get a copy of #!, at the moment, is the MIT Press Bookstore. That’s at 292 Main Street, right outside the Kendall T stop. This is the MIT Press Bookstore, not the MIT Coop, and in the “Faculty Authors” section they do currently stock copies of my latest book.

Update, July 18, 1pm: B&N no longer has the book listed for whatever reason. It can be obtained online, right now, from Small Press Distribution, though.

This Interview with Harry Mathews

Friday 11 July 2014, 9:52 pm   //////  

…is really excellent. Anyone interested in Harry’s work, or, more broadly, the Oulipo, should read it. Thanks, of course, to Barbara Henning for doing the interview and EOAGH for publishing it.

Techsty #9, with Sea and Spar Between in Polish

techstyExciting news for Polish-readers (and, I think, others): The new issue of Techsty, number 9, is out. You might think that a “Techsty” is just a place where infopigs like me live, but it’s actually a long-running site (since 2001) on digital literature, with an esteemed journal that has been published since 2003.

The current issue includes translations of articles by Robert Coover and Brain McHale, an article by Seweryna Wysłouch, and a special section on an audacious project. This is the translation of Sea and Spar Between, by Nick Montfort and Stephanie Strickland, which is a fairly extensive special-purpose poetry generator that is fair entwined with the English language (as well the specific authors from whom it draws: Emily Dickinson and Herman Melville). Not only did the two translators tackle the difficult and in fact unprecedented task of translating the underlying system to Polish, so that the program generates stanzas in that language; they also translated our comments from the “cut to fit the toolspun course” edition of the work. I hope this will invite remixing and code re-use in Polish as well as helping to improve the understanding of our project and our collaboration. Monika Górska-Olesińska also has an article on Stephanie Strickland’s work, with a photo of Stephanie reading just a few days ago at the ELO conference.

Piotr Marecki also translated my short generator Lede for the issue. (Amusingly enough, the translated title is the more conventional and seemingly more properly-spelled English word “Lead.”) It has some aspects of cultural translation – absurd figures from Polish culture are substituted for some of the ones I included from my American perspective.

The only mistake I see in the Sea and Spar Between items is that it’s hard (for me, at least, not being a reader of the language) to determine who did the translation of both the poem generator and the comments: Monika Górska-Olesińska and Mariusz Pisarski, who are attributed atop the commented code but not, for instance, here on the Polish “How to Read” page. In digital literature, there generally is no system for buying rights and recruiting and paying translators for their work – just as there is no system for doing this for authors. So the least we can do is to properly credit those who work to develop new programs and cybertexts, whether they are based on earlier ones in other languages or not.

The final article I’ll note is an interview, I think one that’s very kind to me and my lab, The Trope Tank, by Piotr Marecki, who was a postdoc here this past year. Here’s what the Googly Intelligence translates this interview as.

There’s a great deal more in the issue, and I suggest those interested in digital literature, even if not literate in Polish, take at least a quick look using your favorite “translation goggles.” There are some good English-language journals on electronic literature, but I think English-speakers could learn a good deal from this effort, which publishes critical writing (including some in translation) and creative work and also undertakes extensive translation projects.

#! is Published

Wednesday 25 June 2014, 12:56 pm   ////////  

Cover of #! (pronounced 'Shebang')

My new book of programs/poems, #! (pronounced “Shebang”), has just been published by Counterpath.

Read all about it on the press’s page for #!.

The book consists of poetic programs and their outputs. The programs in the book are all free software, and in case you don’t want to type them in, the longer ones are all available in my “code” directory.

I hope you’ll get a copy at your local independent bookseller.

Shebang (#!) with wine

Waves 3 Ways at @Party

Sunday 15 June 2014, 2:23 am   /////////  

codewiz and I (nom de nom) showed a wild demo at @party yesterday (June 14) at MIT.

It was “Waves 3 Ways (Topsy’s Revenge).” Indeed, there’s video.

Tesla coilThe concept is based on one-line C programs to generate music, the earliest of which were by viznut. I (nom de nom) wrote a C expression in this style to generate a waveform that could be output as sound but also consisted of all printable ASCII characters. The source is about 1kb, without much effort at compression. And the sound, in addition to driving speakers, can be (and was) connected to a Tesla coil.

To connect the oneTesla coil he built, codewiz modified the firmware and the control box to allow the audio output to be read by the potentiometer input. He also wrote dsptee.c to improve the way the text scrolls.

Topsy was the elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1903 to help prove that AC electricity (advocated by Tesla) was unsafe.

My main disappointment was that the projector, which I thought would be HD and thus the same as my display, showed only the left-hand side of the video. I should have checked it more thoroughly before we got started.

We were very pleased to get second place behind a nice oscilloscope demo.

Title sequence from 'Waves 3 Ways'

We signed the production, too, although it's not very visible when it's running.

The final section of the demo is based on the bpNichol poem “Island,” part of his Apple IIe collection First Screening. This poem, in turn, refers to a concrete poem by Ian Hamilton Finlay. I’ve put a video/screencast of the end of the production online.

Trope Tank Annual Report 2013-2014

I direct a lab at MIT called The Trope Tank. This is a lab for research, teaching, and creative production, located in building 14 (where the Hayden Library is also housed), in room 14N-233. Its mission is to develop new poetic practices and new understandings of digital media by focusing on the material, formal, and historical aspects of computation and language.

Trope Tank computers at work

The lab’s website has just been updated with some new information about our two major creative/research projects, Slant and Renderings. Earlier this academic year, a hardware and software catalog of Trope Tank resources was developed by Erik Stayton with contributions from Sylvia Tomayko-Peters.

As usual, the Trope Tanks hosts the monthly meetings of the local interactive fiction club, the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction. Also, the Trope Tank’s series of digital writing presentations, Purple Blurb, continued this year; I was on leave in Fall 2013, but the series was back and hosted four excellent presentations in Spring 2014. See those sites for more information about PR-IF and Purple Blurb.

Here’s what we’ve been up to since our last annual report in May 2013:

New Works: Creative projects released.

  • Nanowatt, single-loading (3.5 KB) demoscene production for the VIC-20. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin as Nom de Nom, McMartin, and Baud 1. Shown and awarded 2nd place on 30 November 2013 at Récursion, Montréal.
  • World Clock, computer generated novel with source code by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 30 November 2013, in print at the Harvard Book Store.
  • Round, digital poem by Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.
  • Duels — Duets, digital poem. By Stephanie Strickland and Nick Montfort. Published on the Web 14 August 2013 by New Binary Press.
  • The Deletionist, digital poetry system. By Nick Montfort, Amaranth Borsuk, and Jesper Juul. 2011–2013. Premiered at E-Poetry 2013 in London and published on the Web.
  • Three Rails Live, an interactive video installation. By Rod Coover, Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg. 2011–2013. Documentation published on the web in bleuOrange 7, 2013.

Trope Reports: We have issued two technical reports.

Exhibit & Museum Event:

  • Second Fridays: How People Connect, Presentation of Commodore 64 BASIC programming, Piotr Marecki and Erik Stayton, and event at the MIT Museum, February 14, 2014
  • Programs at an Exhibition, Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer, an exhibit at the Boston Cyberats Gallery, March 6-16, 2014

Presentations:

  • Marecki, Piotr, “Sticker literature or augmented reality literature,” David Foster Wallace Conference, Department of English, Illinois State University, May 23, 2014 
  • Marecki, Piotr, “The Road to Assland and early Polish Text Adventure Games,” People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, The Trope Tank, MIT, May 13, 2014
  • Montfort, Nick, “Combinatory Media and Possibilities for Documentary,” OpenDoc Lab, MIT, May 8, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” MIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing, May 7, 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Textual Caves: Expanding the Literary Writing Space,” Shapeshifters: Recycling and Literature, Department of Comparative Literature, Yale University, April 25-26 2014
  • Montfort, Nick “Exploratory Programming,” first of four major topics for the online Critical Code Studies Working Group 2014, 23 February-23 March, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Aesthetic Obfuscated Code,” Symposium on Obfusctation, New York University, 15 February 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Ten Cases of Computational Poetics,” UCLA, M/ELT, 17 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Poetic Models,” University of Southern California, SCA Complex, 16 January 2014
  • Marecki, Piotr, “Polish Literature in the Digital Age,” IAP talk, MIT, January 21, 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Computational Literary Models for Fun and Poetics,” Concordia University, Montréal, 10 January 2014.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Scaling Up Literary Models with Curveship and Slant,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UNAM, Mexico City, 15 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Literary Models,” 8th Mexican International Colloquium on Computational Creativity, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, 14 November 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “Electronic Literature and Other Forms of Popular Creative Computing.” Keynote address at Writing Literature, Reading Society, Municipal Public Library, Kraków, 29 October 2013.
  • Montfort, Nick, “10 PRINT,” MIT CSAIL Programming Language & Software Engineering retreat, MIT Endicott House, 21 May 2013
  • Montfort, Nick, “Hardware and Emulation to Access Creative Computing,” Preserving.exe Summit, Library of Congress, 20 May 2013
  • Baudoin, Patsy and Nick Montfort, “10 PRINT,” Writing Across the Curriculum, MIT, 17 May 2013

Translations: Andrew Campana translated “The Two” by Nick Montfort into Japanese. Piotr Marecki translated Montfort’s “Lede,” “The Two,” and World Clock (via translation of the novel-generating program) into Polish, and, with Aleksandra Małecka, translated “Between Page and Screen” by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse into Polish. These will be placed online when revisions are complete.

Teaching:

  • The Trope Tank hosted a visit by The Word Made Digital, 21W.764, during Spring 2014.
  • “Exploratory Programming Workshop” by Nick Montfort, New York University, 14 February 2014.
  • Commodore 64 BASIC Workshop by Nick Montfort, offered for MIT’s Independent Activities Period, 29 January 2014.
  • “Workshop in Exploratory Programming” by Nick Montfort, UAM Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, two meetings on 11-12 November 2013.

Upcoming: In Milwaukee this month Trope Tank researchers will present at (int)7 (Intelligent Narrative Technologies 7) and the Electronic Literature Organization Conference. The presentation will be “Expressing the Narrator’s Expectations” by Montfort and Stayton at (int)7, and at ELO in the conference paper sessions “The Formation of the Field of Electronic Literature in Poland” by Marecki, “Computational Editions, Ports, and Remakes of ‘First Screening’ and ‘Karateka’” by Stayton and Montfort, and “New Novel Machines: Nanowatt and World Clock” by Montfort. The ELO Media Arts show will include “The Postulate to Hyperdescribe the World” by Marecki and Aleksandra Małecka and “Round” by Montfort. Andrew Campana’s work will be part of the Gallery of E-Lit 1st Encounters.

Many papers and even some books developed with Trope Tank support are forthcoming, but instead of trying to enumerate those, I’ll list them next year, when they have appeared.

There’s a party — Perverbs.

Friday 23 May 2014, 4:34 pm   //////  

I persist in my quest to develop extremely simple, easily modifiable programs that produce compelling textual output.

My latest project is Modern Perverbs. In a world where nothing is as it seems … two phrases … combine … to make a perverb. That’s about all there is to it. If phrase N is picked from the first list, some phrase that isn’t number N will be picked from the second, to ensure maximum perverbiality. The first phrase also carries the punctuation mark that will be used at the very end. This one is a good bit simpler than even my very simple “exploded sentence” project, Lede.

(I learned of perverbs and their power, I should note, thanks to Selected Declarations of Dependence by Harry Mathews.)

In case, for some reason, you fear the legal repercussions of ripping off my HTML and JavaScript and editing it, Modern Perverbs is explicitly licensed as free software. Save the page on your desktop as plain HTML (not “complete”), open it in an editor, and have a field day.

Sounds, User-Input Phrases, and Monkeys in “Taroko Gorge”

Monday 12 May 2014, 6:25 pm   ///////  

Check out “Wandering through Taroko Gorge,” a participatory, audio-enabled remix.

As James T. Burling stated on the “projects” page of MAD THEORY:

In this combination of presentation and poetry reading, I’ll present a remix of Nick Monfort’s javascript poetry generator, “Taroko Gorge.” My remix added a musical component using a computers oscilloscope function, and more importantly allows participant-observers to type in answers to prompts which are then added to the poem in real-time. The poem will be available throughout the day, gradually adding all inputs to its total sum. I’ll discuss the process of decoding html and javascript as a non-coder, describe some of my theories on participatory performance using computer interfaces, and raise questions about agency in performance and how a digital artifact can function as a poetic event.

Slice of Trope

Wednesday 30 April 2014, 2:15 pm   //////  

Slice of MIT, an MIT alumni publication, has an article on my work with poetry and computation. It’s by Kate Hoagland, was written for National Poetry Month, and is an excellent short discussion of several recent projects and some themes in my work and that of my lab, The Trope Tank.

Happy Pi Day: Round

Friday 14 March 2014, 5:15 pm   ///  

My poem Round computes the digits of pi (in your browser, for as long as you like) and represents them as strings of text. It’s published by New Binary Press. Enjoy it on this 3/14.

“POET The Game” The Movie The Poem…

Sunday 23 February 2014, 10:30 pm   ///  

It’s not quite Thy Dungeonman, but you can now play POET The Game, which pokes at the life of an MFA student poet in a browser-based roll-your-own-parser experience that is meant to recall the text adventures of yore.

“Poetic Computing,” my Talk at NYU Thursday

Sunday 9 February 2014, 8:29 pm   /////  

Update: Blankets of snow and torrents of sleet have tried to match the intensity of the poster design below. As a result, today’s talk (2/13) is cancelled! NYU is closing at 3pm today. Hopefully there will be another chance before too long…

I don’t always announce my upcoming talks on my blog…

But when I do, they’re promoted by very nice posters.

Feb 13, 6pm, 239 Greene St, 8th Floor, NYU: 'Poetic Computing' a talk by Nick Montfort

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