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 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; 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.

#! 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.

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.

Microcodes and more Non-Object Art

Wednesday 9 April 2014, 8:40 am   //////  

In NOO ART, The Journal of Objectless Art, there’s a conversation between Páll Thayer and Daniel Temkin that was just posted. (Thayer recently collaborated with me to put up “Programs at an Exhibition,” the first software art show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery.) The conversation covers Thayer’s code art, including his Perl Microcodes and antecedents, but also touches on free software, Windows, various esoteric languages by Temkin and others, painting and drawing, Christiane Paul’s CodeDOC project at the Whitney, “expert cultures,” and the future of code-based art.

It’s great reading, and objectless art might be just the thing to go with your object-oriented ontology.

“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.


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.


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.”


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.


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

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

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

“Programs at an Exhibition” March 6-16

Tuesday 25 February 2014, 6:18 pm   /////////  

Nick Montfort & Páll Thayer

Programs at an Exhibition

At the Boston Cyberarts Gallery
141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line
Phone number: 617-522-6710

The exhibit runs March 6 through March 16.

Opening: 6pm-9pm, Thursday March 6.

A snapshot of 'After Jasper Johns,' Nick Montfort, installed at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery

Part of the life of remarkable artworks is that they are appropriated, transformed, and made new. In Programs at an Exhibition, two artists who use code and computation as their medium continue the sort of work others have done by representing visual art as music, by recreating performance pieces in Second Life, and by painting a mustache and goatee on a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. Programs at an Exhibition presents computer programs, written in Perl and Commodore 64 BASIC, each running on its own dedicated computer. The 20th century artworks reenvisioned in these programs include some by painters and visual artists, but also include performances by Joseph Beuys and Vito Acconci. All of the underlying code is made available for gallery visitors to read; they are even welcome to take it home, type it in, and run or rework these programs themselves.

The programs (Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, Perl by Páll Thayer) re-create aspects of the concepts and artistic processes that underlie well-known artworks, not just the visual appearance of those works. They participate in popular and “recreational” programming traditions of the sort that people have read about in magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, including Creative Computing. Programmers working in these traditions share code, and they also share an admiration for beautiful output. By celebrating such practices, the exhibit relates to the history of art as well as to the ideals of free software and to the productions of the demoscene. By encouraging gallery visitors to explore programming in the context of contemporary art and the work of specific artists, the exhibit offers a way to make connections between well-known art history and the vibrant, but less widely-known, creative programming practices that have been taken up in recent decades by popular computer users, professional programmers, and artists.

The Perl programs in the exhibit are from Microcodes, a series of very small code-based artworks that Páll Thayer began in 2009. Each one is a fully contained work of art. The conceptual meaning of each piece is revealed through the combination of the title, the code and the results of running them on a computer. Many contemporary programmers view Perl as a “dated” language that saw its heyday in the early ages of the World Wide Web as the primary language used to combine websites with databases. Perl was originally developed by Larry Wall, whose primary interest was to develop a language for parsing text. Because of his background in linguistics, he also wanted the language to have a certain degree of flexibility which has contributed to its motto, “There’s more than one way to do it.” “That motto, ‘TMTOWTDI,’ makes Perl challenging for professional programers who have to take over other’s people code and may struggle to make sense of it,” Thayer said. “But it’s one of the main reasons that Perl, a very expressive programming language, appealed to me in developing this project. This flexibility encouraged Perl programmers to explore individual creative expression in the writing of functional code.”

“Páll’s work in Microcodes engages explicitly with the way computer programs are read by people and hwo they have meanings to those trying to understand them, modify them, debug them, and develop them further,” Nick Montfort said. “The Perl programs in Microcodes are quite readerly when compared to my BASIC programs. I’ve tried to engage with a related, but different documented historical tradition — the one-line BASIC program — as it works in a particular computer, the Commodore 64, and to dive into what that particular computer can do using a very limited amount of code, given these many formal, material, and historical specifics. Because my programs are harder to understand, even though they are written in a more populist programming language, I’m including versions of the program that I have rewritten in a clearer form and that include comments.” Montfort’s related projects include a collaborative book, written with nine others in a single voice, that focuses on a particular Commodore 64 BASIC one-liner. The book, published in 2012, is named after the program that is its focus, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10. Montfort also writes short programs to generate poetry. These include two collections of Perl programs that are constrained in size: his ppg256 series of 256-character programs, and a set of 32-character concrete poetry generators, Concrete Perl. His book #! (pronounced “Shebang”) collects these and other poetry generators, along with their output, and is forthcoming from Counterpath Press.

Nick Montfort develops literary generators and other computational art and poetry, and has participated in dozens of collaborations. He is associate professor of digital media at MIT and faculty advisor for the Electronic Literature Organization, whose Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1 he co-edited. Montfort wrote the book of poems Riddle & Bind and co-wrote 2002: A Palindrome Story with William Gillespie. The MIT Press has published four of Montfort’s collaborative and individually-authored books: The New Media Reader (co-edited with Noah Wardrip-Fruin), Twisty Little Passages, Racing the Beam (co-authored with Ian Bogost), and most recently 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, a collaboration with Patsy Baudoin, John Bell, Ian Bogost, Jeremy Douglass, Mark C. Marino, Michael Mateas, Casey Reas, Mark Sample, and Noah Vawter that Montfort organized. Nick Montfort’s site, with his digital poems and a link to a free PDF of 10 PRINT:

Páll Thayer is an Icelandic/American artist working primarily with computers and the Internet. He is a devout follower of open-source culture. His work is developed using open-source tools and source code for his projects is released under a GPL license. His work has been exhibited at galleries and festivals around the world with solo shows in Iceland, Sweden, and New York and notable group shows in the US, Canada, Finland, Germany, and Brazil. Páll Thayer has an MFA degree in visual arts from Concordia University in Montréal. He is an active member of Lorna, Iceland’s only organization devoted to electronic arts. He is also an alumni member of The Institute for Everyday Life, Concordia/Hexagram, Montréal. Páll Thayer currently works as a lecturer and technical support specialist at SUNY Purchase College, New York. Páll Thayer’s Microcodes site:

Ten programs will be exhibited, running on ten computers. Two of them, one in Perl by Páll Thayer and one in Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, are based on the same artwork, Jasper Johns’s Flag: Flag: Pall Thayer

Flag: Pall Thayer

Flag · Páll Thayer
Perl program · 2009

After Jasper Johns: Nick Montfort

After Jasper Johns: Nick Montfort

After Jasper Johns · Nick Montfort
one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program · 2013

The C64 in the NYT

Saturday 22 February 2014, 10:46 pm   /////  

My colleague Myke pointed out this New York Times column about the Commodore 64, which waxes nostalgic and also points out how the computer opened up possibilities for new programmers to explore and learn. Myke also pointed out, quite aptly, that the photo, which is supposed to be of a Commodore 64, is actually of a 1541 disk drive. Alas, the Grey Lady, in reference to the rainbow-logoed computer, nods…

“Programs at an Exhibition” Opens March 6

Wednesday 19 February 2014, 3:57 pm   //////////  

I’ll post more on this soon, but for now, let me invite you to the opening of my & Páll Thayer’s show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery: 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, located in the Green Street T Station on the Orange Line, 617-522-6710.

The opening is 6pm-9pm on Thursday March 6.

The exhibit (which will be up March 6-16) will feature ten programs (five in Commodore 64 BASIC by Nick Montfort, five in Perl by Páll Thayer), each running on its own computer. The programs re-create aspects of the concepts and artistic processes that underlie well-known artworks, not just the visual appearance of those works. They participate in popular and “recreational” programming traditions of the sort that people read about in magazines of the 1970s and 1980s, including Creative Computing. Programmers working in these traditions share code, and they also share an admiration for beautiful output. By celebrating such practices, the exhibit relates to the history of art as well as to the ideals of free software and to the productions of the demoscene. By encouraging gallery visitors to explore programming in the context of contemporary art and the work of specific artists, the exhibit offers a way to make connections between well-known art history and the vibrant, but less widely-known, creative programming practices that have been taken up in recent decades by popular computer users, professional programmers, and artists.

Flag: Pall Thayer

Flag: Pall Thayer

Flag · Páll Thayer
Perl program · 2009

After Jasper Johns: Nick Montfort

After Jasper Johns: Nick Montfort

After Jasper Johns · Nick Montfort
one-line Commodore 64 BASIC program · 2013

“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

Upcoming Events at USC, UCLA, MIT, NYU

Wednesday 15 January 2014, 3:11 pm   /////  

The Trope Tank has a good deal going on in the next month, as classes at MIT begin. If you’re in LA, the Boston Area, or New York at the right times, please join us…

C64 BASIC Workshop at MIT, January 29, 2-5pm

Wednesday 8 January 2014, 7:19 pm   ////  

I am moved by the holiday spirit of MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) to announce a Commodore 64 BASIC programming workshop using original hardware.

[Update: The workshop is now fully subscribed, but I will try to arrange for spectators who would like to join us around 4:30pm to see the results of our work.]

C64 BASIC Code running in the Trope Tank

Beginning at 2pm on Wednesday January 29, we will spend about two and half hours working on short BASIC programs. Collaboration will be strongly encouraged; there will be one Commodore 64 provided for each pair of programmers. (If you negotiate with your partner, you may write something individually, however.) It is fine to proceed by modifying programs, and some will be provided for this exact purpose. Programs need not be interactive, but can be. Visual and textual effects will be our focus, but programmers are welcome to work with sound, to develop simple games, or even (gasp!) to write a program that does something useful.

No programming experience (in BASIC, on the Commodore 64, or otherwise) is required. Those who are new to programming can be paired with experienced programmers, if this is suitable to both people. Also, the essentials of BASIC on the Commodore 64 will be described during the workshop. Finally, new programmers can do very interesting work by modifying programs, changing data and parameters and then getting into changing and adding code.

At about 4:30pm we will have a presentation, screening, showcase, or compos of sorts for Commodore 64 BASIC programs in the following three categories:

  • One-liner
  • (max) 10-line program
  • (max) 25-line program

After this workshop, the code developed will be presented and shared on the Web, where it can be run in emulation or by people who have Commodore 64s.

The workshop will take place in my lab at MIT, The Trope Tank, room 14N-233. The site for the lab includes directions for getting there.

The time for the workshop, again, is:

January 29 (Wednesday)

I can accommodate 8-10 people, programming in pairs. Reserve a place by sending me an email. Because space is limited, please promise to come to the workshop if you write to reserve a space.

No Code: Null Programs

Sunday 15 December 2013, 4:15 pm   //////  

Just posted: TROPE-13-03 – No Code: Null Programs by Nick Montfort, in the Trope Report series (technical reports from my lab the Trope Tank at MIT).

To continue the productive discussion of uninscribed artworks in Craig Dworkin’s No Medium, this report discusses, in detail, those computer programs that have no code, and are thus empty or null. Several specific examples that have been offered in different contexts (the demoscene, obfuscated coding, a programming challenge, etc.) are analyzed. The concept of a null program is discussed with reference to null strings and files. This limit case of computing shows that both technical and cultural means of analysis are important to a complete understanding of programs – even in the unusual case that they lack code.

Please share and enjoy. And do feel free to leave a comment here if anything to add on this topic, or if you have a question about this report. I’d be glad to continue the discussion of these unusual programs.

Video of Nanowatt Online

Tuesday 3 December 2013, 2:55 pm   ///////  

A single-loading VIC-20 demo (3583 bytes) presented on November 30, 2013 at Récursion in Montréal. By Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin (nom de nom, mcmartin, baud 1). This video is of the demo running in the Trope Tank at MIT on December 3, 2013.

Tagged on YouTube as Commodore VIC-20, Samuel Beckett, Electronic Literature, Computer (Musical Instrument), and Demoscene. See also the fuller story about Nanowatt with links to executable code.

NaNoGenMo Wraps Up and Prints Out

Monday 2 December 2013, 7:26 pm   //////  

There are some things I absolutely must mention at this point, to highlight certain of the many interesting outcomes from NaNoGenMo (National Novel Generation Month):

Alice’s Adventures in the Whale, one of two novels created by Leonard Richardson by computationally replacing all the dialog in one novel with the dialog in another:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “Can’t sell his head?–What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you are telling me?” thought Alice “Do you pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?”

Presently she began again. “Ka-la! Koo-loo!” (she was rather glad there WAS no one listening, this time, as it didn’t sound at all the right word) “Stand up, Tashtego!–give it to him!” (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke–fancy CURTSEYING as you’re falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) “Stern all!”

“My God! Mr. Chace, what is the matter?” said poor Alice, and her eyes filled with tears again as she went on, “we have been stove by a whale.” cried Alice, with a sudden burst of tears, “NARRATIVE OF THE SHIPWRECK OF THE WHALE SHIP ESSEX OF NANTUCKET, WHICH WAS ATTACKED AND FINALLY DESTROYED BY A LARGE SPERM WHALE IN THE PACIFIC OCEAN.”

CHAPTER V. Advice from a Caterpillar

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

“I say, pull like god-dam,” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “There she slides, now! Hurrah for the white-ash breeze! Down with the Yarman! Sail over him!”

Leonard’s other submitted novel used Pride and Prejudice (and Through the Looking Glass). Along similar lines, you may be interested in seeing what Pride and Prejudice looks like without any dialog.

Early in the month, Zarf (Andrew Plotkin) submitted a generated novel that is entirely dialog: Redwreath and Goldstar Have Traveled to Deathsgate.

Ian Renton generated Doctor Who fan fiction using the technique of Bayseian poisoning, which is popular in spam generation. It’s only the only fanficlicious novel; see the generated Austenesque novels of jiko.

I was implicated in inspiring Nif, a palindromic 50,000-word+ novel, the second generated novel submitted (early in the month) by catseye. A remixed and extended version was done by Michael Paulukonis.

Don’t miss Aaron Reed’s Agressive Passive, which details conversation between six housemates about maintaining the cleanliness of their domicile.

And finally, my entry is World Clock, which briefly describes something happening, at some location around the world, at each minute of a day.

The overall “site” for NaNoGenMo, which was the fervent brainchild of Darius Kazemi, is, by the way, this humble GitHub repository.

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