CS and CCS

Here’s a post from a computer scientist (Paul Fishwick) that not only embraces critical code studies (CCS), it suggests that collaborations are possible that would be a “remarkable intersection of culture and disciplines” – where the object of study and the methods are shared between the humanities and computer science. Radical.


Codings shows the computer as an aesthetic, programmed device that computes on characters. The works in the show continue and divert the traditions of concrete poetry and short-form recreational programming; they eschew elaborate multimedia combinations and the use of network resources and instead operate on encoded letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols that are on the computer itself.

////////////////////////// Giselle Biguelman
///////////////////////// Commodore Business Machines, Inc.
//////////////////////// Adam Parrish
/////////////////////// Jörg Piringer
////////////////////// Casey Reas
///////////////////// Páll Thayer

Curated by Nick Montfort
Pace Digital Gallery

Feb 28th – March 30th, 2012 (with regular gallery hours Mon-Thu 12-5pm).

Panel with artists Adam Parrish and Páll Thayer and the curator, and opening reception, Feb 28th, 5-7pm.

The Codings catalog is available as a PDF for download (6MB).

The Pace Digital Gallery is directed by Frank T. Marchese and Jillian Mcdonald and is located at 163 William St, New York, NY. More information on the works exhibited, and directions to the gallery, can be found at the Pace Digital Gallery site.

The Sounds of Little C

A group of sonic and code explorers has been discovering excellent super-short C programs that, piped to an 8-bit audio device, generate music. Here’s the first video and a second video with sounds and code.

Here’s the code for one example, “Lost in Space,” from video #2:


If you are also a righteous Ubuntu user, you can paste that into a file (let’s call it “lost_in_space.c”) and compile it with:

% gcc lost_in_space.c -o lost_in_space

Then, pipe it (or pretend to pipe it, using padsp, since recent versions of Ubuntu don’t have /dev/dsp) to your audio device using:

% ./lost_in_space | padsp tee /dev/dsp > /dev/null

Thanks to Andrew Stern for tipping me off about this one.

Yo Dawg, I Hear You Like Taroko Gorge

In his just-released “Argot Ogre, OK!” Andrew Plotkin presents mash-ups and remixes of (almost) all the “Taroko Gorge” remixes to date (and of course the original “Taroko Gorge”), producing such poignant lines as “LAWN DARTS linger” along with single-source remixes and some different stanza shapes. Anyone interested in this thread of poetry generation projects should check it out and should certainly “view source.” Or don’t, if you don’t want to discover more about the secret of the monkey.

This, my friends, calls for a recap of the generators of this general sort to date – eleven of them, so far. Note particularly the two generators mentioned only in comments (“Whisper Wire,” a third remix with visual elements by J. R. Carpenter and the fanlicious “Takei, George” by Mark Sample, which was released after my post) and two other generators released after my post (“Alone Engaged” by Maria Engberg, made at and perhaps redolent of Georgia Tech, and a generator for the the Harry Potter wizarding world of Weasleycest, “Fred & George” by Flourish Klink). In alphabetical order by title, here is a linked list of all of them so far:

Alone Engaged by Maria Engberg
Along the Briny Beach by J. R. Carpenter
Argot Ogre, OK! by Andrew Plotkin
Fred & George by Flourish Klink
Gorge by J. R. Carpenter
Takei, George by Mark Sample
Taroko Gorge by Nick Montfort
Tokyo Garage by Scott Rettberg
Toy Garbage by Talan Memmott
Whisper Wire by J. R. Carpenter
Yoko Engorged by Eric Snodgrass

Electrifying Literature: The ELO 2012 Conference at WVU

Call for Proposals…

ELO 2012

Electrifying Literature
Affordances and Constraints

June 20-23, 2012
Morgantown, WV

Conference Planning Committee

– Sandy Baldwin, West Virginia University (Chair)
– Philippe Bootz, University of Paris 8
– Dene Grigar, Washington State University Vancouver
– Margie Luesebrink, Irvine Valley College
– Mark Marino, University of Southern California
– Stuart Moulthrop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
– Joseph Tabbi, University of Illinois, Chicago

We invite titles and proposals of no more than 500 words, including a brief description of the content and format of the presentation, and contact information for the presenter(s). Send proposals to elit2012 [at] gmail.com, using plain text format in the email, or attached as Word or PDF. All proposals will receive peer-to-peer review by the ELO and will be considered on their own terms. Non-traditional and traditional formats will be subject to the same peer-to-peer review process.

Submission deadline for proposals: November 30, 2011

Notification of acceptance: December 30, 2011

Electronic Literature: Where is It?*

The 2012 Electronic Literature Organization Conference will be held June 20-23, 2012 in Morgantown, WV, the site of West Virginia University. In conjunction with the three-day conference, there will be a juried Media Arts Show open to the public at the Monongalia Arts Center in Morgantown and running from June 18-30, 2012. An accompanying online exhibit will bring works from the ELO Conference to a wider audience.

Even if nobody could define print literature, everyone knew where to look for it – in libraries and bookshops, at readings, in class, or on the Masterpiece channel. We have not yet created, however, a consensus about where to find electronic literature, or (for that matter) the location of the literary in an emerging digital aesthetic.

Though we do have, in digital media, works that identify themselves as “locative,” we don’t really know where to look for e-lit, how it should be tagged and distributed, and whether or how it should be taught. Is born digital writing likely to reside, for example, in conventional literature programs? in Rhetoric? Comp? Creative Writing? Can new media literature be remediated? How should its conditions of creation be described? Do those descriptions become our primary texts when the works themselves become unavailable through technological obsolescence?

To forward our thinking about the institutional and technological location of current literary writing, The Electronic Literature Organization and West Virginia University’s Center for Literary Computing invite submissions to the ELO 2012 Conference to be held from June 20-23, 2012, in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Bearing in mind the changing locations of new media literature and literary cultures, the conference organizers welcome unconventional presentations, whether in print or digital media. The point is not to reject the conventional conference ‘paper’ or bullet point presentation but to encourage thoughtful exploration and justification of any format employed. All elements of literary description and presentation are up for reconsideration. The modest mechanisms of course descriptions, syllabus construction, genre identification, and the composition of author bios, could well offer maps toward the location of the literary in digital media. So can an annotated bibliography of works falling under a given genre or within a certain technological context. We welcome surveys of the use of tags and keywords, and how these can be recognized (or not) by readers, libraries, or other necessary nodes in an emerging literary network Also of interest is the current proliferation of directories of electronic literature in multiple media, languages, and geographical locations.

The cost of the conference is $150; graduate students and non-affiliated artists pay only $100. The cost covers receptions, meals, and other conference events. All participants must be members of the Electronic Literature Organization. All events are within walking distance of the conference hotels. Morgantown is a classic college town, located in the scenic hills of north central West Virginia, about 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, PA. Local hotel and travel information will be available on the conference website starting October 1, 2011.

Check http://el.eliterature.org and http://conference.eliterature.org for updates. For more information, email elit2012 [at] gmail.com.

*Note: this title derives from an essay by ELO Board Member Dene Grigar in electronic book review, where selected conference presentations will be published within a few months of the conference.

Who Grabbed My Gorge

In January 2009, I wrote a very short (one page) Python poetry generator that creates a limitless nature poem each time it is run. I wrote this generator, “Taroko Gorge,” mostly at Taroko Gorge National Park in Taiwan, finishing it on the plane afterwards. I later ported it to JavaScript so that it could be easily run in a Web browser.

It seems the gorge goes ever ever on. The code from “Taroko Gorge” and the form it defines have been appropriated a few times. Here are five poetry generators that use the code from that project and replace my text with different, and often much more extensive, language:

“Tokyo Garage” by Scott Rettberg, 2009. [Output from “Tokyo Garage” read aloud by a pedantic machinima clown.]

“Gorge” by J. R. Carpenter, 2010. [Announcement of “Gorge.”] [Output appears in J. R. Carpenter’s GENERATION[S], Traumawien: 2010.]

“Along the Briny Beach” by J. R. Carpenter, 2011. [Announcement of “Along the Briny Beach.”]

“Toy Garbage” by Talan Memmott, 2011.

“Yoko Engorged” by Eric Snodgrass. 2011. [Announcement of “Yoko Engorged.”]

Conferencing on Code and Games

First, as of this writing: I’m at the GAMBIT Summer Summit here at MIT, which runs today and is being streamed live. Do check it out if video game research interests you.

A few days ago, I was at the Foundations of Digital Games conference in Bordeaux. On July 1 I presented the first conference paper on Curveship since the system has been released as free software. The paper is “Curveship’s Automatic Narrative Style,” which sums up or at least mentions many of the research results while documenting the practicalities of the system and using the current terminology of the release version.

four FDG attendees

Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Malcolm Ryan, Michael Young (next year’s FDG local organizer) and Michael Mateas in between sessions at FDG 2011.

At FDG, there was a very intriguing interest in focalization, seen in Jichen Zhu’s presentation of the paper by Jichen Zhu, Santiago Ontañón and Brad Lewter, “Representing Game Characters’ Inner Worlds through Narrative Perspectives” and in the poster “Toward a Computational Model of Focalization” by Byung-Chull Bae, Yun-Gyung Cheong, and R. Michael Young. (Zhu’s work continues aspects of her dissertation project, of which I was a supervisor, so I was particularly interested to see how her work has been progressing.) Curveship has the ability to change focalization and to narrate (textually) from the perspective of different characters, based on their knowledge and perceptions; this is one of several ways in which it can vary the narrating. I’ll be interested to see how others continue to explore this aspect of narrative.

Before FDG was Digital Humanities 2011 at Stanford, where I was very pleased, on June 22, to join a panel assembled by Rita Raley. I briefly discussed data-driven poetic practices of different sorts (N+7, diastic writing, and many other forms) and presented ppg256 and Concrete Perl, which are not data-driven. I argued that as humanists we should be “digging into code” as well as data, understanding process in the new ways that we can. It was great to join Sandy Baldwin, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, and John Cayley on this panel, to discuss code and poetry with them, and to hear their presentations.

Concrete Perl

 h            d d     k x  v  d r k y  p  s b a  b  a  n  i  k  d   u  u 
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         z b    q   b   k x  m  d u  z f  s  g p u z v y       v m  f   s
  i  u  p  p z   r n t  k f   b h v  q l  x w h x  f  x    c i w     v f 
k h   l  a i      o q  s z n z  u n c l    w      d     a  d a  m j  b e 
 m  n b q o u o e  n   s    r b o j     b  q q t q s   f n i  f     u  l 

Concrete Perl

a set of four concrete poems realized as 32-character
Perl programs

by Nick Montfort

All the Names of God
Alphabet Expanding
ASCII Hegemony
Letterformed Terrain

You can download the linked Perl files and/or simply copy and paste the following four lines, which correspond to the four titles above:

perl -e '{print"a"x++$...$"x$.,$,=_;redo}'
perl -e '{print$,=$"x($.+=.01),a..z;redo}'
perl -e '{print" ".chr for 32..126;redo}'
perl -e '{print$",$_=(a..z)[rand$=];redo}'

For purposes of determining the platform precisely and counting characters, the rules of Perl Golf are
used. These rules, for instance, do not count the (optional) newline at the end of a one-line program. The Concrete Perl programs work on all standard versions of Perl 5.8.0 and have been verified as 32 characters long using a count program.

These programs are also written to work and to be visually pleasing on terminal windows (or terminals) of any geometry.

To present them all at once, you can tile four windows and run one program in each window. For instance, running Linux with Compiz as the window manager and the Grid plugin installed and active, create four windows and assign them to the four corners of the screen using Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 7, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 9, Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 1, and Ctrl-Alt-Num Pad 3. In this
mode if the resolution of the display is not particularly high, you may wish to decrease the font size a notch in each window.

Concrete Perl was released onto the demoscene and discussed by me for the first time in my talk “Beyond Data-Driven Poetry: ppg256 and Concrete Perl,” on the panel “Literary Practice and the Digital Humanities, Redux: Data as/and Poetry,” Digital Humanities 2011, Stanford, June 22, 2011.

I have printed the four programs/poems on a dot matrix printer on business cards and am handing them out and, in some cases, adding them to the “Interactive Poetry Wall” at Stanford University’s “Coho” coffeehouse.

p  j  o c v v     n  v  t  g k   t i      s h    f j   v  e d    v c e  b
  p z          p  e     s s d    o f z   v  p s  t  z   i b  f j w     l 
 p  z y      f j  w k k p k y n  v f g u m r m k x i  w  l s a t n b a f 
w   q    y u t p r p w     p       m d   x j c j   j n z k a   j  z  i s 
 w a    w q k       j   y y   k c r    d i         b p  f   z h  i x    i
 c  o  x  f  p f     u d   g z y f b y  v     q    v  g v    o      j l  

Charles Bernstein Sounds Off

Charles Bernstein just gave the keynote-like presentation at E-Poetry. (Actually, he used PowerPoint.) I’m providing a few notes, feebly extending in my subjective way some of his oral and photographic/digital presentation for those of you in the information super-blogosphere.

He started by mentioning the UB Poetics Program and its engagement with digital humanities, saying: “As Digital Humanities departs from poetics, it loses its ability to articulate what it needs to articulate.”

EPC and PennSound, he explained, are noncommerical spaces that aren’t proprietary, don’t have advertising, and are not hosted on corporate blogs or systems. These are dealing with digital archival issues – not as much computational poetry – but very important work to do on the Web. There was no foundation support for EPC, even though it was acknowledged as the most widely used poetry site on the Web.

PennSound, a project with the strong support of Penn thanks to the work of Al Filreis, has around 10 million downloads/year – even bigger than Billy Collins! There are about 40,000 individual files. This is bigger than anyone thinks poetry is today. But the NEH won’t fund the project because we aren’t mainly a preservation project; we don’t put audio on gold-plated CDs and place them in a vault.

Bernstein’s new book _Attack of the Difficult Poems_ gives an account of language reproduction technologies and poetics, explaining how different technologies exist overlaid at once. Hence, he explained that he is interested not only in e-poetry but also in d-poetry and f-poetry. Alphabetic, oral, and electronic cultures are overlaid today.

Talking machines, since Edison’s recitation of “Mary had a little lamb,” produce sounds that we process as if they were speech. The recorded voice only speaks and is private – unlike in the public of a live talk. The digital creates proliferations of versions, undermining the idea of the stable text even further.

Bernstein demonstrated the aesthetics of microphone breakdown and then explored the poetic possibilities of the presenter having difficulties with computer interface – he played some audio clips, too, showing that the “archives” we are discussing are productive of new works. Bernstein also welcomed an outpouring of “cover versions” of poems. Poets now only read each others’ work aloud at memorial gatherings. “Any performance of a poem is an exemplary interpretation.” Bernstein went though the specifics of four possibilities found in speech but not in text. Bernstein discussed “the artifice of accent” and how recorded voice, and digital access, have been important to this aspect of poetry.

Bernstein went on to discuss Woody Allen’s fear of books on tape, odd for someone for whom the more recent technologies of TV were so important. Charles presented his Yeats impersonation, which he suggests may be not as important as Yeats’ actual recorded reading, just as the Pope’s prayers may actually be more important even though we like to think that everyone’s are the same. Sound writing is the only kind of writing other than unsound writing.

I have a final image macro based on something Bernstein said immediately before he corrected himself. I hope this gives you some idea of why I’m a follower, a close follower, of Charles Bernstein…

an image macro

Digital Poetry at Dartmouth

My thanks to Mary Flanagan, Aden Evens, and the others at Dartmouth who put on the digital poetry symposium last Friday (April 15). I was very glad to participate along with Marjorie Luesebrink, Braxton Soderman, and my collaborator Stephanie Strickland. With Stephanie, I showed, discussed and read from our “Sea and Spar Between.” I also presented some of my smaller-scale poetry generations, including words from the ppg256 series, “The Two” and its French translation by Serge Bouchardon, and “Taroko Gorge” and its transformations by Scott Rettberg and J. R. Carpenter.

Mary has a writeup of the symposium on her blog, Tiltfactor, describing the excellent work that my fellow presenters showed. I was familiar with and pleased to hear more about the projects that Margie and Stephanie showed; it was great to see the work in progress, a provocative textual platformer, that Braxton was doing with Daniel C. Howe and that he showed.

ClubFloyd Plays Book and Volume

On April 2, “ClubFloyd,” a group of players of interactive fiction, took on my Book and Volume, which was released on the [auto mata] label in 2005. They played the game on ifMUD and conversed online about it. Reading the discussion was a treat for me. Not because every bit of it was positive – I found out about some bugs. For instance, since the current time is only reported in the status line, it can’t be easily determined when playing the game via a bot on a mud, the way this group was playing. But the feedback from these sessions was very useful, and would have been hard to come by otherwise.

I think some of the ClubFloyd players had fun, although I’m not exactly sure how to interpret statements such as “This game boggles the mind.” In any case, the transcript of ClubFloyd’s play is online.

Rettberg on After Parthenope

If you’re interested in story generation or Processing, do check out Scott Rettberg’s new screencast describing the process he undertook in writing and programming After Parthenope. He goes through the nuts and bolts of the piece and how it rolls out language using a hand-crafted trigram model; he also explains some of the pleasures of authoring a system like this.