NaNoGenMo 2014: A Look Back & Back

Friday 19 December 2014, 11:26 pm   //////  

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.

Megawatt, the Paperback, Can Be Bought

Tuesday 9 December 2014, 9:53 pm   //////  

… from the Harvard Book Store.

And if it’s digital data you’re craving, it’s also available for free as a PDF and as an EPUB. And the code that generated these books is free software.

Megawatt Incarnate

Just as Pinocchio became a real boy, so Megawatt (my generated novel for NaNoGenMo 2014) has become a real book.

Megawatt bound (the proof)

Megawatt interior

The book will be for sale within a few days from the Harvard Book Store.

Megawatt

Saturday 29 November 2014, 1:13 pm   //////  

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.

NaNoGenMo 3000!!!!

Sunday 2 November 2014, 8:26 pm   /////  

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.

Polish Reviews of World Clock

Wednesday 29 October 2014, 1:47 pm   //////  

I mentioned a few of these earlier, but there are more. I’ll try to keep an updated list of reviews here for any curious Polish-reading visitors:

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sztukater.pl.

Update Dec 15, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in sZAFa – kwartalnik literacko-artystyczny.

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Szuflada.net

Update Dec 10, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Popmoderna.

Update Nov 13, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Stacja Książka.

Update Nov 4, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Altmundi.

Update Oct 31, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in Gazeta Wyborcza.

Update Oct 30, 2014: Review of Zegar światowy in kulturalnie.waw.pl.

Review of Zegar światowy in Portal (nie całkiem) Kulturalny.

Review of Zegar światowy in SZORTAL.

Review of Zegar światowy by Katarzyna Krzan.

Review of Zegar światowy in Pad Portal.

Review of Zegar światowy by Julia Poczynok.

There was also a review of Zegar światowy in the major Polish weekly magazine Przegląd (the review is not online).

The book was also discussed in an interview I did on Radio Kraków.

World Clock in Polish Reviewed (in Polish)

Tuesday 7 October 2014, 3:08 pm   ////////  

I announced the Polish translation of World Clock recently; here is, as far as I know, the first review of it – which is also the first review of World Clock in any language. It will appear in the magazine Fragile.

„TRAVELOGUE” WIERSZA WOLNEGO NICKA MONTFORTA

Nick Montfort, Zegar światowy, tłum. Z jęz. ang. przełożył Piotr Marecki, Kraków, Korporacja Ha!art, 2014.

Ciekawie przedstawiono w książce autentyczne przemówienie, w którym narrator mówi głosami innych osób. Autor nie tylko opowiada zdarzenie, ale pisząc, że tak było zwraca też uwagę na to, jak do tego doszło: „Ashgabat. Jest prawie 05:04. W pewnym przytulnym schronieniu sporej postury mężczyzna, o imieniu Jakub, czyta kanarkową umowę. Siada prosto”. Kategorii narratora szybko zmienia „punkt widzenia”.

Forma książki to proza ​​poetycka z elementami pamiętnika, po prostu chronologia uczucia. Za to motyw napisania tekstu przypomina „travelogue”, ponieważ zawiera krótkie notatki z podróży. W składni poetyckiej odgrywa ważną rolę elipsa (opuszczanie słów, a nawet całych zdań) : „Samara. Jest około 12:39. W pewnym miłym miejscu zamieszkania średniej postury mężczyzna, nazywany Liang, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą kartkę. Całkowicie się wyłącza”. Ograniczenia krótkimi wyrażeniami wymuszają na czytelniku wymyślanie sytuacji, to jest oryginalną interakcję między autorem a czytelnikiem. W ten sposób autor zaprasza do dialogu.

Struktura tekstu to mozaika, czytanie jest „rozdrobnione”. Możesz czytać książkę zarówno klasycznie, od początku do końca, jak też chaotycznie, otwierając ją na dowolnej stronie, co jednak nie powoduje uszkodzenia jej koncepcji. Styl pisania jest podobny do „nowego dziennikarstwa” (Tom Wulf, USA). Zmiana perspektywy (tzw. „kameleon”) to jedna z najbardziej interesujących i sprytnych technik. W ten sposób za pośrednictwem narratora autor gra z czytelnikiem. W związku z tym ważne jest również, aby pamiętać o zmienianiu „punktu widzenia”, o patrzeniu z cudzej perspektywy i opisywaniu wydarzeń postrzeganych przez różne osoby. Postaci to w Asmari, to w Tunisi. Postaciami są raz kobiety, raz mężczyźni. Zmiana płci i zmiana miejsca to ciekawe elementy gry autora. Ważne jest, aby zrozumieć, że podstawową zasadą dziennikarstwa jest prawdą, a Nick Montfort ignoruje wszelkie zasady i dlatego jest inny.

Jego tekst – ciągły wiersz wolny, który ma różne ciągi długości, bez rymów, ale z rytmem:

Port-au-Prince. Jest dokładnie 00:15. W pewnej schludnej, choć
niczym się niewyróżniającej, sadybie wyższa niż większość
staruszka, mająca na imię Fatma, czyta nieskazitelnie czystą
umowę. Drapie się w ucho.

JULIA POCZYNOK

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

A Koan

Thursday 4 September 2014, 11:55 pm   ////  

The disciple went to Minsky.

The disciple told him of his project, to develop a story generator with different components, a collaborative system that collaborated.

Minsky asked if a specific author was to be imitated.

No, the disciple said, the project seeks to do what only computers can do, to use computational power in new ways. And yet, the disciple admitted, the system models human creativity, techniques and processes that people use. Hesitantly, the disciple said, “it does seem contradictory…”

“You can do both,” said Minsky.

At that moment, the disciple was enlightened.

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.

World Clock in Print & for Sale

Wednesday 18 December 2013, 2:54 pm   //////  

World Clock, Nick Montfort

My novel World Clock, generated by 165 lines of Python code that I wrote in a few hours on November 27, 2013, is now available in print.

World Clock tells of 1440 incidents that take place around the world at each minute of a day. The novel was inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s “One Human Minute” and Harry Mathews’s “The Chronogram for 1998.” It celebrates the industrial concept of time and certain types of vigorous banality which are shared by all people throughout the world.

The code has been online, along with a PDF of the book’s text, since late November. The Python program that generated this novel is available under a free software license. Anyone may make whatever use of it; generate your own novel with the unchanged code, if you like, or modify it to produce something different, for instance.

The book World Clock is for sale to local and remote customers from my local independent bookstore, the Harvard Book Store. (No direct relationship to the university of the same name; they both happen to be located in Harvard Square.) The book is printed on the Espresso Book Machine in the store – to the amazement of onlookers. The apparatus has been dubbed “Paige M. Gutenborg.”

The 239-page paperback can be purchased for only $14.40, which is the low, low price of only one cent per minute.

World Clock's title page

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.

World Clock

Saturday 30 November 2013, 12:10 pm   //////  

This is my contribution to NaNoGenMo (National Novel Generation Month), written in about four hours on November 27. (Messing with the typesetting took a bit more time.)

Source code in Python. Requires pytz.

World Clock, the generated novel presented as a 246-page PDF.

Page 1 of World Clock

National Novel Generation Month Begins

Saturday 2 November 2013, 4:12 pm   ////  

Read all about it! And sign up. It’s the brainchild (or brainbot) of Darius Kazemi.

“Through the Park” in Polish

Sunday 20 October 2013, 12:00 am   ////  

My “Through the Park” is now available not only in Russian (thanks to Natali Fedorova) but also in Polish (thanks to Aleksandra Małecka).

And in Python as well as HTML/JavaScript, too.

The project presents versions of the Little Red Riding Hood story with a simple generative or degenerative rule.

Michael’s Narrative Candy Store

Tuesday 15 October 2013, 11:51 am   //////  

Michael Mateas gave the keynote today at Intelligent Narrative Technologies 6. With reference (early on) to the Hero’s Journey, he presented a sort of “developer’s journey,” noting that indie developers (as seen at Indiecade) have been turning away from concern with structure and mechanics and toward narrative. He similarly encouraged those working in AI and narrative to turn from structuralist narratology and look at concrete traditions of narrative based in communities of practice.

I thought his repudiation of structuralist narratology was in some ways similar to someone in computer graphics objecting to the pixel or the polygon becuase pixels and polygons do not provide any guidance as to how to create beautiful images. He’s right, and if people are missing this, it’s worth pointing out. But the core problem is with one’s expectation for structural understanding. If people are interested (as Michael is) in modeling “internal processes and conflicts” mapping to “external conflicts” … what are these external conflicts made of? Aren’t they made of events? And wouldn’t it be great to have a solid model of events so more complex narrative phenomena can be built up out of them?

Michael gave us an array of options for work motivated by specific poetic ideas, and these (in keeping with his practice) were extremely grand plans, with a panpoly of dissertations needed to make real progress. His suggestions were that we build huge AI systems, implementing Beckett, Boal, detective novels, flash fiction, and the levels of intentionality in Virgina Woolf. I don’t object to attempting to deal with goals of this sort, but this tour of the interactive narrative candy store seemed to be proposing 23 different manned space missions.

My idea: Why not create & compose simple models of narrative aspects that are indeed culturally grounded and for which there is a poetics, but which seem lower-level (or easier to start on) than the ideas Michael has – aspects such as repetition (seen in Beckett, of course), ellipsis (and its relationship to suspense, as treated in Michael Young’s research), and the like?

These sorts of questions seem to have easier starting points and offer the potential to generalize to some extent across genres, while yielding specific insights as well.

A repetition or ellipsis system would be as culturally grounded as any one that Michael suggested, and it too could be “fully realized” and produce outputs.

My very simple system “Through the Park,” described in “Small-Scale Systems and Computational Creativity,” is an attempt to show how low the stairs are for those interested in investigating ellipsis. Although extremely simple, it is a real model of an aspect of narrative and has been useful to me in thinking about it.

Ian Horswill pointed out in the discussion after the talk that understanding repetition may not be easier than generating romance novels, flash fiction, or work like that of specific authors. This is true, but with repetition there are more concrete starting points. One can certainly start with a lightweight simulation of the world, and of narration, and then elaborate.

Richard Evans mentioned that the repetition in The Odyssey and in Beckett’s plays doesn’t have much in common. I would say that this is true, but that they have something in common – creating a coherent and distinctive texture of language. On the other hand, even within the same work, or work by the same author, there will be different types of repetition that do different things. That’s what makes this aspect of narrative (or, really, textuality) a rich one. It seems to me that these different uses, within a single work or across different works, could be understood analytically and modeled computationally in useful ways. The focus on a single aspect, rather than a genre or community of practice, would make this more tractable and offer a foothold.

Trope Tank Annual Report 2012-2013

Trope Tank home computers

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 Atari VCS

The Trope Tank is a physical facility with unusual material computing resources from the past few decades – as well as places for researchers to sit and work with their more modern computers. The facility and materials provide for visits from classes, discussions with visiting researchers, and support for creative and research projects. The lab space continues to house the monthly meetings of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, the Boston Area’s local IF group. Trope Tank equipment has supported talks this year at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery, Microsoft Research in Redmond, UCLA, the University of Maine, and other venues.

This academic year, two Trope Tank affiliates are becoming faculty members:

  • Clara Fernández-Vara, who took part in the Tools for the Telling project back in 2007-2008 and has been a visiting scholar at the Trope Tank this year, is joining the faculty of NYU’s Game Center at the end of summer as an associate arts professor.

  • Amaranth Borsuk, who was guest organizer of the Purple Blurb series in 2011-2012 and is a current collaborator on The Deletionist, is joining the faculty of The University of Washington, Bothell as an assistant professor. She has been a senior lecturer there.

The Trope Tank’s series of technical reports, called the “Trope Report” series, now features five items and is archived in MIT’s DSpace.

There have been two major research projects (both with artistic aspects) and one creative, poetic project this past year:

  • The book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 was published last year by the MIT Press (and is also available for free download as a PDF). Various subsets of the ten authors have been doing presentations related to the book in many different contents.

  • The story generation project Slant was initiated and the first paper was accepted at ICCC 2013. It will be presented there, in Sydney, next month. The project involves integrating or developing new work based on decades of research by Nick Montfort, Rafael Pérez y Pérez, and Fox Harrell; those three and Andrew Campana have collaborated to initiate the project.

  • The Deletionist is a current poetic project by Amaranth Borsuk, Jesper Juul, and Nick Montfort which will premiere at E-Poetry next month at Kingston University, London.

The Trope Tank will continue to support research, creative work, and teaching this summer and beyond. This is a laboratory to allow people to work with material computing systems; while it is not an archive, museum, or library, and does not offer all that such institutions do, it does provide for hands-on access to the history of creative computing. If you are interested in using the systems and materials in the Trope Tank, please contact Nick.

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