David Byrne’s earworm takes a distant yet close perspective, describing a bullet’s fatal encounter with a human body. Did he know about Kaplan’s similar short, rapid, book-length poem? Byrne’s song sets its sights on an adult man, Kaplan’s poem on a child. The life of the child is hinted by describing what a warm maternal relationship is like, and by mentioning injuries from falling off a bunk bed and being hit by a baseball. We hear about the man’s life because of what the bullet cuts through: “Skin that women had touched,” “Many fine meals he tasted there,” “his heart with thoughts of you.” The general description is very effective. There are striking metaphors — positive associations — for the bullet itself, also. In Poem, it is a triumphant runner (such as Usain Bolt, who bears the name of a crossbow’s projectile) dragging gore from the body as if it were a trophy or banner. In “Bullet,” it is “Like an old grey dog / On a fox’s trail.” Perhaps America’s reliable old dog cannot be taught new tricks.
Salon 256 on May 1
SALON 256 is a forum for presentation and discussion of very small creative computer programs. Such programs have featured in digital art and poetry, electronic literature, computer music, and the demoscene.
YOU are invited to present a tiny program of yours:
Monday May 1 . 5pm-7pm . MIT’s 14E-304
Presenters already confirmed:
- Mike “Dr.Claw” Piantedosi
- Angela Chang
- Sofian Audry
- Nick Montfort
- Chris Kerich
- Willy Wu
- Henry Lieberman
- Doug Orleans
Programs in an interpreted language are fine, as long as the code is 256 bytes or less; compiled programs with an executable file of 256b or less are fine, too.
Building 14 also holds the Hayden Library and is not Building E14.
If you’d like to present, leave a comment or sign up at the event.
A Purple Blurb / The Trope Tank production.
Waves 3 Ways at @Party
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.
The 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.
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.
A Book on the Song “Hallelujah”
Acting on a tip from The Kelly Writers House at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, I recently learned about, and then read, Alan Light’s book The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley & the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah.” This intrigued me as an admirer of this song in particular, Leonard Cohen’s songwriting and singing generally, and other aspects of his literary art (particularly the incredible novel Beautiful Losers). It also appealed to me as an entire book written about a single, short work. In this case, the work isn’t a Commodore 64 BASIC program – as in the book collaborators and I wrote, 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1));: GOTO 10 – but a popular song with many lines and many covers, one that has been used in a wide variety of contexts.
The author discusses those many contexts well, covering the original release, the famous Jeff Buckley cover, and many other versions. There’s discussion of Shrek, the VH1 9/11 memorial video, manifestations on Idol and X Factor TV shows, and uses in religious ceremonies. The book is not really a deep dive into the music or the lyrics, although the etymology of the world “Hallelujah” and the differences in how the term is used in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles are discussed. Cohen declined to be interviewed, so the book also doesn’t spend too much time on origin myths, just recounting a bit from previous interviews. The book works to tease out the many things the song has meant to people and how it has managed to have all of these meanings.
It’s quite a different book from 10 PRINT, both in methodology and because the BASIC program is quite a bit different, culturally, than the song. I found it a quite enjoyable read.
Music Technology Event at Tufts
After just listening to numerous covers of _Main Titles_ from Blade Runner by Vangelis, I just got word that “Machine Fantasies: A Workshop on Music Technologies – Past, Present, and Future” is happening April 4-5, 2014 here in town, at the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center of Tufts University.
10 PRINT Gets 10 SUNG
Or at least inspires a song and video…
The musical group Bedford Level Experiment writes of their song “Confounded to Corruption” and of the video for it:
>We’ve been reading the book 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10 and became very inspired by the section on procedurally generated art. All the footage in this video was generated by Commodore 64 programs written by us, including a 6502 assembly version of 10 PRINT. The lyrics were also generated algorithmically; Sonnet 64 and some commentary on it from Wikipedia were fed into an old Amiga program called NIALL, and the output was edited together into something resembling lyrics. The corruption the sonnet underwent became the theme of the song and video.
The line of verse the lyrics are based on,
>Or state itself confounded to decay
is, quite aptly, line 10 of Shakespeare’s sonnet 64.
Video of Nanowatt Online
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.
At Récursion (the Montréal demoparty), we (Nick Montfort, Michael C. Martin, and Patsy Baudoin) released Nanowatt, a single-loading VIC-20 demo.
You can download it and run it using a VIC-20 emulator (or, of course, an actual VIC-20). I run it in VICE on my Ubuntu system by typing “xvic nw” from the directory that contains the “nw” file. If it’s more convenient, you can also download a d64 disk image with Nanowatt on it and load “nw” from there.
It produces 8 KB of English text quoted exactly from Samuel Beckett’s second novel, Watt.
And it produces 8 KB of French text quoted exactly from the French translation of Samuel Beckett’s second novel, Watt.
And the entire demo (including two songs, sound system, code for decompression and display of text, and explanations and greetings at the end) is 3.5 KB: 3583 bytes.
When possible, I will upload a video of the demo running.
This rather esoteric demo was awarded 2nd place (out of 3 entries).
I also got 4th place (out of 5) for my one-line BASIC program that was done as a fast demo, based on today’s theme: “weaving.”
UPDATE: You can run Nanowatt without leaving the comfort of your browser. First, copy this URL into your copy-and-paste buffer: << http://nickm.com/poems/nw >>. Then, go to the page for JS VIC-20. Select the “Storage” menu from the top and choose the option at the bottom of the list, “Carts/Programs,” and choose the top option, “Load Cart from URL.” Finally, paste in the URL that you copied and watch the demo run.
‘NOTHER UPDATE: Video of the demo running on a VIC-20 has been posted.
Lady Gaga is the larval stage of Yo-Landi Vi$$er. The previous, embryonic stage: Katy Perry.
Be Kind, Reconstruct
It’s not bigger and longer than _Star Wars,_ but it is more uncut: “Death of the Author [Psycho Shower Scene RECON]” by Dick Whyte. This, somewhat like the later famous Star Wars video, is a “reconstruction of Alfred Hitchcock’s famous shower scene from Psycho using amateur YouTube remakes.” 57 of them.
If you got that and you’re ready to increase the avant-garde, see also “John Cage – 4’33” [May ’68 Comeback Special RECON]” and “Andy Warhols Eat A Hamburger [38 Scenes From YouTube RECON].” All from 2010, but recalled here for your enjoyment.
Deus Ex Machina 2
Mel Croucher created an amazing computer game in 1984: Deus Ex Machina, a ZX Spectrum game that takes the player on an abstract journey through different stages of life in segments of fixed duration; it was sold with an audiotape that provided a synchronized soundtrack. The game is unrelated to the later and more famous Deus Ex. It was ported to the Commodore 64 and the MSX.
Croucher, who has been a writer on computing and was also apparently the first person to broadcast computer games over the radio as digital data, is now developing Deus Ex Machina 2, which will star You (Time’s 2006 Person of the Year) and Sir Christopher Lee.
Apollo 18+20, a Tribute to an Album in Interactive Fiction
The organizer of the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction, Kevin Jackson-Mead, has organized and co-written a tribute to the 1992 They Might Be Giants Album, Apollo 18. At the PR-IF site, you can play and download 38 short games corresponding to every song (including the “Fingertips” songs) on the album. With its retro cachet, it may be today’s version of Dial-a-Song:
A Panel on Digital Sound, Poems, and Art
We talked about digital sound as well as some poetic and visual art matters on a panel on Feb 15 here at MIT with David Cossin, Ben Hogue, yours truly (Nick Montfort), Evan Ziporyn, and Joe Paradiso … backed for a while by ppg256-3:
Code and Music on In Media Res
Yo dawg, I hear you like blog posts. So I put a link to a blog post in your blog post. The link goes to my “Curator’s Note” on In Media Res about very short programs to generate music, in which I also mention how poorly suited prevalent Web systems are for transmitting and discussing code.
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.
Death and the Powers Permieres in the U.S.
Death and the Powers had a brilliant and resonant U.S. premiere on Friday at the Cutler Majestic in Boston. I’ve been looking forward to the opera’s completion, and then to its coming to the U.S., for several years. My mentor from the B.U. poetry program, Robert Pinsky, wrote the libretto, and my current colleague Tod Machover composed the opera. Congratulations to all those who put this production together, including Tod’s Opera of the Future group at the Media Lab. Death and the Powers is technically intricate and thematically ambitious, and all of that came together perfectly. (Image source.)
Teejay Spins Tales
Last night I projected words to accompany music at a local lounge. This practice does not seem have an established name – does it? Please let me know if you’re aware of the conventional term. I have heard the phrase “text jockey” used. I’ve also come up with some other terms that don’t seem to fit perfectly. In a sense, this is VJing, but it’s also a practice that is compatible with VJing, since words can be projected in a subtitle-like fashion on moving images.
Using a small bit of Python code and pyglet, I put a number of texts up a word at a time in very plain and uniform typography. Each successive word appeared centered on the same point as the last in a rapid, serial, and visual manner. Sometimes I showed several texts in juxtaposition, sometimes just one. I thought the combination of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual and the text of Beckett’s Rockaby was particularly nice. The Unabomber manifesto and the Timecube website were utilized, as were Moby Dick, a Roberto Bolaño story, some altered versions of Little Red Riding Hood, a poem by Harry Mathews, and a few pieces I put together that drew randomly from word sets to confuse gender stereotypes and our notions of otherness. One of the people who came thanked me and said that he wasn’t expecting to spend the evening reading from great books, but that it was pretty cool.
My thanks to DJ Flack & Wayne and Wax, who very kindly invited me to join them.