Museum of the essential and beyond that

             Regina CÚlia Pinto with Jim              Andrews
Regina CÚlia Pinto: Arteonline, Jim Andrews:
Session Start: Thu Aug 30 16:08:03 2002 [16:08]
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<Regina> I would like to know more about your background and when and why you decided to work with / ? Did you or do you work with another kind of art (music, fine arts, etc...)

I've been doing Web/ since 1995, um, so I was 35 or 36 when I started. You wouldn't know it from what I just said, but before that, in 1983, I graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in English and Math

Then I did a radio show for six years that concentrated on literature, audio writing, and sound poetry. A couple of those shows and some sound poetry from that time are at . Then around

. 1990 I went back to school to study Computer Science and Math. I was also playing drums in a groove band called The Laughing Boot Quintet and publishing poetry and criticism in the little magazines. During that time, I also published a literary magazine called And Yet. We did that using PageMaker 2.0 or something.

That's when I started doing visual poetry using CorelDraw and working to gray-scale because that's the printing technology I had. But I was dissatisfied with publishing a magazine: it was expensive and I could only publish local writers. I enjoyed publishing local writers, but I wanted to be in touch with writers around the world. I did three years of study of Computer Science and Math, and then became a freelance writer/programmer. I also started a live reading series in Victoria BC Canada called Mocambopo (which is still happening), where I have lived most of my life. That was fun on Fridays every week.

I got an Internet connection in 95 and started browsing the Web. It seemed like God's little toenail had dropped into my lap. Here was a medium where I could combine text, image, sound, and programming, combine all the things I've worked on for many years, and be in touch with artists around the world.

<Regina> I am loving to interview you, because I can know things about you that I always have desired to know. I would like to know about the sound in your work (not only Arteroids). In fact I am fascinated by your sounds. How do you make these sounds? Can you speak about this? Have you a study? Which is the "stuff" that you use to make the sounds? Is this a consequence of your radio experience?

Thank you Regina! My setup for my work is only slightly out of the ordinary. I have a better-than-usual-for-computers microphone and a microphone stand, and my stereo is hooked up to my computer, so I can listen to audio through my stereo's speakers and input cassette and radio into the computer. And I have a good set of headphones.

The software I use is Cakewalk and Sound Forge, and a little bit of Acid sometimes. Cakewalk is a multi-track digital recording studio. I use it for recording work that is multi-tracked, and for mixing down. I used this in Nio and Oppen Do Down. Each of the sounds in Nio and Oppen Do Down is the same length. So I would record multiple tracks at once: I'd turn on the microphone and recorder and listen to the sound loop through the headset, and do multiple takes of the track I was trying to do, and then stop the recording, listen back, and take the best cut or combine several cuts. So I'd end up with about a hundred tracks, and then mixed them down to about 16 sounds. Each of the sounds in Nio has several tracks on it. Same with most of the tracks in Oppen Do Down.

All my work so far has just been voice and sometimes some finger snapping. So I don't need a sophisticated recording studio as you do if you want to record a band, for instance. I use Sound Forge for recording work that isn't going to be multi-tracked, and I use Sound Forge for editing audio.

When I worked in radio, I cut up a lot of reel-to-reel tape with a razor blade. And worked in an analog sound studio at the radio station that was functionally very similar to what I have now basically on my computer. And the computer is actually much better than the $100,000 studio! The sound effects are broader. The process of editing audio is better in digital in the same way that editing writing on a word processor is better than a typewriter. You can see the waveform and 'bookmark' parts of it, so you can find stuff within a long sound quickly. And the analog studio just had a 4-track reel-to-reel whereas you can have as many tracks as your computer can handle (a question of RAM) in the digital.

My six year radio experience from the eighties educated my ears and my mind concerning not only how to record and edit and mix sound, but also educated me about voice, and the phenomenology of disembodied sound, and performance. I learned to use my voice expressively, and learned how then chopping up the recording can make it more expressive. My radio show broadcasted sound poetry, audio writing, and interviews with writers and sound artists. So I learned from them, also.

Basically I learned a kind of writing on air, the inscription and composition of sound. This all transferred naturally to the digital. We learn in the digital also similar skills and approaches to the image. And to text. And how to combine them all, a sense of multimedia composition.

<Regina> I would like to know more about the multimedia and programing software you work with. Do not forget to write about image creation. What is your process to do a new image? Do you see a link between this process and another kind of art - fine arts for example? Do you believe that Art and Philosophy come together in spite of working with

For images I use Photoshop, CorelPaint, and CorelDraw. Photoshop and CorelPaint are quite similar--they're both bitmap programs, but CorelPaint has some wonderful pens that allow you to put images on the nib, as many as you like, and draw with images. CorelDraw is like Illustrator, a vector-based image-making piece of software that I've been using for years which is made in Canada. I also have a lot of Photoshop filters--my favorite bunch of filters is Kai's Power Tools 3.

When I first started on the Web, I was doing work like you see at Ã, Ê, Î, and Ô.The process usually involved taking a visually poetical idea and then working it in these programs. Sometimes my experimentation with these programs would lead me into seeing that you could do x, y, and z with them, and then I'd think, well, there's some poetical possibility there, now what is it? So this would be a case of the possibilities of the software suggesting futher work. But I tried to avoid just doing stuff that you'd look at and say, "Oh that's so Photoshop". Concept and meaning must be allowed to emerge, however, or change, during the course of composition. If we just hammer out a fixed idea that we had at the beginning, it usually is dull. So much happens during the course of composition, as in writing, too.

Most of my image work is with letters and words. Most of it is lettristic, deals with letters, rather than words. Letters are more fun to work with visually; the form of letters is more interesting than the form of words, visually. You can generally make better visual art with letters than you can with words or sentences or paragraphs, or I can, anyway. Letters have more individual character than words, visually. Letters and phonemes are also close to song and voice of sound poetry. Letters also animate more fluidly than words, you can move them around more elegantly on a monitor via animation than you can words or sentences and paragraphs because they have fewer key points to move. Also, to have the meaning emerge through the letter can give rise to a kind of microscopic or atomic poetry, a poetry that zooms in on language past the scale of the quotidian down, sometimes, into where language turns into primal energy and sound poetry.

After working this way for several years, I encountered the Lettristes. Their work is pre-digital, for the most part. So of course it is not an approach that is unique to me.

Zooming out to multimedia, the tools I use there are Director and Flash these days, primarily. Though in the past I have used DHTML, Java, Delphi, and Visual Basic. I am very fond of the writings of the Pre-Socratic philosophers. In their time, there was less distance between poetry and philosophy than there is now. I do feel that the multimedia work of synthesizing different media and arts, and also synthesizing those with programming, science, and technology is, in part, an attempt to think in other ways using broader language than the written.

<Regina> Jim, I think it would be interesting to finish this introduction with a brief description of your since 1995. Would you do a summary of each one of your works up to Arteroids 2.0? About this last one we can begin to talk in the next question, ok?

I don't think I could summarize each work from 1995, Regina, because there have been too many. But certain things have stayed the same with me and other things have changed since then.

I still seek to understand the social and artistic possibilities of electronic media and technology. Whenever I learn a new command or form or piece of technology, I try to figure out some of the artistic possibilities of it. Like when I learned a bit about HTML forms back in 95 or 96, I did the pop-up poems. These attempt to explore the place of poetry in this odd environment for poetry.

Later on, in 1997, I started doing DHTML work. The first piece I did in DHTML relates to the pop-up poems. It's a piece called Seattle Drift. It relates in that, as with the pop-up poems, the text is the character in the poem. Since about 1999 I have been using Flash+Director. But you can see that Enigma n, which is an earlier DHTML piece, relates strongly to Enigma n2. The "material" of both of these pieces is the word "meaning". Both of them attempt to explore how poetic meaning can be conveyed in ways other than the usual bunch of words strung together on paper.

While the technologies I have used, over time, have changed and progressed, and while I hope I have grown as an artist, many of the questions and issues that interested me back in 1995 still interest me now. Like how to help build a network of digital artists and audience that is operative world-wide and is of real solidarity and beauty. Which we are involved in together, Regina!

<Regina> Let's speak about Arteroids 2.0. When and how you have the insight "to construct" Arteroids 2.0?

First, let me thank you for all your work in translating my essay and also Arteroids itself into Portuguese, Regina, and for publishing Arteroids 2.02 on your site! And also many thanks to your friend Carmen Penido for her work on translating the essay. That's a long essay and I understand that you both worked a great deal on it. The joy of a writer at being translated is considerable and odd. I am very grateful.

Concerning Arteroids, I have worked on games and puzzles before. There is some work on from the mid nineties. And I collaborated with a friend of mine, Dr. Mike Fellows, a brilliant Mathematician/Computer Scientist on some puzzle designs in the mid nineties. So Arteroids is, in a sense, a continuation of that work, but that work was not involved in poetry, for instance, or with audio, and is a bit less ambitious than Arteroids in some senses.

<Regina> ARTEROIDS is a very good name. It reminds me of Peirce and semeiotic: the sky at night, with asteroids, stars and other marvels is a semeiotic enterprise to us. We should see lots of things there. We named some constellations and we can find today another sense (or design) to them. Have you thought about this when you named your work ?
<Jim> Your associations with the name are better than what I had in mind, actually! There's an old computer game called Asteroids that Arteroids is loosely based on. But, yes, the piece is 'night skyish', reminds people of language in the sky. And I agree that Arteroids relates to semiotics in its exploration of the meaning of signs.
<Regina> Could you tell us about the learning , the software, and the equipment one needs to do a game like Arteroids 2.0?
<Jim> I worked for 16 months so far on Arteroids, more or less full-time; it is not a quickie. I used Director for the programming. I used Flash for some of the animation. I used Sound Forge for the sound. I used Photoshop for the very few bitmaps involved. Arteroids is mostly text and programming and sound. Very few bitmaps. Arteroids consists of about 200 pages of carefully engineered Lingo code. This is how I use my education in Computer Science and Mathematics.
<Regina> Why and how did you have the idea to link poetry and battles? Is it a consequence of your youth? What are the games you played when you were a teenager?

I call it 'the battle of poetry against itself and the forces of dullness'. Poetry is forever pounding on the door of the unsaid, forever battling against its own limitations, forever growing and going where it has not been before, forever expanding the range of poetry into the unknown and the unsaid, forever rescuing itself from dullness, forever deeply alive and in motion, forever loving. That is the battle of poetry.

My favorite games as a kid and teenager were table hockey, playing sports (I was a goalie in hockey and football), track (I was a sprinter), Scrabble, Yahtze, Risk, Monopoly, Canasta, Battling Tops, Mousetrap, Chess, Billiards, Frisbee, and many more.

<Regina> "The battle of poetry against itself and the forces of dullness". It is really an uncommon explication for a poetry game. Do not you fear being misunderstood to join poetry and shooting/violence?
<Jim> Yes, this is a concern. Guns and weapons and violence and winning at all costs are evil. Over the course of the development of Arteroids, what I am trying to do is take the shoot-em-up game and work toward transcending it, make it more fun and more beautiful and relevant than the shoot-em-up game as we know it. It is a process of growth for me and for the game/poem. I want to find the gems on the other side of the shoot-em-up. But poetry is, as I said, a battle of one sort or other, also.
<Regina> Why two modes of playing Asteroids? Game mode and Play mode?

As I developed the game, I thought of things that I wanted to put in it that were fun or interesting but weren't appropriate to a competitive game. For instance, the ability to change the velocity, density, and friction are fun and interesting in Play Mode, but in a game, you 'play with the cards you are dealt' rather than being able to choose the cards you play with. That is part of the challenge of a competitive game.

I wanted to make Arteroids a fun competitive game, but I also wanted to explore the similarities and differences between things like art, play, games, and poetry. So having a Game Mode and Play Mode arose out of trying to make the piece as fun and interesting as I could make it.

<Regina> Arteroids 2.0 is a mix of sound, image/words - word/images, animation and interactivity. What do you think are the fundamental signs of writing nowadays?
<Jim> The green light. The 'danger ahead' sign. The aleph and the omega. The scrawl. The writing on the wall. The constellations. Cave paintings. The integration symbol (sigma). The sign of pain. The sign of sex. The sign of death. The sign of birth. The sign of power. The sign of love.
<Regina> Arteroids 2.0 is an interactive game where the reader can create sound poetry, visual poetry, and if she is interested she can edit her own poetic words or poetry using Word for Weirdos. I think it is the first time it happens, have you any information about this?
<Jim> I expect there must be other text editors in other art projects. In a quirky little piece called "Reflections on Cyberpoetry," Brian Kim Stefans quotes Roger Pellett as saying "The greatest cyberpoem would be an online application that provided you with a an interesting text and a robust interface with which to manipulate it. In other words, a word-processor."
<Jim> Word for Weirdos is an excellent name, because of the joke with the well-known software. Could you explain "Word for Weirdos" for us? Why do you think one must be a weirdo to use your "software"?
<Jim> Ha, well I just couldn't resist the name, once it occurred to me. Word for Weirdos is weird because of its form. Each text you create and save consists of six texts: the Outer Green, the Inner Green, the Outer Blue, the Inner Blue, the Id entity, and the name you give the text as a whole. The form of a text you save, then, is multiple and, ideally, with interesting relations between the texts. The form concerns a conflict between the id entity and the blue and green texts. And the Inner Green text is what happens to the Outer Green text when it explodes, so the Inner Green is the Outer Green text cracked open or exploded. Sort of like a contemporary sonnett form or something. An invention of a literary form suitable for weirdos (like me).
<Regina> Have you received good feedback about Arteroids 2.0? Do you know if only artists and poets play your game? What about children and teens?
<Jim> Mostly the feedback has been good so far, though not a lot of it. I did a piece called Enigma n a few years ago and called it a philosophical poetry toy for poets and philosophers from the age of 4 up. Arteroids is probably for people from the age of 7 or 8 up (they pretty much have to be able to read). I don't know if it will interest people who play video games. I tried to make it responsive as a video game. And I've entered it in an independent games competition, so we'll see how it rates among independently produced games. It has been or will be published on a few sites: yours, mine (Toronto), (Boston), (Berlin), and (Montreal). And it was shown at a new media festival in New York. Artistically, then, it has been pretty well received, and I got a Canada Council Senior grant to do it, but it is also made for non-art audiences and we'll see how it is received there, if at all. Part of the idea of Arteroids is to explore poetry in many contexts.
<Regina> Do you think that the web is particularly suited to tools of this nature?
<Jim> Well, yeah. I mean, the computer itself is a very interactive thing, and the Web is also very interactive—between people and also between people and works/apps. It's a communications thang, yes? As the Web gets more broadband and also as compression and streaming technology are marshalled to provide more sound, animation, and video, the question arises whether the Web just turns into some commercial variant of the telephone, TV, radio, etc. I'm sure there will be a lot of passive and conventional uses of the media/um. But one of the things that attracts me to the Web and to the computer more generally is that you drive the thing quite actively or it doesn't go anywhere.
<Regina> You said that you have devoted your life to Arteroids. How much time have you spent on it until now and how much time do you think you for the last Arteroids of the series?
<Jim> Ehehe. No, I meant I've devoted my life to making art, not Arteroids in particular. Yeesh, that would be a hard life and strange life, to devote it to one work. Though stranger things have been done. I've worked on Arteroids for 16 months. Of course, teams of programmers often work for two or three years on games. Timehunt took Danny Kodicek and friends three years to do. I imagine it'll take another few years to get to version 5 of Arteroids. Then that's the end of Arteroids for me. But I work on other art and non-art projects between the times I work on Arteroids.
<Regina> To finish I would like to thank you for this interview and for Arteroids. I would like also to advise people to read your essay "Games, Play, Po, Art and Arteroids 2.03" before playing your game. And you, do you want to say anything more about this intelligent game - work of art?
<Jim> I appreciate your taking the time and energy to talk with me about it, Regina. Thank you very much.
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Session Close: Tues Oct 22 00:57:43 2001

Oct 22/2002