July 12th, 2011
Generative Art books, eh? You wait 30 years for one, then two come along at once. Having finally ushered my own progeny out into the world, I’m now anxious to get my hands on the other Generative Art book that’s going to press this month, Written Images. Martin has posted some preview images on Flickr, and it looks beauuuuuuutiful.
Written Images is an experimental publishing concept, funded via kickstarter. The idea was to have a 400 page GenArt book where, true to the concept, no two copies are the same, but all are within a tight enough possibility space to be regarded as the same publication. And we’re not just talking individualised covers here, every single page of the book is a one-of-kind artwork.
Each of the 42 artists featured submitted their work as an applet, a chunk of code, which could be added to an automated print process. The idea couldn’t be realised cheaply, which meant the first edition was priced at $200 a copy, but the pledge target was reached rapidly, probably because so many wanted to own a book where even the artists themselves, theoretically, have never before seen the final works that have their name next to them.
My submission, Twill (above, and below), was one of my fave AbandonedArt experiments, that I adapted for print. I had wanted to use it for my own book, to make an infinite set of covers, but this was vetoed early by my publisher (which is why my book ended up costing $20 rather than $200), so I was glad to have the opportunity to realise it as intended in WI. From what I can tell, the WI printing of Twill is much larger and more defined than the single iteration of the system that ended up on my cover, so I’m very glad to see it done justice.
I get one of the 230 copies as a contributing artist, but I’m not sure if this is going to satisfy me. While I’m keen to get my unique copy, I’m also keen to see other folks’ copies, to see how individual/alike they all are. Will the lucky 230 copy-holders form an exclusive club, a global network, who all carry their copies with them on their travels, just on the off chance they might run into another holder with whom they can compare prints? Will they congregate once a decade at remote mountain retreats for Written Images parties, where copy-holders, or their heirs, pass around their prints and recite the words of Bruce Sterling‘s introduction in a reverential sub-glottal murmur?
If not, they should. And there should be a lot more of these bold publishing experiments too. Print isn’t dead. It’s evolving. And Written Images is what it’s future looks like.
June 30th, 2011
I’m very happy to say (you don’t know how happy) that my book, after many months in the makeup chair at my publishers being beautified, is finally out. Go get. Now. Go.
I’m going to quote you one of my favourite passages. It’s from the copyright page:
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the publisher, with the exception of the Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 6 and the source code throughout, which are available under a Creative Commons (Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0) license. See creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/. Note that Creative Commons distribution of the images in the Introduction and Chapter 1 is limited to those by Matt Pearson only.
In short, this means large chunks of the text, imagery and all of the source code is Creative Commons licensed. The total CC licensed content amounts to over 25% of the total page count. If it were entirely up to me I’d have CC’d the lot, but this is actually a very generous amount to have been granted by a publisher as traditional as Manning, and (as far as I know) a first for a book of this kind.
It is a mystery to me why all tech books don’t do this, especially regards the source code. I cannot understand the logic in a book demonstrating a technique to a reader, while elsewhere stating that the reader will be breaking the law if they were to copy it word for word? Copyright is a crazy dinosaur, and I am not a fan (as you will probably already know if you’ve been reading awhile). This small concession makes me feel just slightly less of a hypocrite in publishing under the “old media” model.
So, on both my page and Mannings, there are now a number of links to free content you can try before you buy. The Foreword (by Marius Watz), Preface, Intro and Chapter 1, introduce what the book is about, with lots of lovely imagery – which, I should make clear, looks much more gorgeous in print than it does on a screen. Chapter 6, is a slightly more advanced, but more typical, example of the “stealth learning” approach of the book.
Any CC licensed portions are free to be redistributed, repurposed, even re-published, if you want to. If anyone wants to make a free Kindle version, a Kinect based interpretive dance version, or a Commodore 64 text-based-adventure from this content, please feel free (and send me the link). Note that it is only my content that is covered by the CC license, any text or imagery credited to others is copyrighted to them in the usual way.
However you come to read it, I hope you like it.
November 5th, 2010
I found myself wondering: at this point in the early 21st Century, is there any greater concentration of mad geniuses in one place than Brighton, UK?
And I thought: someone should write the book. I’d certainly buy it. Brighton New Media 1999-2009; the people, the projects, the collectives and ideas that have grown out of this one fecund south coast petri-dish during a decade of eye-bleedingly fast technological acceleration. They did it with the Bay Area of the seventies, and that got made into a film.
I even considered: perhaps I should do it. Publish through lulu, maybe even whip up a bit of an advance via kickstarter. I gave some thought to what it would involve; the hundreds I would need to interview; the social connections I would need to plot; the histories and interplay of all these disparate elements. Would I be able to unravel some kind of a narrative out of it?
But then I realised: this kind of project is no job for a human.
We are of the first generation whose history is being written as we live it. There doesn’t need to be any great investigative or archeological process to dig up the recent past of a subject like this, it is all exhaustively documented already. The mailing lists of 2002 are still online. The blogs are still live. And even if they aren’t, they’re archived somewhere. The get-togethers are well documented. We can even revisit events via Flickr and Vimeo.
Which means: authors beware. There is no room for romantic distortions about the vibe and zeitgeist of a time if we can just go back and read the discussions, unedited, from the horses mouth. Any poetic license can be refuted by an email, text or tweet, perfectly preserved in a data pit somewhere. There can be no Don Quixotes in the stories of the 21st Century. Which, to me at least, makes such a modern history a lot less interesting to write.
No, the author of this story, when it is written, will not be human. There will be many authors, composed of varied configurations of data mining software. These agents will be so much more adept at plotting the connections between large numbers of elements and presenting the meta-data in attractive forms. The story will be written as data visualisations, with the gaps filled in by verbatim testimonies lifted from first hand public records. Any human author would pale next to these tools, especially if they’d had their poetic license revoked.
October 16th, 2010
Benoît Mandelbrot, arguably the most important mathematician since Einstein, was finally subsumed into the chaos this morning. I first heard the news of his death via Twitter, the only source being a pithy tribute on Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s blog. The news was confirmed a few hours later by a message from Jacques Mandelbrot, Benoît’s cousin, distributed via the Computer Arts Society mailing list. At the time of writing it has still not made any of the conventional news channels.
Okay, so an 85 year old academic reaching the end of a long distinguished life may not be enough to hold the front page, but in a world where a Wikipedia page can be updated a lot faster than an obituary is written, it is clearly a sign that the old media is as dead as the great mathematician.
The popular media has always been focussed upon the novel, the unusual and the narratively compelling. This very rarely equates to what is the most important or most relevant. Mandelbrot is one of only a handful of people in the last 50 years who radically changed the way we see our world. He did this over a lifetime’s work, none of which was particularly newsworthy.
Today, every cloud that passes overhead is tribute to the father of fractal geometry. RIP.
UPDATE 5/11 – Thanks to those who have now made me aware of The Long Now Foundation’s “Long News” initiative; perhaps the only news channel with an appropriate sense of perspective.
April 9th, 2010
More old media. French magazine Regards Sur Le Numerique, is running a well-cool two page spread on me in the latest issue. I’m so chuffed I can almost ignore the fact that it’s published by M*******t.
Being in French, it’s kinda difficult to tell what they are saying about my work. So I asked Babelfish:
Matt Pearson, alias Zenbullet, programmer in Brighton the day, is explorer in “abandoned” creation the night. He asserts this term of “abandonment” on two accounts. “I experienced my programs the night and gives up them, with the clean of term, front direction to be wearied about it. In addition, I approach these creations ‘with abandonment’, without restriction nor inhibition.” Its work, which raises of art generated hair, consists in using mathematical algorithms to produce random forms that model Matt and that it divides on line, thus opening them with other creativities. It does not expose, but dream to make use of a webcam and projectors for other projects.
March 15th, 2010
Quick update on the book. It’s been kinda quiet since xmas, as I’ve been busying myself with client work, trying to replenish my battered bank balance (the first brutal reality of writing a tech book – it doesn’t pay the bills). But I was around 2/3rds finished by then, and now I have a new editor onboard who is promising to whip that final third out of me by the end of next month. Then we are still on track for getting the sucker published by the summer.
The writing hasn’t been done entirely in a bubble for the last few months. The book has been through a review process, and a number of people have read various drafts. The feedback has been mostly very positive, although not entirely. Obviously, the more savage the criticism the more useful it is to me, but so far there has been nothing to make me tear it up and drag it to the roaring fire icon on my desktop.
Soon the book will be made available as part of MEAP, The Manning Early Access Program, which will give readers the opening chapters for free, and encourage feedback which may influence the rest of book. And if you pre-order it you will continue to receive chapters in this way as they are approved ahead of publication. There is already a green paper, a 10 page introduction, available as a free download here.
The title is now Generative Art: A Practical Guide Using Processing. I don’t have a cover to show you yet, as this is one element that has been proving a bit of a battleground. I’m so grateful to the various authors I spoke to before agreeing a deal who all advised me to ensure any contract I signed gave me some kind of say in the cover. Something a first time author might just assume to have, but is apparently quite rare.
Cover aside, the content is coming together nicely. The writing is shaping itself into two main threads, a mix of tutorial and theory. The didactive sections teach Processing with a gentle touch, from “hello world” through to OOP, maintaining a focus on the creativity. The theoretical thread complements this, allowing me to explore some of the crazier tangents that may be familiar to readers of this blog, putting the art of programming into a real world context that I always find absent from coding books. There are also plenty of pretty pictures too of course.
The main thrust of the book, my intention anyway, is to make Generative Art something that is both accessible and fun. I believe that the artistic potential of creative coding is barely off the ground yet. It is still stifled by being too exclusive a skill, the main work being done by a rare subset of talented individuals who have an aesthetic sensibility intersecting with hardcore coding skills. Generative Art is only really going to get interesting once it is more widely practised, once the programming can become more intuitive and naturalistic, and less of a barrier. If my book makes even a small step in this direction I will consider it a success.