Poetry, Performance, and Kindness Far Away

The situation is such that I can make the following offers.

For $150 dollars, I will fly to any city with an airport and perform one of the following feats:

1) Public or private poetry reading and/or performance art
2) Deliver any item or personal message to a specific person
3) Cook you a delicious vegetarian meal (you would have to allow me use of your kitchen)
4) Beat hard levels for you in most video games
5) Give a beginner their first guitar lesson
6) Attempt to fix your computer, or at least tell you what’s wrong with it (if it has windows– sorry, that’s the only os I know well enough to guarantee results)
7) Hold your hand very sweetly, and tell you that you are special, and beautiful, and though I must leave, I’ll remember you forever
8) Aggressively insult someone you don’t like, or, depending on the person, give them a good slap in the face
9) Go out dancing with you to the venue of your choice

For $200, I can perform the following, again, in the city of your choosing.

1) Give a really awesome poetry reading/performance art piece
2) Juggle flaming torches in a private or public setting
3) Any two from the previous list, possibly at the same time
4) Clean your house

For $250, the premium offers are:

1) Ride a bike while juggling flaming torches
2) Any three from the first list, or one each from the first and second
3) Vandalize corporate property
4) Pretend to enjoy watching Home and Garden Television

If you have any other suggestions or requests, I may be able to entertain them. This can be done at almost any time before November of this year.

I am also willing to document these activities, although I don’t have a very good camera. If you wanted high quality images, or decent video, you’d have to supply the equipment. This is not a joke, or, if it is a joke, that doesn’t change the fact that I will actually do these things. if you’re seriously interested, email me so that we can work out the details of the performance. Note that these are flat prices. I will cover all travel and performance costs. Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you.


Folded Paper

***if you read this before about 8:00 on 2/08, then you listened to the wrong file. It has since been fixed. sowiez.

It seems like I’ll never finish that essay. For now, another sound piece.

As usual, stored on megaupload: here

I’ve been thinking about adding video to these and putting them on youtube. Reasons either for or against that:

1) People might see them on youtube and say something about them.

2) I’m invested in pure audio… the visual seems to have sort of domineered aesthetic experience, perhaps even for music somewhat with the music video, and so presenting something as an auditory experience i think makes an interesting statement, which means I could possibly just put up files with only minimal visuals or just a black screen.

3) using video would allow to do the thing I’m good at: i.e. arrange words on a surface

3a) I feel like a lot of what I was trying to do with poetry was to cross this gap that i’ve now already crossed and what I speak in these pieces suffers from that: especially apparent is my attempts at appropriation in poetry which works fine on paper but then is ineffectual in the sound piece– as video, these poems might work again in some form. I’m thinking of performing real-time erasures?

4) can’t think of anything else.

So– about this piece. I’m pretty excited about it… first one I’ve made in a while that I’ve felt good about. Last 3 or so have been kind of garbage. I’m trying not to hide my voice as much, so this one has a lot of raw footage, of my voice especially. But a lot of raw in general. The process this time was somewhat different– I exported the project to vegas only once: after like 3 records in audacity, and continued to use that same file with different effects throughout, but everything after that was not processed again. I sort of / kind of did this one entirely live, only totally not. At least it is seeming like less of a stretch to me to have performed it live. I think if I had simply arranged the tracks in audacity sequentially (as oppose to layering them on top of each other), it would have made a fairly interesting experience, though pretty long, and more ambient… it seems totally possible for me to do this live in accompaniment/collaboration to/with poetry reading. Once I get a decent palette of sound going, it kind of carries itself and I’m pretty free to vamp on top of that. So, for this one, I established that palette pretty earlier then messed around and kept relayering as usual. The editing process for this was actually slightly longer than I’ve liked to do, but I think worth it, and it makes sense to do so when creating an artifact. It was fairly simple though– I basically went through each track as a solo and muted the parts I didn’t find particularly interesting, quieted places that were too cacophonous, or where a boring cacophony was covering a more interesting one,  then did a little bit of arrangement and added some sound from megaman 3.

But uhh…. yeah. Two days of work. Tell me what you think.

Continuing Digressions

So, I wanted to put up another audio file. There’s a lot about this that I’m unhappy with, but it is getting closer to what I’ve been wanting. I talk for a bit about some thinking, so you can skip to the end to get the file. Or, actually, I’ll link it here too.

A while ago, I read some articles about sound art on soundtoyz.net. The interactive audio things are generally unimpressive, and I have critical disagreements about the purpose of them insofar as they are “interactive” — as though they weren’t just a mediation between the user and code, presented the user with a very limited experience that is never creative, but gives the impression of allowing creative expression as long as you play by the rules– that is, as long as your artistic sensibilities conform with the coder’s. But whatever– my complaint is largely formed by the articles I read on their website here, which are great. I recommend Audio Art in the Deaf Century by Douglas Khan (holy shit xml makes life easy)  and, to perhaps a lesser extent,  Cooling Hot: redundancy and entropy in a critique of interactivity by Alan Peacock, especially…. I’m sure other ones are good, too, but I didn’t read them all.

Moving on, those helped me frame my ideas for this project within an existing discourse. Specifically, what Kahn says about audio art is very much like what is being said about the prose poem– that it is a sort of monster set to consume all other forms. While prose poems move rapidly from one register of discourse to another, audio art seeks to contain all forms of noise. Outside of youtube poop, my closest relatives are poets (Jack Spicer, esp.) and noise musicians. For now, I won’t talk about poetry.

Noise musicians are great. It’s hard to find a good video on youtube, but here you go. Most people reading this don’t exist, and don’t need explanation, though.  The (inappropriate) use of traditional instruments alongside (and as well as) non-traditional instruments function both to critique conventions of musicality, but also re-envision our relationship with objects, the world. To be totally crude, the “inability” of noise musicians to make “music” represents my frustration at being drowned in a world of utilitarian objects where ideas of beauty have been forgotten, or at least pushed to the side, left to the experts. If noise music is “annoying” or hard to listen to, long story short, go read Adorno (no poetry after Auschwitz, etc. etc.).

But noise music is not necessarily so difficult. An early animal collective (before they got so poppy) moved through multiple registers of musicality, at times just “noisy,” but other times evoking moments of ephemeral beauty, sadness, exhilaration… etc.etc.etc. By moving through these as possibilities, I think the critique of music becomes much more effective and the auditory experience is much richer– if I have a complaint about noise music is that it gets to be monotonous… the frustration ceases to surprise once it is expected. Every musical possibility is heightened by its proximity to the others— the way classical AM radio can sound more fleeting because it is heard through static, or how music from a passing car can be shockingly melodic against the noise of traffic. But I feel like I’m losing track of my digression

(Words that are sung remain musical insofar as 1) it is conventional 2) meaning is derived from the tone of voice, musical context, etc. 3) the word itself is pulled out of its natural state to fit the song’s melody 4) etc. “lyrics” are thus always secondary to melody– this is more complicated in rap music, where melody is often secondary or dependent on the language, but often it is the melody the words create, not the words themselves, which, in the end, takes precedence… rap is still a useful model for me– anyway, I don’t want to just “sing” or “rap” (though I’ve been known to sing) because that would not be poetry, it would be lyricism. Anyway, )

My departure from noise music is that I don’t want to limit myself to the realm of music. I want this art to consume all forms, but never pay allegiance to any particular genre. Thus the collision of movies, poetry, video games, music (of all genres) etc. etc. etc. The goal is to get at an understanding of the experience of sound. I’m a long way off. Here’s another one. I’ll post more soon and make more. Still not sure how to talk about these specifically… any comments would be great. The thing is uploaded at megaupload: here

enjoy (or not) and let me know what you think

Challenge vs. Difficulty

So, as I was writing the second part of the post I promised, I got into this huge digression trying to identify a term I want to start using. I’m just going to lift that digression and make it its own post so that I can post the other post as a solid unit without a huge Shandyian digression in the middle of it. So…. here you go.

Here, I’ll attempt a definition and/or explanation of what I mean by challenge, and hopefully by the time this article is done, I’ll have a concrete statement about it. So, challenge:

The game only challenges once the difficulty has reached a certain threshold or breaking point at which no further progress can be made using the same methods. Imagine a TD in which mazing is possible, but not necessary (as is often the case during the early levels)—this depth of strategic thinking is not called out by the challenge because it is not required to overcome the difficulty. (It could be argued that since the potential to maze is still there, whether necessary or not, that higher order of thinking is still attainable. That does not, I want to argue, make it more challenging. While it is possible to beat up an old woman with all the vigor necessary to fight a bear, one is not challenged to do so—and when doing so, notably, one would necessarily rely entirely on previous fighting experience; the old woman does not present enough of a challenge to necessitate innovation. The challenge is independent of the player. I’ll explain this better in a bit.). A wave of extremely fast creeps would necessitate a new technique, mazing, in order to overcome the challenge. So it would seem that as difficulty scales, challenge increases, but this is not necessarily true. In IWBTG, for example, the challenge is limited to mechanical input,  memorization, and small amounts of strategy and puzzle solving. The extreme difficulty does not open to a new level of play. The game presents a very specific challenge. (For IWBTG, I think this limitation is artistically interesting, and I’ll talk about this eventually—my point is that I am not saying it is as simple as more challenge is “better”).

While difficulty is a measure of the disparity between effort required to complete the task and the ability of the player, the challenge is a virtual property of the game. Though it can only be realized through the player’s actions, the challenge is a formal property of the game, irrespective of player or interface. Halo’s port from Xbox to PC is a clear example of how a changed interface delineated difficulty from challenge; the superiority of the mouse/keyboard for dealing with fps situations allowed for such ease of play that the game became fluff, too boring to challenge the serious gamer. Thus what may have appeared as challenge in the Xbox, was in fact only a false difficulty imposed by the clumsy method of input. Although the increased difficulty of playing with a controller may have spurred innovations for Xbox players, such as strategies for map control (as certain weapons are much more valuable to the hard-of-aiming), faster than it would have for PC players, these innovations are still applicable and possible for the PC player, though he may have less need of them unless the competition is particularly heavy. In short, the constraints imposed upon the player by the interface only ever increase difficulty. The same is obviously true for noobs who have difficulty just navigating the field of play, or for a player with an injured hand. These external difficulties can lead to a lower threshold at which the challenge occurs, but the game’s net/actual/real?/full potential for? (not sure what word goes here) challenge remains the same.

I do not intend to limit difficulty and challenge to matters of physical virtuosity. Nor do I want to place difficulty on the physical side of play and challenge on the intellectual. Difficulty and challenge are two intensities at work in both the physical and intellectual (I try not to even make the distinction). I’ll give a full reading of a game in these terms later, but for now I want to just make a quick example. Games create difficulties in pockets. Sprout TD (why do I always come back to TDs?) is quite simple in terms of physical input, like most TD’s (notably not BBSI TD), preferring to place difficulty in strategic thinking. One could begin by simply building clusters of towers in key locations, but soon it is necessary to maze. On higher difficulties, the only way to survive is by separating waypoints so creeps must pass through the maze multiple times. As the maze expands, these two difficulties come into conflict. On one hand, it is vital that towers are placed in the right location—a slow tower is only useful if the creeps it slows are near other towers that deal damage, but on the other hand, a good maze needs to have branches leading off from the main cluster of towers to block off waypoints. (If you’ve never played Sprout TD, or games similar, then you have no idea what I’m talking about, I know, I’m sorry). I don’t know how to say this without sounding mystical, but to solve the problem and build an effective maze, two previously distinct techniques, concepts, abilities, etc. must come into unison. The resultant operative force is capable of handling the task neither element could have singly.

This is important to study not simply because of the aesthetic experience this unity can create, but because this challenge, in fostering the growth of certain sections of the self, forging unity between some areas and neglecting others, actively generates patterns of thinking, forms of thought, types of humans. I have argued elsewhere that games have potential to foster our growth as humans, but also to assimilate us into machinic thinking. In identifying what I’ve called challenge, I believe I’ve located the lens through which we can understand these potentialities in specific games, rather than continuing to make sweeping claims that have no real impact. In short, my hypothesis is that the greater the challenge, the more the game pushes for fusion of all elements of the self, the more that game will foster our humanity. Thus the extreme importance in delineating difficulty from challenge. Most people, it seems, tend to see difficulty in video games as a de facto indication of their tendency to foster mechanical thinking. As the complete inability of computer scientists to create a computer capable of defeating top Go players attests, this is far from the truth. Yet our culture’s belief in this stereotype (the pale skinned computer nerd who has more in common with his computer than other people) has meant we have routinely ignored the extent to which video games have served as grounds for real humanist development. Instead, cultural critics have insisted upon examining procedurally simple games, which offer little to no challenge, and in failing to do so, I would argue (plan to argue eventually) these games cannot help but be didactic—that is, to enforce a mechanical mode of moral/aesthetic thinking. But enough of that for now. Must return to my essay…

“Gaming” Mice

another quick side note– I use an MX310, which logitech doesn’t make anymore, and is quite old.  It is light, comfortable, and handles well at high speeds. With 800 dpi. People lately seem to think you need a mouse with above 1200 dpi… the high-end gaming mice have 4 or 5 thousand dpi. They also brag about their 1kmhz polling whatever that brings your mouse delay down to 1ms.

As though this matters.

First: none of that means shit if you can’t aim in the first place.

Second: you’re probably playing WoW, in which case: lol, and btw you don’t have to aim. But have fun with your fifty extra buttons that make the mouse cumbersome and awkward.

Third: or you’re playing TF2, in which case good aim  only matters if you’re playing sniper (and not the fucking bow sniper). Similarly, if you’re playing one of those “realisitic” games (CoD, BF, CS, etc. etc.), your weapons have inaccuracies so the kind of precision these mice offer is irrelevant. Memorizing the map is more important than knowing how to aim in any of these games. (I mention CS because every shot is essentially a flick shot: the kind of precision offered by a 5000 dpi mouse isn’t going to really matter, as long as it can track at high speeds, which my MX310 does perfectly)

Fourth: You’re playing online? Oh. So then you’re already dealing with 50-100 ping if you have a good connection, which is going to fluctuate anyway, so that difference of 7ms your mouse offers means absolutely nothing.

Fifth: Have you ever thought to yourself: “damn, if only I had moved my hand 1/5000 of an inch to the left, then I would have shot that guy!” No, you probably haven’t, unless you’re just making excuses, but the human hand isn’t capable of that kind of precision anyway (at least at any speed that would matter) –further, your resolution probably isn’t high enough for that to matter, either.  And, considering your OS and the game you’re playing each affect the sensitivity of your mouse, usually making it lower, none of this matters. (Although having the ability to adjust your dpi sounds pretty cool) This is like listening to hi-fi music on your built-in laptop speakers. There’s no sense in sending a high dpi signal into a low precision environment.

Finally: and this is my main point, game companies refuse to make games that require skill anymore (don’t want to scare away the casual crowd!) so aiming is becoming a thing of the past. To expand the market, the industry has to cater to lowest common denominator. It’s funny that the “gaming” mouse should catch on concurrently with the extinction of “gaming” as such. Now, instead of developing skill, one buys objects to mark oneself as a dedicated gamer, apparently to convince themselves that they are confronted with a difficult task requiring specialized tools and skills.

And they cost at least twice as much. Razer sells a mouse for up around 150$. I guess there are people out there who really need to feel special.

more of a personal note…

title my essay on IWBTG “I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game: The Essay”

also: as far as I can tell, no one has done this yet. I hearby officialy call dibs.

On Difficulty (Hard On)

I want to write more in this thing, but I am lazy/working on other things. So, this post is something of a preliminary to talking about I Wanna Be the Guy: The Movie: The Game. I’m going to write a good, big thing eventually, but this is not it yet, though it keeps growing… without further ado, my thoughts:

When I want to talk about games, the term I keep coming back to is difficulty. (Good) games defer from most mass culture insofar as they do not easily commodify themselves—they require a fair amount of effort on the part of the player. The traditional divide between intellectual or artistic works and mere entertainment has been along this same line. And so my work is often an effort to align the practice of gaming with that of “high” art, like poetry, modern painting, whatever. Moreover, I believe that thinking about games can help us understand this often murky division; games provide an interesting example against which we can measure our experiences with other forms: painting cinema, w/e because the extent to which they are “difficult” is much more obvious than traditional art forms.

Brief Aside: (Of course, this is inextricably bound with what I believe art is, or more specifically, what art should do. In short, I’d say that art is the sport of the mind. Running, swimming, jumping, etc. is physically demanding and when engaged regularly the body strengthens; like so for art, only this growth is ethical, intellectual, aesthetic, whatever, etc. I’m not going to give this issue full treatment here, but even if you disagree I think the distinction is still useful, if in a less profound way. Moving on,)

The prevailing attitude is that all products of the entertainment industry are artless commodities, games included. This attitude is based, primarily, upon a certain image of the movie-goer. The movie-goer sits in the theater, is given popcorn and a comfortable chair, needs to do nothing but watch the movie reveal itself. The movie must be decoded to become meaningful, but decoding movies requires little effort. As the viewer, along with the directors, actors, etc., becomes thoroughly practiced in genre conventions, the ease of interpretation increases. And of course genre conventions include scripts not just for the actors, but the audience as well. This is clearest in the scoring of films, where the music can signal to the viewer when to be compassionate or apathetic to the events on screen, but also, quite paradoxically, when to be surprised.

The game, however, does not reveal itself without reciprocal effort on the part of the player. e.g. Mario does not move unless you push buttons, and thus, as the saying goes “We gotta find the princess… and YOU gotta help us.” The plot of the game can only be revealed through effort by the player: let’s call this interactivity. But interactivity is not necessarily difficult, it does not necessarily challenge the player, and is thus not by itself sufficient grounds for aligning gaming with art.

A good place to begin is with pornography, which blurs the boundary between game and film insofar as it is already interactive: that is, the intended pleasure to be derived from pornography requires effort on the part of the viewer. (This activity I will label as “second order” because it is inessential to the advancement of the movie, while the interactivity visible on the screen and required for the completion of the movie I will label as “first order.”) Likewise, the pornography industry was first to embrace DVD technology by making “interactive” films. Such films allow the viewer to choose between angles, positions, actresses and their clothing, etc., but this interactivity remains minimal, amounting to little more than changing the channel.

On the other hand, there is a growing multitude of Flash “games,” which hardly qualify as such. Games like the “Meet’N’Fuck” series made by VadimGoD and produced by Games of Desire (GoD for short: ironic? Don’t know yet.) are often entirely linear. “Meet’N’Fuck: Intensive Therapy,” for example, begins as the avatar (always male, average, face never seen) wakes up inside a hospital. Looking up through his eyes, the player is immediately approached by two young nurses, their breasts (inexplicably and perpetually bouncing) barely contained by their skimpy nurse uniforms. The player navigates through the game by picking from pre-scripted dialogue; only one of the choices will advance the player to the next screen. If the player chooses incorrectly, the women respond harshly, though the player is free to choose again: this time with the incorrect choice made unavailable. This can repeat until there is only one option left and the player has no choice but the correct dialogue, and no amount of error will affect the narrative, which remains almost entirely linear and predetermined.

The reward for completing dialogue is two short Hentai: one with each nurse. These scenes are advanced toward climax by clicking a “harder!” button which appears once the “pleasure bar” located vertically along the side of the screen reaches predetermined levels (In some games the player may elect to return to an earlier level, the pleasure bar will not rise and climax is not impossible without passing through the final level). Although the interactivity here seems trivial, it can be inferred that this feature is implemented as a way for the first and second orders of interactivity to come in synchrony. (If you know what I mean). Along the same lines, the first order of interactivity must be kept simple so as not to interfere with the second order. Clearly, second order interactivity takes priority over first order interactivity; the player is not challenged (at least not significantly) or resisted by the game itself—any challenge the player has fulfilling the requirements of second order interactivity is (lol) a personal problem. The game, like the girls in it, is there purely for (presumably) his pleasure, resisting only slightly, so as to appear chaste enough to make the player feel a sense of accomplishment and exclusivity. (metaphor/ambiguity intended).

The interactive DVD, in some cases, actually offers as much or more interactivity and allows the viewer more freedom than these games. It would thus be easy to conclude that the distinction between game and movie, like the distinction between flash fiction and prose poetry, appears to be entirely artificial, relating more to publisher than genre. But I’ll not settle so easily. Rather, I will insist that interactivity alone does not make something a game (how, for example, could these be called a “series of interesting choices” when there are effectively no choices being made?), but that something is a game insofar as it challenges its players (and the quality of the game can be measured by the extent to which it challenges), and that the pleasure (call it what you will) one derives from gaming lies in being challenged, and is thus intrinsic to the gameplay itself.

To understand this claim, we’ll need to examine more games representing at least a partial spectrum of possible difficulty… I’ll do this in the next post