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Tag: magic

This website was archived on July 20, 2019. It is frozen in time on that date.
Exolymph creator Sonya Mann's active website is Sonya, Supposedly.

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Quick Intro Note

Election? What election? Ugh. I wrote down all my feelings and posted them on my personal website, so if you’re interested you can go read that. But this is not a politics newsletter, even though governmental shenanigans often end up being cyberpunk. For now, let’s change the subject. I mean, seriously, who isn’t ready to talk about ANYTHING else?

Copy-Pasted Toil and Trouble

Toby Shorin shared a set of “cyber mysticism” resources, through which I found STONEDALONE: “a collection of wearable 3d printed crystals imbued with cyber mystical properties”.

Photo from the STONEDALONE shop.

Photo from the STONEDALONE shop.

Photo from the STONEDALONE lookbook.

Photo from the STONEDALONE lookbook.

The only thing that’s explicitly ~cyber~ about the actual products is that they’re 3D-printed. Beyond that it’s all fuzzy aesthetic stuff. Which is not a criticism! It’s just an interesting facet (pun intended) of the project.

I can’t quite tell if STONEDALONE is tongue-in-cheek. It looks like vaporwave or pastel goth jewelry with a nifty marketing hook. For example, “the blue crystal simulates a sense of shavasana after a harrowing reddit session” — how is that anything but sly self-parody?

On the other hand, there are bizarre cyber witches out there who are 100% sincere. So you never know.

Both the look and the ethos of STONEDALONE heavily remind me of cybertwee, a digital femme collective that most notably sold cookies on the deep web. And cybertwee itself is a kawaii reinterpretation of VNS Matrix.

Performative femininity has always flourished on the web, but it seems to have gotten more self-conscious about it. Hmm.

Lich’s Maze & Computer Creativity

Tyler Callich (also known as @lichlike) is a storyteller who makes Twitter bots, among other narrative vehicles. “Lich” is the last syllable of her last name, and it’s also a type of creature that exists between life and death. Wikipedia edifies us:

“Unlike zombies, which are often depicted as mindless, part of a hivemind or under the control of another, a lich retains revenant-like independent thought and is usually at least as intelligent as it was prior to its transformation. In some works of fiction, liches can be distinguished from other undead by their phylactery, an item of the lich’s choosing into which they imbue their soul, giving them immortality until the phylactery is destroyed.”

Tyler’s symbol — her conceptual avatar, if you will — is the lich. When I spoke to her on the phone, she reflected, “I like the concept of this liminal half-dead, half-alive, potent-but-still-waning [being].” A lich is “like a ghost, but not quite” — essence externalized. “It’s one way I conceive of identity, also. It’s in this removed far-outside-of-me place, like a phylactery.” Somewhat akin to @lichphylactery, which shakes up Tyler’s words and spills them back in new arrangements.

That particular creation is Tyler’s own phylactery, a Markov-based ebooks bot with a straightforward name. It says things like, “One and all bring its water which they observe are the 3 styles we’re featuring?” Another recent comment: “Atlnaba a All comprehended within the form of these systems upon the doctrines of the informers were led off s訖”

Tyler explained, “With Markov chains, you’re taking some text and using its grammar to make something new, but still sensible or almost sensible.” She noted that “unintelligible nonsense is novel for a little while”, but it gets boring. Bots like @lichphylactery — or Olivia Taters — are best when they’re close to passing the Turing test, but still not quite there.

My favorite of Tyler’s projects is Lich’s Maze. Here is a recent @lichmaze micro-story:

Lich's Maze

The bones of Lich’s Maze are a loose mythological system that Tyler put together. She fed it a corpus of text, some that she wrote and some that she found. Then she released @lichmaze to wander through people’s Twitter feeds, sending out cryptic moments from an arcane techno-magic game-world.

Tyler told me, “Symbolic thinking is a way for me to just let my mind wander through association.” She “can get a computer to make random associations for me” which “augments that free-thinking / brainstorming”. I asked if she uses @lichmaze’s output as writing prompts, and surprisingly the answer was no. Tyler answered in a thoughtful voice, “It never really occurred to me.”

Beau Gunderson said of Twitter bots, “they’re creators but i don’t put them on the same level as human creators. […] i’m giving the computer the ability to express a parameter set that i’ve laid out for it that includes a ton of randomness.” On the other hand, Tyler doesn’t feel a strong ownership claim. “I take a big backseat to that.” She said, “I think of [the bot] as its own entity after a certain point. It’s kind of independent from me.” She even wishes “that it could change the password on itself and go off on its own”, in a direction unspecified. Tyler’s bots are probably best compared to a growing tangle of plants. Tyler told me, “I think randomness is natural [and] finding that grit or that little kink in digital art is something that I connect closely to organic structures.”

Another project of Tyler’s is Restroom Genderator, which comes up with “extant (and not so extant) genders”. This is a perfect example of “taking a concept and pushing it toward its eventual ruin”, as Tyler put it. A bot like Restroom Genderator is tireless and thorough — eventually “you get a rich contour of all of the iterations of something”. It was originally based on a joke with a friend. “The initial concept — you come up with something and you’re like, ‘Oh, this is funny!’ It can become kind of mundane after a while to write out five thousand combinations and figure out what the best one would be.” So you construct a bot to do it for you.

Asked to define her practice, Tyler told me, “I would consider myself a writer, but it’s hard because I don’t write, like, novels usually.” She continued, “If I was working in a normal platform, I would consider myself a poet, but that seems kind of lofty. I consider myself a tinkerer more than anything else… like a word tinkerer.”

Convince Your Brethren

“Ambience, they realize, is really a subset of a stronger power. The power of narrative. The literary tropes declaring that, given A, B is sure to follow.” — Scott Alexander’s Unsong

The stories we tell ourselves — and the stories that we tell each other — are important. Many of these everyday narratives are guesses about the future. We fixate on the outcomes that we’re yearning for. Maybe wishing will make it true! (See also: meme magic.) Alternately, we worry about the possibilities that we’d like to believe are impossible. Donald Trump being elected this autumn — that can’t happen, right? Right? Please?

Photo by Matthias Ripp.

Photo by Matthias Ripp.

On February 25th, Longreads published an excerpt from Paradise Now, an overview of American utopian movements written by Chris Jennings. I was struck by the similarity between attitudes in the mid-to-late 1700s and Silicon Valley’s prevailing mood over the past decade:

“New technologies of mass production augured a future in which scarcity would become a dim legend. […] The new faith in limitless, human-driven progress merged with the old faith in an imminent golden age. Perhaps human genius — manifested in new ideas, buildings, machines, and social institutions — would be the lever by which the millennium of fraternity and abundance was activated. […] The idea of a New World utopia was born in the fever dream of religious revelation and the waking nightmare of early industrialization.”

Our current nightmare, at least in America, is de-industrialization. It’s been going on for longer than I’ve been alive, and I suspect it’ll keep going for a while. The dual impacts of the internet and true globalization have hardly gotten started.

Once & Someday Software Experiments

Andi McClure is an artist whose primary medium is code. She uses proverbial `1`s and `0`s to make game-like creations, a programming language called Emily, and digital sigils. Andi and I chatted on Skype recently about these various projects and how she conceptualizes her work.

This conversation took place via IM. The full transcript is available for your reading pleasure, but it’s much too long for a newsletter. Instead, I selected some of Andi’s loveliest statements.

Art-Purposed Computing

“Um, I guess I just had this drive to make stuff. I didn’t really question it. I guess at the beginning, when I was making things, I seemed focused on making worlds people could dip into? all my BASIC programs were grossly simple text adventures, and hypercard I was all making point and click adventures (it’s suited for that, it’s technically the program Myst was eventually made in)”

On the games Cyan made before Myst: “you’d explore these bizarre alice-in-wonderland worlds that were full of stuff that reacted in funny ways when you clicked on them.”

Cover art from McClure’s collection Sweet Nothings.

Cover art from McClure’s collection Sweet Nothings.

“I do definitely think of myself as an artist. Code happens to be the thing I know how to express myself through, so that’s how I create art. Sometimes I think of the way I approach certain things in life (politics, day to day problems) as being sort of an engineer’s mindset, but if i’m writing code, that’s art. My programming language project is maybe not itself art, but I’m doing it with the goal of making art WITH it, so.”

On trying to distribute “little minimally-interactive systems”: “I’d have this problem that the only way anyone could see this little bitty thing I made, that I spent like a day on and that takes about a minute to two minutes to appreciate fully, was to download this 2MB .exe, and run it on their computer, and half the time have to disable their antivirus or something. So that was awkward.”

The answer to that problem was a website called…

“dryads are trees that are also girls and that is very compelling to me.”

“i was very specifically trying to find something that evoked a sort of a tension between something organic and wild and something mathematical and technological. like some of the ones i didn’t go with were ‘glitch dot flowers’, ‘fleshy dot rocks’, ‘screaming dot computer’”

“i really really liked the idea of a dryad trying to design technology and what that would look like. i imagined that it would involve lots of crystals. i had this mental image of a tiny plant girl holding a wrench about as tall as she is, looking out over some kind of cryptic crystalline machine.”

“Again I’ve only got two things up so far but the descriptions are all going to be completely inaccurate descriptions as if the little toy I made was some sort of device built by dryads, with a specific purpose which is vaguely incomprehensible to humans but makes a lot of sense to a tree.”

“i do want to make sure this doesn’t feel like trees trying to use human technology and make sense of it. this is trees doing their own thing that may or may not have anything to do with you.”

Andi McClure Chat, Full Transcript

Andi McClure is an artist whose main medium is code. She uses proverbial `1`s and `0`s to make games and game-like creations, a programming language called Emily, and digital sigils. Andi and I chatted on Skype recently about these various projects and her artistic practice(s).

This is the full transcript, which is messy like most IM conversations. I sent a collection of quotes to the newsletter subscribers. Read more

Hecate Among Stars

Space Witch II by Kyle Sauter, available as a $25 screen print on Etsy:

Space Witch II by Kyle Sauter, available as a $25 screen print on Etsy

I find the blend of technology and magic interesting. She’s hooked up to power lines and a higher plane. The helmet glass shields her from toxic air and from the eyes of heretics. She surfs over computer waves and rappels down strings of spiritual numbers.

Bloomberg pundit Matt Levine writes of the economy, “The essence of finance is time travel. […] Markets are constantly predicting future actions, and as those actions move closer in time, the predictions become more solid and precise.”

The space witch literally hop-skip-jumps through time. She arrives at a new planet, looks around, and composes a report on the available resources. She catalogs the indigenous species. She blesses the mountaintops. Then the space witch reports back to her corporate superiors.

In a world of abundance, data is the key asset. Technology and magic are both forces of manipulation, of change. The space witch is valuable because she has access to occult intuition as well as her ship’s sensors.

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