TITAA #26: Tentacles and Magical Languages
(If this gets cut off in your mail, the perma-link on web is here.)
I started going hard on this newsletter as Covid hit, because it forces me to look closer for the things that make me excited amidst a lot of anxiety. Artists have regularly been inspiring — nothing like amazing eye-candy to make me jump up and down mentally. This month I fell in love with Xul Solar, an Argentine surrealist/symbolic artist. I’ve ordered a book, but it hasn’t come yet; meanwhile here is his Museo Xul Solar gallery page in English, a reasonable Wikipedia article, and a good sample on WikiArt.
Xul was a musician, artist, linguist, and generally esoteric dude. He hung out with Aleister Crowley, talking about the I Ching, and painted him. He invented a language he called “Neo-Creole” (and 7 other language systems). He made new musical notation systems and played esoteric instruments. He created a game he called “pan-chess.” He was nuts about astrology and the Kabbala and re-interpreted the Tarot. He palled around with Rosicrucians. He was a long-time friend of Borges, who mentioned him regularly and was inspired by him: “Borges published “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”, a tale of an imaginary world with a particular language where words were formed by adding prefixes and suffixes, a direct allusion to Xul and the interests for language they shared, especially Neo-Creole.” (source)
His self-introduction for a magazine is pretty grandiose, but hey:
“I am a world champion of a game that nobody yet knows called panchess (Panajedrez). I am master of a script that nobody yet reads. I am creator of a technique, of a musical grafía that allows the piano to be studied in a third of the usual time that it takes today. I am director of a theatre that as yet has not begun working. I am creator of a universal language called panlingua based on numbers and astrology that will help people know each other better. I am creator of twelve painting techniques, some of them surrealist, and others that transpose a sensory, emotional world on to canvas, and that will produce in those that listen a Chopin suite, a Wagnerian prelude, or a stanza sung by Beniamino Gigli. I am the creator, and this is what most interests me at the moment, apart from the exhibition of painting that I am preparing, of a language that is desperately needed by Latin America.” (source)
Here’s a sampler from his WikiArt page, to give you an idea of the joy:
DiscoDiffusion (colab by @somnai_dreams) is based on Katherine Crowson’s diffusion model. Nice looking. With the prompts “A painting of a complicated castle with multiple levels and towers, by Xul Solar. Trending on artstation.", "blue color scheme", "Many small people climb the castle on walkways.","There are arches and windows all over the castle:5", I got this:
There is a refactor of DiscoDiffusion at Diffusion Gen, a cleanup/mod, that runs outside colab, if you prefer.
Painterly rendering of raster art to vector art with diffvg (colab), by duskvirkus.
Reaction-diffusion art examples from @RedBlobGames. I was surprised by how much I liked some of these.
“Humanity”: SimEarth in a shader by David A Roberts. From the instruction comments: “Concluding the prelude on the early earth, the pace slows to a cycle between day and night, terrain becoming fixed as tectonic movements become imperceptible. Soon the night reveals unprecedented patterns of light, as humanity proceeds to colonise the surface of the planet.” There is a mini-game at the end where you can influence the planet.
Lovely procgen building generation in Blender from @delriofe. (Thanks to Jacob Garbe! Who also found me this Old Shanghai blocks generator example by @theianwoo, from whose feed I learn there is a new building generator add-on to Blender. Might be time I get down to learning that.)
Beautiful small 3D fly-through of animated Van Gogh scenes, posted by @VigilanteArtist. Thanks to Marylène Ricci! If you like this sort of thing, I love the VR Dali fly-through experience in Dreams of Dali. Being “in it” is amazing. Also there is “Art Plunge,” a limited set of 3D-ized famous paintings to experience in VR.
Maplands, by Amy Goodchild, found via Jeff Clark. A great tech overview of her generative art project that I quite like stylistically. She also did this interesting visualization of “machine learning, wrong answers only” (a #genuary prompt):
“Travellers try to find their way through the maze, moving kinda randomly. When they hit a wall, they leave a warning, and when they find a gate, they leave a guide. Future travellers are repelled/attracted to warnings/guides.”
An article on AI Art in Africa and Black Communities Worldwide from Ayadata. There are interesting GAN and style transfer works using local art as inspiration. (Shout-out to Victor Dibia’s African Masks project.)
InstructGPT from OpenAI is supposed to be better than GPT-3 at following prompt directions, due to a new training/updating process with human ratings. I can’t find a demo right now.
A Diary in Alphabetical Order: A to C. By Sheila Heti.
“Am I wasting my time? Am I? Am low on money. Am making noodles. Am reading ‘Emma’ now. Am tired and will go to sleep soon. Am tired today and feel like I may be getting a cold. And I didn’t want to tell him about my day. And I didn’t.”
This reminded me of the fantabulous Of Oz the Wizard, which is The Wizard of Oz recut in alphebetic line order.
Machine Learning Irish Poetry, a book of AI-Generated Irish poems and imagery, by Oscar Torrens and Kristian Glenn.
A Survey of Pretrained Language Models Based Text Generation by Li et al, a good catchup on the state of generative LMs.
NLP, Vis, Other Fun Tech Links
Sam Lerner’s updated River Runner vis to global is a huge joy - the field and landscape patterns of countries like France and England are a lot more interesting than the USA, imo.
“Ever wanted to open an image of the Galactic Center from SKA and mess with it yourself? Here's my result and a tutorial.” (@JareelSkaj)
A pretty amazing collection of geo-related visualization tools accessible via Streamlit. Raster, vector, satellite, heatmap, etc.
High quality graphics programming in Python with Taichi. Site includes tutorials, videos (e.g., pdf tutorial slides).
New “Visual Clustering” lib for Python that works with a sklearn API. (I haven’t tried it.)
Visualization of Vis conference articles from IEEE. Cluster map that’s searchable.
Humanities Data Analysis, Case Studies with Python, an online book of notebook format, by Folgert Karsdorp, Mike Kestemont and Allen Riddell.
Poetic rhythmic analysis toolkit in Python, Cadence, by Ryan Heuser.
DocArray from JinaAI does very concise long doc operations like clustering and similarity and embeddings (including visualizing).
Clive Thompson’s Search Engine that Finds You Weird Old Books. I was pleased by some of my hits - a book on Chaldean Magic, poisonous plants, etc. But it has a tendency to just hang or return nothing, which is too bad.
The Ink authoring guide from Inkle is out now! Ink looks simple, but doing complex things in it is non-obvious. This is probably a great reference, which I really needed a year ago for a project.
Matt Dray is trying to build text-based roguelike games in R.
What is the Title of This WikiHow Article? A game by Lemon based on bizarre illustrations.
A first-person perspective mod for Townscaper from DigitalZombie.
Another great article on procedural worlds from tiles, by Isaac Dykeman, this time Wang tiles using Processsing. (Code.)
Towards Narrative Instruments, paper by Max Kreminski and Michael Mateas, on systems for “authorship” roles in game-play. I also recently watched and enjoyed Max’s short talk on Germinate, a system for “mixed-initiative” casual game creation based in part on answer set programming (paper here).
So. Many. Tentacles. This. Month.
Moonflower Murders (mystery) by Anthony Horowitz is the sequel to Magpie Murders that I rec’d last month. I liked it even better. Another embedded-book mystery featuring the asshole (dead) writer Atticus Pund, this time about a murder at a fancy hotel. Susan, his former editor, is on the case despite a lovely job waiting on a Greek island. (What is wrong with her.)
⭐ The Devil and the Dark Water (mystery) by Stuart Turton. I loved this; it’s a kind of shipboard murder mystery featuring weird cult symbols, a curse, and a demon, taking place in 1634. Great ensemble work, total page-turner. (This is the guy who wrote the 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, a time loop fantasy-mystery I also mostly liked. CW for rape and spousal abuse, torture references, and slaughtered pigs.)
The Echo Wife (sf thriller) by Sarah Gailey. An intense clone murder mystery. The main character is not a nice person, really, and neither is the ex-husband who cloned her using her own tech. It’s definitely creepy thriller territory. (She also wrote River of Teeth and Magic for Liars, which I also just read.)
Battle of the Linguist Mages (sf) by Scotto Moore. I wanted to like this more than I did — although it is very funny in places (LOL-level). There’s a crazy VR game called Sparkle Dungeon based on the music industry, a linguistic system of spell-casting using a barely pronounceable set of alien morphemes, an evil-ish ad agency, a cult who worship something tentacled from outer space, and yes it’s even weirder than all that. Just maybe a little too long? I do not understand why the punctuation marks bothered me so much although the interrobang was hilarious. Good LGBTQ romance lines.
⭐ The Ninth Metal (sf) by Benjamin Percy. Loved this — a comet impact in Minnesota has left deposits of a new space metal in high demand, and a gold rush begins. You get your warring corrupt business factions, bought police, Yet Another Cult Worshipping Tentacled Things from Space, and a kind of superhero/villain plotline of meteor exposure. (There are more in the series, but with different characters.)
Fortune’s Pawn (sf) by Rachel Bach, plus the next 2 in the series. Devianna Morris is a mercenary soldier who just wants to be on the elite squad. She takes a gig as security on a ship with some bad history. Described as being for fans of shows “Killjoys” and “Firefly” and that’s not wrong. Good space action, battles, scary villains, and YES Yet More Big Tentacled Space Things!! Increasing amounts of a standard het romance, which becomes much more prominent in book 3, sadly. Still, if you can do that, these are fun space opera.
Apparently I saw some good tv this month, too.
Silent Sea (sf, Korean language), on Netflix. Fun B-grade sf horror/action set on creepy deserted moon base full of bodies, where something happened that apparently wasn’t the official explanation of what happened. There are lots of soldier grunt red shirts. Also, there is moon-water.
Wheel of Time (fantasy, Amazon). I only liked it for the Aes Sedai witch women and their politics, I did not really love the fated hero kids. A mixed rec. (I have not read the book.)
Sex Education s3 (dramedy, Netflix). I really enjoyed s3, although the relationship drama between the two adults makes me cringe. The kids are all fun, the relationships are complex and multiplex, and their evolution under a repressive new school regime is fascinating.
The Expanse s6 (sf, Amazon). I’m sad to see this end. I was also sad to see so much of Marco and Filip. The only good thing about Marco is his eyeliner. But Bobbie and Draper and Avasarala were so good. (A’s “striding angrily through the space station to meet the ‘enemy’” outfit was a high point, too.)
⭐ Yellowjackets (horror/mystery, Showtime). This is as good as everyone says. Flashback and current timeline many years later of a girls soccer team that spent 19 months stuck in the woods, surviving “somehow.” (CW galore, animals die, people die, there is cannibalism suggested.) The adults who survived the crash are very messed up and broken, in profound ways. The kids in the back story are fabulous at being angry teenagers, some of whom are sociopaths in waiting.
Vigil (thriller, uh, British). A new 6-ep series from the Line of Duty folks, with Suranne Jones as a detective sent into a patroling missile submarine to investigate a strange death and Rose Leslie as her ex-gf investigating on shore. Very good, very tense and claustrophobic.
I’m working too much to play enough games right now. Bummed!
⭐ The Forgotten City. A time-loopy mystery set in a weird Roman city full of golden statues that whisper as you pass them… It’s so fun! Despite some long dialogue moments of pontification that are tough to interrupt. I generally enjoyed the moral philosophical arguments, the educational details on classical and earlier history, the backstories of the people stuck there. It’s, uh, not the utopia it appears, but then the statues should tell you that. There are essentially two games here: a shorter one in which you can reach ending(s) without fighting skeletons, and the longer game in which you do. I recommend the one in which you do. I did have to look up clues for how to achieve various steps, because the right options are not always obvious. And the epilogue on the long ending is lovely, so nice to get closure like that. The Karen joke is almost worth the price.
Paradise Killer. Wow, is this weird but fun. Not having done my pre-reading, but knowing it was a well-done mystery game, I expected a fairly straight murder investigation on a resort island, and got instead: a constructed island full of immortals in a pocket universe who worship tentacled gods (!) and sacrifice all the human citizens every time they abandon an island and build a new one. Plus demons. They have names like “The Witness to the End,” “Dr. Doom Jazz,” “K. HX.” The characters are all 2D anime-aesthetic, but the setting is 3D; you roam around as “Lady Love Dies,” an investigator brought back from a cushy prison exile to figure out why all the Syndicate bosses were killed. Roaming is a lot of fun, since you collect “blood jewels” needed as currency and run into ghosts and solve mini-puzzles along the way. It is a very good mystery and it’s constantly weird and surprising.
This tarot imagery from Xul Solar made me go “yes, this is also Paradise Killer aesthetic of character!” Except the judge in PK is way weirder.
I finished Lone Echo 2 (only available on the Oculus shop store; it says it’s for Rift, but you can play over airlink to your Quest, as I did with Lone Echo 1). So, so good. I loved being back in space among rubble and asteroids and ship ruins infected with bio-weapon spores. I wish it were easier to take screenshots to share. There is a new character with an affecting storyline, and some excellent wrapup to the plotline in Lone Echo 1. (Note: I did have one bad technical glitch, and had to download someone else’s saved game state to fix it.)
The Dawn of Art (on Steam): I finally “played” this VR title about the Chauvet cave artwork, which features both a video and a cave “tour”. It’s quite affecting, especially (for some reason) seeing the cave location in relation to the famous arch in the Ardèche. We are not allowed in the real cave, so VR is the best we can get to it. Congrats to my friends at Google Arts & Culture who worked on it, especially Jonathan Tanant (who doesn’t read this because he hates social media). You can also navigate his 3D wall scans of Chauvet here in the GAC pocket gallery in your browser.
Chaos is the new calm violence the new balm to be spread on lips unused to a kiss. Left is the new right as I brace for a fight with a man who stands on his remaining hand. Fetid harbor harbor me until someone is free to drive me away from what happened today. Don't strand me standing here. If you leave, leave beer.
If you’re like me, you’ve had a hellish January of ups and downs, way too much action for one month. Escapism is where it’s at. Read and watch and play and give yourself a break.