September 1995 - The Conversation resumes

Judy Malloy
Fred has just finished a residency where he worked on a CD. Welcome back Fred!

In the mid-eighties, bouncing ideas back and forth with you on the "Software as Art" topic on ACEN was an influential part in the development of my ideas. Right now, I'm wrestling with some interface problems with Brown House Kitchen. So, this seems like an allright lead in to our second conversation.

Can you tell us something about the residency, about the CD, and, in particular about the interface you developed?

Fred Truck
Ok. What I propose to do here is break down your question into several parts. I am going to think about how this should be done offline, but in brief I think the residency itself should be outlined, then the projects we decided to do, and finally there is the interface situation, which involves what Bottega was like when I started the residency, and how people at Second Look Computing elucidated interface for me, and how I completely reworked the project in 2 weeks. It was an incredible experience.

Timothy Collins
Hi Fred, I'm looking forward to hearing about your new work and experiences. Welcome back!

Fred Truck
My residency at Second Look Computing, a division of Information Technology Services, The University of Iowa was arranged by my friend, Estera Milman, who is, among many other things, head of Alternative Traditions in the Contemporary Arts, which is part of the School of Art and Art History, The University of Iowa. Estera knew that I was searching for a way to do a CD-ROM which would contain my small multi-media project, BOTTEGA. Estera herself has been working for quite a few years with Second Look on a computer based interactive archive of Alternative Traditions' collection of Fluxus material. Through her work with Joan Huntley of Second Look, Estera knew they were looking for an artist in residence.

Second Look Computing is a very unusual institution. Joan Huntley heads this group which includes graphic designers, programmers and computer technicians all geared to helping the University's students and faculty realize their multi-media dreams in the form of one-off discs; that is, a Compact Disc Recordable or CD-R, which is like a CD-ROM, only it can be recorded on once, and is usually limited to an edition of 5 or under. This service makes Second Look ideal for student and faculty presentations, and for archiving.

But Second Look is more than that. Joan Huntley's particular field of expertise is the psychology of interface. Her second-in-command is Mike Ascroft, a very engaging designer from Zimbawe. Mike not only brings graphic expertise to bear on projects at hand, but his vast cultural exposure makes him quick to see communication possibilities that others miss. Also part of Second Look is Robert McBurney, a talented programmer who recently won an award from Apple for his WYSIWYG program ARACHNID, which enables users to quickly put together graphically interactive Web pages and launch them, all without knowing HTML.

My projects at Second Look were to make a CD-R, which I would then use as input for a small edition CD-ROM of 100 to be done later at a commercial source, and to do a Web page for Second Look based on BOTTEGA, or some aspect of it. There was no money involved (the actual expense of doing the edition of CD-ROMs was covered by a small grant from the Iowa Arts Council). I had complete run of the machines in Second Look's very well equipped lab and the advice their people could offer. The actual "in" part of my job lasted from July 16th to August 16th of this year, though the project runs for a whole calendar year. I will be going back to Second Look, as well as Alternative Traditions for various presentations and consultations during the rest of the year.

From this description, it is clear what I would get from Second Look, but what would they get?

Second Look Computing is part of a consortium, national in scope, called New Media Centers. Sponsoring institutions are involved in developing multi-media projects, and include nationally respected organizations such as the University of Illinois' Supercomputing Group. Powerful industry concerns are also present, such as Apple and Kodak. Second Look Computing wanted to do a project that would attract attention to their work, and sponsoring a residency was their method. Almost as a byproduct, I became the first artist in residence of the entire New Media Center consortium.

Having discussed the institutional environment behind my residency, I hasten to say that this residency has been very different from my previous residencies. I was fortunate enough to have a residency at the Studio Art program at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta in 1991. In brief, this was club Med for artists. They made everything available to you, food coming out your ears, there were racquetball courts and of course, the spectacular scenery of the Canadian Rockies. Nothing was lacking. It was a time to consider where you had come from, and where you wanted to go. I have also done a residency at the Kansas City Art Institute. There, I showed my art to students and did a number of presentations. This is fairly typical, and very enjoyable, especially for those like me who are not connected to academics, and have little exposure to students.

My residency at Second Look, by way of contrast, was a time of intense learning and extremely hard work. In the process of saving a work that had a lot of potential but was seriously in trouble because it was hard to operate, I learned a lot about interface and a lot about myself.

I began BOTTEGA late in the fall of 1991. "Bottega" is an Italian word meaning the artist's workshop; it is related to the more familiar French word boutique. Artist's workshops or studios are not only places where art is made, but new art is shown there for the first time in many instances. Additionally, art is often bought and sold there, so the workshop is a place of business. In the Italian Renaissance, the bottega was where perspective was developed. Later, artist's workshops became a theme in art.

My BOTTEGA reflects my awareness that I don't actually have a workshop. I call the space I work in an office, because that's what it most resembles. BOTTEGA began with the question, "What is my office like?"

I work comparatively slowly, each single work going through three or four complete versions so it isn't unusual for me to spend 4 or 5 years on a project. As it evolved over this period of time, the answer to "What is my office like?" took on an ever more specific form. All versions of BOTTEGA concluded that my office is a visualization of my creative process. All versions opened my bottega to the user for exploration although the nature of the exploration was more or less cramped due to the interface.

The interface I devised was much less a matter of intent and design than a product of work over an extended period of time that saw 2 different animation softwares come and go, 3 different versions of HyperCard, 2 different versions of Adobe Photoshop and countless changes in my thinking about what the content of the piece was to be and how this content was to be accessed. The interface that I developed was truly organic. Its shape was determined by the necessity imposed on it by new "features" of my software as it developed, and by my changes of thought in regards to how these "features" were to be run by the user.

This is one of the problems of working by yourself over a long period of time on a particular work. You lose perspective on the work. You know how to run it, because you made it up. This happens even if you have a metaphor for your interface, which I did. My metaphor was what I call the "mechanical drawing interface" metaphor.

There are several sources in my life for the "mechanical drawing interface." Childhood fascination with 3-view drawings of airplanes and boats and houses and machines is one, but the primary one has to be my experience as a press operator in industrial printing. In that environment, it is important for the operator to be able to read mechanical drawings, to follow the letters and numbers and locate the information attached to them, because when things go seriously wrong with presses, the only resort the operator has is to consult the factory drawings to try to isolate the problem. Compounding the problem is the fact that presses are made in lots, and one lot will have changes that another lot won't. Drawings of the assembled machine are custom made and reflect these changes. I once ran a 3- unit web press that had 2 units from one lot and a third unit from another lot. Finding this information on the drawings by following the letters and numbers saved me hours of agony and the company thousands of dollars.

Consequently, this was my approach to interface. Each significant item in the 3-dimensional BOTTEGA environment was numbered. You clicked on a number and "something" happened. Maybe you received information, maybe you were suddenly in an animation, maybe you went to another part of the environment, either forwards to something new or back to a place you'd been before. There were help files, of course, but truly only someone with experience could tell the difference between an animation, an image in a window, or a still frame in an animation. I devised a trial and error method, a rule of thumb for the user to help them determine what was a window, what was a still frame from an animation, and so on, and how to end an animation... I felt that this was a messy way to handle this situation, but I had rationalizations for these problems, and the chief one was, "They'll learn."

In short, when I took BOTTEGA to Second Look, my interface was out of hand, and it was a mess. It worked, but being a programmer was a big help. For someone passing through a museum, who wanted to give BOTTEGA a whirl, the situation was impossible because you had to know too much to begin with.

I knew this, but I managed to choke off this awareness with a lot of notions like: "I've spent years making this content extremely specific and clear," and "All you have to do is follow the numbers," and of course, "They'll learn."

One other point about interface needs to be addressed here. I developed BOTTEGA on extremely small machines: a Macintosh SE/30 and a Macintosh Color Classic. BOTTEGA itself is extremely small as multi-media applications go, only 8.6 megabytes in size. A typical commercial CD-ROM application may be 600 megabytes in size. I mention this because working on very small machines has an advantage, and that is that generally, the resulting application will run on user's home machines, which tend to be small. The most RAM I ever had on my own machines was 16 megabytes on the Color Classic.

The disadvantage to small machines became clear to me when I arrived at Second Look and suddenly had a Macintosh Quadra 950 with 40 megabytes of RAM. On my own machines, I had rarely been able to run BOTTEGA through more than once. As far as I knew, everything worked. On Second Look's Quadra with 40 megabytes of RAM, I could run BOTTEGA all day, and I did. And what I saw did not make me happy. There were bugs that appeared after you ran something 5 times that weren't there before. And bugs that appeared only after you did this, and then that 2 times, and then did this. Many of these bugs were built into the nature of my base software, HyperCard. (As I developed friendships with technicians and programmers at Second Look, all of them advised me to use some other software next time. I had pushed HyperCard way past its limits, and with skill, I could still get away with it. But next time...) Though I was still telling myself everything was ok, the instability and quirkiness of my application meant that I would have to write a lot of routines to stabilize my work before I could even begin to handle some of the interface problems that were lurking just below my levels of awareness.

My heart began to sink anyway. My feelings were talking. This was not going to be easy.

Judy Malloy
Hi Fred! I was just logging on to tell you that I enjoyed reading about the residency and was looking forward to reading about the work and found your words already here. Thanks!

Fred Truck
Yes, you know me. I can't wait to get started.

So, I showed BOTTEGA to a few people, among them Anna Couey a year or more before I went to Second Look. This feedback was helpful and caused me to do a couple more versions. I think the third version was the one I took to Iowa City.

BOTTEGA is a three dimensional environment, somewhat abstract in graphic technique. Perhaps the most striking thing about it is it's lack of gravity. Things float. Everything is based on a red and white checkerboard floor. To the right is a large device that appears to be a structure of pipes bent at odd angles to each other. The device is Analog Engine, and it is actually a very large, steam-powered digital circuit. To the rear of the checkerboard floor is a large output monitor for the Engine. To the left, opposite Analog Engine, is the Floating Desk. The Floating Desk has a computer on it, and some papers. Just behind the Desk and hovering in space are 6 Electric Persimmons. Floating above the checkerboard floor is the da Vinci Flying Machine and above that, the Labyrinth of Minos.

Much of the feedback I received from Joan Huntley and Mike Ascroft had to do with answering the question, "Where am I?" I had contextualized nothing because, of course, I knew where I was. Mike suggested contextualizing by the introduction of sound or text or both. Joan suggested text because you can always go back to it, and it is still there.

Interestingly, the problem of contextualization had appeared in other work I had done, particularly in the plays I wrote as a student. I had a tendency to "float a scene out there" without grounding it with the necessary exposition. Multi-media aggravated this tendency and the flaws in my approach to it.

I decided to go with text as the means for setting the scene, and also for providing cues as to what to do in the environment. What came to mind was some of the Gothic paintings I had seen, in which text often was used to set the scene. The portraits of Hans Holbein the younger frequently used text to explain who this person was and when it was done.

Joan elaborated on the use of text to set the stage. She said that highly visual people often believe that the image explains itself but multi-media often demands unobtrusive, but highly useful text cues for successful operation.

As I set about adding context to BOTTEGA, I also was working on eliminating the HyperCard bugs and trying to devise a set of graphic symbols that would allow users to efficiently and intuitively operate my work. That was the sum of the other input I received at Second Look--my mechanical drawing interface was confusing. That was because every time you punched a number with the mouse, you couldn't depend on the same things happening. Sometimes you went somewhere else. Sometimes you received information.

Sometimes you returned to your original starting point. Sometimes an animation began.

I worked on a set of symbols to cover the operations. I came up with a set of five symbols. One to go forward, one to go back, one to go to another stack, one to go home (the original point of departure), and one to retrieve information. I was able to do this because I reworked all my animations and made them either self- terminating, or made it so the user terminated them with a simple click. I eliminated all confusion between still frames of animations and still images by making it so all images disappeared by clicking on them or closing windows and by contextualization; that is, there was text there to tell you what to do if it wasn't immediately clear.

I showed this new interface to Joan Huntley with a lot of pride, and also with a lot of fear because I really didn't want to have to change my work again. The first thing Joan said was, "Well, you still have too many graphic symbols. I think you can get it down to 3. People don't really care if they are going to another stack or not, or going home or not. Get rid of those." So, I did. My final group of symbols were a green arrow to go back, a blue arrow to go forward and a white box to retrieve information. They always worked the same. Sometimes, the varying contexts demanded slightly different rules of operation, but these changes were always explained by text.

I asked Joan for more information on the psychology of interface, and she gave me a few books to read. One of them was called THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY THINGS. I have forgotten the author's name. I was scanning through this book one night at the laundromat and I came across a sentence that went something like this: Badly designed interfaces create the feeling of LEARNED HELPLESSNESS in users.

The gates of perception rolled open.

I rarely have feelings of learned helplessness with computers because they are easy for me, but I was familiar with learned helplessness from another activity in my life. As many of you know, I am a tournament-level amateur racquetball player. Racquet sports are very interesting to sports psychologists because of the behavior of its participants, which sometimes verges on the operatic. Many of you are familiar with the temper tantrums of John McEnroe, the racquet-throwing episodes of other tournament players and so on. The reason this happens is because the player's self-esteem is perceived by the player to rest on the outcome of the match. The core of a tennis or racquetball match is the destruction of one player's self-esteem by the other player. Psychologically speaking. Symbolically speaking. This leads to the well known fight-or-flight syndrome, that is, a state of extreme tension. In order to lower the tension, players evolve behavior mechanisms that do this, and one of them is the learned helplessness mechanism. This happens when a player takes it out on himself or herself, usually yelling something like, "You dummy, that was terrible. You can't play this game." If the player can't play, then the responsibility for the result of the match is removed, and tension is lowered.

I have experienced the learned helplessness syndrome in racquetball tournaments. It is a terrible feeling. I had to undergo several months of intense mental training in order to be able to deal with this, and regain my effectiveness as a player. I suddenly realized that my rationalization for a difficult interface--They'll learn--was based in error. They won't learn. It took me months of struggle to deal with it, and no museum goer passing by my work is going to have time to resolve their learned helplessness feelings. It's easier to go to the next thing. Plus, I had to consider the fact that this feeling of learned helplessness was what I was unintentionally communicating. Not a good situation.

My commitment to making a transparent interface was now complete. The way was clear, and I pursued it with tireless energy.

Timothy Collins
that feeling of "learned helplessness" transcends sports and interactive interfaces it is a fitting comment on modern culture......

Fred Truck
The most difficult aspect of interface for me was to realize that to engage the user meant making something for them to operate that they would be unconscious of; and to realize that for the content of my work to flow in an unobstructed manner to the user, the device that turned the flow on had to be invisible. Yes, of course I had read this in magazine articles and essays and heard people advocate it before, but actually understanding how this process applied to me and my work was difficult. And understanding the point of view of someone outside my experience was excruciatingly difficult. Ultimately, their experience turned out to be a part of my experience as well. I was just looking for the connection in the wrong place.

This was the heart of my residency at Second Look.

Fred Truck
Learned helplessness may indeed be a fitting comment on culture. It may also be why a lot of people don't respond well to the interactive situation--they've already learned to be helpless, I don't know.

I hope not, or if they have learned to be helpless, I hope they become dissatisfied with that condition. It doesn't make you feel good.

Judy Malloy
>This is one of the problems of working by yourself over a long >period of time on a particular work. You lose perspective on the >work. You know how to run it, because you made it up.

Yes - it is interesting working with interface from an artist's point of view. Is it like art that one's personal vision even if quirky should be followed. Or, is this an impediment to "using" the work? In the case of your work, there is so much content/information. I think you are making the right decision. But, I'm not sure this would be true for all artists.

>For someone passing through a museum, who >wanted to give BOTTEGA a whirl, the situation was impossible > because you had to know too much to begin with.

> My commitment to making a transparent interface was now > complete. The way was clear, and I pursued it with tireless energy. I agree with this 100 percent, but I have also found that many curator's and publishers don't understand the concept of "transparent interface". They think that if you can't do lots of things and there aren't loads of buttons that make it clear that you can do lots of things than the work is too simple.

>Perhaps the most striking thing about it is it's

>lack of gravity. Things float.....

This sounds wonderful! I hope I get to see it soon. Will you be packaging it and distributing it?

Fred Truck
I have one distributor, Art Com, and I am working on others. I received the CD-ROMs yesterday, and I'm really very happy with them. I have my own label on BOTTEGA, which features an electric persimmon--a nice orange and yellow. This label is derived from the 6 Electric Persimmons in BOTTEGA, which in turn, derive from a famous Zen painting by Mu Ch'i, 6 Persimmons, done in about 1260 or something.

Anyway, if you are interested in BOTTEGA, please write me at

and I will fill you in.

I think the question of interface and art is up in the air. It is possible that an interface that impeded you in your use of the work would have a positive "art" effect, I don't know. Interface seems to be a case by case thing.

Your comment about curators wanting LOTS of buttons and information making it clear how much can be done...what I found was that a transparent interface may have lots of buttons, too, and there may be a lot of information telling the user how much can be done, but it has to be done in a way that doesn't call attention to itself if it is to be successful. I think each work will find a way to do this; what I did seemed to grow out of what I had done before... For example,

...Because I worked on small computers with 9" screens, all my images were 512x342. At Second Look, the first thing Mike Ascroft told me was that I should enlarge all the images to 640x480 pixels. He didn't really tell me how to do this because there were a lot of problems with just enlarging them.

In this particular work, BOTTEGA, I use a lot of dithering, as opposed to going for the highest resolution and sharpest image possible. Part of this is because everything I did was generated on the computer. No photos were used. But another reason was that aesthetically, dithering worked with this set of images.

This left me with a rectangular border around the image. Enlarging the image to fill the space didn't work because the dithering distorted and looked horrible. Because of the dithering, which blends a lot of different shades of the same color to make a simple color, like blue, it was almost impossible to just fill the space with the background color.

So, I filled the space with black after messing around with various solutions for a number of days. This worked, and it also gave me a place to put arrows or text or other interface indicators. And it preserved the integrity of my original image concept. Because the black border makes the image dominate the space on the monitor, everything else is unobtrusive and automatically secondary.

In this instance, this is how things worked.

Judy Malloy
Ah- 6 electric persimmons derived from one of my favorite paintings Mu Chi's six persimmons! Nice image.

Fred Truck
I'm reading a book right now about interface, at least in part. It is going to be published in November by Dutton. I got a hold of it because libraries often receive advance copies. The name of this book is ROAD WARRIORS. It is by Daniel Burstein and David Kline.

In the portion of the book I am reading now they are focusing on interactive television and interactive movies. One thing they say about interface and interactivity is extremely perceptive. They say that good television and good movies are from a "single, DIRECTED point of view." That is, they tell you what to look at and when to look at it. From the Hollywood point of view, the problem with "user-defined experiences" is that the user can be looking out the window rather than at what is on the monitor. They feel "the emotional content is lost" because the force of the narrative is lost in the interactive medium.

In my own work, I've set up environments, as I did in BOTTEGA, which the user explores, rather than have a narrative I am trying to build. Judy, your work uses narrative, but it is definitely not Hollywood. I wondered what you thought about the statement above, and why your narratives work--I feel they do, anyway, and feel they are significantly different than the kind of narrative that is constructed from user choices.

Judy Malloy
Good question. I've been down at PARC all day trying to install the collaborative hypertext that Cathy and I did in the corporate lobby for the PARC 25th anniversary. There were a *lot* of hardware problems (it's going to run on an Mpad which is an experimental wireless-X-server platform) and my brain has turned to mush. (I'm hopeless with hardware) Back soon....

Fred Truck
Ok. I understand that kind of temporary burnout. Hope you're back soon.

Judy Malloy
Usually, what I'm trying to do is to put the reader inside the narrator's mind which in a way is a "single, DIRECTED point of view." Computers have the ability to mimic human thought patterns/memory processes in ways that can't be done with sequential print and that's what interests me. I also incorporate some user choice. Everyone approaches things differently so it is like getting to know another human being in a personal/individual way. You the reader find ways of interacting that are comfortable for you. Perhaps in a way this is also what you are doing by setting up environments that the user explores. You are letting the user approach the work in a way that is comfortable (and challenging in that the work isn't just laid out there. The user has to work a little to experience it) But, essentially, just as I defined the narrator in many of my works, you have defined the environment in many of yours - so underlying our works, there is a personal vision. (or so it seems to me)

It could be said that this is less interactive than works in which the narrative or environment is totally user defined. Does this matter?

Fred Truck
I think the issue of interactivity is a loaded question. It is loaded for art and artists because of what the computer is and recent art history.

The computer is a deterministic machine. Everything is described to the computer in the most exacting detail, leaving nothing to chance. Random number generators are an interesting form of determinism, but are determined nonetheless. In tossing coins, heads will always come up 50% of the time.

In the sixties, one general movement in all the arts was towards total, unrestricted freedom. In some ways, when the computer was approached as a medium, the algorithm for random number generators was seen as a way of introducing "chance" into the work; that is, an undetermined element of freedom. Just the opposite is the case, because determinism is what is being called into play.

How can interactivity be achieved, this being the case? I think the real issue is to provide a wide enough range of choices for the user that an illusion of interactivity is created. What this means is that the experience of the work is not user-determined, but as in very traditional work, artist-determined. What makes the work appear to be interactive is that the user has a large range of choices to make in experiencing the work. In fact, the exercise of choice is essential for the work to happen at all for the user.

Judy Malloy
Yes and most computer random number generators aren't really random. They are generated from based on time/day - ie they are pseudorandom . When I use them I usually program *more* deterministic things into them (such as can only repeat after 6 other things have been seen in Penelope. Or, the much more complete "tour" through different files that the reader doesn't see in Yellow Bowl)

I was talking to Richard Stallman about Penelope and he thought it would be better to preprogram every possible way of the screens coming out and then send the reader down his long path. It was an interesting (and quite wonderful programmer's idea from a wonderful programmer but *very deterministic*) I was trying to simulate the quirkiness of memory and I liked the repetition and the element of the unexpected. He read it (he said he'd have to throw it away afterwards because of the copyright statement) and he thought it was really frustrating because he had to keep shuffling through screens to see everything. I had told him that there were patterns and that the screens should work in any combination and he said he saw that but I think he wanted the patterns to come out in a more regular way. My response was that our minds are probably very different. (the understatement of the year?) You have to put yourself in a relaxed dreamlike state, and then it does work for some people.

All these choices we have to make are interesting aren't they? They are less intuitive that what shade of blue to use for the sky.....

Fred Truck
The interesting thing to me running through all this is the paradox of freedom of choice and determinism, how determinism can be used to simulate freedom of choice. And how freedom of choice, through a quirk of inexact language, became identified with interactivity.

At least that's how I see it.

I agree with you, Judy, that these choices seem to be less intuitive than choosing the color of the sky, but the overall structure is extremely intuitive--the structure of the choices. For example, your use of choice and repetition to simulate consciousness. With just a few determined elements a lot of different things can be imagined and created.

Judy Malloy
I was thinking that it may be harder now than it will be for artists working with software in the future because there aren't a lot of models. Painters have hundreds of years of models stored in their memories that subconsciously inform their choices and make those choices easier.

Fred Truck
Maybe that will prove to be the case.

The advantage to having no models, or very few of them, is that you can set up your own models, or become one yourself.

In general I feel that the tougher the challenge, the more opportunity you have to produce a fine work. The trick here is to realize exactly what the challenge is. As my experience at Second Look showed me, I don't always know. When I found out, it was a humbling, even daunting experience.

Judy Malloy
That sounds good! And what is your next challenge, Fred?

Fred Truck
My next challenge is a project on the Monitor, the Civil War ironclad. There are several things that interest me about this boat and its design.

I finished one version, but after carefully considering some things about it, I'm doing another version. There is a kind of art game with this work, which I'm calling Hampton Roads, after the harbor where the Monitor fought the Merrimack in 1862. Making the Monitor driveable is the current challenge.

Judy Malloy
Wow. I love those Civil War boats. How will the user approach this work?

Timothy Collins
It sounds like an interesting interactve challenge......I can imagine the helm on those old beasties had a mind of their to translate the feeling of helplessness that is inherent to a cast iron bathtub with no brakes and a powerful motor? Yeehaah!

Fred Truck
This work is in progress so some of these questions I am still working on.

As for now, the user is in the turret, which is slowly revolving. The experience is visual. The "enemy," whatever that turns out to be, is sighted through the turret ports, but since the turret is revolving, and there is no clear way to get your bearings, everything depends on timing.

My idea is to recreate in some sense, what it was like for the men who sailed the original Monitor. They had no way to sight their guns, and had only speaking tubes to communicate with the captain of the ship, who had only a 5/8" slit in an iron box to see out of. So he didn't know where the enemy was all the time, either. The noise and disorientation were profound. Additionally, in the summer, it was incredibly hot in the turret--140 degrees F.

What they did in the original was to keep the turret rotating, and try to guess when the Merrimack would come around again.

What I'm shooting for is an electronic version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. With additional complications.

Judy Malloy
So how will you simulate this very difficult situation for the user? Will I know how hot it is? Will you simulate the noise? Are you using a clunky interface to simulate these difficulties? It is such a wonderful idea, Fred!

Fred Truck
I may eventually have some indication of the heat, but that is low on the list of priorities. The noise is extremely important, and I will simulate that. Especially when the Monitor was hit, it must just have been totally deafening. Also I found out that if you were leaning against the turret wall when the cannons fired, the shock was so terrible you received a concussion, as actually happened 2 times.

Interface is the key. It's going to be completely transparent. The reason is that the content--that is, the problems of trying to locate the "enemy" and keep track of which direction you're going and firing the cannons-- is difficult enough to master that the means of operating these various features have to be totally painless.

Timothy Collins
......the notions of the "concussions" and pain of this realtime experience makes be wonder if it would be possible to actually recreate the physical-psychological pains that warriors actually go through. The "pleasure" of the technology and the blows against the enemy are never mitigated in contemporary interactive war games.......creating in my mind a dangerous subliminally trained warrior mentality in our culture.

The historical element is fascinating; do you have any interest in addressing the contemporary context of such systems?

Fred Truck
Yes, I do have that interest, but the problems are difficult. I'm not sure they lend themselves to an interactive solution. That's something that would have to be worked out.

I don't believe, for example, that technology removes or distances the soldier from the action. That's only true if you are looking at something like missiles. Fighter pilots are shot at all the time. But the effect is different. Your machine tells you a hostile weapon is coming. Sometimes, you have enough time to make an evasive manoeuvre.

What interests me is not fighting, but the visual and emotional experience; the visual, because about 90% of our information comes to us in this way, and the emotional, because I believe the key to the emotions is that they focus attention.

Timothy Collins
I woke up still thinking about your statement:
> I don't believe, for example, that technology removes or distances the > soldier from the action.

I don't want to sidetrack your discussion about the interface your developing but this is an outrageously shocking statement. Unless you define "action" as not including the experience of death.

Fred Truck
This is a fairly direct issue. There are, in modern tanks, video game interfaces to operating the weapons systems. In the minds of the designers, the issue being addressed was ease of operation. Critics of these interfaces see the systems as making killing easy and impersonal, reducing combat to the level of a fun game.

My point is that no matter how it is done, killing is nasty and horrible business affecting everyone.

Judy Malloy
Yes - well put, Fred. My son and his friends liked to play those strategy games. (You are the commander of the German Army. You have so many tanks, etc.) and those games reduced killing to strategy - a more intellectual kind of fun. It bothered me a little, but I felt that it was better than a lot of what was on tv. We had cap guns as kids and we had neighborhood wars and were continually "killing" each other. It was fun, but tive movies, such as Under the Killing Moon? These are pretty lavish Hollywood type productions, with name actors and actresses. The basic premise is to make up the story as you go along from multiple options provided by menu.

Timothy Collins
Paul Vanouse is a CMU grad student who is building such devices with a partner in the computer science dept. The most recent "the interactive fantasy engine" focused on OJ and options using sections of various popclassic movies to chose fitting endings.

The interface (applause) was interesting and the interactivity in the theater was decidedly "eventful"...........but it raises the question of whether -anyone- could write a good story........with multiple good plot lines and endings. I have also seen Lynn Hershman's "lorna" video disk. It leaves me feeling the same way. Technology without meaningful content.

Judy Malloy
Oh I really liked Lorna. I had the feeling that nothing that I did had much effect and that the interactivity was a deceptive ruse, but the story was interesting. It worked partially because the multiple endings were well crafted and all hung together.

Fred Truck
Some of Hershman's other work...the one I'm thinking of is called something like "The Video Garden" really content rich. It's a touch screen work, and the idea is you are chasing this woman through one of those maze gardens. It is very erotic, and also funny.

Anna Couey
Hi fjt! Good to see your words here again...only sorry that wedding preparations have taken over my life to such an extent that I've already missed a lot of the interactivity here!

Many of the software works you've designed have incorporated themes of flying and of human/machine interactions. Did your choice of the Monitor have specifically to do with the emotional experience of combat and death? Are those subjects that you want to address in the work?

>but it raises the question of
>whether -anyone- could write a good story........with multiple good plot
>lines and endings.

I liked Lorna a lot too. I've seen it more as a linear video (Art Com distributed it) than in its interactive version, don't know if that shapes my impression - but the story I thought was powerful. In general, the work of Lynn Hershman's that I've seen, both interactive and noninteractive, is full of deception, of walking a line between reality/fiction so you're not really you never really quite fall into the story all the way. There's an illusion of being seduced by the technology that I think she purposefully renders illusory.

Storytelling thru an interactive medium is a very different beast I think, than storytelling in linear media...and what constitutes good is likewise different. Interactivity is very process oriented. Does a work need to have an end? - well, we expect it. I think it's easy for the form to take over the work because computer-based interactivity is a young medium; but part of the difficulty with interactive works is that are more demanding, don't provide ready answers, and can't be viewed as a coherent whole - perhaps we haven't quite learned how to look at things that way?

Fred Truck
Hi, Anna! I'm so glad you're here!

You raise a lot of good questions and say some very perceptive things here. With the Monitor, I'm not sure where this is going yet. I believe life is a struggle, a constant testing the refinement through conflict.

Some cultures attempt to mute this fighting through what is perceived as equitable distribution of goods and services, and others seek to accentuate it, such as ours. I am of course, interested in death. But how this is going to figure in the Monitor has not been fixed. I have one version in which these elements have figured, but I have junked it, because I am not satisfied with it. In the new version, nothing is settled.

Stories and narrative are strange. In some ways I agree that the issue of interactive stories has not been settled. I think a musical structure filled with point and counterpoint is a better metaphor. Parallel strands of time, like in quantum mechanics.

This is my last posting here. Thanks to Anna and Judy for making it possible, and good luck with your own interface.

Anna Couey
Thanks to you, Fred! Using music as a metaphor for interactive stories is an intriguing idea...& a good topic for discussion when we have another interactive artist who is a musician!

Your struggle and insight regarding interface brings a real depth of thought to electronic art and its role. As computers and online services use symbolic more than command driven interfaces and are easier for more people to use, interface becomes a critical part of electronic art's ability to be readily meaningful to its audience. & it is a challenge if you want to stretch the interface vocabulary :-)

Judy Malloy
Yes - it has been wonderful to have you here. We go back to the early days of information art and it is incredible how our work has evolved.

Transcript of A Conversation with FRED TRUCK, Item 67, Interactive Art Conference, Arts Wire.
Posted to the Web with participants' permission. For information about republishing, please contact Anna Couey and Judy Malloy.

Conversations with Artists