Holo-X is a 3-D vrml project that interfaces art, sex, commerce and technology by way of its central avatar-presence whose pseudonymity is characterized as S.L.U.T (Sorceress of Language in Uncharted Technologies). SLUT is an artificially intelligent sex.bot that emits a language-driven, gaseous eros meant to challenge the user's conventional reading of their own desire. Reading desire, by way of SLUT's narratological behavior, as experienced via both her animated movements through 3-D space and her secret writings available in her room, becomes part of the interactive fiction and forces the user to reconsider what role virtual reality plays in their own role-playing fantasies as a social creature navigating pornosophic hyperspace.

1) What is SLUT?

Hmm... what is Slut?A collaborative experiment in
avant-subtercultural-narratechno-capitalism.
A language machine.
An interrogation of contemporary mores, gender assumptions, identity
politics, radical sexuality and print media.

What is Slut?
A consentual hallucination.
A video game with no apparent goal but self exploration.
A fully articulated, fully animated, highly interactive 3D polygonal human
figure with sex appeal and a healthy dose of attitude.

What is Slut?
An ever-elapsing present moment that is in constant flux, referring to a
series of pasts that are always already being rewritten.
A highly interactive multimedia web application.
A pixel storm of binary data.
Several thousand lines of web servable code: body by VRML, brain by
JavaScript.
A pugnacious, intelligent, occasionally manipulative, radical post-feminist
who resides, quite comfortably, in the anarchic wilderness of the net.

What is Slut?
A Shellean creation.

What is Slut?
The monstrous electronic nightmare of the conservative right wing.

What is Slut?

In a word? Dangerous.
Don't piss her off or she'll kick your ass.

2) So she's a kind of designer-avatar that spurs our desire?

Well, technically she's a bot. The term "avatar" generally refers to a digital representation of one's self in a mulit-user word. Slut isn't being controlled by any human user, but she can respond to a visitor's input in many ways which are similar to human behavior. She is strictly a piece of software with autonomy and identity all her own. Much of that identity certainly revolves around the dynamics of desire. She is a hedonistic beast whose primary interest is identifying and perpetuating that hedonism in others.

3) Can you describe to us how exactly she's programmed -- she has animated behaviors and speaks to us through streaming text screens, yes?

Yes, that's correct. The first steps of the project were purely design based. In order to get the kind of performance we were looking for on lower end machines, the character had to be built with as low a polygon count as possible. I ran some initial experiments using non-vrml-native 3D modelling applications with high-end features like NURBS and MetaBalls, but found it difficult to control the model's complexity without turning to polygon reduction algorithms which tended to degrade the quality of the model beyond an acceptable threshold. So, in order to keep the quality high and the polygon count low, I decided to model the figure quite literally "by hand." What I mean by this is that the design process began with a pencil, ruler, and graph paper and all of the vrml code was written in a simple text editor. As a result, Slut consists of less than 500 polygons, which means we are able to keep the frame rate up near 10 fps on an average PC without hardware acceleration. Building the figure this way created other problems, however. We were unable to find any animation software that was capable of importing VRML 2/97 models. Just about everything will export vrml (though, as mentioned, not particularly efficient vrml), but we couldn't find any file translation utilities that were useful for bi-directional file conversion. This meant we were also forced to build her animations "by hand" as well, to write our own orientation interpolators for each of her twenty joints, a fact which imposed some obvious restrictions on the complexity of the animations we were able to build for this beta version. Instead of using longer, linear animation units (for which most animation applications seem particularly useful), we wrote about fifty or sixty gestural animations that range from 2 - 6 frames and generally involve only one body part (i.e. an arm, which actually consists of three joints). These animations were built around a limited set of common start and end frames, so that they could be daisy-chained together in numerous combinations. They were also built around a limited set of general semantic meanings (i.e. "aggressive gestures," "lascivious gestures," "general speech gestures" etc.), so that with custom JavaScripting, the semantic content of her dialogue and her animation data can be easily coordinated into what passes itself off as reasonably naturalistic behavior. As far as her dialogue is concerned, the underlying structure is extremely simple -- a good way to begin when we weren't even certain that any of this was actually going to work. There twenty "scenes" or monologues which range between 1.5 and 3 minutes, each of which ends with a yes or no question. What makes Slut unique, though, is the fact that at any given moment, what she says is being randomly selected from five possibilities (an accomplishment which requires custom JavaScripting to extend VRML's capabilities), all of which had to be carefully scripted by a team of talented and experimental writers, so that the various threads will weave together seamlessly in real time. There is well over 2.5 hours of scripted speech all of which is being randomly selected, so it would take the average user a really long time to encounter the same experience twice. That way, we hope to generate a great deal of repeat traffic, by providing an overwhelming amount of webservable content that doesn't even need to be streamed, and consequently doesn't require an outrageous amount of bandwidth even at times of heaviest traffic. And even with this much material, more than 2.5 hours of animated 3D entertainment, the compressed file is less than 120k and downloads in a couple of minutes even over a slow connection. We couldn't possibly provide so much so inexpensively with any other technology that I'm aware of.

4) You first started off as a poet working primarily in the print scene in San Francisco and then started experimenting with hypertext and Director projects. Now you're fully immersed in designing 3-D environments for the web using both your creative language talents and your VRML programming skills. Can you trace for us your recent developments, perhaps explaining to us what, if anything, connects language poetry to hypertext to virtual reality?

I suppose it is a bit of a curiosity to find an experimental poet with not an iota of programming or computer science training embroiled in the creation of virtual worlds. I find it curious and somewhat inexplicable myself. Really there are two major factors that conspired to put me in this position. One is an increasing interest in the artistic and literary potential of technology, based on the aesthetics I embrace as a print writer. The second is an increasing dissatisfaction with the literary avant garde and its relationship (or lack thereof) with its audience. As my own print work is aesthetically influenced by language poetry, the New York School, Surrealism, the OuLiPo, and Avant Pop, I have a certain fascination with the mechanics of language and narrative, often resorting to source texts, collage and generative constraints as an integral part of my writing process. To me, narrative complexity and semantic indeterminacy are the primary attractions of experimental literature -- that special feeling of befuddlement we all experience when interacting with a challenging text, and the concomitant pleasure we derive from following the many semantic threads from their place on the page to the vast associative network of our own memory and experience. It was this fascination with language, narrative, sound, the visual image and the way they independently and collectively create meaning that led me to investigate hypermedia as a poetic and narrative medium. After several essentially failed attempts at hypertext proper in late 1995, I began to collaborate with my good friend, a fellow poet and voice collage artist, Alex Cory. Our first project was to adapt a long poem of mine, Spy vs. Spy, into a hypermedia artifact involving hyperlinked animated text and voice collage sound bytes built with Macromedia Director. Having worked with Director, we started playing around with text generation, and wrote a few programs in LingoScript that write poems. The results of these experiments were extremely surprising -- the ultimate OuLiPo exercise, potential literature distilled to the core. A fixed vocabulary and rigid set of formal constraints that spit out actual poetry, endowing the bare words and lines of code with an eerie simulacrum of agency. Meanwhile, as these technological experiments were unfolding, we necessarily began to think about audience in ways we were not accustomed to as poets. After all, everyone knows that poetry has no audience, and so why worry about one? But these projects were so difficult and time consuming. There were platform problems: it turned out that the largest obstacle impeding our collaboration was not the 3,000 miles that separated us geographically, but the fact that one of us used a Macintosh and the other a wintel PC. There were performance problems: on more than one occasion I attempted to demo Spy vs. Spy, only to be frustrated and embarrassed when it failed to work on the available hardware. And there were obvious distribution problems as a result of both. All of this frustration, the costs of software and hardware, and the inconceivable amount of labor involved in creating a project that involves more than a Bic and a notebook, steered our conversations toward what, if any, potential audience we were attempting to reach. Since we both share certain self-deprecatory and masochistic tendencies, the ultimate outcome of these conversations was inevitable. We decided to start up a company.

5) Right, B.I.D., which is a unique company in that you value art and community-building just as much as you value profits. Can you elaborate on how you integrate your experimental writing/net practice into your role as a new media businessman?

Many of the skills I've acquired as a print writer and multimedia artist are directly relevant to my current projects. For example, the text generation programs I first experimented with in LingoScript, have provided the basic technological foundation for Slut's linguistic capacity. The fact that I previously figured out how to teach a computer to write aesthetically interesting poems has afforded a great deal of flexibility and sophistication to the badinage available to her. Obviously, understanding hypertext and the ramifications of multiple potential narrative threads has helped in the conceptualization and organization of such a rich narrative world. And of course, training as poet and prose writer for most of my life hasn't hurt either. In fact, I'm consistently surprised by how long it seems to be taking for tech companies, game developers and other electronic-media content providers to realize how important a writer is to their development team. Television and movie studios certainly realize this -- content *is* writing. Nevertheless, tech companies just don't get it. They think that because a computer programmer or tech writer knows how to construct a complete and grammatically correct English sentence, that there's no need to hire actual writers. All you have to do is go to MonsterBoard or something and do a job search to realize this... as of yet, there is no place for a creative writer in the high tech industry. This fact was one of the major points that cemented the decision to start Berkeley Interactive Design. Learning the tech just takes a couple of years, but developing a creative sensibility and sophisticated aesthetic sense takes a lifetime.

6) It sounds like you're creating a completely different approach to what we have come to call writing. There's still linguistics, that is, conceptualizing complex language structures, but now you're using the new media technology to facilitate the construction of narrative environments that not only move beyond say, the novel, but are challenging the idea of hypertext too, yes?

Absolutely. I have an extremely complicated relationship to all of this, mainly because I never wanted to become a programmer. If I did, I would have gotten a degree in computer science. Instead I took just about the exact opposite road by majoring in literature and creative writing. Part of me hates programming, thinks it doesn't make any sense. Working on these projects and starting this business has nutured and accentuated all of the anal-retentive tendencies I have long fought to suppress. I guess that is the nexus of difference between the high tech world and the writing world, the reason that there is so little cross-over between them, so little text-savvy digital art and so little tech-savvy writing. It requires a committment to technology that most traditional hypertext writers (it strikes me as extremely weird to be making this distinction) are unwilling to embrace. But on the other hand, having unwittingly made that commitment myself, I am beginning to find the art in programming as well. There shouldn't be such a conceptual separation between the writing and the tech, because the interface design, the interactive methodology, is every bit as critical to the success of a piece of hypermedia as are the sentences or phrases themselves. All of that said, I have become increasingly fascinated with moving beyond the "click link, load new page" paradigm of hypertextual structure. One of my projects last year was a program that writes experimental poetry in a style that is particularly contemporary in the SF avant garde. All the user can do is click a continue button which causes a new poem to be composed on the fly. In this way, the interactivity is far more subtle, centered around the occasion of reading itself. Each reader that sits down before the piece is responsible for the generation of a specific poetic act, a poem written for them and only them at that specific moment, a fragile and temporal artifact that is entirely unique. The interactivity also occurs on a more fundamental level similar to the engagement one experiences with the absent author of a book. Here, of course, that relationship is complicated by the notion of intentionality, frustrating the desire to read the author through the text. Having had success with computer generated poetry, I wanted to apply the same notions to a character's discourse, and thereby confuse the notion even further. Obviously, with VRML's 3D graphics and animation capabilities, we were also enabled to throw non-verbal gestural cues into the mix, in ways that are impossible with text alone. Combining a simplistic traditional hypertext structure with the randomizing features of JavaScript, and then adding in the immediate "personality" factor so well suited to 3D character design all conspire to create a type of reading experience which I can only hope is compelling, and one that is certainly unique.


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