Commodore 64 Art & Poetry

“Computers provide compelling new ways to do all sorts of exploration, including unprecedented poetic experimentation.”

Nick Montfort, Project Lead and Professor of Digital Media, Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W), MIT



This project involves new development for an old computer (released in 1982) that almost everyone assumes is obsolete. The project brings together visual, structural, and language arts and even connects with music via livecoding performances.

As part of this artistic practice, Nick Montfort has developed many short programs in BASIC and 6502 assembly for the Commodore 64. These projects engage with the ideas of concrete poetry, extending aspects of that movement along computational dimensions.

Montfort’s work includes very short BASIC programs in the series After Artists (responding to the work of Jasper Johns, Damien Hirst, Glenn Ligon, and others) and For Poets (dedicated to Christian Bök, Amaranth Borsuk, J.R. Carpenter, Craig Dworkin, Darren Wershler, and Steven Zultanski). These have been exhibited and presented locally and in New York City; Montfort has also screened and discussed them internationally.

Montfort has also written longer BASIC programs responding to the work of machine translation researcher Victor Yngve and artist Christopher Knowles. In addition, he has produced some very short assembly language artworks and poems, including PET Code, which was developed as a conversation with the concrete and sound poet Jörg Piringer.

Finally, Montfort participates in a practice called “livecoding” in which he programs the Commodore 64 live, in performance, providing visual displays to accompany musicians who are also livecoding.

Image courtesy of: Nick Montfort.
Nick Montfort, After Jasper Johns, 2014.
Courtesy of Nick Montfort.



Project lead:
Nick Montfort, Professor of Digital Media, Comparative Media Studies/Writing (CMS/W), MIT

Launched: 2010


More information

Exploratory Programming for the Arts and Humanities (MIT Press, 2016)

10 PRINT CHR$(205.5)+RND(1); : GOTO 10 (MIT Press, 2012)

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Digital Library: “256B on the C64 for 8K.” In Proceedings of the 2019 on Creativity and Cognition (C&C ’19). pp. 497–501.

The Truelist, Using Electricity series, Counterpath Press, 2017.

The Future, Essential Knowledge series. MIT Press, 2017.

MIT SHASS News: 10 PRINT CHR$(205.5+RND(1)); : GOTO 10, Nick Montfort and colleagues reveal the stories in BASIC code

MIT Spectrum: From Vision to World Wide Web, An excerpt from Nick Montfort’s The Future

Programming becomes art on a classic computer