Naomi Klein’s stock has taken a jump on my personal index today with the appearance of this stunning article that adds to the group of thoughtful considerations of the real state of affiars in Iraq with respect to what I believe to be the current administration’s tragically flawed policies. Naomi is the author of No Logo: No Space, No Choice, No Jobs, one of the great books on the why and how of the backlash against multinationals and the Branding of the world. You can take a look at an opening excerpt from the book here. Her website is also an interesting resource/pilgrimage site. If you’re at all curious about how you make the transition from a standard-issue mall rat to multinational corporate critic, this article neatly summarizes her personal journey.
By the way – you have registered to vote, right? The deadline approaches, and your vote counts–especially if you live in Ohio :-) .
You been polled yet?
I’ve patiently sat through ‘em, and have even been hung up on in the midst of what I assume must have been some kind of push poll when I actually asked the pollers to identify themselives a bit more clearly (in that case, the “leading” questions were about Roe v. Wade and the so-called partial birth abortion).
I was heartened to stumble across a professional group out there in the infosphere providing a great annotated list of 20 basic questions you can use when being polled ro reading about them. So shines a good deed in a weary world.
I’ll be you thought that was a quote from Willy Wonka, didn’t you? Actually, Willy was quoting the Bard. It’s actually taken from The Merchant of Venice:
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a weary world….
Who actually invented TV? I thought I knew-Philo T. Farnsworth. I didn’t have to look him up, since I once confused him with Philea Fogg (yes, the hero of Jules Verne’s “Around the World in 80 Days”) in a Junior High School book report and everyone laughed at me. But in actuality, it would appear that givin’ the mad viz props to Philo is fightin’ words (just ask this guy and another guy here and this dude (“NO Iconoscope in 1923″ must be the equivalent of 54-40 or fight, I suppose. No, I don’t mean the record label….) and even the Straight Dope folks. Instead, it’s a rich checkered past that includes Germany, Japan, a pair of Brits, Russia, France and even a Hungarian guy, Dénes von Mihály (about whom I could discover nothing save that his name gets dropped).
What I didn’t expect to find is the equivalent to those awesome archives of wax cylinder recordings I mentioned a while back: visual examples of the early technologies of television. I’ll list some of them here, and then let you sit down and puzzle out how to make a Jitter patch that will make your video look paleo-authentic (two objects, I’m thinking. But why spoil your fun?).
This should give you a teensy view of early television, at least in terms of British television history. You can find a RealVideo version of an early recording of the popular British songstress Betty Bolton here. But I think that the really interesting bit is some stuff from a 1930 broadcast of a Luigi Pirandello Play-new art for new media! You can find a high-res MPEG1 of a 1967 recreation of it (it’s 22 MB, so you’ll need a good connection) here, and an article about the technology and the remake here.
And I haven’t even started hunting for kinescopes online yet….
While I expect that the seige and its aftemath will be featured prominently in the American press (J. reads the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant online, partially because they’re really good about timely updating. I read Dutch at about the same rate of speed that they update their content), I’m less certain about how the destruction by fire of a great library would contend for column inches in the modern American mediasphere. While both stories have tallies of destruction and irreplaceable loss at their heart, it would be foolish to even attempt a calculus of sadness.
The enabling technologies that allow me to cram little links into my occasional ramblings and do such a fine job of flattening the information space also efficiently deliver the pathways to a thousand narratives of misfortune-of crippling events in the lives of total strangers delivered right to your screen with just enough factuality to tear your heart out, and force you move on. Oh, and have a nice day.
I think that the enormity of such tragedy is such that the only way I can imagine or deal with it is to take refuge in the contemplation of resonant detail; you start from there and work your way toward some attempt at understanding, even if you know that having all the details doesn’t mean you understand anything. Sometimes, you have help with this: a long wall covered with nothing but names, or a room full of shoes. Other times, you have to search, and to tell yourself that contemplating that search later on may tell you something valuable about yourself that will prepare you for the next search after that.
So I’ll just mention two of the little details that struck me, pause for a minute or two, and then move on.
The library fire isn’t as difficult a disaster to communicate to a non-bibliophile as it once was. The destruction of a place filled with unique and irreplaceable objects can now reliably described as a catastrophic head scrog/disk crash for some portion of someone’s entire culture; almost all of us can instantly summon that emotional memory, right down to the initial moments of hope that perhaps something was saved or could be preserved and the dreary accountings for absence that follow and reappear at random future moments. But this article from the German news included an unexpected image-of a small crowd of German citizens roused from sleep standing in the heat and the puddles and the smoke passing single volumes hand-to-hand in a great line, trying to rescue what small number of books they could. Nothing selective about it-just standing in line as books whose contents and whose market value they might have been entirely ignorant of passed from their left hands to their right hands and on to the next person in line while what remained untouched was consumed forever.
It’s too early at this point to even begin to imagine what news is to come about the seizing of Middle School #1 in Beslan, North Ossetia (it seems proper to name it in full), but one phrase in the reporting was all it took to fill my mouth with the taste of dread. It seems such a simple detail that just recording it here is all I can imagine saying, at this point.
It happened on the first day of the new school year.
My next inventorly triumph? A figure-8 shaped thing you can loop around your longnecks sitting in the ice bucket that would allow you to remotely retrieve that Rolling Rock using a bluetooth-controlled dirigible.
It’s probably normal to be concerned that one is spending time and effort in the presence of important events and providing nothing but entertaining distractions.
However, reading bloggery like this and this from actual RNC credentialled bloggers the Wall Street Journal fell all over themselves profiling, I’m feeling much, much better. If real journalists were actually doing their work, they’d have nothing to fear from the blogosphere.
<SFX: rummaging noises>….
Holy mackerel! There’s a copy of the chapter here. Scanned, I’m guessing.
Oh, sorry. Anyway, he’s on my New Yorker short list with Hendrik Hertzberg–persons whose writing I find myself reading aloud to myself from time to time, marvelling at their ability to give what I’d like to think is my better self a voice. Last week’s New Yorker had an interesting Gopnik piece about recent historical writing on the First World War, which included this:
“All these historians find themselves contending with the issues of historical judgement: how much can you blame the people of the past for getting something wrong when they could not have known it was going to go so wrong? The ques- tion is what they knew; when they knew it, if there was any way for them to know more, given what anyone knew at the time, and how in God’s name we could ever know enough about our own time not to do the same thing all over again. Or, to put it another way, are there lessons in history, or just stories, mostly sad?”
I couldn’t imagine having said this better, either when discussing history with a capital H, or describing my own errant path on the rocky hillside when viewed from a Great Height.
Every citizen who hates America is supposed to be watching the current Republican Potemkin village of a convention, whereby we are assured that the party is in the hands of moderate Republicans and compassionate conservatives (last spotted four years ago and mysteriously absent since then). I have been as unsuccessful at this as I was with being glued to the Olympics.
However, there have been a few brighter moments: Wonkette’s RNC scavenger hunt (show me a photo of African Americans at the convention), an NYT reporter who managed to successfully report on a closed-door rally for the religious right where we presumably get more of the real scoop, the discovery (courtesy of a celebrity pain-killer addict) of a new source for the no-so-swift boat vets’ money, Dennis Hastert pressed into service as a delusional attack dog (I thought that was Dick Cheney’s job), and the RNC diary of a strip-club waitress. Compared to this, Michael Moore seems positively statesmanlike.
I checked, and the laws in New York are the same as they are here: someone needs to be missing for a full 48 hours before the authorities will take any action to help determine their whereabouts or their fate. So we can start hunting for all the usual GOP suspects about… now.
I hope you’re all registered to vote, or have secured absentee ballots if you’re going to be somewhere else.
Beyond the embarrassing confession that I don’t own a Playstation or Gamecube or even an Atari, there’s the issue of me and splatter gaming in general. While it’s great to stick a game controller into the USB port of my laptop and have the Max hi object do the rest (with a tip of the hat to the perspicacious Ben Nevile), I’m just not into fragging my way out of dungeons. I suppose I don’t mind driving or flying, but body fluid as a wall accent isn’t my ball of twine. At first I thought that it was just Lara Croft anxiety, but my therapist assures me that’s not it.
Some part of me–my museum gland, maybe?–is a sucker for games that involve wandering around abandoned poorly lit faux-ancient places solving bizarre puzzles as a form of virtual relaxation.
And virtual is right. There’s no one sniggering at me while I try for the umptyninesquillionth time to twist the cleverly inlaid tree rings so that the glyphs spell out the word “kohlrabi”, and the places, though they be some kind of twisty Celtic baroque interior mash-up, exude a decidedly unthreatening oddness. The mysteriously vanished peoples left no appreciable trash, no rumpled duvet, no coffee cups. Who are these people, anyway? Come to think of it, there aren’t any toilets or teacher’s lounges, either.
Come the end of September, I get to do it all over again (just in time for the Fall airport-passenger-lounge-while-en-route-to-the-trade-show gaming season). The fourth (or fifth, sixth, or seventh, depending on your count) installment of the Myst franchise is coming. If you click here, you can stare at it and mess around, solve a few easy puzzles, and look at screenshots, and download demos. Thanks to the technology improvements introduced in Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, I have an old bald goateed avatar with glasses and a semi-non-ectomorphic physique wandering around in the ruins on my behalf. He can even dog-paddle. It’s so immersive, yo.
If you prefer less geeky and more decidedly worldly forms of browser immersion, I would be no friend to you at all were I not to direct you to the mother lode to end all mother lodes for remote tourism (and one of the best possible answers to the question, “Where did my afternoon/evening/day go?”)–Hans Nyberg‘s panoramas.dk site. Just the thing if you’re looking to load your Jitter objects with Mount Everest or Mars.
Either way, adventure is a point and a click away, cheaper than a plane ticket, and you won’t be wondering what that funny smell is.
The aforementioned out-of-print Imaginary Songs from Tristan de Cunha featured some exotic sonic treatments which, on some investigation, turned out to be Hardanger fiddler and longtime Deathprod pal Ole Henrik Moe’s work transferred to wax cylinder and then played back for that great turn-or the-century-before-last sound.
Evocative of what I might imagine faraway Tristan de Cunha to sound like and properly faux ethnographic ‘n spooky? You betcha. It got me thinking right away about the proper collection of pluggo plug-ins to recreate the effect (wasteband to really brick-wall the frequency response, and warble for that special wobble? I’m open to suggestions).
Of course, there are other artists who, like Sten, have simply gone to the source and recorded their own wax cylinders. They Might Be Giants “I can hear you” from Factory Showoom came to mind right away (recorded at the Edison Studios in darkest Nueva Jersey). And there’s also the Music Tapes‘1st Imaginary Symphony for Nomad, too. You can hear a snatch of it here at Artist Direct.
But what about the real thing? Those neat historical artifacts? Another triumph for the New Flattened Information Space! Tinfoil.com is a veritable treasure trove of old performances, vaudeville routines, recitations (William Jennings Bryan, anyone?) Morse Code transmissions (apparently about Jack Johnson), and so on. My personal favorite would have to be the “Esquimaux Dance”, a piece written for clarinet, piano, anvil, and dog that appears to date from the 1890s. There’s even an article on hints and tips for Wax Cyclinder recording at home.
But the coolest thing I discovered while cyberrummaging is that a bunch of researchers have turned their attention to using scanning technologies for the purpose of working to restore old and extremely fragile wax cylinder recordings. You can find a PDF of a paper about their work here.
Alternately, if imagery about culture and politics wearies or depresses you, you can click here and discover what great thinkers in the field of ethical philosophy should be on your drinking/policy team. While I remain curious as to how percentage data that more closely resembles political prognostication than anything else would give me direction, it would appear that I need to read up on my Aristotle and Aquinas (really? you sure about that?).
Since I am of an age when bifocal lenses are um, necessary, it’s a rare pleasure to discover that I can get prescription sunglasses that actually match my real spectacles and wrap as well as those lovely Oakleys. My only quibbles so far are that it’s not more of a frugal pleasure and that the cases for them looks a tad too much like the boxes that false teeth sleep in at night or something from David Lynch’s version of Dune and don’t fit well into cargo pockets. I’ll just have to get out more to ju$tify acquiring them to myself (perhaps not driving into things will help remind me).
Foer’s recent book “How Soccer Explains the World,” was a great read, although it seems to me that it’s perhaps hobbled by a title that looks great from a marketing standpoint, but winds up kind of overstating this modest little gem’s intentions a bit. Simply put, it’s a remarkably entertaining set of essays about how the sport provides interesting ways to consider how culture, “tribal” loyalties, economics, and politics appear in the humble guise of strikers, local teams and rivalries, team economics, and (of course) fans. If you’re looking for interesting critiques of globalization, this might be quicker. Or, if PoMo stuff is to your liking, try this one for size (keep your dictionary handy). But it’d be a shame to pass this great little read by because you were expecting a manifesto.
You can read an excerpt from the book here about the now-dead Serbian paramilitary leader Arkan and his club Red Star Belgrade (here’s how they describe themselves, in case you were wondering). Maybe it’ll whet your appetite.
I thought that Paris Hilton woman was never going to leave! It was bad enough that the whole cultural mission from Absurdistan snarfed all the canapes (I don’t think that anyone bought that flummery about food being a required prop for declaiming their national epic poem), but Ms. Hilton spent the whole party waving that huge ring in everybody’s face and hoovering up the jello chiffon. Well I never….
Alright. I’m lying and trying to make my life sound like a gay, mad whirl. Actually, J. and I spent the afternoon shopping (shoes. for her.) and passed a most agreeable evening at home watching a DVD of Nero Wolfe. The content of the following ramble is so unremittingly geeky that I simply thought maybe I should tart things up a bit. It doesn’t seem to be working.
I’ve spent a little time exploring the new version of the Moog Modular V that I mentioned recently–more specifically, working on ways that I could use it alongside my favorite graphic programming environment.You can stare at the graphs all day long, or try to figure out interesting ways to have fun with it. I appear to have opted for the latter.
I suspect that I am not alone in this. It’s probably that class of people who want to use those filters that’s behind the fact that there’s a second version of their VST plug-in that just handles effects, and is obviously used for processing external audio.
I spent some time trying to make sense of the abbreviations for each parameter (and they’re nearly always cryptic, regardless of who makes the plug-ins. Guess how I know?) and generally trying to make sense of what VST parameters I could control. One of the things I use at times like this is this simple little MSP patch that lets me load a plug-in and then populate a menu with all of its available parameters, which I can then tweak. Here’s a copy of the patch in text format:
#N vpatcher 52 46 611 293;
#P origin -38 104;
#P window setfont “Sans Serif” 9.;
#P comment 34 119 196 196617 grab a knob and twist to see messages and parameters displayed here;
#P user ubumenu 34 172 100 196617 0 0 1 0;
#X prefix_set 0 0 <none> 0;
#P hidden newex 99 126 27 196617 – 1;
#P hidden newex 99 106 52 196617 unpack i f;
#P hidden newex 34 126 61 196617 prepend set;
#P user textedit 34 148 246 167 0 3 9 41 0.561785;
#P comment 413 94 124 196617 the parameter values must be in the floating point range of 0. to 1.;
#P comment 274 95 124 196617 you can choose which parameter to control by choosing it from the ubumenu;
#P button 19 -34 15 0;
#P button 19 -54 15 0;
#P button 19 -74 15 0;
#P comment 34 -33 289 196617 if you want to look at the plug-in’s front panel , click here;
#P comment 34 -53 286 196617 click here to fill that ubumenu with plug-in parameter names;
#P hidden message 19 -12 29 196617 open;
#P newex 275 168 27 196617 + 1;
#P flonum 413 147 32 9 0. 1. 35 3 0 0 0 221 221 221 222 222 222 0 0 0;
#P newex 275 190 45 196617 pak 0 0.;
#P hidden newex 274 58 75 196617 prepend append;
#P user ubumenu 274 147 100 196617 0 0 1 0;
#X prefix_set 0 0 <none> 0;
#P hidden message 351 78 32 196617 clear;
#P hidden button 352 59 15 0;
#P hidden message 101 -12 26 196617 plug;
#P hidden message 52 -12 42 196617 params;
#N vst~ loaduniqueid 0;
#P newobj 60 71 79 196617 vst~;
#P comment 34 -73 289 196617 click here to choose a plug-in;
#P hidden connect 16 0 11 0;
#P hidden fasten 1 3 20 0 104 95 39 95;
#P hidden connect 20 0 19 0;
#P hidden connect 7 0 23 0;
#P hidden connect 5 0 23 0;
#P hidden connect 22 0 23 0;
#P hidden connect 15 0 2 0;
#P hidden connect 2 0 1 0;
#P hidden connect 3 0 1 0;
#P hidden connect 11 0 1 0;
#P fasten 8 0 1 0 280 253 27 253 27 59 65 59;
#P hidden connect 1 3 21 0;
#P hidden connect 21 0 22 0;
#P hidden connect 14 0 3 0;
#P hidden fasten 1 2 7 0 91 95 250 95 250 51 279 51;
#P hidden connect 7 0 6 0;
#P hidden connect 5 0 6 0;
#P connect 6 0 10 0;
#P connect 10 0 8 0;
#P hidden connect 9 0 8 1;
#P hidden connect 4 0 5 0;
#P hidden fasten 2 0 4 0 57 15 357 15;
You’ll notice a second window that allows you to just grab a fader or dial and see what messages correspond to that action (and a handy menu that’s populated when you load the plug-in that will actually show you the parameter, too). If you’re so inclined, you can always add some objects and connect the audio, etc. This was really all I needed.
So after quite a bit of twiddling and listening and typing, I think I’ve got a good first draft of what the VST version of the Moog Modular V rack looks like if you’re running a Max patch and talking to by sending parameter number – value messages to a vst~ object that contains the Moog (of course, the value is always in the range 0-1.0 as a floating point number). There are a few things I’ve got questions about (and this is a work in progress), but you can upload a PDF file that contains the table I produced after all this study here.
Here are a couple of general comments that may not be clear for the first-time vst~ object message-sending cryptoanalogista:
- One of the cool features of the Moog Modular V is that the hex-nut modulation input jacks also work as knobs that let you set the amount of modulation from any source. Happily, every single hex-nut jack/knob in the rack is parameterized.
- Not everything is controllable. If you’re accustomed to pluggo’s tendency to have every single switch and toggle be a controllable VST parameter, you’ll find that’s not the case. Things like rotary octave switches or filter select switches aren’t parameterized. There are also some cases in which sequencer settings aren’t addressable.
- I’m still trying to figure this one out (the Arturia customer support people seem pretty cool), but it would appear that using the Driver oscillators (i.e. the “master” oscillators for each group of three”) actually sends the same message to all three parameters of each oscillator rather than being a single parameter source or control… at least I think so. This means that you can address each of the three oscillators individually. At least it looks that way at this point.
Geek Note 1: the parameters are numbered differently between the “instrument” and the “effect” versions of the Moog Modular V. While the abbreviations are the same, their ordering is not.
Now that I’ve got a better sense of the VST implementation of the plug-in, I can take my Max/MSP patches that generate algorithmic outputs, scale the outputs to the 0-1.0 range, append a parameter number, ship `em off to a vst~ plug-in hosting a Moog Modular V synth, and let `er rip.
Geek Note 2: You can find a nice set of “starter” building blocks for constructing sequencer and processing abstractions/thingies Darwin Grosse (he of Creativesynth fame) made here. Just look for the QuickStart stuff.
I suppose that it’s also true that, like many people, I have a tendency to acquire instruments now that I couldn’t afford back in my youth. And, I suppose, a tendency to make noises that I would (should?) have made back then (Relax-it’s only a passing phase).
While I love my little Mellotron virtual instrument right down to the clunk at the end of its samples, I’d have to say that the new update that Arturia has released for their Moog Modular V instrument is the black hole that my spare minutes are going to be orbiting and disappearing into for the near future. Version 2 of the Moog Modular V has actually pried me loose from the MODE plug-ins-and that’s no mean feat. I can simultaneously indulge my nostalgic fantasies in affordable comfort, and make some new noises.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave in Peru or somewhere equally remote to the critical press, you already know that the thing sounds great. Unless you’ve some kind of fetish for the physical act of knob twiddling or ornamental knots composed of patch cords, you can just close your eyes and imagine that tall brown rack with the black panels, radiating heat as you listen.
The new upgrade (which is free to all 1.0 owners. Let us raise a glass to our friends in la belle France, shall we?) has some thoughtful eye candy/configuration stuff (a scrollable view and the ability to choose from a selection of modules for a given rack location in some places, which lets you actually reconfigure the Moog to fit your own preferences ( you can never have too many Sample and Hold units, I always say) and has tweaked the CPU usage, I think that the cool new stuff is what they’ve added:
- a nice, FAT unison mode
- the ability to input and process external audio
- a couple of modules I really missed in the original unit (an envelope follower and a sample and hold unit)
- some new stuff Arturia added (a ring modulator and a formant filter)
- and last but certainly not least, two emulations of old Moog stuff I’d only heard about (their 12-stage phaser and the Bode Frequency Shifter, which is very cool) and certainly never horsed around with in the flesh.
I know I am supposed to be writing stuff that derives from my own unparalleled insight and wide experience (SFX: whatever it takes), but it would be ungenerous to be faced with something as interesting as this list of secret job tricks that professionals know and you don’t and not be impressed.
I got a similar thrill from this as from finding out years ago about the secret language of the Emergency Room from an acquaintance. No, I don’t mean this kind of stuff, which we can all get from watching too many ER reruns with George Clooney and Anthony Edwards (who makes an appearance a positively hallucinatory indie film that I have returned to again and again with pleasure), but this kind of thing. Someday I’ll find out that none of that stuff is true, but the last person in the profession I asked did recognize a couple of ‘em.
It would take a long time to explain how I found this googling stuff related to the late, great Douglas Adams, but boy, was I surprised. I really, really don’t want to spoil this, except to say that it apparently seemed like a good idea at the time (it’s a good-sized quicktime file, but um… worth all 11 MB of it.)
I know I should have a bad case of Olympic Fever, but not even the Bjork and DJ Tiesto opener could move me–I truly must have a heart of stone. In the absence of such odd olympic events as pistol duelling, tug-o-war, or pigeon shooting from the games’ salad days, I’m drawn back to the North Korean specials from the History Channel I taped a couple of nights ago while eating our Muscat and peaches (note to readers: probably, it’s best to go with 4-6 hours on the marinade).
In particular, I was positively stupefied by the Arirang Festival, with its low or appropriate-tech Jitter patches. Being the sort of person who just loves a tutorial, I said aloud to myself, `I wonder what the patch for that stuff looks like. I wanna see some video!’ and got-a-googlin’. Alas and alack! All I could find were tantalizing still pictures like these and this batch, which look like they were actually taken by someone sitting in the bleachers.
But persistence pays off, if not in the way I expected. Are you tired of actually reading Jitter tutorials and manual pages? Well, here’s how it’s really done if you’re not an effete and decadent Capitalist wimp (and have several hundred thousand friends at your beck and call). And I also found someplace that would apparently sell me a DVD copy or something. Hmmmm….
I hate to dig up that hoary old Walter Benjamin essay on Art in the Age of Reproduction, but having the world mediated to you by images or recordings rather than experiences does make things problematic: some works of art, in real life, seem like obscene jokes about scale, while some works seem to positively ache to be larger than their physical selves.
The Duchamp pieces had a kind of fragility about them as physical objects that surprised me as I stood before them. And they were silent. Yeah, I know-that sounds stupid, doesn’t it?
The Large glass is a thing made of delicate materials (glass, dust, thread) that show their age. Something shattered into a zillion pieces and then painstakingly reassembled in a big metal frame. The painted studies for portions of the piece that surrounded it in the gallery seemed infinitely more substantial than their final definitively unfinished product. Add to that the idea that its iconography is supposed to be about some kind of Mystery Play about desire viewed through a fanciful set of physical technologies, and you’ve sort of got a picture of how it looked to me. I found myself thinking of the ways in which all the new media tools patiently awaiting us on our laptops might create things that would, in their own ways, be similarly ephemeral (and similarly frozen by the conventions of their own time). I kept looking at the wiggly handpainted Rube Goldberg diagrams and imagining how they sounded then, and how they would sound now, with the mechanisms gone all rusty and finicky.
Etants Donnes was a different kind of surprise: a big door in a semidarkened room with two little eyeholes. This link sort of describes what you actually see looking through the peephole. It’s a singularly eerie thing, staring through those two eyeholes at what looked to me like a dead body holding a flickering gas lamp aloft in a department store diorama. I think that the age of the materials and their state probably reminded me more of something out of a crime scene investigation than I expected. Since Duchamp worked on the thing in secret for years, you’ve really got nothing to go on except for what you see. But I found myself thinking about sound while staring through the peepholes. There simply isn’t any way to see any more of the work (the nude woman’s face, for example)–it’s the closest visual experience I can think of to the absolute tyranny of audio placement for a listener (the couple in front of me in line spent several minutes stooping and straining to catch a glimpse of her face). Of course, it was silent, too-but I kept imagining what it should sound like. The sound of insects and faraway water? The sounds of traffic or ambient noise from my side of the door?
Of course, the world’s got plenty of noise, Duchampwise–music by and about him, and some words from Marcel himself. This should give me me a little space in which to contemplate my personal hidden noise for myself.
While that’s all I wanted to say about stuff I saw on my vacation, I’d be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention to any brave soul willing to read this far the absolute coolest link in this whole article: If you click here you’ll find a complete animated webset of Duchamp’s rotoreliefs–his foray into mass-produced kinetic art.
I am a total sucker for nearly any sort of risotto. With the exception of something that requires, say, Lobsters and Champagne and probably takes a million years to make, J. and I are pretty game. So this little Nigella Lawson piece in the New York Times about summer comfort food caught our eye.
But the really silly bit of it is that what caught our eye was the dessert: peaches in Muscat wine. I’m generally not a big dessert wine guy (give me a good Eau de Vie any day. I got a bottle of this from J. for my birthday. It’s probably the smoothest Framboise I have ever had. Yummy.), but this was simplicity itself: a bunch of sliced peaches covered with a very modest bottle of Muscat and allowed to marinate for a couple of hours, then served chilled. According to Ms. Lawson, one normally uses sugared red wine in Italy. I can’t comment on that, but the fresh peaches and Muscat were positively heavenly au naturel, despite Ms. L’s comments about dousing `em with vanilla ice cream or whipped heavy cream or dunking cookies in the muscat.
The only difficult bit of this involved having to have a glass of Muscat earlier in the evening to finish off the bottle, and the fact that this particular dessert might not have been the best accompaniment to the documentaries on North Korea that were running on the History Channel (it’s “Tyrant’s Week.” I am not making this up.).
Oh, right-the final difficult bit involved summoning the courage to NOT finish the whole batch so that we could see how soaking the peaches a full 24 hours would work. Somehow, we have managed.
I spend part of my life doing a radio program of electronic, experimental, electroacoustic, and various other types of music on Madison’s own community radio station WORT-FM, and have done so for an embarrassing number of years. I guess that’s probably why my colleague D. told me that I should feel free to rave about recent recordings in the course of my blogging life; he’s generous and assumed that this required some sort of critical acumen rather than just listening to things a lot and being forced to decide which among them to play for other people.
Well, okay. Here’s a reissue worth your while, and a new one….
The first happy bit of news is the migration of the Portland-based band Menomena to FILMguerrero records. This is a good deal because I can now go back to recommending it to people who can find it. David Zicarelli first played “their I Am the Fun Blame Monster” (whose title is an anagram, by the way) in the course of a long car trip to a trade show. I loved it even before I found out there was a Max/MSP tie-in–turns out the trio has a fourth member: a delay looping recorder MSP patch named Deeler used to construct the guitar/piano/bass/drum stuff (which the band then learns). The disc manages to combine its slightly twisty song forms with sonic treatment in a beautifully asymmetrical way. You can find a couple of sample MP3s here and here. And if you want to see the MSP patch for Deeler, I guess that l can say is, “Don’t hold your breath.” Oh yeah–did I mention that the cover is a flip book animation?
I have long admired the works of harpist Zeena Parkins (currently handling the harp chores for Bjork on tour) and drummer-turned-laptoppiste Ikue Mori, and have even managed to see them perform live (although not with each other) with considerable pleasure. Their recent duo release on Mego “Phantom Orchard” is a particularly enjoyable outing: an organic outing (as the title might suggest) that runs the gamut from pastoral (Ghostlake) to bramble (Miura) with grace and confidence. This collaboration rates high for me for my usual reason: it unites the things I like about the participants as individuals with work that emerges from the process of collaboration I might not have expected from either of them working alone. don’t take my word for it–you can listen to some of it here.
I’m always surprised to find myself in American homes where there’s nothing to read anywhere in the bathroom. Living in the Netherlands, I think I maybe started to get a sense of why confusing your toilet and your library might seem eccentric; I currently assume that this is because baths and toilets often don’t occupy the same room (at least downstairs) throughout much of Europe, although I’m open to any other useful explanations.
Growing up, the Reader’s Digest (and later, the Utne Reader) were always in our bathroom. My better self now argues that it’s a great place to put poetry short enough to be scanned and inwardly reflected upon, and I have an acquaintance who claims that he always had a world atlas in his bathroom while growing up. But I have to say that I discovered my all-time favorite bathroom book exactly where you’d expect to find it: in someone’s bathroom.
P. was a nice guy I lived with while in my twenties. He was a city planner by education and an inveterate role-playing gamer who brought Dungeons and Dragons (or, as you may know it, the UR-Yu-Gi-Oh) into my life. And–of course–the book.. He kept this modest little book with the slightly tattered cream cover and its perplexing title “A Pattern Language” always in easy reach. I remember thinking that it was some kind of Gideon Bible for city planners the first time I picked it up (although I suppose that I sound stupid imagining city planners as a kind of cult). The little meme-fest tunneled into my psyche nearly from day one, and it’s been lodged there ever since (although it now stays on the shelf nearby in my office/studio rather than in our bathroom).
I really don’t want to spoil the pleasure of discovering the book if you don’t know it, so I’ll say this: Imagine that there is a Max/MSP/Jitter reference manual that contains objects for architecture. You connect them together, and you get buildings or towns or cities. Oh yeah–the book is divided into bite-size chunks of prose instead of a definition-heavy reference work, complete with evocative little example pictures. You can find an example pattern here .
Every time you sit down with the friendly little book (nice size for reading, typography that’s elegant and easy on the eye, nice binding. Oh sorry, this is book fetish material, innit?) and go through it or just open it at random, you leave thinking about the space you inhabit in a slightly different way. It is, of course, equally great for bus commutes, lunch breaks, bedtime reading, or something to peruse while your newborn slumbers on your tummy on the couch.
P. turned out to be on the leading edge of the curve, in terms of the meme. I had one of the oldest editions of the book of anyone I know (except for him), and was as surprised as anybody to discover, by accident, years later that my programmer friends knew about the pattern language.
On a little reflection, it seems sort of obvious why this might be true. A little googling located both some basic mention of his work along with that the Pattern Language connects with programming better than I am likely to manage. I’m sure you can find other things.
I was surprised (and a little pleased, although P. deserves the credit for being the cultural visionary here) to find him again in a new place. But I was a little puzzled, too; what was a lot less clear to me is the way in which people who cheerfully embraced some of his basic ideas felt about what seemed to me a kind of underlying assumption: that the source of order or beauty (in buildings, in his case) is definable and based on the “objective” truth of our perceptions. A building isn’t good or bad based on some set of shared cultural values, but because beauty itself had a kind of quantifiable and definable answer. He’s an unabashed absolutist, albeit as patient and polite an absolutist as I’ve ever encountered.
And I’m not sure that I think of programmers as absolutists. So, whenever I found a programmer who professed enthusiasm for Alexander’s work, I would politely try to ask about this-with varying results. This would often result in my being called a nerd for whingeing about the philosophical underpinnings of Alesander’s work rather than cheerfully embracing its populist approach to tools and its insights on pattern (which are, and remain, a source of intense interest for me). I was and am always proud to be called a nerd by a programmer.
If you’re at all interested in this kind of thing, the following polite and exceptionally articulate critical overview of Alexander’s entire work (including the new stuff) from Wendy Kohn will probably either depress you because it’s so beautifully written, or give better voice to some of your voiceless niggles (mine, anyway).
Although there have been occasional publications following the original volumes of Alexander’s work, things went quiet for years. The original version of the story I heard was that Alexander was working on a theory of ornamentation that would follow on from the pattern language and extend it to a kind of microstructure, followed by the news that he was doing something about “The Big Picture.” So we all waited, picking up the occasional volume after the initial trilogy The Timeless Way of Building, The Oregon Experiment, and A Pattern Language. For a list of the other books, which you’ll probably have some trouble locating in some cases, check here (and get out your checkbook).
Well, years later, it finally showed up. A series of four volumes collectively titled The Nature of Order. The March 2004 issue of Wired gave the recent work from The Nature of Form its de rigeur one-page précis in their PLAY section, and helpfully included his elements of style as sketched out in the first volume of the book, and revisited throughout the remaining three.
Where the pattern language ran on something like 250 different patterns, The Nature of Order has whittled and distilled these down to just 15 rules that lie beneath these pattern and are, if I understand him correctly, sufficient to describe true beauty in any form (more on this later).
Christopher Alexander is on my mind this week because I got an email from the Pattern Language group telling me that the final volume in his magnum opus “The Nature of Order” (the one that, I suppose, more or less corresponds to “A Pattern Language” in the set) will be out by the end of the year. I’m still whacking my way through the second volume (while simultaneously skimming the fourth one on the side. They’re published out of order 1-2-4-3), but I think they’re extraordinary books and ideas to wrassle with, if only as irritants which may provide the source material for the occasional pearl (since I am feeble and think slowly about things like this, it may take me a while to either come around or produce anything that looks like a pearl).
We all try to think about these things in our own way. My own personal and scholarly amusements (and the ones I wanted to mention to you) concern whether or not one might extend the 15 rules for order to the arrangement of aural events in time; I’m trying to avoid using terms like “music” when possible, since my own current exercises involve thinking about organizing sound more generally. In order not to spoil your own fun (and, of course, to safeguard the speaker’s fees and accolades that will doubtless greet my eventual writings on the subject), I think I’ll end by merely listing the 15 elements of style as they appear in Volume One.
So my questions to you come down to this: How might these serve as a place to start describing aural order or fittingness or (cough) beauty? Good luck–I think that thinking about this is worth the effort, despite whatever qualms about quantifiable beauty you may have.
- Levels of Scale – A balanced range of sizes is pleasing and beautiful.
- Strong Centers – Good design offers areas of focus or weight.
- Boundaries – Outlines focus attention on the center.
- Alternating Repetition – Repeating various elements creates a sense of order and harmony.
- Positive Space – The background should reinforce rather than detract from the center.
- Good Shape – Simple forms create an intense, powerful center.
- Local Symmetries – Organic, small-scale symmetry works better than precise, overall symmetry.
- Deep Interlock and Ambiguity – Looping, connected elements promote unity and grace.
- Contrast – Unity is achieved with visible opposites.
- Gradients – The proportional use of space and pattern creates harmony.
- Roughness – Texture and imperfections convey uniqueness and life.
- Echoes – Similarities should repeat throughout a design.
- The Void – Empty spaces offer calm and contrast.
- Simplicity and Inner Calm – Use only essentials; avoid extraneous elements.
- Not-Separateness – Designs should be connected and complementary, not egocentric and isolated.