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You would think my weekly cruise by Boing Boing would have had me going on about how you can have Richard Stallman record telephone answering messages for you, but no.

This is the Arts and Crafts column, thank you very much. Or Kraffs, as we say here in Wuhscahns’n. A couple of Bristol University mathematicians have crocheted a festive version of the Lorenz equations. Their crochet pattern appears in the latest issue of the journal Mathematics Intelligence. There’s a PDF version of the article here. It’s worth it for the pictures alone.

Cool, huh?

The radiophonic portion of my life has an annual ritual associated with it that might surprise no one; a top ten. It’s that time again.

Left to my own devices, I would simply assume that everyone in this portion of 3-space would have no illusions about my method of work being that I play music I like, music I respect a bit more than I like, and some things my listeners ask me to find for them (or recommend). There’s really no other method to it.

About a decade ago, listeners started asking me what a list of “you know… the best stuff” was for the whole year. I thought it was a little surprising, since it seemed to me that anyone who listened to my program would know immediately what would be on the list-the recordings they heard the most often. But no. So I elected to subvert the dominant paradigm (and give myself some um… wiggle room) by listing 15 of the top 10 recordings of the year, and dedicating the first two RTQE broadcasts of the new year to those recordings (done so that everything got its own fifteen minutes of fame, more or less.

After having done that for a few years, I started to get calls from long-time listeners in early December, politely inquiring as to whether I had already settled on my list; they were wondering about whether or not they might fill a portion of their gift list with things that they’d heard on my show. While this was flattering, moving the creation of the list forward meant that it was considerably more difficult to cast a sidelong glance at the work of other “critics”-something I found much more appealing as a possibility rather than as a reality. Since WORT is a community radio station, we’re really answerable to our listeners in a pariticular way, so I was committed.

You can find a copy of that list for this year here. In case you’re at all curious (and would like to view my dreary bias set in greater detail, here are the lists for 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, and 1995 (there’s no 2002 list because I was living in the Netherlands and taking a hiatus from programming). It’s pretty obvious from looking back for a decade or so of this stuff that I might be biased toward the work of a few people-Autechre (whose collaboration with the Hafler Trio was on the short list this year), Monolake (Robert Henke’s absolutely wonderful 0bpm solo opus this year made the list with a bullet. By the way, it’s NOT true that Robert could record the sound of his kitchen sink runnning, process it, and make my best of list. He’s welcome to try.), Miles Davis’ post-quintet electric outings, and Tetsu Inoue. Unless the day comes when I suddenly decide that I have Critical Sensibilities rather than just being some guy who likes stuff, those commonalities of list are bound to emerge; they keep me honest, and potentially warn my listeners off (and you, too). Having put all those old “best of” pages back up in honor of this blog entry, I am somewhat comforted to discover that the older lists contain recordings that I think really have “stood the test of time,” or however I’d want to say that.

An unforeseen side-effect of doing two holiday gift shopping versions of RTQE in early December is that the programs pretty much organize themselves, and-from my point of view-they’re boffo shows with no filler or (required?) nods to new releases. Since I’m not slaving away on playlists, I thought I’d say a few things about some of the releases on this list, and beg your indulgence to do so.

There are a few things that aren’t here that maybe should be. Another way of saying this is that there are a few recordings that, in the course of the next year, may rise from the list of what I didn’t include to become things I return to again and again for pleasure. No, I don’t mean The Arcade Fire, Interpol, or the other critic’s darlings of the moment (although I find myself liking The Polyphonic Spree waaay more than I expected to). This list might include the deadbeat dub opus Something Borrowed on scape~ and Michael Gordon’s Light is Calling (I keep finding it in the CD player). You’ll notice that there’s already some bet-hedging on the list this year, owing to the fact that I can’t really listen to the Albert Ayler box in the background, can’t bear it in the foreground for more than a short while, and keep coming back to gaze into the blast furnace again and again. I did this with the Harry Smith collection of Americana years earlier, and am trying to develop and early warning system. If Avalon Sutra really is Harold Budd’s last recording, he at least warrants a shout-out for a lifetime of pleasure, but I think it was the Akira Rabelais remix/rework of the material that put it over the top for me. I’m not actually sure why I didn’t list the newly remastered and reissued Discreet Music, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror, and Ambient 4: On Land, considering how much of my life has been lived to Music for Airports. And finally, I am nurturing a small kernel of fear that I have become so old and jaded that I can be in the presence of strong and beautiful music from old, old friends such as The Blue Nile and The Finn Brothers and fret about listing them here.

Does this sound like I am still enormously ambivalent about this whole list and recommendation thing? Yep. I generally figure that having something like 100 hours of radio time per year means I can work around that in a way that a list just doesn’t allow.

Okay-a few comments about what’s on the list:

  • The Gavin Bryars recording is a perfect example of a wrong corrected. All Ten of A Man in a Room, Gambling was originally a project sponsored by the British outfit Artangel that we ran on WORT years ago as a kind of mysterious event-it would simply appear at the same time, twice a week, for five minutes without comment… a kind of mysterious imaginary weather report (well, okay-a short description about ways to cheat at cards) with this lovely and restrained string quartet. People loved it, but Bryars’ record company at the time decided not to release the whole set. Bryars himself corrected the error on his own small label, and had done me (and you, maybe) a great favor in doing so. It’s also a kind of sad reminder that his collaborator, the Spanish sculptor and conceptualist Juan Mu&#ntilde;oz, left us entirely too early.
  • I first encountered Helge Sten (Deathprod) as a remixer, redoing the work of Norwegian electronic composer and maverick Arne Nordheim. To be honest, I picked up the recording because it had a Biosphere piece on it. His participation in the improvising ensemble Supersilent further piqued my interest, but by that time all his earlier recordings were out of print. Morals and Dogma was released this year in two forms-the recording itself, and a 4-CD box that includes his earlier work. I went for the box.
  • A friend of mine pointed out that there is a substantial amount of music by Cycling ’74 people on this list (from Huntley Miller’s EP Dowry, whose only shortcoming is that it is 1/4 as long as it should be, Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori’s duet outing, Lawrence Casserley’ appearance with The Evan Parker Electroacoustic Ensemble, and the aforementioned Mr. Henke). I was completely blindsided by this, but admit that perhaps I am paying a bit more attention to what people do with our software than in previous years. I suppose that I’ll spend the next calendar year discovering that there is a good deal more Max/MSP in this list than I’m aware of….
  • The 5-hour LaMonte Young release The Well-Tuned Piano in The Magenta Lightsain’t cheap, but it’s probably cheaper than the 5-CD Gramavision release of The Well Tuned Piano on eBay, and it plays all the way through.
  • Have I managed to avoid blooging about Siniaalto? They’re probably my personal “obscure find” for the year-a modest little Finnish outfit who does 70s-style electronic music on pre-MIDI equipment. Think of them as an “Orchestra of the Enlightenment” for synth music (with perhaps a nod to some Deodatoesque electric piano). There are some free MP3s of the work here.

Man, I should just shut up. Caveat auditor, mes amis….

Here is a very brief outline on the Ukraine and its current situation. If you’re only starting to notice all those news items, this should help you get up to speed. It’s faster than going to the public library, anyway. Looks like a little background will come in handy while you’re following this in the papers in the coming days.

In our off moments

Sometimes, you’re just not in the mood for hard-hitting or even chatty bloggery. In these times, perhaps recursive zoomable artwork or crackheaded Flash book reports are just the thing. Or not.

I’m reading at the moment, since there’s not a lot of listening I can do.

An ear infection I thought I’d whipped earlier returned in a pretty ferocious manner (it even set my ENT to clucking sympathetically and peering sympathetically), with the result being that my right ear is totally non-working (except for being a completely workable source of pain). My sensorium is panned hard left, I’m miserable, so guess what happens? I discover that having your ear vacuumed out sounds exactly like a Merzbow recording? Well, yeah, but the real annoyance is the music that keeps crossing the transom. My friend Jon loans me the recent Albert Ayler box to listen to, Kerry and John send me several tracks from their new recordings in progress, I get a great new disc from Robert Henke that I suspect I’ll really like a lot in stereo, and I have to put off critically listening to the live recordings from my last gig with my friend Tom. With luck, the internal and external antibiotics will do their job. Until then, I’ll read.

Since I finished Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle (It was a very satisfying finish, by the way), I thought I’d stick to some music reading for a while. An acquaintance had suggested Audio Culture to me, saying that they were interested in using its collection of essays (or some of them, anyway) as a classroom text. Classroom text? Definitely? But something to have for oneself? You betcha.

If you’re at all familiar with Michael Bull’s “The Auditory Culture Reader,” you’ll probably recognize the basic approach-a collection of primary documents, essays, and excerpts from longer works that range widely across the intellectual terrain, connected by short explanatory/expository pieces by the authors.

Reading was a somewhat unexpected kind of pleasure-a chance to read again things that I’d not revisited in a long time, to actually go through pieces I’d only heard about but never actually read myself, and an arrangement that juxtaposed writings by lots of interesting people (Stockhausen, DJ Spooky, Ornette, Eno, Attali, Glenn Gould, and John Zorn, among others) that leaves you with the feeling that you’re eavesdropping on a large rambunctious conversation. Heck, even The Onion thinks it’s a great book-don’t take my word for it.

Dear Diary,

I think I’ve recovered enough from the ICMC (and the subsequent bout with an ear infection, replacing a wrecked car, and a few of the other shocks to which the mortal life is heir to say a few things about my trip to Miami….

For those of you who are acquainted with the ICMC, it’s an annual international conference, held in a different place each year, that lets you hear the latest technical papers, hang out and exchange recipes for sugar cookies, and generally sit through a whole lot of concerts of all kinds of music made using computers. As has been the case since the ICMC in Berlin several years ago, there’s also an off-ICMC (a kind of Salon des Refusées) just in case you need something to do during your evenings.

While I’d like to have just gone and watched and listened to everything, I was flying the Cycling ’74 flag. So this will, of necessity be fragmentary in nature; my apologies to anyone whose name I’ve butchered or omitted.

Practically speaking, I didn’t make it to all the concerts; someone with a question or suggestion would appear as I was preparing to pack up and go in, and politeness suggested that it’d be best to stay. I sure got to hear some interesting music, nonetheless.

The amount of music at these events is a bit daunting: three concerts per day. But my own impression is that this was a great ICMC in terms of the stylistic breadth of presented work, and that the concerts themselves were both well-ordered and varied in terms of content. As always, one did hear a bit of grousing here and there about “quality” (can’t you hear the quote marks there?), and in the midst of an election marked so strongly by “code language,” I confess that I may have heard that to mean “not enough wire whisk and breadboard music.” I could be wrong.

This time out, I heard pieces that were not afraid to sit still for an instant, pieces that were perfectly happy to straddle genre boundaries or to start their audible lives as one thing and joyously morph into something else (Jenny Bernard’s “Hallucination” and Jon Gibson’s “Detour” come to mind right away here). For the first few days, it seemed like this it was Flute Week at the ICMC-not that I minded the chance to hear some absolutely amazing performances of stunning pieces in a bewilderingly wide range of styles by wonderful performers (Margaret, Lancaster and Elizabeth McNutt? Yikes.) for a single instant either, either. It didn’t occur to me until later that I really wasn’t listening to pieces to spot Our Software in action at all, so my own set of surprises were more about individual listening experiences. Jesse Allison’s simple and well-conceived piece for harmonica and live processing, a really modest and stunning piece for bass clarinet by Jeff Herriot, some new video work from Christopher Penrose (who turned me onto a whole website chock full of cockamamie commercials done by big western movie stars for Japanese television-including the commercial that had Arnold Schwarzenegger pimping for some kind of nicotine-based energy drink that was used to generate his piece, “My First Electric Dragon.” Check out Really.), Timothy Polashek’s one-minute bit of candied ginger for the ear, and David Kim-Boyle’s piece for piano, resonant glasses (the piece involved having the miked glasses hover right at the edge of feedback all the way through the piece. Paul the sound guy gets oak-leaf clusters for that one), and video projection that seemed waay too short for me.

Looking at that quick listing from memory, it occurs to me that I really wasn’t listening to pieces to spot Our Software in action at all. But there was plenty of it-there’s not much I can really say about the ubiquity of Max/MSP/Jitter at festivals such as these. It cuts both ways-some part of you is always worried whenever you see those GUI objects on the glowing screen to the right of the mixing board, and then elated when it works well. I guess that beyond some statistical increase in Max use live, it’s hard not to notice the number of pieces that now include visual information this time out (I was particularly particularly taken by Michael Theodore’s “Sivel”).

Outside of the conferences, a sort of funny thing that happened with regard to Max/MSP/Jitter visibility-due, in part, to my own indolence. I decided that I didn’t want to drag two laptops to the festival every day, so I started alternating machines. No one noticed, which I thought was a little odd. My own personal experience is that I run Jitter on my Windows box, and stick to my old trusty Powerbook for noises, but it’s clearly not the case. And the relative ubuiquity at this point of third-party objects for both platforms has really contributed to the idea that, for some people, it’s not really a question of what machine you’re running on. It’s Max/MSP/Jitter either way.

I encountered something at the ICMC that I also ran into at the AES, but probably didn’t mention in my blog entry-it seems to puzzle some people out there when I pass up the opportunity to dis other people’s software, and to puzzle some people even more by praising the stuff I didn’t dis. It’s puzzling to contemplate that one would face a world in which there are now numerous alternatives to people who want to make music with software (some of which are created or produced by people who are friends and acquaintances) with anything other than pleasure and relief. In the modern world, you’re free to choose the tool that best fits your circumstances (emotional, political, technological), and-as a personal matter-I guess that I think that steering people to the right alternative (given their situation) makes everyone happier. It was sort of interesting to chat with folks who began their lives using Pd and have since migrated to Max/MSP (they’re overwhelmingly Windows users, based on my admittedly unscientific sample and anecdotal experience), and to find out what their specific challenges are (or aren’t). They seem to have having a pretty easy time of it, and they are really crazy about being able to use Java and Javascript for object development.

There was more interest in pluggo for Windows at the ICMC than I might have expected, although it took a rather muted form; In the same way that some electroacoustic composers seemed to be sheepish about acknowledging their use of Metasynth several years ago, I think I detected a similar interest in using pluggo plug-ins; the question usually only appeared when I was alone with one other person. In one sort of funny situation, two people who were all in the same crowd came back separately and alone to inquire about pluggo for Windows. I dunno… maybe I’m hallucinating.

The off-ICMCs have really had a personality all their own over the last few years. This year’s off-ICMC was no exception, with a blistering election night Convolution Brothers fracas that featured Miller Puckette sitting in for the absent Zack Settle in Elvis wig and shades while Cort Lippe (in a fetching black balaklava that whispered “sonic terrorist”) streamed the election night returns with some ah… modification (metalflake, hydroflouric acid, and sprinkles). The next evening was my chance to catch Phonaecia live (they were wonderful), and sample the local Miami laptop scene. Friday evening was off-ICMC gig time for me, and an interesting and instructive experience. I completely sucked, rather than turning in either something that was good or even kind of pedestrian. On the good side, I went second and the evening concert ran a little late, which meant that not a lot of people were there. And Doug Geers (who preceded me) and Meg, Allison, and Charlie (who followed) were sufficiently interesting that everyone was distracted from my self-basting holiday Butterball turkey of a performance, I’m hoping. It’s an oddly liberating experience, I guess-if somewhat disappointing. I didn’t stay to the bitter end, but Eric Lyon reportedly tore the roof off the sucker rather late in the evening. Our hosts at the Titanic microbrewery were delightful. Great cheeseburgers, and my first introduction to the awesome Conch fritter (yummy), due to the encouragements of our hosts, Kristine Burns and Colby Leider. A superior bitter on tap, too. I hope we all drank enough to keep ‘em happy.

The ICMC banquet was positively stunning, complete with some kind of DEA black helicopter and interdiction boat chase thrown in. You can see some pictures of the excitement here (Choose Day 7 and head for photos 15-18). We all quickly recovered from looking out the big picture windows or from the deck and seeing the opening footage for many episodes of CSI: Miami. Man, whatta view! What an evening! At the banquet, we found out that Ajay Kapur’s paper on digitizing North Indian performance had won the “best paper” award. I was glad to get this news, since I might have missed the paper (as I did the paper on Audiosculpt 2). It didn’t disappoint, although I was in and out of the session much quicker than I would have liked (prior appointment). My own personal interest had something more to do with looking at the kinds of sensing and control they’d worked with in order to gather data without strait-jacketing performers. It was a pretty extraordinary presentation, in part because I’ve gone to ICMCs for years and wondered at what I thought was a dearth of interest in non-western musics and performance practice. This one more than made up for those years in the desert.

I’d first met Jason Freeman during our last Cycling ’74 booth time in Frankfurt; he’d taken the train up (or down) from his then working gig, and mentioned that he was working on something with Max Neuhaus. At the AES the week before, I’d run into Phil Burk, who’d also been on the project (and who was, apparently, surprised that anyone remembered that he’d done any recording at all). His presentation on the implementation of the Auracle project (particularly the kind of data capture it does, and how the data is analyzed and used over long spans of time) was fascinating. NOW I get it. Taken alongside another session paper looking at the use of spectral morphing in the film “Blackhawk Down” by Paul Rudy (it made me want to scamper off immediately, rent the film, and listen to it in the dark with the sound turned waaaaay up) it was time well spent.

But it wasn’t all sitting in the dark taking notes, nosirree. This time out, there was gear to fool around with! One of the interesting things about this particular ICMC for me was the chance to see a couple of new sensor interface products up close-Eric Singer’s Miditron, and the Electrotap Teabox. I’d spent a little time during the previous week at the AES with both the Kroonde Gamma wireless sensor interface and the Eobody, and the week gave me a chance to hear presentations by both Eric Singer (Mr. Miditron) and Tim Place and Jesse Allison (Tea importers to the Royal Family). The availability of all of these different products at different prices is great news-you’ve got a wide choice of possible solutions that work in different ways and all interface quite nicely with Max/MSP/Jitter. I even sweet-talked Tim and Jesse into spiriting a demo Teabox back to my hotel room on Tuesday evening. My pre-Cycling ’74 life is partially in the teledatacomm industry, so I tend to take things apart for amusement. The Teabox is beautifully engineered, I am happy to report. Works a treat, too.

Hmm. What might I have forgotten? Comments on the use of high-powered air conditioning units as the semiotic for success in Miami? Trying to explain the minutiae of the American political system through my tears to my European colleagues? Discovering that the Mochito does not in any way, shape, or form taste like the pondwater it resembles? Naaah. This is long enough already.

Dear diary:

Well, I’m finally back home after having survived two major-league spanking machines–the annual AES convention, and the annual International Computer Music Association conference, hosted this year in sunny Miami. It was a wild, exhaustive and fun couple of weeks. Perhaps I should talk about them both. Let’s start with the AES….

It’s that time when Trade Show Fever grips the Cycling ’74 microculture. I know you must imagine it’s a gay mad whirl of demo-munging, new product polishing, and shopping for the perfect frock. But for those of us on the inside, it’s quite a different affair. Rather than throwing book titles or arcane facts about the annual Canary Harvest in Montenegro at you in the name of blogging, I thought I’d touch on a few of the exciting things you might miss, and touch on a few gear-ish things that I found to be of interest.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #1. The Zen of Getting to There From Here

The AES this year was in Cycling 74′s backyard-just about literally. It was held in the Moscone Center, just about a block or so from Cycling 74 World Headquarters, which means that you might imagine we’d be sneaking off to the local Giant Crab Supermarket to um, borrow some shopping carts to use as transporters of our booth stuff, swag, etc.

But that’s not how it works in the professional world of the Modern Trade Show. Instead, Joshua and I went and got a rental van that we took over to C74WH. The plan was to pull it into the deluxe parking garage, load it with our stuff, and then leave it overnight. Hélas! The van was sprung like a bunny on meth, and was, as a result, too tall to fit into the garage by a matter of several inches.

So we regrouped the next morning, loaded on the street, and set off for the marshalling yard, which was waaaaaaay out in China Basin (Joshua, ever the helpful tour guy, drove us by the Beta Lounge for a quick gape on my part) at Pier 80. The idea is that in order to move things a block we need to drive out to the edge of the Bay (with a lovely view of a smokestack/scrubber and the Bay Bridge in the distance, along with the filigree of Industrial metalwork), weigh our vehicle and get some papers, then drive all the way back to the Moscone Center, unload our stuff in a place where the electric-carted Teamsters can move it for us, then drive all the way back to Pier 80 and weigh the empty truck.

Waiting our turn at the scales was restful, and broken by Richard Dudas’ ad-hoc lesson in horticulture. As the line of semis interspersed with smaller vans advanced to the single open truck scale, Richard and I took a moment to take in the aforementioned view, and to take note of our surroundings. Apparently, balsamic vinegar or some kind of wine mysteriously bubbles up spontaneously from the landfill on which the marshalling yard is built. None of us were in any mood to inquire more seriously about just what the stuff was, or its origins. Mr. Dudas stunned me by pointing out the presence of a single actual Fennel plant, decorated around its base with empty plastic bottles and various forms of jetsam. I am somewhat partial to braised Fennel, but somehow the sight of this one has rather put me off the idea for a while.

Trade show setup is simply something that, although pleasant, is perhaps best witnessed or described as a stop-action film of workpersons swarming over a pile of stuff, and the booths magically emerging from the flurry of activity. I suppose that even the Cycling 74 booth might look like this with enough time-lapse between the frames, but I find myself reflecting on the process and remarking more on the calm and patience with which Mr. Zicarelli and my other co-boothists went about their work.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #2. I get to open for Double Dutchess and we throw a party

My personal Anxiety Top Ten for the week was dominated by my doing a set for the official Cycling 74 AES party at the end of the first day. Performing my patient and restrained one-trick-pony act for my friends is always nerve-wracking enough, but to be on the same bill as people like Double Dutchess/Les Stuck, Sue Costabile, Sutekh, and Laetitia Sonami should have had me racing for the Benedryl. I hope and believe that I acquitted myself well, avoided being some sort of Mediatic Incursion, and left a clean campsite. And since I went first in the proceedings, I could relax and enjoy everyone else after finishing. I think, too, that the party was precisely the sort of thing I enjoy. Rather than a brain-frying sequence of “gigs” separated by breathless product-placement announcements from the Marketing Department, this felt like a place for people to get together and meet and talk, gorge themselves on Cheese Nips (real ones. Not those Trader Joe’s knock-offs, either), let in a little (Anchor) Steam, and to hear some interesting things. And jhno’s loft was just about the perfect place for it, too.

One of the interesting things about doing things like this is that you get to actually meet the real people attached to the names in your email in box. I tend to enjoy that, since I create the people after a certain point as I read their email anyway. I suppose that this particular AES was my chance to hang out with Peter Nyboer a little bit, and to discover that he’s as nice a person in 3-space as he is in this space (he even gave me a lift back to my hotel after the Cycling 74 bash). And our friend Yuki Sakamoto from Cameo Interactive also honored us with his presence during my gig. My mom’s little hometown Kentucky paper always ends these sorts of reports with the sentence, “A good time was had by all.” I think that was the case here-was for me, anyway.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #3. The view from the floor

Talking about being at a trade show as a part of the dazzling caravan of Cycling 74 talent is quite different from actually visiting the trade show and walking about, of course. With a little luck-no, with a little planning, you get to do both. Happily, thanks to some wizardry with a schedule by my colleague Darwin, I did get to run around just a little (more on this anon) this time. The other nice bit of this is that the booth is staffed with my um… smarter colleagues. So when some low-level Java stuff came up in conversation with a visitor, I could simply direct them to the genial Josh and Topher duo, for whom Java arcana is as meat and drink. David Z. was around to greet and answer questions about the new multi-band dynamics processor plug-in for TDM systems we’ve developed with the folks from Octiv Systems (I’m not entirely helpful here, since I don’t have a surround system either in my modest little studio or in my living room.), and so on.
We had plenty to talk about and show this time out. I think that some of the biggest buzz for the most persons would have to be pluggo for Windows. But it’s an interesting situation, in that we’ve worked as hard as we can to make sure that It Just Works. This means that those few Windows-only types who have never beheld pluggo in any form are amazed and delighted by demonstrations that are old hat to Macintosh types eager to have their old favorites on the new machine. While it’s not necessarily the whizziest message, I find that telling a pluggo fan that there won’t be any surprises when they switch platforms to be a satisfying experience.

We also brought a Kroonde wireless sensor interface with us, which was fun. David and Dudas and Joshua quickly knocked together some nice things that yanked faders and distorted Jitter renderings using a wireless flex sensor. At some point, Dudas took the transmitter and the flex sensor and scampered off in an attempt to see precisely what the range on the little dude was. He was gone for a long time before things stopped jumping. The only difficulty was that trying to establish line of sight over a goodly distance at a Trade show chockablock with booths and milling crowds is a little problematic. So my answer for the next several days on range was “It’s pretty far.”

Doing the booth thing is a cocktail composed of equal parts exhiliaration (meeting lots of interesting people who are really interested in and happy about what you do) and exhaustion (meeting about 6 squillion of them at once). Our encounters with our customers and would-be customers was and is becoming increasingly varied in terms of the sorts of questions one is faced with; it’s just not like manning a guitar pick manufacturer’s booth and telling people that you have new titanium fuschia metalflake plectrums over and over and over. As you might imagine, this is a good thing in terms of staving off glassy-eyed boredom, but you have to be on your toes.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #4. Gregory cases the joint

For me, the most interesting thing about the AES as a whole would have to be what wasn’t there. Lots of us were wondering after the initial buzz about M-audio being acquired by Digi what changes might be afoot. This AES provided us with one answer: They moved all the M-audio stuff offsite to Digiworld, leaving a still nice-sized booth behind. But you have to imagine having all the stuff M-audio distributes suddenly vanishing from the face of the trade-show earth. As a personal matter, this meant that it simply wasn’t simple to go visit my Ableton, Audioease, and Tassman buddies during my floor-roaming “free” period. Additionally, there was quite a lot of Remix Hotel action, which further relocated some things. I found the Hotel a pretty interesting place, (although I did feel a trifle radiocarbon-datable while there) especially the Technics SL-DZ1200 digital turntable. While it’s a bit um… expensive for my tastes and my wallet, the thing feels just like the canonical Technics table, and their granular pitch-shifting sounds pretty cool (nice artifacts rather than crufty ones). It was a lovely piece of hardware, complete with gen-you-wine wheels of steel.

An interesting side effect of this was that the trade show floor seemed a bit well… quieter. At the end of the day, my larynx wasn’t sandpapered from bellowing at booth visitors all day long. Kind of a nice change from some previous Trade Show experiences.

Secret Trade Show Rituals #5. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Sometimes, we wind up in at trade shows in interesting booth configurations. The one that comes immediately to mind was an AES where we were across the aisle from the Gibson booth, where Slash showed up one day to sign autographs for his legion of fans. The non-surprise there was that he looked just like his pictures, and the surprise was this whole long queue of scary looking guys transformed in an instant into Wayne and Garth-style mugging for the camera (We are not worthy….). We had great neighbors. Our booth back was to the Apogee folks (whose mini-DAC positively rules both for sweet live performance and for days when you’re working long hours with headphones on), and next to the Gefen folks, who were as intrigued by us (and our visitors) as we were with their steady queue of extender/connector box customers. And we had this amazing woman, Vicki Genfan performing in a kind of hybrid Michael Hedges/Chapman Stick style tapping technique acoustic guitar gig kitty-corner from our booth in aisle 700 who turned in some amazing performances (sure beats the same old Salsa or Grindcore licks day in and day out).

Secret Trade Show Rituals #6. The intensely personal attack of gear lust

So I did run around a little bit. New stuff? Well, my old pals the Rocket Science bundle from Audioease are back, for starters-I’m as delighted to have Orbit back in my OSX life as I was with Periscope from their Nautilus bundle (it being one of the lowercase world’s great secret Swiss Army Knife plug-ins). I saw and fiddled with Arturia’s new virtual ARP 2600. Just what you’d expect, too-beautifully recreated (minus the dirty pots, shorted patch cords, and drifty oscillators) with some very nice little new additions (um… MIDI control? polyphony? Some interesting tracking generators? You betcha.) in the bargain. One of their guys came over and beheld the kind of Max/MSP control mayhem I’ve been doing by hosting their Moog Modular V using the vst~ object and then routing all kinds of control stuff to us, and he appeared somewhat interested (although I’m sure that the particular formant filter bank violence I was doing might not have been his personal choice), and he didn’t strike me or pelt me with empty coffee cups, so hey. I have officially begun a campaign of pesteration about what should be their next product-a virtual Synthi AKS 100! Am I shameless or what?

The Electro-Harmonix booth included a very quiet new addition in their display case (they were busy with their Bi-filter and tubes, but I was not distracted): a digital 16-second delay. Didn’t see it hooked up, and I’ll wager that those old Reticon 1024 analog bucket-brigade chips are looooong gone, but I looked at it and wondered quietly whether it would do as lovely a job at shaving high frequencies off of an input signal as my trusty old-school hardware box. Maybe I’ll find out next time.

Given that I am not working much with this and perhaps more seduced by the technology as an idea than with any personal projects at the moment, I spent some time checking out single-point surround microphones and found one company that was adding their product to little motorized radio-controlled bomb sniffers. So you can, presumably, hear the ticking in 5.1 surround, along with the lifelike hum of the servos.

Let’s see… what else? Oh, right: there was a some gear-lust buzz on two product fronts, one of which (the Smart Console, with its Jean-Luc Picard control broadband control panel vibe) remains a distant fantasy, and one of which-this really whizzy wireless Tranzport DAW controller (AA batteries not included) from Frontier Design is not.

People seemed interested in Nuendo 3, but I’m not in a position to say much about it. My colleague Ron (with whom I worked on the newest Cycles release and who has emerged in my estimation as the total audio monster that everyone else already knows he is) seems pretty impressed with it. Given his Surround mixing chops, I’m prepared to accept his verdict.

Since I had to be in Miami for the ICMC and since it appeared to be nearly impossible to get out of San Francisco on a Hallowe’en flight, I scampered off early Sunday morning for a lengthy set of flights to Miami, where I was destined to be the sole corporate standard bearer in the surround-sound hive of scum and villainy more commonly known as the International Computer Music Assocation’s annual conference. Well, there’s very little scum (unless you count the way that a Mochito looks. It’s a drink made with rum that tastes much better than it looks, trust me), and even less villainy. But a good writer creates mystery and interest by the clever use of language. So I’ll go sit quietly for a while and try to distill my week in Sunny Miami for the next outing.

I know you all probably read slashdot religiously. I should, probably. However, I happened to cruise by the mention of an interview with the same Mr. Stephenson, whose Baroque Cycle I was ranting semi-worshipfully about (and with another few hundred pages under my belt, I am still thinking that This Will All Be Worth It).

Just read it. Read it here

I do go on, sometimes. Okay, then–let’s all decompress by marvelling at this extensive collection of batmobile models.

Perhaps you’re of a different temperament than I am, and only start tasks that you fully expect you’ll finish, or your initial enthusiasms never flag in the course of some great undertaking.

While I may envy such persons, I think that the fully actualized may be denying themselves one of life’s surprising little pleasures: the recovery of pleasure and enthuasiasm (and the accompanying boost to your sense of dedication) in mid-task, with the additional available-to-all thrill of deferred gratification at the end.

If you’re imagining that I have a bookshelf full of thick books with discreetly placed bookmarks (I shall someday pick this up from where I dropped it, honest….), then you might be surprised. I’m sitting in my living room typing this, and looking at the bookshelf against the east wall, it appears that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is the thickest work of fiction in this room–I promised the child of a friend that I’d read one of the books, and wound up liking the series (This, presumably, means that I am supposed to be very excited about Susanna Clarke’s adult fantasy “Pride and Prestidigitation” outing Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Yeah, maybe later….).

So it’s with some surprise that I find myself reading the third novel in Neal Stephenson’s “Baroque Cycle” The System of the World, and feeling that little tickle that tells me that this may all prove to have been worth it.

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not going to tell you to start making your own way through several thousand pages without some serious qualifications. It’s one thing to needle-drop (is it bit-dropping on an iPod or CD player?) through a disc on my recommendation, and quite another to kill a couple of humungous tomes.

So here are some interviews that have Stephenson talking about the book and its basic ideas with a couple of people–Laura Miller with my friend Paul Boutin that should give you a little background. Andrew Leonard has soldiered through the books (albeit more quickly than I, and has posted some reviews on Salon for all three volumes: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World. Taken together, they might picque your interest. Or not.

Although I’ve read every single thing Stephenson has ever written, I wasn’t without my doubts on this kind of undertaking. At times, his writerly urgers mean that he spends way too much time describing the technology of rocket-propelled dogs, explicating Gödel’s theorem using chain links, spinning out extended pieces on using urine to make gunpowder, and how to manage the perfect bowl of Captain Crunch. As one friend puts it, “It’s the David Foster Wallace thing. You love it, hate it, or tune it out and tune in later.”

Watching these predilections play out over the course of a sequence of “historical” novels has moved in two ways for me: not only does the past “make more sense,” but I find myself seeing things about the conventions of Stephenson’s earlier genre works in a different light. I’m reminded that I find speculative fiction interesting for its occasional ability to imagine a world that extrapolates my own in ways I might not imagine; These novels live very much in my world, but they extrapolate forward from a time when quite a lot of what I take as “given” is still being formed. While I might have said whilst slogging through the first two books that the “ripping yarn” portions of the novel–hero bad-boy Jack and his galley slave band carjacking a ship full of gold, heroine Eliza (a great fictional creation she: a woman who instinctly understands and negotiates the rising currents and eddies of the emerging world, “hacking” her way past the obstacles imposed by her gender) negotiating the minefields of court intrigue–were what really entertained me, I’m beginning to see the shape of the story now. Instead of following old Daniel Waterhouse around and watching him try to arrange a little détente between Newton and Liebnitz, we’re going to see him as the “real” hero of the cycle: the man of reason that we all believe ourselves to be, attending the birth of a Present Age we take very much for granted.

And I think I can begin to see the writerly appeal of it, too. When it’s done well, you begin to see how revolutionary the rise of the scientific method really was. You begin to glimpse the absolutely earth-shattering consequences of the creation of credit and mechanisms of foreign exchange. And those things connect to the fabric of your day-to-day existence in ways that suddenly seem less obvious: the feeling for the observer is reminiscent of that scene in the Matrix where Neo gazes down the dingy corridor at his adversaries and we’re suddenly shown the same image revisualized as a kind of glittering data. I suppose that those social history books that my beloved reads achieve some of the same effects, but I’m a sucker for doing that while you tell a story.

On reflection, you can also see some of the ideas about mind and body and social networks that appear in his earlier more “explicitly” SF novels here, too–alchemy emerges as a kind of subplot in book 2 and appears prominently in book 3 as the way that Stephenson deals with the same questions of transcendance and the incorporeal. Rather than the pursuit of cranks, it becomes the way that thinkers of the time tried to imagine how one might escape the confines or discover what might be outside of the realm of What Science Explains. And I’m finding it an extremely interesting part of the book(s), as things develop.

If you’re enamored with the tech part of cyberpunk, then this will probably be one of the most prolonged snooze reads of your life in sections (or as a whole) unless you can wrap your head around the technologies of the past. Money is a network. Feuds are viruses that disrupt social networks. Pumping water out of Welsh mines is a form of hacking (An interesting how-to book on 17th century hacking techniques (sort of) is here, btw). If the prejudice towards seeing progress on your own terms only remains in place, well….

I’ve been thinking about the Xu Bing exhibition on and off–more specifically, I’ve been thinking not about the large installation, or even the calligraphy lesson, but rather the large ink paintings whose “brushstrokes”, on closer inspection, turn out to be calligraphic narratives or comments on the image itself.

I suppose that kind of recursion of imagery should have put me in mind of various granular techniques. But instead, I was thinking along the lines transducing images into audio again. But this time, I was thinking about various recordings of that kind of work.

Of course, there’s Xenakis’ UPIC system, and Yasunao Tone’s work on the translation of images and ideograms into audio (you can find an example of his interesting in the translation of image into something else here, although this seems less connected to rendering Kanji). But these are not the first, though. That honor belongs to the ANS synthesizer, an optomechanical synthesizer / sound machine designed in the 1930s and built by Russian space scientists in the 1950s. There’s only one of `em in the world: this is it. There are a rather limited number of recordings of the instrument. The major one comes from Artemiy Artemeyev’s label Electroshock. You can find a review and some ANS info here. Stanislaw Kreitchi, one of the composers associated with the instrument, authored this article about composing for the instrument. He’s also got another recording of work out on Electroshock, Ansiana.

But what reminded me to mention this to you is the appearance of yet another ANS project, this time by Coil (augmented by Thighpaulsandra and Ivan Pavlov/CoH). If you’re expecting either the more visceral stuff that Coil’s been producing of late or the kind of rigor or the machine in the hands of the compsers like Denisov or Schnittke or Gubaidulina (whose works appear on the Electroshock compilation), you’ll probably be disappointed. This is really more the kind of work that (at sufficiently low playback levels) we’d think of as lowercase stuff–four hours worth of minimal, high-frequency drone. From the Coil catalog, I’d say that, say, “Time Machine” comes closest. And it’s pricey, too. Overall, if you’re not a Coil completist, I’d opt for the Electroshock compilation (that’s Volume IV of their electroacoustic music series). As of this writing Eurock seems to still have some.

I spent a pleasant afternoon at the museum, checking out a new installation by the Chinese artist Xu Bing. He was originally identified as part of the Xinchao–a group of younger Chinese artists who eschewed the prevailing socialist realism and conventions of representation. He left China following the massacre in Tienanmen Square. Interestingly, the Elvehjem Museum of Art right here in Madison hosted The his first exhibition outside of China.

Sadly, there aren’t any images of the new work out there, so I’ll have to tell you about it: it’s a large overhead “net” under the skylight consisting of a series of cast lead letters wired together that form a paragraph of text by Thoreau. In the midst of this paragraph, a kind of hole or vortex appears and descends to the floor, where it ends in a tangle of loose letters. It’s really quite arresting.

The exhibition also includes a couple of other installations, including his by-now-well-known calligraphy lesson. Like some other projects, this one uses an invented alphabet; from a distance, it appears to be a set of Chinese characters, but it’s actually composed of western letterforms done in a brush-painting style that resembles Chinese characters which are then arranged in various spatial configurations so that one word is composed of the arranged letters. Here is an example of this “new English calligraphy.” You can, with a little work, see some obvious words. If you’re at all familiar with radicals (the component parts of both Chinese and Japanese words), you’ll recognize how this works. It’s really intriguing. Here is an example on the left side of the webpage that shows Xu Bing’s name. There are a similar set of landscape paintings whose brushwork, when viewed at close range, dissolves into a set of Chinese characters that are narrative content about the image itself.

His work, for me, has the hallmarks of good installation work; it simply doesn’t translate to static images. One needs to be in its presence. If a lack of real presence bothers you, then this monograph goes into his work in considerably more exhaustive detail, or you can find a couple of short interviews with him here.

But I did find myself looking at the work and thinking about its sound, or rather what might be analogous to some of his ideas. I suppose I should say more about this in another posting.

I’ve been a bit busy and scattered recently, working on updating the Max/MSP docs, starting to puzzle over stuff that needs doing for the AES, and preparing for some upcoming live performances. So I’m sorry to have gone to ground. How can I make it up to you, gentle reader?

Rather than resorting to the algorithmic apathetic online journal generator, I figured that I could either keep silent, or start posting a logorrhetic stream of political musings, none of which would be nearly as much fun as, say, Wonkette.

So I thought I’d mention what’s been the office ambience during this hiatus. As a critic, I’m never certain about how to listen to new work… do you drop it on the iPod and cycle around lake Monona on a crisp fall day? Do you drop it into the N-disk changer (where N < 10) and play it to death for days? Do you sit down with a nice bottle of Mourvedre and listen to the thing intently in a dark room? Beats me. I probably did all three. So your mileage may vary greatly here, okay? In honor of the conventions of Carnatic Music, I’ll assign them contexts/times of day.

  • si-cut.db (Douglas Benford’s) first full-length release on Fällt (you might have heard him on the BiP-HOp compilation or a split releas on Fällt/BiP-HOp with Stephan Mathieu) is a real delight. It’s in that marvellous post-dub laptop territory with recordings like Deadbeat’s Something Borrowed, or (Joshua) Kit Clayton’s “Lateral Fault” work. Definitely post-9 PM, small pools of light.
  • Forgiving the blatant commercialism of it, someone’s sat down and remastered three of the original Ambient Music series albums (Music for Airports, The Plateaux of Mirror, On Land) and Eno’s original Discreet Music release from the Obscure Music label. In some ways, I’m a bit hard pressed to think of recordings with which I have spent more total time since their appearance (In a Silent Way? The Gould Goldberg Variations?). Great attentive remastering job–On Land, in particular, seems to me to benefit greatly, and they’ve even managed to scale back the wall of hiss on Music for Airport’s opener 1/1. Early morning, curtains half open, coffee smells drifting from the kitchen.
  • While the goal of listening widely is that treasured moment of surprise, some recordings are things you look forward to in the same way that you enjoy having lunch with an old, dear friend who’s visiting from out of town. Hearing the Blue Nile’s High is liking picking up a conversation that one paused over years back. While there are some moments in which new things intrude into the mix (some synths and scratchy guitars at the very edges of the mix’s soundstage and at nearly inaudible levels, it’s an album of the particular shade of blue and earnest emotion and intent that they’ve done so well for so long. Among my acquaintances, they’ve always been a shibboleth band: the persons I foist the recordings on either love them or loathe `em. Early evening, light rain, streetlights coming on.
  • Trumpeter Arve Henriksen’s first solo outing on Rune Grammofon, Sakuteiki, came as a bit of a revelation for me. A collection of different vignettes for solo trumpet bound together using the metaphor of a manual for garden design (from which the album takes its name). Since I am and remain a serious fan of the band in which Henriksen toils (Supersilent), I figured I’d give it a listen. It arrived as a curiosity and stayed as a permanent fixture and something on my Christmas gift “short list” for quite a while. His new release is considerably more lush and consistent in terms of soundstage, and adds percussion and sampling/vocalese into the mix. I expected that I’d find it less interesting than the spareness of Sakuteiki, but on some repeated listen, I think it is more along the lines of some of John Hassell’s less processed outings, or Graham Haynes’ trumpet work. Midafternoon, plate of small cookies, lowered blinds to check the autumn sun.
  • Uh-oh. This will be my second “guilty pop pleasure” in this batch. Oh well. In the days following the demise of Crowded House in the 90s, the Finn Brothers (ex Split Enz) have made a couple of quirky and modest recordings (often with Tchad Blake engineering) that I’ve found satisfying affairs in the way that you can enjoy a great Guided by Voices recording. Their new Everyone Is Here appears to opt for a considerably more intimate kind of sound (and an arguably less um, “exploratory” production than either Neil Finn’s “Try Whistling This” or the last Finn Brothers release. There are even some singles here (do we even have those things anymore?). Once you’re willing to forgive someone for still writing love songs or treasuring the occasional hook, the rest is easy. I cannot claim to know how satisfying this material is for listeners whose working definition of pop music is Franz Ferdinand or the Strokes, but it works for me. Perfect for lunchtime omelettes or bike rides, too.

My goodness, what quotidian tastes I have come to have! I shall proceed on the assumption that one of the great emotional or intellctual or spiritual tests of bloggery lies in attempting to be one’s self (and to do so unapologetically) and post this anyway.Oh–I know. I can say slightly less complimentary things about something. Um… I really wanted to like Bjork’s Medulla more than I did. Great idea, potentially risky but rewarding territory–everything I should be cheering for. But much of it feels novel rather than satisfying on repeated listen. If this hadn’t followed on the heels of Vespertine and the collaborative work–recorded and live–with Matmos and Zeena Parkins, I might feel very differently. But I guess I respect the gesture more than liking the result.

So, you think that the web is just a bunch of ranting and sixties lampshades over, and over again? Well, cheer up–some kind soul has posted instructions for making your own steadycam using humble hardware store parts. I think we all owe the guy a drink.

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 :-) .

20 questions

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….

One might be forgiven for assuming that I was totally uninterested in a single moment of more television after the exciting spectacle of the New York convention, and that I might be drawn instead to a good book, strong drink, or downloadable Zep videos starring fierce kitties.Actually, it was the kitties that did it-something our plucky blog-enabler Zen sysadmin master Wally-sama said about The Littlest Immigrants: “Nothing triggers latent genius like Flash.” I found myself wondering what might be the equivalent of such things for earlier generations, and before you know it I was poking around looking for the neolithic progenitors of QuickTime….

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….

For all the cheerful chatter about objects that fill the world and the pleasures (great and small) that fill our lives, the facts of fragility and transience remain; all the lists we can make and fill and all the bunkers we can build and all the sizzling neural bundles we can muster will put those reliable nonfictions to flight only for a moment. I awoke this morning to find a sniffly J. at her laptop bearing a double litany of grief of two very different kinds-the terrible accountings that follow the seige of a Russian school whose teachers and students (and some of their parents) were held hostage, and the destruction by fire of the Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, one of the world’s great repositories of German literature….

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.

Please ignore my previous mutterings about why I’d want to horse around with my microwave or the robovacuum–I have proof that Bluetooth is good for something after all!

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.

There’s a readerly equivalent to hearing that absolutely godlike bit of a pop song: the well-turned phrase that says something with greater precision than you yourself could manage, but manages to do so in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling stupid and inarticulate.
For me, Adam Gopnik is one of the writers who does this with ease and considerable frequency. I’m kind of amazed that I made it all the way through my mini-book-pointer thingie about soccer without mentioning Adam’s positively amazing piece on the World Cup, which appeared originally in the New Yorker and is reprinted in his wonderful antidote to bonehead Francotrashing “Paris to the Moon”. You’ll find an excerpt from the book here.

<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 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.

One of the 2004 recordings that hasn’t ever strayed far from my iPod playlist or the CD player in my “office” is Deathprod’s Morals and Dogma from that ever-plucky bastion of Nordic excellence Rune Grammofon. I’m a fairly serious fan of Supersilent, the Norwegian improvisatory ensemble which counts Helge Sten (that’s Mr. Deathprod to you) as one of its members, and have foisted their divine fifth release (called simply 5, with pieces named 5.1, 5.2, etc. to avoid any title referents) on many unsuspecting friends and radio listeners. The first place I’d heard the name Deathprod was on a remix disc of Norwegian electroacoustic pioneer Arne Nordheim that he’d done along with Geir Jenssen (Biosphere). In fact, I was so not-disappointed with the big, dark, wet slabs of hovering weave I’d heard before that I decided to spring for Deathprod, a “box set” version that includes the new disc, two long out-of-print recordings from the early 90s, and a disc of unreleased early work. You can’t fault either Sten or Kim Hiorthoy’s design for being too busy-a lovely black box full of lovely black digipacks with just enough information (in the helpful book) to help you tell them apart and identify which disc is which.That’s how the wax cylinder recording came drifting back into my life.

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 Tapes1st 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! 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.