This coffee machine encountered at the University of Lausanne (thanks Olivier G. for pointing me this example) seems like an interesting example of an everyday situation reconfigured by digital technology. Apart from cash, coffee drinkers can use their RFID "campus card" (see the plastic things that hold the card on the reader), which also happens to open door and pay restaurants among other tasks:
Why do I blog this? documenting the digital everyday, as mundane as it may be.
An inspiring article in ACM interactions called "on the importance and implications of studying technology non-use" by Eric Baumer, Jenna Burrell, Morgan Ames, Jed Brubaker and Paul Dourish. It revolves around the idea that the "the dominant discourse in HCI still focuses primarily on technology users" and that "non-use and other forms of technological relationships" are both common and relevant to analyze. The topic that caught my attention is the typology of non-usage:
"Non-use could be understood as the absence of action and, as such, may not be amenable to study through methods traditionally used to study participants’ actions. [...] In contrast, Jonathan Lukens’s study of visual artists who avoid using tools such as Photoshop for specific portions of their work demonstrates how non-use can require as much, if not more, conscious, deliberate, effortful action as technology use does. In this way, while non-use is often understood as the absence of a phenomenon or practice, something else likely exists in place of use, and it is that something we should be studying. [...] Lindsay Ems’s research highlights that even individuals or groups famous for non-use, such as the Amish, do not avoid information and communication technologies entirely, but rather selectively take them up, mediated by cultural norms and religious values. [...] non-use could be understood not as an identity, where a given individual is either a user or a non-user, but rather as a continually negotiated practice. For example, Alex Leavitt’s work studying situational non-use of Google Glass points to the moment-to-moment negotiations, often around privacy, between the Glass wearer and others about when and how the technology should (and should not) be used."
See also the position papers from the workshop that led to this paper.
Why do I blog this? Because this kind of blind spot might be interesting to focus on in a design ethnography class.
"Activate switch", "Touch to Exit", "Push to Exit", "Press to operate door": the vocabulary of doors is impressive here.
The "Legend of Zelda" watch is a multi-purpose device made by Nelsonic Industries, who obtained the Nintendo license back at the end of the 1980s. According to the Wikipedia, 12 million copies were sold, which is quite impressive and perhaps better than recent watch computers.
Is that a smartwatch? That's maybe not the main point here, but it's intriguing to think about the fact that there's already a lot of examples (like this) of showing how computation can help triggering a playful user experience on a wrist-based tiny device.
Beyond the functionalities, I'm also curious of the gestural behavior of the user here. The manipulation of the buttons is tricky but doable, although it's way different than the NES version of Zelda.
WORLD BRAIN by Stéphane Degoutin and Gwenola Wagon:
World Brain proposes a stroll through motley folkloric tales : data centers, animal magnetism, the Internet as a myth, the inner lives of rats, how to gather a network of researchers in the forest, how to survive in the wild using Wikipedia, how to connect cats and stones… The world we live in often resembles a Borgesian story. Indeed, if one wanted to write a sequel to Borges’ Fictions, he could do it simply by putting together press articles. The World Brain is made out mostly of found materials : videos downloaded on Youtube, images, scientific or pseudo scientific reports, news feeds… The project describes the planetary network surrounding us and offers theoretical tools to interpret it. It considers the perverse effects of the universal connection, and the risk for the individuals to become numb, under the reign of collective intelligence. Its goal is to build an alternative project for the survival of mankind. [...] World Brain takes the viewer through a journey inside the physical places by which the Internet transits: submarine cables, data centers, satellites. The film adopts the point of view of the data. The audience view the world as if they were information, crossing the planet in an instant, copied in an infinite number of instances or, at the contrary, stored in secret places.
Why do I blog this? This film nicely complements Timo Arnall's contemplative movie "Internet Machine". This is obviously interesting wrt to a project I'm working on related to cloud computing.
"Listen to the world of tomorrow"
Last week, Julian recommended me this book called "Super Sad True Love" by Gary Shteyngart. A long flight over to Fog City CA gave me plenty of time to peruse it carefully. It's a good novel set in a near future dominated by media, retail/commerce and the collapse of the US economy. It feels a bit like Steak crossed with Idiocracy.
There are many interesting and humorous bits in the book (the critique of media/retail, the transhumanists perspective) but what caught my attention is the way smartphone usage is portrayed. Shteyngart use the term "äppärät" to refer to smartphone/mobile devices. The book offers various descriptions that shed some light on current socio-technological rituals, and upcoming ones:
About the device behavior:
"my äppärät buzzing with contacts, data, pictures, projections, maps, incomes, sound, fury"
"my äppärät began to produce its “heavy thinking” noises, a wheel desperately spinning inside its hard plastic shell, its ancient circuitry completely overtaxed by the otter and his antics. The words ERROR CODE IT/FC-GS/FLAG appeared on the screen"
"I’m learning to worship my new äppärät’s screen, the colorful pulsating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors."
"My äppärät pinged."
"But even he seemed unimpressed, glancing impatiently at his äppärät, which was alive with at least seven degrees of information, numbers and letters and Images stacked on the screen, flowing and eddying against one another as the waters of the Tiber once did."
On device usage and gesturing practices:
"A half-dozen of my fellow citizens were seated behind their chewed-up desks, mumbling lowly into their äppäräti. There was an earplug lying slug-dead on an empty chair, and a sign reading INSERT EARPLUG IN EAR, PLACE YOUR ÄPPÄRÄT ON DESK, AND DISABLE ALL SECURITY SETTINGS."
"I took out my äppärät, flicked it open in a gesture that was au courant maybe a decade ago, held it stupidly in front of me, put it back in my shirt pocket, then reached for a nearby bottle and refilled my glass."
"my äppärät picked up on some scan-able faces, an old-time porno star and a slick guy from Mumbai just starting out on his first worldwide Retail empire."
"I took out my äppärät and began to thump it loudly with my finger to show how much I loved all things digital, while sneaking nervous glances at the throbbing cavern around me, the wine-dulled business travelers lost to their own electronic lives."
"I took out my äppärät, but noticed that the new kids all had the new pebble-like model around their necks, the kind Eunice had worn."
"I lay in my bed, listening to Eunice teening furiously on her äppärät in the living room."
"her index fingers raised above the book as if ready to tap at the BUY ME NOW symbol on her äppärät,"
"Shu descended into another äppärät reverie. I did the same, pretending it was something serious and work-related, but really I was just GlobalTracing Eunice’s location."
Of course, there's a lot on social rituals, scanning, personal scores (which reminded me of Doctorow's reputation currency called 'whuffie') and surveillance:
"My äppärät data were sampled and scanned to a military äppärät by a young man who seemed to be missing a face beneath his cap’s long green visor."
"he wasn’t there. He didn’t have an äppärät, or it wasn’t set on “social” mode, or maybe he had paid some young Russian kid to have the outbound transmission blocked."
"They trooped past me, surprised, agitated, bemused, their äppäräti already projecting data about me, perhaps telling them how little I meant, my thirty-nine-year-old obsolescence."
"We need to get you a new äppärät,” he said. “You’re going to have to learn to surf the data streams better. Learn to rank people quicker.”
"Shu, a goddamn relentless immigrant in the mode of my janitor father but with English and good board scores on his side, was dealing with three äppäräti at once, his callused fingertips and spitfire Chinatown diction abuzz with data and the strong, dull hope that he was squarely in control."
“Learn how to use this thing immediately,” Shu told me. “Especially the RateMe part. Learn to rate everyone around you. Get your data in order. Switch on CrisisNet and follow all the latest. An ill-informed salesman is dead in the water these days. Get your mind in the right place."
"I put the name of my oldest Media pal, Noah Weinberg, into my äppärät and learned that he would be airing our reunion live on his GlobalTeens stream, “The Noah Weinberg Show!,” which made me nervous at first, but, then, this is exactly the kind of thing I have to get used to if I’m going to make it in this world"
“Damn, cabrón,” Noah said, eyeing my pebble. “Whuddat, a 7.5 with RateMe Plus? I’m going to stream that shit fucking close-up.” He filmed my äppärät with his äppärät, while I swallowed another mug of triglycerides."
“‘FAC? What’s that? Who am I? Where’s my diaper?’” “It means ‘Form A Community,’” Vishnu said. “It’s, like, a way to judge people. And let them judge you.” He took my äppärät, and slid some settings until an icon labeled “FAC” drifted onto the screen. “When you see FAC, you press the EmotePad to your heart, or wherever it can feel your pulse.” Vishnu pointed out the sticky thing on the back of my äppärät that I thought could be used to attach it to a dashboard or a fridge. Wrong again. “Then,” Vishnu continued, “you look at a girl. The EmotePad picks up any change in your blood pressure. That tells her how much you want to do her.”
“Set up your Community Parameters. Make it ‘Immediate Space 360’—that’ll cover the whole bar. Now look at a girl, then press the pad to your heart.” I looked at the pretty brunette, at the hairless crotch glowing from within her see-through Onionskin jeans, at the lithe body crouched imperiously atop a set of smooth legs, at her worried smile. Then I touched my heart with the back of my äppärät, trying to fill it with my warmth, my natural desire for love. The girl across the bar laughed immediately without even turning my way. A bunch of figures appeared on my screen: “FUCKABILITY 780/800, PERSONALITY 800/800, ANAL/ORAL/VAGINAL PREFERENCE 1/3/2.”
“The personality score depends on how ‘extro’ she is,” Vishnu explained. “Check it out. This girl done got three thousand–plus Images, eight hundred streams, and a long multimedia thing on how her father abused her. Your äppärät runs that against the stuff you’ve downloaded about yourself and then it comes up with a score. Like, you’ve dated a lot of abused girls, so it knows you’re into that shit"
"Vishnu worked my äppärät until some RANKINGS came up. He helped me navigate the data. “Out of the seven males in the Community,” he said, gesturing around the bar, “Noah’s the third hottest, I’m the fourth hottest, and Lenny’s the seventh.” “You mean I’m the ugliest guy here?” I ran my fingers through the remnants of my hair. “But you’ve got a decent personality,” Vishnu comforted me, “and you’re second in the whole bar in terms of SUSTAINABILIT¥.”
And finally on attention and disconnection:
"She really listened to me. She paid attention to me. She never even looked at her äppärät while I was speaking to her."
"My äppärät isn’t connecting. I can’t connect. No one’s äppäräti are working anymore. “It’s an NNEMP,” all the thirty something Media wizards hanging out in the lobby of our building are saying with finality. A Nonnuclear Electromagnetic Pulse."
"Eunice had opened up her äppärät and was concentrating on the last shopping page stored in its memory before communications collapsed. I could see she had instinctively opened a LandOLakes Credit Payment stream, but every time she tried to input her account info, she ended up throwing her head back as if stung. “I can’t buy anything,” she said. “Eunice,” I said. “You don’t have to buy anything. Go to bed.
Why do I blog this? I started recently a follow-up project to "Curious Rituals", in which I'm exploring smartphone usage. I'm mostly interested in people's gestural and postural habits with these devices. Shteyngart's writing is spot and offer a fascinated perspective on this topic. The humor and accuracy of his descriptions are impressive and it's fascinated to see how such a novel offer a good ethnographic perspective on mobile technology. The fact that it's set in the near future is also pertinent, as some of the features are just a stretch from existing practices.
Last week at Lift 15, I ran a 2-hours workshop with José Achache from the European Space Agency. The idea was to discuss emerging technologies (geopositioning, telecommunications, image capture from satellite) developed by ESA and look at the near future worlds in which they exist: what kind of experiences would come to pass if the world were to be filled with such technologies? What kinds of services may appear? How would they be sold, to whom? What kinds of objects may be designed for everyday use?
With a group of engineers, entrepreneurs and designers, we created a list of service concepts that we described as catalogue items (we re-used here the same template we had for the TBD catalog project). One can see this as a wrap-up of some of the ideas we generated. Each concept is based on a combination of existing technology and we described them as if they were real product sold with a name, a short description, a reference point, and – of course – a price.
In such a small amount of time, it is definitely tricky to produce things like this. Mostly because: participants do not all know each other, we had different "culture" that need time to adjust to one another, it's hard to go from technological potential to service concepting, etc. But overall, the groups did pretty well and some of the ideas we kept seem quite pertinent and plausible I think.
Thank to all the participants (M. Pache, C. Chalas, E. Ndiaye, B. Kerspern, M. Mollon, C. Brand, G. Castrati, E. Hary, P. Tarbouriech, F. Ronse, P. Kiernan, A. Grant, E. Rosenberg, Y. Akhtman, E. Montanari, G. Reboud, N. Huebner, G. Martin de Mercado, D. Tomassini). Thank Constance Delamadeleine for the graphic design help. Plus, thanks José Achache, ESA, the Lift team and Sylvie Reinhard for this opportunity to collaborate.
This is a new book I just released with my colleagues Lysianne Léchot-Hirt (HEAD–Genève) and Fabienne Kilchör / Sebastien Fasel (Emphase.ch). It's the result of a research project we conducted in 2013-2014 on how designers repurposed ethnography to their own needs and perspective. We basically conducted a series of interviews and observation session with designers to describe the approaches we encountered.
Here's the book blurb:
"What do designers mean when they say they’re going to do “ethnography” and “field research”? What are the relationships between observing people and designing products or services? Is there such a thing as a “designerly” way of knowing people? This book is a report from a research project conducted at HEAD – Genève that addressed the role of people-knowing in interaction/media design. It describes the wide breadth of approaches used by designers to frame their work, get inspiration or speculate about plausible futures. This book presents practitioners’ tactics and illustrates them with several cases. Unlike many resources on user-centered design, it takes a broader approach to design by considering cases in which design is not only a problem-solving activity, but a tool to speculate about the near future, reformulate problems or propose a critical discourse on society. In doing so, this book helps designers, students and consultants to challenge their own perceptions and update their approaches."
The book is a collective effort, with texts from John Thackara, Julian Bleecker, Sara Ljungblad, Gilles Baudet, Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, James Auger, Virginia Cruz and Nicolas Gaudron, Liam Young, Fabian Hemmert, Steve Portigal, Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić, Anne-Catherine Sutermeister and Jean-Pierre Greff.
It can be purchased online here at we-make.it
Few weeks ago, Joel recommended me the work of Stephen Willats, and more specifically this book called "Between Buildings and People". I found it this week in my mailbox (I've bought a second-hand copy that the owner may have read in his bathtub, hence the concave look on the pics).
Based on a series of interviews, observations and photographic documentation, Willats examines the relationship between people and the built environment. His purpose was to investigate the influence of modernist architecture on people and how it's expressed materially. Although this goal is a tad deterministic for my taste, I find the result fascinating and inspiring. The most interesting bit IMO lays in the ways Willats present the material he produced. See for instance the use of pictures along with interviews, or the diagrams he draw on photographic depictions of the environment:
"Living with practical realities" (1978) is another example of Willat's work that I enjoyed as well:
"Living with Practical Realities was made with an elderly woman who lived on her own in a tower block in Hayes, West London. The work centres on the isolation of the elderly symbolised, physically and socially, by the tower block. This is one of the early works in which Willats used the actual content of audio recordings and his photographic documentations that had been made with the co-operation of the woman, directly within the work"
Why do I blog this? I'm currently working on a follow-up to the Curious Rituals project. My goal is to investigate people's relationship and use of smartphones (with a focus on gestures). Willat's work is highly inspiring both as a research protocol and as a way to present research results in ethnographic research. The descriptive potential of this work is really interesting. Perhaps it's because of his artist background that I find this more advanced than what I usually see in visual sociology – it might appear non-academic from this POV as Willats do not necessarily follow all the "rules" but it's certainly stimulating.
For instance, I find the image diagrams clearly relevant and insightful. I haven't read the whole book so I'm not sure about the underlying methodology here, but it's compelling. It reminds me another example of design analysis that I find interesting: the use of photomontage and overlay annotation described by Dan Hill for a workshop he did back in 2009:
"last week I tried a technique with them that I've often used myself. Writing on photographs of an average street scene, we asked students to imagine all the data that could be derived from the scene via sensors (in the broadest sense of the word), and then go on to sketch interventions or hacks into those scenes, drawn from such data sources."
While Willat's approach is descriptive, Hill's proposal is projective (it's a design workshop) but both revolves around the idea of annotating images; which I find inspiring an relevant to my own research.
"Ethical Things" by Matthieu Cherubini and Simone Rebaudengo is a fascinating exploration of autonomous systems and "smart" objects:
"The 'Ethical Things' project looks at how an object, facing everyday ethical dilemmas, can keep a dose of humanity in its final decision while staying flexible enough to accommodate various ethical beliefs.In order to achieve that, our "ethical fan" connects to a crowd-sourcing website every time it faces an ethical dilemma. It posts the dilemma it's facing and awaits the help of one of the "workers", or mechanical turks, who will tell the fan how to behave. Thus, it assures that the decision executed by the system is the fruit of real human moral reasoning. Moreover, the fan is designed to let the user set various traits (such as religion, degree, sex, and age) as criterion to choose the worker who should respond to the dilemma, in order to assure that a part of the user's culture and belief system is in line with the worker, or ethical agent.(Should it be a middle-aged Muslim male with a PhD or a young Atheist female?)"
Why do I blog this? This is a curious investigation mundane and insignificant objects of our everyday lives. It's a good example of a human/non-human collaboration flux based on the articulation of networked objects and crowdsourcing.
In the last weeks of December, I blogged about this fascinating project called "Supercargo: a parable of desire". In this tumblr collecting intriguing examples of current cargo cults, Peter Moosgaard provides us with an exhaustive display of what he calls "Supercargo". He defines it as "ritual appropriation + subversive mimickry". I'm definitely mesmerized by these examples, which I find both curious and revealing; which is why I started chatting with Peter. This is the resulting interview:
Nicolas Nova: Can you tell us more about your supercargo tumblr? What's the logic behind it and how did you become interested in this?
Peter Moosgaard: I think it was about 2005 in south-tirol when i read about cargo cults on a trivial persuit card. i was studying digital arts at that time and got extremely bored with technology. Media arts and digital culture seemed too much about technological progress at that time. everybody was just celebrating technology itself, but technology is never just a cool tool. its pure ideology. the artistic approaches on the other hand were extremely lame. do you know ars electronica festival? it became more and more of a toy expo. i was intrigued by the cargo cults because they celebrated and mocked technology, culture, imperialsim at the same time. i thought, well maybe theres a strategy! when i was crippled by a major depression and panic attacs in 2013 i started the Supercargo Blog. i found myself completely unable to work, but could still surf tumblr, repost stuff etc .. posting became a daily ritual for me and it still is. i just try to put together sets of images with found material, maybe some day i will be able to work again.
NN: There seems to be a growing interest in this kind of projects, this sort of logic. I'm thinking about this Futur Archaïque exhibit in Belgium I mentioned, but also other art/design projects related to it. Why do you feel this is happening now?
PM: I think something like this is in the air, and its getting bigger. why, i dont know .. maybe its an archaic revival in connection with digital media. Terence McKenna described that conclusively decades ago, and i think he is still right. as advanced these technologies are, they set us back into a mystic perception, a general attraction to archaic forms. we just have to adapt to immense data income every day, logic has to be set aside simply to cope with a hypernervous global culture. it all becomes archaic and mythological. it is just a necessary strategy. another more mundane explanation would be, that people are just getting fed up with the slick, sterile utopia apple is trying to sell us.
NN: Do you see this relate to this "post-digital" art scene that we see popping up these days? A need to go beyond the digital?
PM: Yes the postdigital aspect was always very important in my work. i started making postinternet stuff before it even had a name. i tried to see art and technology from the viewpoint of the simple consumer. basically because i myself had no skills at all, no programming skills, no crafting skills etc .. and i find everybody can relate to that everything else is not subversive/emancipatory in my eyes. in my view we´re more and more trying to work like machines, like computers. but how would a simple human do that, not trying to imitate a machine? the postdigital has many forms, and with "supercargo" i took my simplistic position. use only poor materials, embrace capitalist mythology, make a second hand utopia. its a free party from now on!
NN: Lots of these projects are fascinating because they interrogate us about the nature/culture debate. From your perspective, as an astute observer of such projects, what do they tell us about our relationship to technology?
PM: Culture, art and technology are basically utopia factories. you can relate and research (maybe subvert) that in form of simple products. messianic devices, artwork masterpieces, they are part of a larger system. they all have their histories, rules, all these invisible forces manifest in products. the way i see it, we are living in a time governed by cybernetics alone. it was allways in the interest of cybernetics to describe organisms and technology alike. to make a supersystem for processes be it biological or cultural. that is frightening in the end. anyway, maybe through cybernetic thinking we can realise that technology isn't artificial at all. we are just a material processing species, like bees producing honeycombs. i find it interesting to look at the material world again, as we are absorbed in informational worlds. Mcluhan said that every new medium absorbs the old media as its content, therefore making it visible AGAIN. Look at todays TV Shows, they became an artform after the internet absorbed TV. Now the World itelf is upon total simulation. The physical world is becoming visible for the first time i think, and material world will be a cult- a fetish.
NN: It's interesting to see Cargo Cults as the new sort of belief, beyond the Western/non-Western distinction, a sort of general perspective on things with a strange relationship to consumerism and material culture, what's your take on this?
PM: As written in the Supercargo Manifesto: Surprisingly the local performers of the Cargo Cults succeeded: By remaking western technology with bamboo, they attracted actual planes full of tourists and anthropologists. People got interested in the exotic parades using western imagery. The John Frum Movement (“John from Merica”) suddenly had an audience, soon bringing actual stuff (cargo) to the island. The cargo shaman once said: You build your plane too and wait in faith. the waiting is the hardest part. According to some shamans the planes awaited will also bring weapons to throw off colonialist oppressors. The cargo cults are strange mockups of imperialism, at the same time keeping old traditions. But is the cult for real or just performance? It does not matter, no difference, it is about the act. The Tale of the Cargo ringing true on so many levels. The cult of the cargo is our world exactly: We perform meaningless routines we call work,in hope for future cargo. With a technology that could navigate us to the moon, we write LMAO. The western world itself is a giant cult of imitating things that somehow work: dressing in suits, using buzzword-vocabulary, mimicking old forms of art. who knows why.. The longing for godlike goodies on the horizon, the usage of things we don´t understand: a big parable of desire. The waiting, the waiting is the hardest part!
NN: thanks for your answers and good luck with the project, keep us posed.
"Supercargo: a parable of desire" by Peter Moosgaard looks like one of the most interesting tumblr I've seen in months. It's a set of pictures that highlight the evolution of material culture. I haven't seen in any textual description about it but I can't help inferring the meaning of these things. It actually feel very close to the Gothic High-Tech/Favela Chic dialectic described by Bruce Sterling (in this speech), the sort of visual equivalent to vapourwave built on the debris of the plastic/computing culture of the last 20 years... the equivalent to the cargo cult that occurred few decades ago in Melanesia as the paradigmatic metaphor of our material everyday.
Why do I blog this? Collecting examples of curious projects that show the evolution of material culture is a good way to think about new typologies. These ones are particularly intriguing.
For those who asked, here's the list of the tracks I've included in the 8-bit reggae book. Definitely not exhaustive but a good list of tunes that inspired me. Of course there's not just chip music as the book started with the evolution of reggae.
Jody Bigfoot: "Nintempo riddim - Heathen dub"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"
The Jolly Boys: "Touch Me Tomato"
The Skatalites: "Scandal ska"
Higgs & Wilson: "Manny Oh"
Desmond Dekker: "'007' (Shanty Town)"
The Wailers: "Simmer Down"
Prince Buster: "Judge Dread"
Folkes Brothers: "Oh! Carolina"
Toots and the Maytals "Do the Reggay"
The Paragons: "On The Beach"
Lee Perry: "People Funny Boy"
Lee Perry "Clint Eastwood"
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Prince Jammy: "Conspiracy on Neptune (Destroys the Invaders)"
The Clash: The Guns of Brixton""
Papa Levi: "Mi God Mi King"
Smiley Culture: "Cockney Translation"
Dub Syndicate: " Ravi Shankar
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Wayne Smith: "Under Me Sleng Teng"
Shabba Ranks: "Get Up Stand Up and Rock"
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Balloon Fight"
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka: "Wrecking Crew"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 001"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 000"
The Secret Of Monkey Island
Henry Homesweet: "Out-House #11"
Dubmood: "Pressure Drop" (Atari-Ska L’Atakk)
Puppa Jim: "I am a robot"
Quarta 330: "Sunset Dub"
Helgeland 8-bit Squad: "Psybeam Riddim"
Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up!"
The J. Arthur Keenes Band: "Expelling Bee"
Burro Banton: "Badder dan dem"
Black Chow feat. Pupajim: "Signs”
Goto80: "Steel Egg"
Raquel Meyers and Goto80: "2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 001 Echidna, moder till alla monster"
Goto80: "bababy dubub"
Extraboy: "Flintskall dub"
wellwellsound: "Super Marley World"
LEGO Sounds "Dubologist Encephalogram"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"
2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 005. EXEDUB
??? "Burgerville in 3D"
Snoop Lion: "Here comes the King"
A great talk by Kevin Slavin at Eyeo 2013 Ignite, that I transcribed as a background research effort for a book project on internet memes:
“[Image of a bird flock flying around altogether] This is kind of the freebirds of birds. This is like an image anybody can use in a presentation. I used it to talk about this thing that is super profound, it was used earlier today by Mary Franck, to talk about this thing that is fundamentally profound, which is what happens when you start to understand what happens when all these things start to operate in an emergent way and something appear that you couldn’t possibly imagine. You can sort of see this at every scale, i used it to talk about the stock markets, some people used it to talk about the internet, or birds and bugs, but also us, you know, like cells and neurons, genes and chromosomes, that’s basically all we are.
There’s maybe a hundred trillion pieces of genetic information that somehow assemble and put you here on the stage for a couple of minutes, and somehow there is a magic to that that’s not perfectly understood but the part that put the buzz on your head is that only 10% of that genetic information is actually human, and that the rest, like the bacteria inside your mouth, 90% of what’s inside you isn’t really you, it’s a bunch of independent agents that are sort of doing their own thing, they’re not human in any way we understand it, and not all of them are on your side.
So, this is Toxoplasma Gondii [Picture of a bacteria]. If each one of you looks to left or the right of you, one of you brought this here tonight, so it’s about 33% of the global population has this moving through him, and give something called Toxoplasmosis, can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t hear it but this is what it does: it changes your behavior, it gives you ADHD, it gives you OCD, causes schizophrenia, suicide, enhances the likelihood of you taking a risk and you are more likely to crash your car. It’s real, 1/3 of you, it affects tennis players, olympic runners, hangs out with nobility, affects sea otter with some weird favoritisme… and this is where it gets weird, is Louis Wain, this poor guy, Toxoplasmosis very seriously, led to schizophrenia, Louis Wain gets it. His wife get very very sick, independently, and they adopt a feral cat, and in the process of caring for his wife, he falls in love for the cat a little bit. There’s a couple of things that we know, we know he got Toxoplasmosis very badly and we know that he started drawing cats. And then we know this other things, which is that then through Toxoplasmosis, he developed schizophrenia, he was institutionalised for basically most of this life, and never stopped drawing cats, compulsively, obsessively over and over again. And as they go, it’s like they look a little bit more and more like the virus itself maybe, it’s like a creepy idea. And how do you get there? It gets there through the cat, through the cat shit which somehow is transmitted to his mouth and up into his brain. This is basically how this little virus moves through the world. But how did the cat get it? Well, the answer is surprising. Probably, a mouse, which is weird because mice and cats are not really supposed to hang out together really. Maybe in a fucking cartoon you can imagine such a thing but in reality, this is not really what mice are supposed to do [Picture of Tom and Jerry]. They’re supposed to smell cat piss and be like.. well I’ll go over here because there’s obviously danger over here… unless the mouse has Toxoplasmosis, in which case all of that gets rewired in the brain and it says “hey there’s a cat over there, let’s hang out”.
So, basically, hangs out leads to very predictable results, which are: the cat ends up eating the mouse, which is how the Toxoplasmosis enters another cat, moves, and is then adopted by some poor bastard who transmit it. The question is: what happens when it hits a human? It’s that they have to get more humans to love more cats. And they start drawing cats. And the damage that this guy does is nothing. The damage down there is… this is what’s happening now [videos of cats running around]. This is where is gets serious, this is like cumulatively billions views, this is serious serious shit. This is get global affairs and by the way Walker Art Center fuck you! The Internet Cat Video Festival what are you doing? This is like a virus curator with federal art funds to deal with now, and you look at this [video of a cat on a Roomba vacuum robot] and you see a virus curator, and this is a virus that has somehow hijacked a cat, and also hijacked a robot. And you know what? No good can come of this. Because it’s not just in this machine, it’s deep deep on the networks [Image of a Nyan Cat], you look at this and you see a vector for a transmission, you see a virus being transmitted on into eternity into the future. And every cat video and cat meme, they’re cute and they’re funny but there’s also something happening in there. Everytime you hit share, and everytime you hit like, think about what little piece of you, really likes it, and why.”
Why do I blog this? Because it's a fascinating-and-entertaining description of a common phenomenon these days.
Currently at the Media design seminar here at the Geneva School of Art and Design, we discussed this interesting way to explain the notion of modularity. Called, "the parable of the two watchmakers", It's from Herbert Simon and it nicely explains the relationship of simple and complex systems (organic and social):
"There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently and new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered while Tempus became poorer and poorer. In the end, Tempus lost his shop. What was the reason behind this? The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Tempus made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch, it immediately fell into pieces and had to be reassembled from the basic elements. Hora had designed his watches so that he could put together sub-assemblies of about ten components each, and each sub-assembly could be put down without falling apart. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly, and ten of the larger sub-assemblies constituted the whole watch."
Why do I blog this? This looks like a good way to introduce the notion of modularity, using an analogy which is understandable (as opposed to the use of fractals by other authors).
The writing of the 8-bit reggae book relied on a variety of sources: books, LPs, cassette tapes, soundcloud tracks, FB groups, meeting with artists and producers, etc. Among them I had a fruitful exchange with Anders 'Goto80' Carlsson (see also his weblog), who is a chipmusician and demoscener since 1992. Goto80 actually made a special track for the book, which is great:
And here's the interview also featured in the book; it basically explains a lot of this sub-genre:
NN: We talked about reggae/dub and chip music for this case study, that's obviously the basis for producing this track. Beyond that starting point, how did you compose it?
Goto80: I realized that I had never made my own version of Stalag so I loaded defMON on the Commodore 64, made the bassline, and took it from there. During the past years I've been making quite "associative" arrangements, where the song never ends as it starts. I realized while composing this that the technique fits really well with dub. As long as you keep the bassline you have a lot of freedom to add bizarre sounds and melodies.
What make the song sound like dub is essentially bass line, tempo and ornamentations like echoes. When it's accompanied by hi-hats and off-beat chords (arpeggios) you get the reggae vibe too. I did this one in major, to get that easy kind of vibe, with simple and slightly fragmented melodies that echo out in space. A good example of that is also my "Papaya Dub" from the Papaya 7" from 2001
I consider dub not so much as an aesthetic as a way of working. I like to "put hens on the mixer" as Lee Perry did. But instead of putting hens on the C64, I program it manually. I become the hen, because in dub there should be things that stick out, make no sense and explode your expectations. Sometimes you make lucky mistakes that give that feeling, sometimes you have to make an effort to get it in there. It's always a challenge to not resort to the usual digital glitches or the platforms' typical tricks, and instead tap into the reggae world. This is tricky, since chip tools are so strongly connected to traditional Western conceptions of rhythm, tonality and arrangement.
NN: What makes reggae and dub relevant (or original) for chip music?
Goto80: When making dub/reggae with chiptools there are some things that are extra tricky. Three examples:
- Rhythmically there is usually a kind of swing that runs throughout a dub/reggae song. Individual percussive elements can also be triggered slightly off-beat to emphasize it, or make it more groovy. It can be very very tricky to program something which sounds like something that can come very natural when playing the instrument live.
- Instrumentation-wise, it can be tricky to get percussive instruments to sound good. The C64 can produce very complex sounds, but due to the bugs, it can be complicated to make them sound snappy.
- Finally, ornamentation is hard. Especially with music that is supposed to sound like it's being played live. To get the pitch bends, vibrato and slides to sound like an instrument being played by a human. Also, simulating echoes and reverb can be quite a challenge. There are various ways to do it, but it essentially means programming the echoes by hand. While this seems like limitation and a waste of time, there is something very positive about it too. It means that you can control the echo and change it over time. When you use normal dub technology you have very limited control of the echo once you've started it. But in defMON I can change the notes of an echo and turn it into a new melody, for example.
One thing that makes the C64 suitable for dub, is that the hardware is a bit unpredictable. You get different pops and clicks each time you play a song due to the so called ADSR-bug. It's possible to fix it in software, but I often choose to keep it raw. This, in my opinion, relates to dub production with lo-fi and slightly out-of-control machines. If you allow yourself to put external effects on the C64, you can get a very rich sound (see my 2SLEEP1 release).
Something else that unites dub & chipmusic is that both have a very strong focus on the tools or the process. Chipmusic can be pretty much anything made with an 8-bit platform (according to some), and you can make a dub version of pretty much any song (according to some). There is something robust at the base of chip & dub, with a strong connection to technology, which makes these genres a bit more stable than for example R&B or House which today sounds extremely different from what they once did.
NN : Can you elaborate on the importance of glitches/bugs in this track/your work? Is that something that forces you to change the approach in composing reggae/dub tracks when using chip tech?
Goto80: For me personally, dub is supposed to be a bit messy and mistakey. I like that. I'm sure they had many tricks to create that intentionally, except for just making stoned human mistakes and so on. So for me the unpredictable character of the SID-chip reinforces this. This is something I use for all my music, not only dub-stuff, but I feel that it's important in chip dub. It adds dynamic to rhythms, timbres and even harmonies and melodies.
Take for example “Bababy dubub”, this was composed in a modern setting (Renoise for PC) with samples of C64-sounds. Underneath all the reverb and delay, the sounds are very clean. Static. The same all the time. So you get less feedback from the machine, so to say. So my Renoise dub is softer than my C64-dub. I released some non-chip stuff (made in Renoise) as Extraboy, like “Kix Sunday Favourite” and “Flintskall dub” which also illustrates my point, I think.
Unpredictable features can be extremely inspirational. It alters your original ideas, makes you come up with new ideas... In extreme cases it can change the song completely, but that's normally caused by a combination of soft- and hardware. The odd breaks in the middle of the song is an example of this. It was a surprise for me, and I decided to keep it. It's much more fun to let the machine come up with those things than to create it by hand.
But uh, to answer your question: you are free to choose if you want to force the SID to be cleaner than it normally is (which is possible with enough work) or if you want to stay with the dirty ways, and perhaps even amplify it. But I'd say that the biggest difference in using chip tools - compared to dub tools - is the limited polyphony and the lack of effects.
NN : What's the difference between "programming by hand" and the way musicians or producers made reggae/dub without chip-technologies?
Goto80: I don't know the details of how dub producers work. But I guess with chip-tech you have to program every instrument and compose all the patterns yourself. I suppose dub producers often worked with recordings of other people's music, or at least with pre-made sounds and live-played compositions. For them it was possible – perhaps essential – to make the version live, in real-time. Whereas chipstuff is composed asynchronously because most chip software is pretty crappy for live composing, improvisation and manipulation (defMON and LSDj being good exceptions). I think that's important to keep in mind.
Having said all this, I think the lack of reggae/dub in the chipworld is as much if not mostly caused by culture rather than technology. If you look at the kind of sounds and compositions and tools that exist today, they prove that this could basically have been done in 1985 too. But home computers were simply not used like this back then. But that's not because of "technology".
C64 could have replaced drum machines, bass machines, monophonic synthesizers, etc. With Amiga you could've replaced everything, since it had decent sampling abilities. But it wasn't. Not just in reggae/dub but in general.
 The Stalag version riddim is a popular reggae rhythm, written and performed as "Stallag 17" (named after the 1953 war film) by Ansell Collins, and released by Winston Riley's Techniques record label in 1973.
Thanks again Goto80!