K & I went to an actual gig last weekend. It wasnt the first we had been at since things have slowly begun opening up, but it was the most ‘normal’.
Earlier in March, Joelistics’ launch at Howler had been entirely seated and Ai Yamamoto’s gig at Melbourne Recital Centre had been seated and masked, but the CS + Kreme gig at the Curtin was like the old days - no seats, no masks - even though it was at lowered capacity. We arrived in time for Jonnine, playing with a full band, to play a set of what might be described as ‘ketamine-trip-hop’, equal parts AR Kane and Tricky, and The XX - but entirely without forward motion, a kind of numbness, everything held is stasis. CS + Kreme were fantastic too - and live, I became a lot more aware of their sparkling drum programming that reminded me a lot of early 00s Timbaland, with jittery triplets, that lifted their foggy dub productions into something approximating danceability.
It was a good evening of sounds and motion. It has been a long time between gigs.
Sitting on the couch reading
On a whim, I picked up a copy of Harmut Rosa’s The Uncontrollability of the World. It is a very short book, an easy-reading crtique of modernist technologies of control and knowledge. Rosa describes our efforts to control the world through four dimensions - making things visible, making them accessible, making them manageable, and lastly, making them ‘useful’. Technologies of seeing from microscopes to telescopes and satellites, travel and the Internet, databases - all accelerate this.
However, as it becomes more and more difficult for modern societies to actually render things ‘controllable’ - because of ever increasing awareness of complexity, because of climate crises, because of, well, humans - Rosa describes the rise of ‘aggression against the failure of control’ in this time of acceleration. Things move just too fast.
It reminded me of the ‘but we were promised jetpacks’ quip about the failure of the present to live up to the imagined futures of 1960s utopian (White) science fiction. Others might see this aggression in the rising nihilism of the times - or the inability to feel anything.
Instead of chasing control, Rosa writes about ‘resonance’ those moments when things in the world actually emotionally affect you. These moments of resonance, he argues, are when the interconnected-ness of the world becomes visible, and uncontrollability comes to the fore but obviously are too rare. Rosa finds these in experiences of nature, experiences of art, of community, of activism.
I was thinking about Rosa’s book when I wrote the quick blogpost for ACMI Labs which announced the reaching of 500,000 objects collected by museum visitors in the first six weeks since the museum opened.
On one hand the Lens is all about control. It is an attempt to make visitors’ desires visible to ACMI’s staff, it makes them accessible and manageable by ordering them into a database which staff can now query to ‘understand’. And it subjects the idea of a ‘museum visit’ to the need for it to be ‘useful’ and measurable. Another more generous reading of the Lens might be that it is also an attempt to nudge visitors out of their comfort zones and to see the museum as a space that can be resonant - and that is achieved by seperating it from the behaviors of the street - meaning the smartphone, the blasé gaze. There are no flaneurs in a post COVID streetscape.
I am acutely aware of this quantification quandary.
On one hand digital enables fine grained data collection, aggregation, and correlation. But on the otherhand it is far too simplistic and flawed. A large part of my job these days is holding those two opposing forces in balance - even if just in my own mind. I am hopeful that the Lens opens up some discussion of how to reclaim the utility of the museum for visitors. Or at least how that utility might be able to be described by visitors. And like everything technological, I await, excitedly, of how teenagers rework, reshape, and hack it.
While I’m still talking about work, I got interviewed for a ‘At Lunch With’ series in the local broadsheet. I got to choose a local cafe and then spent two hours with a journalist talking about lots of things as we ate. It turned out quite ok. Someone who read the article decided to email me, guessing my work email address, and asked me if I knew a song she had heard on the radio but was unable to locate, quoting one line from it - “You won’t be alone when she goes”. It was random, and a hard ask! It turned out to be a pretty obscure track from the 1980s which is part of the excellent Sky Girl mixtape. Sometimes these things just work out.
And still reading . . .
I really enjoyed a new report from Mona Sloane at NYU which looks to describe the digital shadow city that emerged during the pandemic and maps some of its terrain and interactions through digital ethnographic approaches.
While the physical city receded, for some, the digital city appeared. Terra Incognita NYC is overwhelmingly a catalog of how this new, digital public space was built and discovered, expanded and maintained, embraced and contested. This digital public space offered New Yorkers (and, indeed, people around the globe) the chance to replicate some aspect of the pre-pandemic city.
The break down of practices into curation, membership, public safety, affordances, infrastructure, temporality, publicness, intimacy, and locality is a very useful way of drawing out the different types of participation and the unevenness. As Sloane points out, the inequalities of New York were exacerbated and amplified by the shift to the digital communities of the pandemic - but not always in the ways that one might think. In so doing the study draws out some of the nuances of what made offline community practices function.
In a similar vein, Shannon Mattern’s fantastic new essay, How To Map Nothing, in Places Journal sent me down a rabbithole of map-thinking. Exploring how we represent and understood the period of the pandemic through maps of activity she writes,
Social media, mainstream news, and an explosion of Substack newsletters often painted pictures of cities quelled and hibernating, in some ways diminished, and of urbanites either turned inward toward self-betterment, or outward, toward their local communities or country homes. But empirical evidence — the look of retreat —was only half of the story. Undergirding these geographies of suspension were networks in furious motion, continual overstimulation, and exhaustive exertion
It’s all too easy to overlook the rush of activity that enables privileged retreat; the Othered precarity that ensures our security; the tangle of urban, regional, national, and global socio-technical networks that support our local stasis — unless we are ourselves a node within those essential systems, or unless we experience the repercussions of their inevitable breakdowns.
Like much of Shannon’s writing, her essay is like a great mixtape of ideas and references that will open a hundred new browser tabs full of books and essays to read.
Parallel to this, R has been playing Red Dead Redemption 2, where the absent spaces of the map gradually get filled in as your character Arthur Morgan explores, travels, and then (spoiler alert), dies in the landscape of a fictional late 19th Century American West. The absent spaces of RDR2 are there, like almost every videogame map, to be conquered, revealed, explored - and then discarded. And of course the absences in maps in videogames are often actual absences - sections that simply don’t exist in the programming because they are unreachable by a conventional player and outside of the narrative design too. We are currently looking for the original map of RDR1 inside RDR2, we know it’s meant to be there but it’s not ‘meant’ to be. After R finished the main story - a solid 60+ hour adventure - he dipped into the multiplayer only to find that the same map without the story felt a lot flatter and less interesting. I found this observation one that acknowledged that in a lot of cases, complicated multiplayer maps are often just different window dressing for what is pretty much the same game multiplayer mechanic underneath.
R has subsequently moved on to one of the free PlayStation giveaway games (happening all April apparently!) called Thumper which is a strangely fun and quite psychedelic rhythm ‘sort-of-racing’ game from 2016 that runs at a speed that reminded me a lot of the pleasure of playing the original Wipeout series.
In another essay worth reading, Michael Terren writes about the hegemony of the DAW, the digital audio workstation, that has become the bedrock of contemporary music production. He writes,
DAWs are visual processors as much as sound processors. They make several features of digital audio — amplitude, frequency, time — legible as sonic objects, coloured boxes, ready to be rearranged with drag-and-drop simplicity … The DAW’s ascendency is a tale of the deregulation of musical labour and the atomisation of music culture … In some ways, the DAW replaced the piano as the primary site of solitary musical expression, retreating from living rooms to glowing screens in share house bedrooms. Music creation ever since has never been so lonely.
Sometimes this condition is erroneously called the ‘democratisation’ of music. Reducing the cost of DAWs and their attendant technologies — computers, audio interfaces, microphones — is often considered a universal good, reducing the economic barriers of entry and sidestepping the cultural gatekeepers whose ideologies privilege some music and musicians over others. While this is true per se, it also entrenches a compulsorily independent ethos that puts the onus of capital onto the individual.
I was excited to see Terren drawing paralles to Matthew Kirschenbaum’s book on the history of the word processor and the specific new aesthetics and politics that each technology brings to creative practice. Kirschenbaum’s book was one of those reads that sticks with you for a long time - especially drawing a long arc between the influence of linotype on writing and then the changes in the interfaces and affordances of wordprocessors from the 1960s onwards.
I have fond memories of my parents’ writing books first on electric typewriters which began with only very small storage - a 16 or 32 character buffer within which text was editable - but after which the characters were committed to the page. Then ‘upgrading’ to the Commodore 64 and EasyScript, the Commodore’s word processing software. My mum wrote and edited an entire book for Cambridge University Press on the uncomfortable keyboard of a Commodore 64 and the slow proofing process resulting from the terrible print speed of a 1980s daisy wheel printer!
Two different approaches to alternative community organising practices came from across my desk recently. I am excited by the variety emerging out of a post-COVID thought space. The first from Romanian Raluca Iacob looks at a different role for cultural institutions as cultural centres and the need to engage and feed local networks inside communities.
Artist groups, collectives and independent cultural centres work as networks because this
is the most liberating form of human collaboration and encounter. They do so by replacing hierarchy with flexible, self-organized connections for the exchange of information and ideas, with rules and structures that follow the interests and resources of the actors, are versatile and creative in their shape, and are democratically managed.
The second is a US report Solidarity Not Charity - Grantmaking in the Solidarity Economy which looks at alternative ways of building coalitions of makers and communities, working towards a different type of economy.
What do mutual aid networks, worker co-ops, community land trusts, participatory budgeting, and time banks have in common? Community ownership and democratic governance that builds political, cultural, and economic power.
Back to last episode, I found Rev Dan Catt’s loooong piece on NFTs from his perspective as an artist is a really interesting and nuanced read. Its worth the time and effort. It helped me think through my position on what he calls usefully terms ‘investment art’ (in contrast to what he calls ‘nice art’ - art that people buy because they actually like it and/or want to support the artist).
This week I also had to deal with another round of obsolescence of my Electric Object EO1 - an Android powered vertical screen that just displays digital art. If it had launched this year it would have been the perfect display tool for all that ‘NFT crypto art’, but being a 2015 Kickstarter it eventually folded and got bought out by Giphy. The EO1 needs an app to load, change, and manage the content on the screen - something that back in 2015 probably sounded sensible, but now is its Achilles heal. No app and the screen is dead.
A couple of months ago I noticed the EO App on my iPhone had gone into that weird ‘unloaded’ state where things unload to free up storage space. Clicking to reload and open it presented me with ‘this app is no longer available’. After a lot of cursing, I managed to recover the app via a utility called iMazing that has saved my iPhone many times. Then on Friday I tried to launch the EO app only to be presented with a new message ‘this app is not compatible with this version of iOS, the developer will need to submit a new version’. So it was back to square one, but again i was saved by iMazing and a very old iPad running iOS9. I managed to extract the app from my iPhone and then load it back on to the old iPad. And all just to change the picture on a fancy digital photo frame.
The future of smart devices is going to be a very unpleasant.
On the soundsystem
The new Godspeed You! Black Emperor album is, as expected, discordant and bleak. As the skies turn grey and the Melbourne autumn chill begins, it feels appropriate revolutionary listening with the band recording at the start of their Autumn in Montreal
it was autumn, and the falling sun was impossibly fat and orange.
we tried to summon a brighter reckoning there,
bent beneath varied states of discomfort, worry and wonderment.
we fired up the shortwave radios again, for the first time in a long time.
and found that many things had changed.
the apocalypse pastors were still there, but yelling END TIMES NOW where they once yelled “end times soon”.
and the transmission-detritus of automated militaries takes up more bandwidth now,
so that a lot of frequencies are just pulses of rising white static,
digital codexes announcing the status of various watching and killing machines.
and the ham-radio dads talk to each other all night long.
about their dying wives and what they ate for lunch and what they’ll do with their guns when antifa comes
Probably some more upbeat sounds are more your thing.
DeForrest Brown Jr’s Speaker Music has a new EP, Soul Making Theodicy of ‘drum machine jazz’ - computer music that has left the quantized grid of the DAW far behind, but at the same time somehow manages to hint at danceable body movements. I interviewed Mark Bell from LFO a long time ago back in 1996 when he was doing press for their second LP Advance and he was joking about ‘jungle sounding like a drum kit falling down the stairs’. Every time I listen to music that goes off the grid, I think about Bell’s line.
There’s a new Sons of Kemet album on its way and a grand video for the first track, and an excellent collection of late 1960s Los Angels soul music from Leon Gardner uncovered and unearthed by Glasgow’s Athens of the North label.
Leafcutter John did a commission for Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival & Leeds Art Gallery which combines his music with field recordings and interviews with artists and the public. Its like a great audio documentary but with a nice ‘visual score’ that slowly rotates into view. Have a watch/listen on YouTube.
And lastly, a young Vin Diesel and Arthur Russell collaborated on an early rap track. it is just a great rambling story and is as unexpected as Vinny D’s Dungeons and Dragons interests.
The beats dropped like an infernal machine firing off explosive charges in all directions at once, before settling into a skipping insistent groove: “I’m the Man of Steel! I’m the Man of Steel! I’m the Man of Steel!” Mark asserted repeatedly, prefiguring his later action-hero persona.
But this one too quickly went off the rails as Mark (Vin D) tried to cram more words than even Arthur’s elastic beat space could handle, with mixed results. One minute he’d be totally in synch with the groove, the next minute his rhymes would sound rushed and forced. It didn’t swing, it just didn’t gel, it was not in any pocket, there was no flow happening at all with the One going south every few bars or shifting across the bar lines Arthur-style.
Even if Arthur was going to start each take at the same place each time for Sinclair (Vin D), there was just no way this was going to work—that was obvious.
And on that note, I’m off to hike some nearby mountains and get away from the screen.
Until next time, in solidarity
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