I think most of you can probably now guess why there has been such a gap between episodes. And I’m quickly writing this one to ‘productively procrastinate’ on the task of finishing off my impending ICOM keynote. (Does one procrastinate on, procrastinate about, or just procrastinate?).
The first two days as ACMI’s new ‘Director & CEO' have made me understand why people hire folks to ‘do their email’ and ‘do their socials’. I understood the theory - and was uncomfortable with it - but now I understand the reality of this. To everyone that has been in touch with lovely messages - thank you! I will write back - and it will be from me and not a ghost writer! But it may not be today!
Most of the time this week, before I zip off to my talks at ICOM Prague and Remix London, is all about handing over some of my previous role’s responsibilities and identity - and figuring out what can now be done that couldn’t be done before.
I owe a lot of people a debt for their inspiration and help in getting here. I hope I don’t disappoint you all too much! Thank you.
As I’ve been writing the notes for my ICOM talk, more and more ‘normal’ people that I chat to outside of tech and culture have finally started to understand that AI generated imagery is likely going to take away the paid tasks that used to be done by illustrators and stock photographers.
I’ve been using Midjourney and DALLE-2 to generate some stock images as placeholders to accompany my talk - as illustrations of the biases in training data and output - but it was the image of my two cats as “death metal cats” that probably tipped me over the edge. It is almost good enough to upload to Threadless and print up some t-shirts.
[*"two black cats in a death metal band" via Midjourney AI*]
Prompt Press is a simple illustration of how generative imagery can do a ‘decent enough’ job of illustrating generic trade journalism, especially for the zero-attention scrolling reader where the images exist only to increase the ‘clickable’ zone to load the article (and advertising).
And already there are emerging demos that show how automated video generation is not outside the realms of near possibility.
In a short talk UC Berkley psychology professor Alison Gopnik’s made a well circulated assertion that AI models are best thought of not as ‘intelligent’ but as another layer or instance of ‘cultural technologies’ such as language, writing, libraries - to which she adds ‘internet search’ and ‘Wikipedia’. That lineage of 'cultural technologies' made me start rethinking or at least reframing the idea of what skills museums workers now need when thinking about the implications of, and working with, so-called ‘machine intelligence’ (or maybe just automation in general).
Artist/curator John O’Shea, now at the National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, tweeted about a similar service, Explain Jargon, which promises to explain ‘what technical language means’. I ran it over some short descriptions of contemporary art exhibitions to figure out if it could help with that too, but because its training set is not art history, art criticism, or gallery labels the results were not impressive.
Original text ”Haunted Realism’s specific focus is a sense that the aspirations of modernity are now “lost futures”—perceptible only as ghostlike traces of their original formulations.”
Simplified - “Haunted Realism is a theory that says that the future we expected is lost, and all we can do is see it as a kind of ghostly image. For example, we humans originally thought that we would be able to have hover cars by now, but that really did not happen.”
Original Text - “In their works, avatars and identities are performed to explore our myriad modes of existence. These pieces serve as substrate for the thirsty, iterative cycles of technology.”
Simplified - “In the works of artists, avatars (a computer generated person used to represent someone in a video game or another computer program) and identities (who you think you are) are performed (acted out) to explore our myriad modes of existence. This is done using technology, which is a series of tools, practices, or devices.”
Like everything in the AI space so far, improvements are often rapid but entirely dependent on the flavours of training data.
I don’t think I could have survived the stress of the last few months without some new tunes and getting out to some gigs. Here’s some of what has been in my ears as I’ve been riding trams back and forth from the office and a long sequence of job interviews.
dGoHn, whose name sounds like some Lovecraftian demon, has been making detailed jungle/drum’n’bass reboots for years. In fact it seems jungle is another meta-music-genre that is continually being rebirthed every five or so years - its core sonic aesthetic stays the same but is refracted through the ears (and production technologies) of a new generation. Anyway, last year they put out a solid album Undesignated which has now been throughly remixed and rerubbed by a fine crew of other producers - Equinox, djrum, Coco Bryce, and even Meat Beat Manifesto. 30 years after I first started hearing the early experiments that were to become jungle/drum & bass I am still enthralled by the intricate machine funk of the genre’s tightly edited interlocking rhythms and Undesignated Remixes covers the gamut of old school breakbeat to drill’n’bass. It’s excellent!
Many newsletter episodes ago - one of the earliest pre-pandemic ones I think - I praised the tight selections of Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs for their Daisy Age compilation of so-called ‘Golden Age’ hip hop. Stanley & Wiggs been busy releasing various compiles over the pandemic and the latest is an exceptional Balearic selection from 88-91 when The Orb and Andrew Weatherall were in full flight. Fell From The Sun opens with that Orb remix of Primal Scream before detouring into some less well trodden obsecure-ish vinyl-only paths including History’s Afrika with rapper Q-Tee who became famous for rhyming on Saint Etienne’s Filthy before pretty much disappearing (?). And Elsi Curry’s U Make Me Feel - the last thing recorded by The Shamen’s Will Self before he drowned in an accident. I had never heard those before. The rest of the collection are things you’ve probably heard before but the sequencing is top notch and it took me deep into a nostalgic rabbit hole of chill out rooms and post-rave sunrises.
Out of the musical archive cabinets, I pulled out the Hypnotone album Ai, one of those lesser remembered but oddly persistent albums of 1991. Ai is from the period when Creation Records was having a few goes at dance music with the Keeping The Faith compilations - straddling balearic pop melodies and the comedown of yet another Summer of Love. At the time I remember that I found the crispness of the production made it stand out although now it sounds quite dated.
I remember playing a track from Ai in the ‘chill out room’ at the Glebe Island grain silos back in 1993 at one of the wildest parties of that era, Ov Thee Earth Tribe. Yes, the party with the wandering Elvis impersonator, a lone PlayStation controller floating in a dark void above a far-too-narrow stairwell, the multiple rooms of the cavernous silos booming with hard acid techno, the people escaping to climb to the top of the silos to see the sunrise, the ‘one match and kaboom’ risk of immolating the leftover grain, the promoter’s ruse of ‘its a film shoot’. DJ Abel dropping Mescalinium United’s We Have Arrived and (appropriately) Psycilocybin’s Sub Level 6 in the apocalyptic underground cavern. That synergy of context, environment, and sonics was and is rare. Those hardcore tracks don’t make a lot of sense outside of that sort of context, or at low volume! It’s hard to believe that that party was almost 30 years ago - the joy of reckless youth, right?
Memories of Hypnotone led me to the excellent second volume of Ciao Italia, capturing all that early 1990s rush of Italian electronic music. Its not the harder sounds of Rome’s Leo Anibaldi, and also not Italo-house or hands-in-the-air material - this collection has a much more ‘music for Mediterranean sunrises’ vibe. All that sound came back into style a few years ago and is still hanging around. It has a certain warmth and naivety.
Other things tickling my ear canals been Posthuman’s Echo Almaz East, a thematic album of burbling low tempo acid electronics, and East Portal’s self titled album which has that jazz-inflected post-rock vibe of the late 1990s.
There aren’t many good novels about videogames - its even more barren territory than movie-adaptations of videogames. Nevertheless, I’m almost finished Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow and its been a great read. A reasonably straightforward novel about two friends making videogames together as they grow older, technologies change and what was their art becomes an explicitly capitalist product, the book captures the sense of how games enable world building and escape. It also captures the feeling of being between-worlds that us mixed-race people feel - expectations, hopes, and responsibilities. I came to it with minimal expectations but I’ve really enjoyed it - and you might too.
i finish with that because this weekend I've also been playing Cult of the Lamb, the latest in a long line of hit video games to emerge from small studios in Melbourne. It is super cute and a lot of fun - and you probably want to play it too. Cult of the Lamb has been a game that has been being made by a team located just a few desks from mine in ACMI's co-working space ACMI X, and an early build of the game was play tested in ACMI's ACMI x RMIT Audience Lab, a periodic public event which connects makers with museum goers to test 'works undergoing development'. And one of ACMI's curators Jini Maxwell has just written something about the game too.
That’s all I can muster for this episode - and I really need to finish the closing part of my talk. I’ll try to send the next one from the road/air and share some of my experiences at ICOM and related travels. If you’re in London I look forward to catching up in person!
No more procrastinating!