January 2010

Public Domain Day and the Commons

January 1st was Public Domain Day in countries where copyright extends for the life of an author plus a certain number of years (50 in Canada and many other countries, 70 in the US). As a starting place for more information about Public Domain Day and the works that have entered the commons in 2010 check out this blog post on the subject from the Open Knowledge Foundation. Although there was some celebration of Public Domain Day, it is overshadowed by the fact that the 50+ year wait is much too long to sustain a healthy commons.

Fortunately, more and more tools are emerging that allow creators to be proactive in usurping the status quo of copyright term. Projects like One for the Commons (14tc) encourage contemporary artists who already have a Wikipedia page to take the initiative to make their work freely available there through a Creative Commons-supported framework.

One for the Commons is a project designed to facilitate the flow of freely licensed, quality art from the fine arts and design community into the commons. Our goal is to help contemporary artists and creators make sure their work is established online in a sustainable fashion so that others can benefit from and share it. Our means are the Creative Commons public licenses combined with a lightweight website providing an interface to the commons through Wikipedia’s community filter. Our ends are the establishment of a new category of free works existing for the betterment of the arts and culture community.

In a time when new restrictions are likely to emerge for our use and reuse of digital content, projects like 14tc help increase awareness among artists of the active role they can play in fostering cultural innovation by contributing to the public domain. Consider making your addition to the commons today!


 Editor's Note: As per our previous post on the PLAYLIST exhibition currently taking place at  LABoral (Gijón, Spain - the show runs until mid-May), we were super keen to get some behind the scenes views into this incredible collection of game/media art. Curator Domenico Quaranta and the LABoral team were kind enough to allow us to republish some material from the excellent catalogue for the show [available as a PDF here]. The below text is Quaranta's overview of the show and we'll be featuring another essay from the catalogue in the coming weeks. 

LABoral Playlist

1. The Golden Age of Dead Media

We live in the age of planned obsolescence. Thanks to Brooks Stevens, the American industrial designer who first used this term in 1954, we always “desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.”1 We look for the new and don’t care about the past. We got so used to this consumerist logic that, today, even people become obsolete in a very short time – but this is another story.

The story I want to tell here is not the story of obsolete people, but that of obsolete media. Or, in Bruce Sterling’s terms, “dead media.”2 According to the “Whig version of technological history”, Sterling writes, “all technological developments have marched in progressive lockstep, from height to height, to produce the current exalted media landscape.”3 In this rush on the new, some media were rendered obsolete, other were killed, other simply died; “some media shed a few dead species, but the genus goes on living. Other media are murdered.”4 But when thinking about media obsolescence, don’t just think about your old, dusted Amiga mercilessly trapped in a box in your garrett: Most Windows users are dealing with obsolescence, because they preferred Windows XP to Vista. But will XP survive to Windows 7?

“My Powerbook has the lifespan of a hamster.” Sterling writes at the end of his text. “Exactly how attached can I become to this machine? Just how much of an emotional investment can I make in my beloved 3.000 dollar hamster? I suspect that the proper attitude [...] is a kind of Olympian pity. We are as gods to our mere mortal media – we kill them for our sport.”5 I don’t agree with him on this point. Hamsters die – it’s sad but true. Media rarely die in the same way – more often, they are just sent to the garrett, the home version of the Elysian Fields. There, they wait to be brought back to the living room by that very emotional investment we made in them. If my Powerbook had a strong influence on the way I see the world; if, during its lifespan, it changed the way a wide community of people see, listens to music, interact with other people, etc., obsolescence won’t be a form of death – it will be, instead, the main gateway to eternity. The community will take care of the hardware, will emulate the software, will try to do the same things with other instruments, will translate the aesthetics it gave birth to into paintings. Just to make a few examples...

2. Reinventing the Medium

In other words, media obsolescence is not just a synonym of death, but it’s just another phase in their life. But is it just a feeling of nostalgia that forces us to go back to our beloved old machine, wiping away the dust and putting it on again? Or does the obsolete medium have something special, being the incarnation of a promise that was never exhausted, and of a possibility that was dismissed in the new releases of the same machine?

If we take this path, it is difficult to avoid what Walter Benjamin wrote about obsolescence and ruins. According to Benjamin, every technological process contains a structural ambivalence between its utopian and its cynical elements. The utopian element is present at the very birth of a medium, when it is only a tool in the hands of amateurs; but the bonds of utility, commodification and professionalism imprison the medium into an armouring, and only obsolescence has the power to release that utopian element once again.6

This notion of obsolescence has been effectively adopted by Rosalind Krauss in her seminal essay. According to Krauss, photography became obsolete between the 1960s and 1990s, when the average citizen came into possession of professional-class photographic equipment and the advent of cheap camcorders made video replace photography as a mass social practice. “But – Krauss writes – it is at just this point, and in this very condition as outmoded, that it seems to have entered into a new relation with aesthetic production. This time, however, photography functions against the grain of its earlier destruction of the medium, becoming, under precisely the guise of its own obsolescence, a means of what has to be called an act of reinventing the medium.”7 

With the term medium, Krauss does not refer to a specific device, but to photography as “a set of conventions derived from (but not identical with) the material conditions of a given technical support”. According to this, James Coleman and William Kentridge8 – the artists she discusses in order to support her theory – are adopting outmoded versions of the medium they use (photography and animation), reinventing their medium as a whole.

Applying this theory to the digital medium is far from easy. Even if professional class digital equipment is now doubtlessly in the hands of the average citizen, claiming the obsolescence of a medium that is still described as “new” is too much for this poor author. It would be really cool to be able to demonstrate that those artists who are using obsolete digital media as their main medium are reinventing the computer medium as a whole. But in the frame of this text, I would be satisfied enough if I was able to show that these practices are bringing to a new life technologies and aesthetics which belong to our recent past, releasing the memory of their first, utopian promise.

Another reason that makes Krauss’ notion of “reinvention of the medium” difficult to adapt to digital media is that they often are a conglomerate of media – a meta-medium, as Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg put it in 19799. Some of these media are means of production, but in most of the cases there is an apparently insuperable distinction between producer and user. And, as we will see below, the reinvention of the digital medium often consists in the appropriation of technologies of delivery – such as video game platforms – and in their conversion into technologies of cultural production. In other words, this kind of reinvention goes far beyond what Krauss described, declassing it to a simple variation on the postmodern concept of appropriation while, at the same time, truly releasing Benjamin’s prophecy: when a technology is suddenly eclipsed by its own obsolescence, its armouring-namely, it’s functional use according to the corporate sons-of-a-bitch who created it – breaks down and it releases the memory of its initial promise.

3. The Emotional Investment

In the first paragraph of this text we talked about emotional investment. This leads us far away from Krauss, and back again to Benjamin and his notion of the collector. According to Benjamin, collectors are “the most passionate people on earth”, original in their choices, able to turn their “low” pursuit for possession into a “high” desire for knowledge, and to “rescue” the objects they collect, redeeming them from their status for “goods” and bringing them into the present. On this respect, the collector is very different from the museum, which consecrates the object as heritage, thus confining itself into the past.10

Most of the artists working with obsolete media are collectors. But their approach to collecting is very different from that of the traditional collector, who has a sacred respect for the objects in his collection. On the contrary, they often use, modify, hack the objects in their collection. Of course, a medium is made to be used. But this approach is shaped as well by the hacker approach to technologies, which survives in the scenes of programmers which gather mainly through the Internet, or through dedicated, underground meetings. The scenes manifest their respect and devotion for a given technology using, and often misusing and abusing it. As Massimo Ferronato wrote back in 2001, for a scene “the choice is not that of adopting the most sophisticated technology, but of working in a sophisticated way on the technology, with a virtuosity that shuns simplification and redundancy, creating the best solution, the best programme and the most elegant code.”11

One of the most interesting, and of the best known, scenes is the Demoscene, a community of programmers that produce audiovisual “demonstrations” according to certain rules. Demos were first created by crackers as a signature inserted at the beginning of a cracked programme, be it a game or not; but soon developed into self-standing programmes, appreciated and distributed by the community for the elegance of the code, the beauty of the output, the fascinating way in which the limitations of the system used were bypassed and occasionally turned into a strength.

The Demoscene flourished between the 1980s and the mid-1990s, on machines such as Commodore 64, Amiga and ZX Spectrum: demos were coded in Assembly, a machine language, and both the music and the graphics were generated in real time by the programme. Practices such as ASCII Art, ANSI Art, chiptunes music and bitmap graphics found in the Demoscene an ideal terrain for further development.

In the following years, demos were made for more advanced machines as well, but the constant evolution of graphic and sound cards and the increasing availability of hard disk space deprived the Demoscene of the conditions that made it appear. No surprise that many sceners went back to their older machines, and that coding a demo turned from an act of advanced, albeit amateurish, programming into a form of retrocomputing.

LABoral - Playlist

4. Imaginary Solutions

It is exactly at this point that the passion of the sceners for forcing a limited machine to make unexpected things meets the passion of the collector for the obsolete and the passion of artists for imaginary solutions. At the turn of the millennium, some things happened in the field of media art that are noteworthy from this point of view. In 1998 Austrian artist Gebhard Sengmüller, in collaboration with Martin Diamant, Günter Erhart and Best Before, founded a weird company called VinylVideo™. The company designed a device that retrieves video signals (moving image and sound) stored on a conventional vinyl record, thus developing what they called a “fake archeology of the media”. The same year, the Russian net artist Alexei Shulgin reprogrammed an old Intel 80386 machine (386 DX among fans) in order to make it perform rock classics through synchronized text-to-speech voice and MIDI synthesis, thus creating the first cyberpunk rock band ever known; and his Slovenian comrade Vuk Cosic started working with ASCII images, releasing, among other things, an Instant ASCII Camera – which printed ASCII portraits of people on a regular receipt – and various ASCII versions of movie classics such as Deep Throat and Psycho.

All these projects can be described, in Krauss’ terms, as acts of reinvention of the obsolete medium, but in a way that turns upside down the medium itself. Vinyls are used to store video signals, an old, limited machine becomes a punk robot, and a form of imagemaking that was invented in order to circumvent the limitations of a text-based medium becomes a form of cultural resistance against planned obsolescence, high resolution and broad bands, the myths of a commercially-driven culture.

Around the same years, other artists and creative people were working in a very similar way with obsolete game technologies. In 1998, the American collective Beige started working on the 8-Bit Construction Set (released in 2000), a vinyl battle record entirely programmed in Assembly language and featuring music and software that can be played on Atari or Commodore 64. The same year Little Sound DJ and Nanoloop – two sound editors for the Nintendo Entertainment System – were released, and micromusic.net – the first online community devoted to chiptune music – was born.

5. Music as the Driving Force

What is particularly interesting here, I think, is the role played by music in this reinvention of the obsolete, digital as well as analogue, medium. Shulgin created a one man rock band, not a computer art star. Both VinylVideo™ and Beige appropriated an obsolete, analogue technology so far used to record and play music. Beige itself was a music ensemble, and even if some of its members – Paul B. Davis and Cory Arcangel – became well known visual artists, they both studied music at college. While in the Demoscene of the 1980s coding visuals as well as music were two sides of the same coin, in the chiptune scene of the late 1990s music took the foreground, while the visual research on bitmap aesthetics and 8-bit imagery became a side development, often at the service of the main activity – making visuals for music performances, coding video clips for famous 8-bit musicians, designing covers for music albums or posters for events and concerts.

Of course, music has been the driving force behind many shifts in contemporary culture. The leading figure of the neo-avantgardes of the 1960s was John Cage, a musician with a classical background. Music was the main activity of many artists participating in Fluxus; and music had an important role in the approach of many early video artists, such as Nam June Paik and the Vasulkas, to this brand new medium. In his prefaces to the Italian editions of Opera Aperta, Umberto Eco12 pointed out insistingly that in the genesis of this concept played a central role his friendship with the musician Luciano Berio, and the long discussions they had when, in 1958, they both worked for the Italian radio and television company. More recently, the French art critic Nicolas Bourriaud focused on DJ culture, suggesting that the DJ, along with the programmer, contributed to design the model of the contemporary cultural worker, a “semionaut” who produces original paths through signs; and, through the practice of sampling, contributed to forge a culture based on “postproduction”13.

Nevertheless, it is not easy to understand why music plays such an important role in the reinvention of the obsolete medium. Probably we have to point to a cluster of reasons, instead of looking for one single explanation. Of course, musicians and programmers work in a very similar way, and with a very similar medium, fairly ethereal and based on mathematics. Also, music is more “pop” and engaging, and is a better candidate than visual arts to drive a subculture. Maybe the sounds of the videogames of our childhood excited our imagination in a way that their 8-bit tiles and their psychedelic colours never did.

André Gonçalves - PONG

6. Playlist. Playing Music, Games, Art

Whatever brought music to become the leading force in this process of reinvention of the obsolete medium, the fact is that it happened. Playlist is an exhibition that wants to explore this phenomenon. The format of the “Mediateca Expandida” helped us to move from the traditional art exhibition model, and to transform Playlist into a complex experience where people can listen to music, enter the peculiar atmosphere of an 8-bit music event, put their hands on the tools artists developed to make music and visuals for their performances, and that are often works of art themselves. For obvious reasons, the 8-bit music community is the main focus, but the show is also an attempt to create a context for this kind of research, featuring, on the one side, some early examples of reinvention of the obsolete medium, such as VinylVideo™ and Shulgin’s 386 DX; and, on the other side, a couple of recent works dealing with media obsolescence and lo-fi aesthetics. The first is André Gonçalves’ Pong – The Analog Arcade Machine (pictured above), a stunning installation featuring an old arcade playing Pong and a self made analogue doppelgänger entirely built recycling obsolete technologies, such as computer fans and various elements coming from A3 printers. Gonçalves, whose visual work often deals with recycling and DIY technologies, is himself an electronic musician, and he designed an analogue modular synthesizer he often uses in his music performances.

Tristan Perich studied math, music and computer science at Columbia University before working as an artist and musician. In 2004 he started the 1-bit Music project, based on an 8KB microchip he programmed to play 1-bit electronic music, “the lowest possible digital representation of audio”. Then, Perich programmed the same microchip to control a pen drawing machine and various video installations collected under the project name 1-bit Video (since 2006). In this work, the lo-fi aesthetics are not related with an interest in the “deep time of the media” (even if they are, again, a take against planned obsolescence): as many of the younger artists in the show, Perich belongs to a generation that, living in the Matrix, likes to peep at its digital rain of codes.

Finally, a big portion of the show is devoted to the visual art produced by members of the 8-bit community – be they musicians, VJs or whatever when on stage. This is quite a strange phenomenon, that a bunch of 8-bit music stars with a wide audience in their international niche are massively starting to make “art”. Of course, this isn’t a shift for most of them, who never considered themselves simply “musicians” and often worked on different platforms. What’s really interesting is that a more holistic approach to the medium is finally developing, turning the reinvention of the obsolete game platforms as musical instruments into a more complex exploration of the contribution it can provide to contemporary culture in general, in terms of aesthetics as well as social practices. A contribution that is far from being nostalgic, and is rather subversive and political. Because, as Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker wrote, today “freedom of expression is no longer relevant; freedom of use has taken its place.”14


(1) Cfr. “Planned Obsolescence”, in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (retrieved: 07/11/09).
(2) Bruce Sterling, “The Life and Death of Media”, in Paul D. Miller, Sound Unbound. Sampling Digital Music and  Culture, The MIT Press, Cambridge-Massachusetts/London, 2008, pp. 73-81.
(3) Ibid, p. 75.
(4) Ibid, p. 76.
(5) Ibid, p. 81.
(6) Cfr. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith, Walter Benjamin – Selected Writings, Harvard University Press, 2002. See also Lucia Vodanovic, Rethinking Obsolescence: Appropriation and Reproduction in Recent Culture, PhD Thesis, Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2007. Available online at
(7) Rosalind E. Krauss, “Reinventing the Medium”, in Critical Inquiry, Winter 1999, Vol. 25, No. 2, p. 296.
(8) Cfr. Rosalind E. Krauss, “‘The Rock’: William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection”, in October, No. 92, Spring 2000, pp. 3-35.
(9) Alan Kay and Adele Goldberg, “Personal Dinamic Media”, in Computer 10(3), March 1977, pp. 31-41. Republished in Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Nick Montfort (eds.), The New Media Reader, The MIT Press, Cambridge-Massachusetts/London, 2003.
(10) Cfr. Walter Benjamin, “Eduard Fuchs, Collector and Historian”, in Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith, Walter Benjamin – Selected Writings, cit.
(11) Massimo Ferronato, “The VX Scene”, in VVAA, I Love You. Computer Viren Hacker Kultur, exhibition catalogue, MAK, Frankfurt, 2002.
(12) Umberto Eco, Opera aperta. Forma e indeterminazione nelle poetiche contemporanee, Bompiani, Milan, 2000[2004].
(13) Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction. Culture as Screenplay: How Art Reprograms the World, Lukas & Sternberg, New York, 2002.
(14) Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2007. Quoted in Seb Franklin, “On Game Art, Circuit Bending and Speedrunning as Counter-Practice: ‘Hard’ and ‘Soft’ Nonexistence”, in CTheory, February 2009, available online at www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=609. See also Matteo Bittanti’s text in this magazine, pp. 32-37

Nadav Assor Interview

Nadav Assor is an Israeli digital media artist whose work has been exhibited in Berlin, Chicago, Israel, and soon Italy. He is currently pursuing his MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Nadav's work explores interactions between the physical world and digital media, using a variety of mediums including live video performance and installation. On his website he states: "Many of the mechanisms inherent in my work require palpable, physical effort or struggle to manipulate, thus exposing the constant friction between body and media. I do not want my devices to 'run smoothly'."

On Saturday, January 23rd 2010, Nadav Assor and Surabhi Saraf will be performing live at Netmage 10 in Bologna, Italy, under the collaborative title NASSA. Despite being in the midst of preparations for the upcoming show, Nadav put aside an hour of his time to talk about his art, development, and inspirations.

Transcripts of a conversation that took place on January 13th

Ben Baker-Smith: Let's start with what inspired your first exploration into live video performance.

Nadav Assor: When I was in high school I was much more into music than visual art. You know, it was high school in Israel and it was before the web basically, or just about when it started, like '94 or something like that. I remember seeing an article about Jaron Lanier [WIRED Magazine issue 1.02], he's one of the prophets of VR. He had these big dreadlocks, and would go on weird performances with this VR glove. It was mostly cheesy stuff, but I really liked the concept of this person performing but also manipulating this invisible realm of media, of images that you can't touch. He was doing something that previously I thought was impossible. What drew me to it was physical, like sculpture or like dance or like music.

BBS: What was the first video performance that you did?

NA: It was from this idea that I had pretty much from the beginning of my freshman year [of college]... Everything was pointed in this direction of doing things that were physical, and this bodily or physical interpretation and transformation of media. It's not always about video necessarily. For example, there was this one piece where it was only a sound piece and a live performance piece. I had two wireless mics on two ends of a pole, and I was walking around the machine shop in the school. I invited all the school to the performance, and they were in another room that was beyond this long corridor. They were between a huge set of PA speakers, and while I was spinning the pole between different machines [the audience] were in this very physical and very mechanical and sometimes very aggressive, sometimes very quiet, soundscape. They were watching a live video feed of me, but it was more about this physical manipulation, and breaking down and transforming boundaries and systems.

Nadav Assor

BBS: I noticed that in Camo, Razor, and the Tunneling (pictured above) pieces you deal with covering and uncovering things. Does this stem from somewhere? Does it just come naturally?

NA: Yeah, it obviously stems from somewhere, but it came naturally so it's both. It's from my interest in layering, and this great word that I learned last year when I came [to Chicago], which is "palimpsest." I'm really interested in that concept.

BBS: What is that?

NA: Well, historically a palimpsest is this thick piece of leather or other material that people wrote over. All the scratches and the ink are absorbed into it, so it builds up a physical history. I think for me it's less about history, and more that many things are happening at once. Like, that Camo project that you mentioned was a big project related to this camo pattern that's used by the Israeli airforce. It was a video installation, a sculpture, and prints. The sculpture, for example, was all about this very simple process: taking the abstract pattern of camouflage, and transforming it through a system that's used to map heights in geographical maps (with green for the lower levels, yellow [for the middle], and brown for the high ones). So, [the process was] laying this pattern over the wall, and then digging into the wall according to that system. The lowest points were actually exposing the street outside. That was an interesting transformation: taking this virtual thing, overlaying on a physical thing, and then exposing the outside which is another physical layer in the space. And, of course, in Israel this has lots of other connotations which I'm interested in, which I grew up with. It's about archaeology, and about tunneling in the various militaristic or terrorist aspects of it.

BBS: Are you going to apply some geography-specific elements to this upcoming show? Or will it be the same as one of the previous performances?

NA: That's a good question. I'm really interested in [the Tunneling project] being site-specific, but, like somebody recently suggested to me, maybe it's better to term it as site-sensitive because then I don't completely make a new project for each site. Of course, it all depends on the scale of the work. When I did it in Chicago it was a small scale, one-off thing, and in Italy we're also doing it one-off but it's larger scale. In Israel I did it as an extended installation and three day thing. It followed almost a month long residency, so there I could make it very site-specific. In Italy, Im going to make it half site-specific.  I'm going to use contours from maps of the area, and I tried to correspond with the organizers there and to learn about the history of the place we're performing in. It's called the "New Palace" because it was built only in like 1270, so it's "new", and of course it's got a crazy history. We'll probably be starting with images that are more related to the actual space, and then moving on to stuff that's more imaginary or that we brought with us. I'm really interested in that also, in giving a personalized point of view.

BBS: How do you generally do the soundtracks?... For Tunneling specifically.

NA: Ok, so it's already the third iteration, and each time it was a bit different. The whole idea for this project came out of wanting to do a collaboration with a friend of mine who graduated last year, Surabhi Saraf [ed note: the Netmage 10 performance will feature Nadav and Surabhi under the title NASSA], and she was doing more sound work at the time. We wanted to collaborate on a  piece, and I was already working on this concept of digging through layers and walls, that was something I was into for a long time. So, that was a good opportunity to combine forces. The second Tunneling project was a bigger project that I organized, and I invited a long-time collaborator of mine in Israel to participate in it, again with his approach to things.

BBS: You've also been working on non-live pieces recently. Can you talk about how you've found that to be different?

NA: I've done quite a few of what you call "non-live" pieces along the way, but all of them contain these elements of process and transformation and physical involvement and fragmentation. The end product is a very flexible thing for me. Like, the way I think about my current [non-live] project is as a live event.  It might branch into a live theatrical piece, and also end up as a single-channel or multi-channel video piece, or a combination of the above.

BBS: So they're not traditional editing intensive anyway.

NA: Yeah, I mean, I try. I sometimes try to do that, but my mind doesn't really think that way. It's a problem.

BBS: Or not.

NA: No, I mean, I like it, but also it's sometimes difficult to zoom in on certain things, because I just let [the process] dictate how the piece will be shown. I understand it's more interesting to me so it might be more interesting for others to watch also. Right now I'm working on this piece with 15 - 18 different simultaneous points of view of a situation, they are sometimes very different from each other and sometimes very similar, but from different angles. You get this very dense cloud of video, of different people experiencing the situation differently and translating it differently. And then, what do you do with it?  Well, I'm still thinking of what you do with it. I'm interested in trying to zoom in and create one or several single narratives from it, but I'm not sure that I can. Maybe I'll end up showing everything as this mass. 

BBS: What software do you use for audio/video performance?

NA: For preparing clips I use regular editing software like Final Cut, After Effects, and all that. Then for the more customized, live tools that I build I use mostly Max/MSP and Jitter. I mostly work with Jitter. I've been working with it for quite a few years, and teaching, but right now that's just because it's the tool I'm most comfortable with. I know that it's not the optimal tool for everything. It's great for doing things quick and dirty, and very physically, which is why I'm so attached to it. I would really like to get to work more with Open Frameworks and with game engines, which are getting to be more and more of a great tool for working physically with live video. Most of all I would like to work with a good programmer of these things. That's the way to go. You prototype things fast, with the tools you're comfortable with, and then you go to somebody who can do it much more logically and analytically and efficiently. It's very hard doing these transitions between being an engineer and a director and a producer and five other things at the same time.

BBS: Do you have any inspirations or recommended viewings you'd like to share?

NA: A long-time favorite is always Gordon Matta-Clark, who has physically cut up buildings and stuff like thing. Basically all of his work, even other kinds of work that he did, is amazing to me. Among the old-timers, photographers like Bernd and Hilla Becher. They're really amazing. And then more contemporary guys like Matmos, who do amazing stuff with music, using sounds from various situations. They did a whole album composed of sounds from plastic surgery clinics. It's an amazing album, really. And, well, tons of others. There's this great live performance group called 5VOLTCORE, they're awesome. One of my favourite pieces of theirs is this piece where there's a massive PC on a table with its guts out in front of the audience. The PC is constantly sending video out of its video card to a projector [in the form of] a feedback loop. Basically, this robot arm is slowly carving away parts of the computer, with all the sparks and everything, and that's causing the graphics to behave differently and causing the robot arm to behave more strangely. So, the computer is destroying itself, and broadcasting it through sound and video.

GML: Graffiti Markup Language


[Indian Well petroglyphs - detail / 2001 / photo: tmoon]

According to Wikipedia, Writing is "the representation of language in a textual medium through the use of a set of signs or symbols." Writing has been the subject of innumerable studies because of its mesmerizing, transcendent permanence in time and space. The recent data visualization craze and advances in motion tracking technologies have led to the creation of digital, aesthetically appealing representations of language.  I have always had issues with one aspect of these visualization tools: their products are ephemeral, they appear and disappear like the shadows of human beings or the mathematical results of a real-time computation, dissolving the crucial aspect of writing, their permanence. Possibly the team at F.A.T. Lab shared the same feeling. Their latest work #000000book is an open repository for sharing and archiving motion captured graffiti tags. Tags are saved as digital text files known as GML (Graffiti Markup Language), which can be captured through freely available software such as Graffiti Analysis (marker), DustTag (iPhone), EyeWriter (eye movement) and Laser Tagging (laser).

This research shows an incredible inner potential for further investigations in human computer interaction as well as an unexpected, delicate equilibrium among art, technology and humanity. The archive is completely open, you are free to download and upload GML files while the research team encourage programmers to create new applications and visualizations.

Gristleism Review


[photo: Yohei Yamashita]

Gristleism is the latest title in the series of FM3 releases on the “Buddha Machine” platform, and a co-venture of FM3 and Throbbing Gristle. Gristleism is a music box Designed by Throbbing Gristle, Christiaan Virant, and Zhang Jian (FM3).

When the band FM3 released the first of its “Buddha Machines” , some critics quickly grow bored by the interactive music box players that come bundled with tape loops, often after just a few minutes of playing the loops. However, fans who admire the FM3 boxes find more to appreciate than just the novelty of an interactive, mobile music format with the aura and status of an art object. So it’s gratifying to find a co-production with Throbbing Gristle, the band that is at or near the 1970s origins of industrial tape loop music.

Gristleism is an automatic drone. The 13 tracks contained in the Gristleism machine are TG samples that are entirely self-contained in each colored plastic box. The box has a track selector switch, a rolling volume control, and a speaker, and requires two AA batteries. Its look and feel has a distinctly 1970’s “made in Taiwan” look and feel, like the first generation transistor-radio you may still keep today. The design of the packaging, especially in its “limited edition” release, anticipates criticism of its being cheap construction, and creates an allure for handling and playing with the box.

The Gristleism tracks are meant to be non-reproducible, unless the fan is handy with a microphone or soldering gun. Nonetheless, the Buddha sites themselves encourage chip-bending and hacking the devices, offering special instructions for making modifications to the units.

The digital music box phenomenon has gone virtual online. The ZenDesk is inspired by the Buddha Machine, and features interactive samples created by Virant and Jian. There is also a Buddha app for iPhones.

The Buddha box is an answer to record collectors who are looking for opportunities to collect music once again, in new formats, in an age that promotes the dematerialization of music. The Gristleism release on Forced Exposure presents this opportunity ironically to collectors, by releasing music snippets tape loops, inside a funky musical trip-toy.