Posts for July 2011

Put a Corinthian Column on It

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via justshutty, via greeknewmediashit

Hellenistic references in new media art might appear at first as a clumsy way to position digital work in the timeline of art history. But there seems to be more to it than that. As arguably the world's most famous sculpture, the Venus de Milo is from a moment in time that seems as abstract and far away as a future world of martian space colonies. The juxtaposition of antiquity with new technology often appears to disengage the former's historicity. In such context, the Venus de Milo is an icon as neutral as robot — it does not offend or politicize, but instead speaks only of its endearing beauty.

Recommended: Sterling Crispin's Tumblr collection Greek New Media Shit.

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Virginia Heffernan Considers the Rise and Fall of Message Boards

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Online message boards were a mainstay of early web communities. Now they have the challenge of coexisting with Facebook, Tumblr, and numerous other social networking sites. So how has their presence changed? Virginia Heffernan, writing for the New York Times, offers a survey of the rise and fall of message boards from declining statistics to personal experience:

Not to get too misty, but the board format itself might deserve a nostalgic embrace. The Internet forum, that great old standby of Web 1.0., has become an endangered species.

Many boards are stagnant or in decline, if they even still exist. Several once-thriving boards on the women’s site iVillage have closed up shop. Big fiction-fan boards haven’t seen real action in years. Last month, a once-popular eight-old-year British board about mental health went dark with a note: “The Internet has changed significantly.”

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Collapse VII: Culinary Materialism (July)

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Collapse VII: Culinary Materialism "brings together work that explores, from many different perspectives, the multifaceted question of cookery. In this volume, a range of contributors - scientists, philosophers, chefs, anthropologists, artists - explore how philosophy and proto- scientific theory and experimental practice was linked at its outset to the culinary arts." From the introduction by Robin Mackay and Reza Negarestani (pdf):

Cookery has never been so high on the agenda of Western popular culture. And yet the endlessly-multiplying TV shows, the obsessive interest in the provenance of ingredients, and the celebration of ‘radical’ experiments in gastronomy, tell us little about the nature of the culinary. Is it possible to develop the philosophical pertinence of cookery without merely appending philosophy to this burgeoning gastroculture? How might the everyday, restricted sense of the culinary be expanded into a culinary materialism wherein synthesis, experimentation, and operations of mixing and blending take precedence over analysis, subtraction and axiomatisation? This volume, drawing on resources ranging from anthropology to chemistry, from hermetic alchemy to contemporary mathematics, undertakes a trans-modal experiment in culinary thinking, excavating the cultural, industrial, physiological, chemical and even cosmic grounds of cookery, and proposing new models of culinary thought for the future.

Proto-scientific thought and experimental practice, particularly in the form of alchemy, was linked to the culinary arts’ vital engagement with the transformation of matter. Indeed, how could empirical inquiry into nature, seeking to determine the capacities of matter on the basis of what lay to hand... be anything other than a culinary endeavour? Yet with the increasing specialisation of the sciences, philosophy has misplaced its will to extend such inquiry into a speculative philosophy whose power resides in its synthetic ambition as well as its analytical prowess.

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Friday at the New Museum: Recent Grantees in Rhizome Commissions Program

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Image courtesy of Red76, still from Youtube School for Social Politics (2009-)

Friday, July 15th 2011 at the New Museum
Recent Grantees in Rhizome Commissions Program
NEW SILENT SERIES: CURATED BY LAUREN CORNELL
Curated by Rhizome
$6 Members, $8 General Public

The Rhizome Commissions Program, which each year awards grants ranging from $5,000 to $1,000 to facilitate the production of original works of art, was founded in 2001 to support emerging artists working with media and technology. At this panel, we will present three artists that will present recently finished projects: Sam Gould of Red76, Michael Kontopoulos, and Tristan Perich. Sam Gould of Red76 will present The YouTube School for Social Politics (YTSSP) (2009—). This forum allows guest historians, artists, and theorists to construct passages of historical inquiry through the assemblage of clips found on YouTube, recycling surplus knowledge as a means of shedding new light on the landscape of past and present sociopolitical history. Red76 initiatives utilize overlooked histories and common shared occurrences to create a framework for public inquiries. Social histories, collaborative research, parallel politics, free media, alternative educational constructs, gatherings, masking, and public dialogue play a continuing and vital role within the methodology and concepts of Red76’s work. The group, often in flux and geographically dispersed, is the moniker for initiatives most often conceived by Sam Gould, and collaboratively realized with the assistance of Gabriel Mindel-Saloman, Zefrey Throwell, Dan S. Wang, Mike Wolf, Laura Baldwin, and many others.

Michael Kontopoulos will present Measure of Discontent (2010), a series of domestic sculptures that respond to three common physical habits of anxious people: sighing, pacing, and foot-shaking. Kontopoulos is a Los Angeles-based artist interested in constructing mechanical systems and tools for exploring the poetics of everyday, eccentric human behaviors. His work draws from strategies in speculative fiction in order to investigate the circumstances under which people might build custom devices to suite their nuanced needs or respond to various societal failings.

Tristan Perich will present Microtonal Wall (in 1-bit) (2010) an installation that features 1,536 small speakers blanketing an eight-by-twelve-foot wall. Each emits microtonal tones, spanning eight octaves (dividing each half step into sixteen pitches). This dense cluster of sound sources is the subject of a series of musical compositions, continuing Perich’s investigations into the foundations of electronic sound. Each speaker, emitting a single, primitive one-bit tone, becomes a microscopic voice in the total composition, substituting individual pitch for larger sonic masses. Perich is a composer and visual artist inspired by the aesthetics of math and physics and works with simple forms and complex systems.

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Religious Miracle and Technologic Effect

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This is a painting of Nyai Roro Kidul, Queen of the Southern Sea of Java in Indonesian mythology. This image is fan art essentially, painted by a 33 year old physical trainer who studied art abroad, and blogged about it. Notice the motion blur and lens flare that seem to radiate out to the viewer. As Karen Strassler, author of Refracted Visions: Popular Photography and National Modernity in Java, said at a talk at MIT in April, the image "literalizes the strong affinity between the religious miracle and technologic effect...Mysticism is now represented by media." 

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RECOMMENDED READING: Ethan Zuckerman's CHI 2011 keynote Desperately Seeking Serendipity

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So many great ideas in the transcript of Ethan Zuckerman's CHI 2011 keynote Desperately Seeking Serendipity: keynote, it's hard to know where to start:

Online spaces are often so anxious to show me how my friends are using a space that they obscure how other audiences are using it. In the run up to revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, an enormous amount of reporting (and a not-insignificant amount of organizing) took place on Facebook. If you didn’t have friends in those countries, and specifically in those movements, that activity was entirely invisible. It’s possible to find out what’s popular on Facebook to an audience broader than that of your friends. The Pages directory shows stars, bands and brands with audiences in the hundreds of thousands and millions – strolling through it is a pretty fascinating tour of what’s popular in the Philippines, Colombia and Nigeria, as well as in the US or Canada. Facebook has the data on the desire lines, but they bury it deep within a site rather than bringing it front and center. Twitter’s Trending Topics in an example of making these desire lines visible – we may not know what “Cala Boca Galvao” means when it shows up as a trending topic, or care that #welovebieber, but at least we get indications of what matters to those outside of our list of friends.

Whether we click on an unfamiliar Twitter tag or explore someone else’s annotations of a city map, we’re choosing to stray from our ordinary path. Cities offer multiple ways to wander, as well as a philosophical stance – the flâneur – that prizes wandering as strategy for encountering the city. I think two particular forms of structured wandering have strong potential to be useful in wandering through online spaces.

A few weeks ago, I met an old friend for lunch in New York City. In the twenty years since we’d last met, he’d become a leading figure in the US Communist Party (an organization that, I confess, I thought had disappeared sometime in the late 1960s). As we walked from a restaurant to his office, across from the legendary Chelsea Hotel, he pointed to otherwise unremarkable office and apartment buildings and told me stories about the unions that had built them, the tenants’ rights struggles that had unfolded, the famous Communists, Socialists and labor activists who’d slept, worked and partied under each roof. Our twenty block walk became a curated tour of the city, an idiosyncratic map that caused me to look closely at buildings that would otherwise have been background noise. I begged him to turn his tour of the city into an annotated map, a podcast walking tour, anything that would allow a broader audience to look at the city through his lens, and I hope he will.

One of the reasons curation is such a helpful strategy for wandering is that it reveals community maxima. It can be helpful to know that Times Square is the most popular tourist destination in New York if only so we can avoid it. But knowing where Haitian taxi cab drivers go for goat soup is often useful data on where the best Haitian food is to be found. Don’t know if you like Haitian food? Try a couple of the local maxima – the most important places to the Haitian community – and you’ll be able to discern the answer to that question pretty quickly. It’s unlikely you dislike the food because it’s badly made, as it’s the favorite destination for that community – it’s more likely that you simply don’t like goat soup. (Oh well, more for me.) If you want to explore beyond the places your friends think are the most enjoyable, or those the general public thinks are enjoyable, you need to seek out curators who are sufficiently far from you in cultural terms and who’ve annotated their cities in their own ways.

Another way to wander in a city is to treat it as a game board. I’m less likely to explore Vancouver by following a curated map than I am by searching for geocaches. Within five kilometers of this conference center, there are 140 packages hidden somewhere in plain sight, each containing a logbook to sign and, possibly, mementos to trade with fellow players. As a geocacher, it’s something of a moral imperative to find as many of those caches as time allows during your visit to an unfamiliar city. In the process, you’re likely to stray far from the established tourist sites of the city, if only because it’s hard to hide caches in such busy places. Instead, you’ll end up in forgotten corners, and often in places where the person who placed the cache wanted you to see something unexpected, historic or beautiful. Geocaching is its own peculiar form of community annotation, where the immediate goal is leaving your signature on 

 

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Notes From Adam Shecter's Speculative Future

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Images from Adam Shecter's Last Men video installation at Eleven Rivington (2011)

Drawing inspiration from four classic sci-fi novels, Adam Shecter recently created a dense sci-fi paperback of his own titled Last Men. Filled with images, drawings, photographs, and intermittent text, the book is an expanded companion piece to an animation titled Last Men, also by Shecter, exhibited recently at Eleven Rivington. The book opens with an image of a book with the words erased, a photo of blades of grass, and blurry hands clasped amidst an even blurrier background. Without page numbers, you're left to browse Shecter's imaginary, post-apocalyptic world using your own instincts. Browsing beyond a few sequential pages of TV static reveals a sea of black and white pages, a pastiche of coded, grainy, and macro images interrupted by drifting, melancholic poems and a few zoomed in clips from books. The contributions from 2-UP's Matthea Harvey, Christian Hawkey, and Cathy Park Hong add threads of a human presence that balance out the pages of monochrome, galactic noise.

Stopping somewhere near the end of the book to read Hong's Aubade Using Bradbury's Lines, I was reminded of Chris Marker's 1962 experimental sci-fi film La Jetée. And as I continued turning the pages, Hong's poem stayed with me narrating the incomplete diagrams and deep-black night shots of stars. In the end Shecter succeeds in creating a vision of a distant future where humankind reflects on a past we have yet to write.

Oh yes, we knew, we understood. And, looking into each other's faces for confirmation of what we felt, it was there—the future.

- excerpt from The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 by Doris Lessing

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Anthony McCall Revisited

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In addition to Light Industry's recent restaging of Anthony McCall's 1975 Long Film for Ambient Light, they also curated a gallery of images related to the installation on their website. Here are a few images that highlight the process of creating a large-scale conceptual piece like this one:

Images courtesy of Light Industry from their Anthony McCall portfolio (2011)

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Tonight: Rhizome Google+ Hangout with guests Jenna Wortham (New York Times) and Sarah Hromack (Whitney Museum)

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Join Rhizome tonight for our first open hangout on Google+. New York Times tech reporter Jenna Wortham and writer /website manager for the Whitney Museum, Sarah Hromack will be joining us on the group video chat service. Jenna will share her favorite YouTube videos. Sarah will talk about post-blog publishing and digitizing art books (see her recent interview with James Bridle for Rhizome.)

The hangout is open to everyone with a g+ account. A link will be available on senior editor Joanne McNeil's g+ page starting at 8pm EST.

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Info Mining: A Look at George Tzanetakis' Innovations in Music Classification

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Printed scores were once necessary for music listening.  Until the 20th century, each musician playing a symphony would need his own notated sheet music in order to play a piece for every performance.  Today, the bulk of music listening happens through recordings.  Musicians only need to play a song correctly once in order for anybody to hear it anytime, anywhere.

But with the streamlined dissemination of digital music on the Internet, today’s listeners need guidelines for how to consume music just as badly as musicians once needed scores to produce new music.  There is simply too much recorded music for any one person to keep track.  Accordingly, “music discovery services”, which guide listeners through huge libraries of music, are beginning to emerge as a genuine growth industry.

Pandora, a leading music discovery service, famously began its Music Genome Project about a decade ago, a music classification method that numerically rates songs according to a long list of criteria and sorts songs by these “genetic” similarities.  Pandora’s website generates playlist suggestions based on a minimal amount of input from listeners.  Ideally, Pandora automatically can create personally tailored playlists that a listener didn’t have the knowledge or time to create.

Shortly before the Music Genome Project commenced, George Tzanetakis made Marsyas, an open-source toolkit for automatically classifying songs and entire libraries of music, among other applications.  Pandora and Marsyas had similar aims - to intelligently sort music libraries to give listeners a way to find new artists and retrieve other qualitative information about music.  Working at Princeton as a grad student with professor Perry Cook, who wanted to find a way of automatically sorting radio stations, Tzanetakis developed various library-browsing visualizations within Marsyas, including Genre Meter, which can respond live to sound sources and classify them (video demo.)

Pandora has taken off as a large-scale commercial venture, with more competitors like Spotify and Slacker in its wake.  Tzanetakis’ Marsyas has remained known mostly only by academics and computer scientists.  Regardless, Tzanetakis’ work addresses issues of music classification in a more radical and even prophetic way than Pandora: all of Marsyas’ “genes” are completely determined by computer automation.  Tzanetakis’ contributions to the field of Music Information Retrieval (MIR, for short) have helped to push computers toward increasingly delicate interpretations of one of man’s most elusive forms of expression.  Marsyas is available for free download and even has a free user manual.

Though songs in the Pandora database are weighed and sorted by algorithms, a board of experts determines the value of each “gene”.  Recently, a New York Times reporter sat in with a group of Pandora’s experts listening to songs and then opining about how high a song scored in criteria like “emotional delivery”, “exoticism” and “riskiness”; as well as more concrete judgements on tempo, instrumentation and harmony.

By contrast, George Tzanetakis’ approach to music classification is completely automated.  It needs no panel of experts or crowdsourced participants to complete an intelligently made, intuitively browsable library of music.  It works based entirely on the audio signals themselves.  Given merely a library of digital song files, George Tzanetakis’ automated classification techniques algorithmically organize songs according to a variety of criteria and present fun interactive ways to browse and compare music.

 

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