From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Danny Snelson

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Google's mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" centers around faith in the power of the keyword to unlock its bottomless treasure chest and put the right answer in one window. Years have passed since the company's ranking algorithm outpaced the approach of human navigators filing information into channels -- an approach that Yahoo has been trying to keep alive by farming the digital labor to users themselves. But even as search algorithms make dinosaurs of the Dewey decimal and other brain-powered systems, it might be worth considering the benefits of staying open to a plurality of variously scaled methods.

These issues converge in Danny Snelson's work as a writer, editor, and archivist. His titles increasingly overlap in the internet's library without walls--an environment that often embodies the Foucauldian idea that "one never archives without editorial frames and 'writerly' narratives (or designs)," as Snelson put it in an email. As an archivist, he has made substantial efforts to preserve endangered cultural artifacts -- making them universally accessible and useful, you might say -- on behalf of PennSound, an audio archive specializing in recorded poetry, and UbuWeb, where, at the suggestion of founder Kenneth Goldsmith, he scanned out-of-print titles and reformatted them as PDFs for free distribution via the site's /ubu channel. The PennSounds and UbuWebs of the internet undertake preservation projects that small presses and recording labels can't touch due to financial reasons, thus ensuring that experimental work will continue to reach audiences in years to come. Distribution networks like these matter in an environment where the internet (for those without access to academic libraries, at least) is often the first and last stop for research -- a realization that impelled Goldsmith to formulate a radical ontology in the title of his 2005 essay, "If it doesn't exist on the internet, it doesn't exist."

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Required Reading

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Image: Shoveling pirated DVDs in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, April 20, 2008

The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.

The poor image is a rag or a rip; an AVI or a JPEG, a lumpen proletarian in the class society of appearances, ranked and valued according to its resolution. The poor image has been uploaded, downloaded, shared, reformatted, and reedited. It transforms quality into accessibility, exhibition value into cult value, films into clips, contemplation into distraction. The image is liberated from the vaults of cinemas and archives and thrust into digital uncertainty, at the expense of its own substance. The poor image tends towards abstraction: it is a visual idea in its very becoming.....

......The circulation of poor images creates a circuit, which fulfills the original ambitions of militant and (some) essayistic and experimental cinema—to create an alternative economy of images, an imperfect cinema existing inside as well as beyond and under commercial media streams. In the age of file-sharing, even marginalized content circulates again and reconnects dispersed worldwide audiences.

-- EXCERPTS FROM "IN DEFENSE OF THE POOR IMAGE" BY HITO STEYERL IN E-FLUX JOURNAL #10, NOVEMBER 2009

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Seth Price, Correspondence

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The following is an excerpt of an ongoing correspondence between Seth Price and Boško Blagojević.

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Required Reading

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Joep van Liefland, Video Palace # 23 - Hollywood was Yesterday, 2007

Many artists proffer a seemingly legitimate reason for being anxious about viewing copies: their works are supposed to be seen under very specific conditions in a gallery space. While this desire for “proper” installation complies with the art world’s mystificatory economy of exclusivity, which still uses as its ultimate model the unique cult image in its sacred precinct, it is of course understandable that artists would want their work to be seen under the right conditions. However, it is a mistake to think that these must be the only conditions under which a work can ever be seen. In an age in which everyone is used to seeing moving images in incredibly degraded forms online, viewers have a great capacity for “correcting” these conditions in their mind, for imagining the “proper” presentation. Seeing shaky illegal copy of the latest blockbuster on a laptop does not really damage the film; if anything, knowing that it must be so much better when seen under optimal conditions can only increase its aura.

The dialectic of de- and re-auratization is thus rather more complex than Benjamin allowed. As tempting as it may be to try to match the fervor with which he posited “right” and “wrong” ways of dealing with film—allowing it to unfold or curtailing its ontological promise, respectively—there is no reason to assume that the near future will bring us anything other than a hybrid culture in which cult value and exhibition value develop in an increasingly complex interplay. A culture, in other words, that resembles the present, but not without a little difference that is worth fighting for: an emancipation of the viewing copy, resulting in a different distribution circuit alongside that of limited editions. In such an ...

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Old Timey Goes New Timey

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Artists Eileen Simpson and Ben White, founders of the Open Music Archive, will present Ghost Trace Stellar at the Star and Shadow Cinema tonight in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK. Performed at a volunteer built and run cinema and open space, the event is a reanimation and expansion of the concept of Free/Libre and Open Source software models to musical proprietary, authorship and distribution.

The event is formulated around an open invitation to artists, musicians, producers and DJs to perform covers or reinterpretations of the 1920s and 30s out-of-copyright folk, blues, and jazz collated from the Open Music Archive. UK terms of copyright for literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work are set at the life of the author plus 70 years, and at 50 years from the date of recording for sound recordings. Artists have been invited to develop new works from tracks such as 'One Dime Blues' by Blind Lemon Jefferson and 'Ragtime Annie' by Charlie Poole and The North Caroline Ramblers Group. These performances will be recorded and licensed under Creative Commons Share-Alike, to generate a new resource for future use.

The Open Music Archive is an initiative to source and distribute copyright-expired music recordings, it is intended as a platform for the exchange and distribution of media-bound recordings and as a site for the creation of new collaborations. Ghost Trace Stellar is a collaboration with Polytechnic as part of their ongoing media ecologies programme.

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The Question of Freedom at the Open Video Conference

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Does free video uploading and downloading equal democracy? I asked myself this question during the recent Open Video Conference, organized by the Information Society Project at the Yale Law School and the Open Video Alliance, an umbrella coalition for the development of an “open video ecosystem”: a “movement to promote free expression and innovation in online video.” Conference sponsors include Mozilla, Redhat, Intelligent Television, and Livestream. The conference was held at New York University’s Vanderbilt Hall, home of the NYU Law School from June 19-21, 2009. I attended several of the panels at the conference, although it was primarily Yochai Benkler’s opening keynote that was of concern.

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Logo.Hallucination (2006) - Christophe Bruno

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Pattern recognition is a field in full expansion. It constitutes a key technology in the domains of safety, of the management of the rights, of marketing… « Logo.Hallucination » proposes to use technologies of recognition of images in order to detect subliminal forms of logos or emblems, hidden (generally involuntarily) in the visual environment or in the whole of the images of the Internet. The found images will be accessible in a weblog, proposing a comparison between the original on the one hand and, on the other hand, the brand and its logo.

« Logo.Hallucination » lies thus within the scope of Web 2.0 insofar as the raw data (images) are mashed up with additional visual information (the hallucination of the brand) and that their juxtaposition takes part of new economic stakes, pointed here in an ironic way.

Logo.Hallucination continuously monitors the images circulating on the Internet looking for hidden logos.

-- EXCERPT FROM THE ARTIST'S STATEMENT

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Interview with Jason Sigal of the Free Music Archive

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This week I interviewed Jason Sigal, Managing Director of the Free Music Archive, a brand new initiative developed by the acclaimed independent freeform New York-based FM and streaming radio station WFMU. Launched last month, the Free Music Archive is a curated archive of high quality legal audio downloads. The FMA pairs WFMU’s longstanding reputation and expertise with a model inspired by Creative Commons and the open source software movement, and presents a useful solution to copyright and regulation quandaries now facing the distribution of music online. - Ceci Moss

What conversations inspired the Free Music Archive?

The idea came from our Station Manager Ken Freedman and Assistant Station Manager Liz Berg, so you'd need to talk to them personally about the run up to the project. But this is the basic idea:

Radio is not enough. WFMU is at the forefront of using new technology to fulfill our mission, but outdated copyright law and the looming possibility of unfairly high royalties make it difficult to provide audio on-demand, to podcast, to archive, even to stream online. A lot of webcasters closed down as a result, because they would be paying more to webcast than to broadcast over FM/AM or what we would call 'terrestrial' radio. We want to support the artists we play. But SoundExchange (the performing rights organization who claims to collect royalties on behalf of all the world's recordings, not just those registered with the RIAA) has a gargantuan list of Unpaid Artists that they can't seem to track down. Glancing through it now...Kraftwerk's on here, the Afghan Whigs, X-Ray Spex, Ted Nugent...SoundExchange has a very difficult task at hand, and it's a valiant one, but if they can't find these artists, they're NEVER gonna be able to ...

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Good Copy Bad Copy (2007) - Andreas Johnsen, Ralf Christensen, Henrik Moltke

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a documentary about the current state of copyright and culture

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Sonic Outlaws (1995) - Craig Baldwin

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Within days after the release of Negativland's clever parody of U2 and Casey Kasem, recording industry giant Island Records descended upon the band with a battery of lawyers intent on erasing the piece from the history of rock music.

Craig "Tribulation 99" Baldwin follows this and other intellectual property controversies across the contemporary arts scene. Playful and ironic, his cut-and-paste collage-essay surveys the prospects for an "electronic folk culture" in the midst of an increasingly commodified corporate media landscape.

-- FROM UBU

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