Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"1945-1998," 2003, Isao Hashimoto

From the Artist: "This piece of work is a bird's eye view of history, by scaling down a month's length of time into one second. The blinking light, sound and the numbers on the world map show when, where and how many (nuclear bomb) experiments each country has conducted."

It's a mesmerizing, War-Games kind of video, with nuclear tests forming the soundtrack. Also, a reminder of what kind of information artists and designers can make concrete using time-based maps.

Shortly after the primary video, we are shown another time-lapse map of each country's nuclear tests, but the detonations leave artifacts on the screen correlating to size and location. The result is stunning.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Crashpop World Service Mix for May 2010

Here's a Crashpop World Service Mix for May, since the radio show has been suspended. 12 tracks, just in case anyone else has finals they need to be distracted from.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Flannel Magazine

Here's a "shouting outs" to Flannel Magazine, Maine's finest and grittiest lo-fi, DIY zine-book dedicated to local underground artists and writers. Add them on Facebook or just go ahead and buy the new issue.

Yes, I'm a regular contributor. No, I don't get any money out of spamming you about it.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Playing Super Mario Bros. with Roger Ebert

Braid trailer 1.2 from David Hellman on Vimeo.

Roger Ebert, who is actually really awesome about films, and about all kinds of other things, seems to be really (disappointingly) weird about video games.

About Braid, he writes: "Nor am I persuaded that I can learn about my own past by taking back my mistakes in a video game. She also admires a story told between the games levels, which exhibits prose on the level of a wordy fortune cookie."

He's basing his review of Braid on a YouTube video of Kellee Santiago's 2009 talk at a TED conference:

Instead of playing these games, Ebert is basing his opinion on a description of the games, not on actually playing them. No one would write a review of a film based on seeing a lecture about the film, so I don't get what he's doing.

Examining games in an old-media context is weird, because the "art" happens in the interaction, not the storyline or the explanation of the game's gimmicks. Experience changes the 'meaning' of those gimmicks in a tangible way - you transfer yourself into the screen, so it's not the same as "taking back a move" in chess (That's Ebert's comparison) but more like watching a film rewind itself precisely when you need it to, and being able to see a different output.

You can't like Run Lola Run without loving video games, or understanding them as art. That film follows Lola as she runs through three 'levels' of 'missions' to save her boyfriend; Ebert was lukewarm on the film, but he made an odd note (even after acknowledging the video game parallel in his lede). "Film is ideal for showing alternate and parallel time lines. It's literal; we see Lola running, and so we accept her reality." It's weird, then, that he so easily dismisses video games when they achieve the exact same end.

Ebert says games are closer to the chicken scratch end of the art spectrum, but notably, he's not a gamer. You can't get the culture of games - or understand something like what Braid does differently, without knowing what the culture of games is. Maybe that's an indictment of gaming's insularity as an art form. But the context of mediocrity - there's a lot of bad movies, and a lot of bad games - actually kind of defines what happens when a movie dodges, expands, or devastates the cliche's of its genre. That may be meaningless on its own. Perhaps you won't have your mind blown by reversing time in a game if it's the first game you've ever played. But I do think it's important.

Ultimately Ebert is a film guy, not an images guy, it seems, but the "it ain't art" argument is dead, dead, dead. I mean heck, I was writing about Video Games as Art back in like, 2009, guys.

On YouTube Art's Aesthetics, or "OMGart"

Jacob Ciocci, "The Peace Tape," 2009, on YouTube

Of course this is what art looks like in the 20-teens.

This stuff, Jimmy Joe Roche,

and Ryan Trecartin,

and Everything is Terrible, is more than just pastiche/collage of images/sounds. It's a pastiche of mediums - art about VHS tapes and about what's on VHS tapes. Art on YouTube and about what's on YouTube. Simultaneously. And arranged into microblips (microkitsch?) to mirror the 'frenetic onslaught of information in the digital age' (TM), with the nuggets plucked out and exploded, the art of a world that has too many search engine results for "corgi dog +awesome".

Here's curation in 'the future of art' - just as journalists, stock brokers, photographers and anyone else who had a sweet job in the 20th century has been replaced with some variation of an RSS feed, curation can be done with an iPod touch and a Tumblr app. "We don't need guys in museums" showing us archival 1990's kitsch, because the Tumblrkids and the VHStubers are going to do it for us. And they aren't even going to argue about the role of the curator, or the role of the museum, or the role of the gallery.

Don't worry, you guys, all of that is dead already. The most significant cultural export of the 2010's will be 15-year-old kids reassembling old shit.jpg's / trash.mov files and passing it on and making fun of how lame instructional videos for the Internet are, while galleries go the way of movie rental stores and newspapers.

Everything is Terrible, 2010, '90s Gaming is Very Cool'

Which is why I have been fascinated by Tumblr as a sort of manifestation of Walter Benjamin's dream to write a book using only passages from other books. Benjamin struggled with it, but now teenage kids in Wisconsin do it for fun without even knowing it's 'art or whatever'. This is a gallery and it's a zine, and it's what curation looks like, circa 2010-2020.

Authors are dead and talking about the author being dead is dead. It's all about the curator and the collector and it's a first-hand, instinctual impulse to make art that makes sense of all these raw materials. And that collector is recombining all of the stuff into a new thing where authorship isn't assumed or considered, where the museum is a museum of images which themselves are museums and it's all under some kid's YouTube screen name followed by a couple of numbers.

OMGArt guys amiright? It's even stupider if you say it out loud.

Peace Tape comes by way of All Everyone, United

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Xiu Xiu, "This Too Shall Pass" (Music Video), 2010

C. Spencer Yeh, "This Too Shall Pass" video for Xiu Xiu, 2010

Pitchfork calls this video 8-bit, but I have my doubts. It's still pretty great.

The video for Boy Soprano was also '8-bit':

Jose Perez III, "Boy Soprano" video for Xiu Xiu, 200(?)

If anyone's up for a surreal nighttime activity, you can scour YouTube for Tweens who make fanvideos for Xiu Xiu songs, like this video for Apistat Commander made from the computer game 'movie studio' which made me really uncomfortable.

Jamie Stewart's lyrics consist of self-aware, hyperbolic angst that kind of mocks itself at the same time that it's being really sincere, which I guess is also the feeling of being 15 and having access to the Internet.

Let's look at the videos kids are making for Xiu Xiu songs (If I didn't link, there's a reason):
1) "I Love the Valley (Oh!)" is set to simple cuts of different LiveJournal Icons;
2) Tweens build nuclear bombs for "Poe Poe"
3) Tween stares at a mirror real scary and mouths along between cuts of John Ashcroft and antidepressant medication,
3) Tweens with Disco Balls and glitter-soaked victorian garb stand on train tracks.

What would your YouTube Xiu Xiu video have looked like when you were 14? What experimental percussive/electronic noise band did you make music videos for in middle school?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Charanjit Singh, "10 Ragas to a Disco Beat," 1982

I don't usually post music here, despite running a world music program by the same name, but since I'm not doing the show and since this is retro electronic music, here you go.

In 1982, Indian electronic musician Charanjit Singh decided to reimagine traditional Indian Ragas in the style of contemporary electronic pop music. The result is explained in the title: "Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat."

Which sounds promising enough in a hokey, disco-kitsch kind of way, except that the music is pure acid, ahead of its time (We'd get that 303 squelch stateside sometime around 1989, unless you were in Detroit).

Check it out below on the blog, or at the link if you're on FB/RSS:

(Youtube: Raga Bhairav, 1982)

It's so good that I almost don't buy it. The sound quality is kind of too pristine (compare it to other, mainstream Bollywood musical recordings: Disco Dancer's 'homage' to 'Video Killed the Radio Star', for example):

Which is funny, because Charanjit's music could have actually benefited from tape warble; it would have made a pretty sweet chillwave record. As it stands now, the most accurate comparison I've seen is to Aphex Twin's "Analord" series. The melodies do fit in with the standard Raga fare.

There are liner notes in the sleeve, for what it's worth. Props to Bombay Connection Records for the find.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Short Take: Lo-Fi Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros on an 8x8 LED matrix from Chloe Fan on Vimeo.

Because Super Mario hacks will never stop being awesome.

By way of Engadget.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"8-bit NYC" by Brett Camper and Additional Notes on Video Game Cartography

Statue of Liberty overhead map rendered by 8-bit.

8-bit NYC is a totally zoomable, interactive map of New York City rendered in the style of NES games - personally, I think it most closely resembles the maps of the Dragon Warrior series:

Awesomely, Camper is soliciting funds to Build 15 more cities, including Boston, San Francisco, D.C., London and Paris. (Kyoto, home of NES headquarters, is conspicuously absent). And, if you contribute, you can get a number of various goodies, including the option to name a city for inclusion.

Video Game Cartography
The whole thing has got me thinking about video game cartography, guys.

Video games depend on cartography. Essentially, games are designed as maps and performed, by the player, as musical scores. What can video game cartography show us about the world?

There seem to be two categories of video game world maps, provided we begin by eliminating the side-scroller:

A) Video game maps with real-world parallels.
B) Video game maps of completely fictitious worlds.

Video game maps with real-world parallels.
Destiny of an Emperor's map of China, Gegege no Kitaro 2's surprisingly beautiful map of Japan.

I can't find a rendering for the Japan of "Nobunaga's Ambition" or the China of "Romance of the Three Kingdoms."

Nor can I find any video game that includes a map of the United States, or any continent that isn't Asia. Perhaps this explains a generation of lackluster geography students. These maps don't blink.

I can, however, find Disney World, as rendered by the game "Adventures in the Magic Kingdom" -

Video games of completely fictitious worlds.

This is, by far, the most dominant mapping of video game space.

Some enormous maps: Earth Bound, Faria, and of course, Hyrule from Legend of Zelda.

When Maps are the territory
With enough time and effort, someone could put together a visual culture analysis of how video game maps reflect our interactions with the spaces they claim to represent.

Korzybski writes, "The map is not the territory," but for the sake of video games, the map IS the territory. Neil Gaiman writes, "One describes a tale best by telling the tale. You see? The way one describes a story, to oneself or the world, is by telling the story. It is a balancing act and it is a dream. The more accurate the map, the more it resembles the territory. The most accurate map possible would be the territory, and thus would be perfectly accurate and perfectly useless. The tale is the map that is the territory."

The maps of video games are the most accurate maps possible, because the map and the territory are the same when you're playing. Notably, renderings of game maps (often included in the boxes or sold in strategy guides) aren't interactive, so they are less useful than the actual game map. The game, itself, is "perfectly accurate and perfectly useless." Maybe you get your character killed in the process of figuring out the space you occupy in the game. C'est la vie.

Perhaps an academic study of the visual culture of video game cartography would find that a generation raised on an interactive fantasyland of playable maps - maps which are the territory - ended up with an instinctively different concept of real vs. virtual and organic vs. synthetic interactions. An 8-bit induced 'fallacy of misplaced concreteness.'

No question that 'simulations of interactions' can now be treated the same way 'in-flesh interactions' are treated: See Twitter, Facebook and flame wars. Growing up with the world of the primal map - where our bodies sit motionless while our minds and screens explore caves, shoot aliens, fight dragons, unify Japan and spur real, physical and psychological responses - has left us in a limbo where the real world and its simulation are no longer separated. The map is the territory, and the screen is where the action is.

This is our future, guys.

(8-bit NYC came to my attention by way of Michael Mandiberg)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Kőnigh Péter - Indián dal (1987)

Here's a music video from 1987, part of the Peter Timar's music-video-as-cinema project, Moziklip, which was like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" if every song on "The Wall" was performed by a random Hungarian new wave bands and curated by the director. I like this one (above) in particular because of it's cynicism about revolution in the Soviet states, which I am writing a secret thesis about.

Link for you RSS-types.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The African Casiotone Hand Clap Crisis

Guys, I've been thinking about the prevalence of Casio keyboards in contemporary African cassette culture and in the Middle East.

It's something you don't hear in America's presentations of 'world music', like the Putomayo releases. You know, the little cardboard, biodegradable cases with cartoonish looking drawings of people in a cafe that spell "Mexico" with a chili pepper.

According to the Putumayo Web site, “the label has become known primarily for its upbeat and melodic compilations of great international music characterized by the company's motto: 'guaranteed to make you feel good!'”

Getting Americans to enjoy that stuff means they need to leave the hand claps at home, despite that the synthesizer's affordability and flexibility have made it a standard for folk musicians around the world. But the Casio isn't just an annoying handclap-making machine. In a digital culture, it's the new washboard. And this is the new (Western) folk music:

But heard in 'folk music' from other cultures - cultures that we usually associate with poverty - it's also evidence of globalization, and Putomayo releases give white folks a satisfying mirage of 'uncorrupted peoples' whose cultures haven't been 'tainted' by the West. Because that would be too 'real'.

The Casio hand clap is the bastard child of Western culture, a sonic baby so disfigured and inauthentic that we have literally banished it to foreign lands. And reminding Westerners of its existence informs us of the hand clap's infection of these cultures, which brings our romanticism of 'the simple poor folks' to a messy, sloppy halt.

The Putumayo problem keeps true folk movements away from representation, presenting a tranquil, peaceful music at odds with the reality of global politics. After all, a lot of these countries are war zones. Why would they be listening to music that is “guaranteed to make you feel good?”

(The irony of a Palestinian Hip-Hop group subverting footage from middle-class "weed-rap" Snoop Dogg concerts is great).

The Putumayo approach to world music presents the most uncomplicated version of any culture's sound, often recorded in European studios by immigrants, or even second-generation immigrants, of the culture it claims to present. African music, as heard through a Putumayo release, will include a number of talking drums, a marimba and a group chant and, for whatever reason, some European flair to water it down. The end effect is an admittedly sentimental, pleasant and uncomplicated music that is simplified enough for Westerners to consider safe, but exotic enough to consider 'authentic.'

This form of world music is the aural equivalent of Binyavanga Wainana's ironic advice to Western writers in Africa that “African characters should be colourful, exotic, larger than life but empty inside, with no dialogue, no conflicts or resolutions in their stories, no depth or quirks to confuse the cause.”

On a Putumayo release, you will not hear, for example, the quirks of second-hand '80s Casio keyboard tones, including hand claps, that are all over the underground folk cassettes of Africa. Or in Middle Eastern dance music:

The Casio is grating to the American ear; the sound of a chintzy toy instrument. When it becomes an influence on folk traditions in the developing world, the '80s Casiotone hand clap smashes the mundane realities of globalization into the exotic fantasy of the 'other'. The '80s Casiotone hand clap in a folk song is a moment of distinct rupture between Putumayo's mission “to make you feel good!” and the reality the troubling power relationship Western culture imposes.

Greg Barz, an assistant professor of ethnomusicology at Vanderbilt University, says that libraries often rely on archiving releases from labels such as Putumayo, which are often produced in European studios, rather than seeking out and archiving cassettes available in Africa of actual African musicians.

“It would be like us only collecting people who covered other people's music, which is ridiculous to even think about,” he told the Vanderbilt Community Register. “But when it comes to other people's cultures we very often will only trust interpretations rather than going to the source.”

Barz notes that “cassettes are the reality of everyday music in Africa,” and a number of online resources are dedicated to making digital copies of the music available online and (as you can see) YouTube. This has opened up a kind of globalism feedback loop, as American indie rock bands have picked up on sounds of the African underground and translated them into American rock. Vampire Weekend, which borrows heavily from JuJu and Highlife music from Northwestern Africa, has even been covered by a Malawi immigrant to England, Esau Mwamwaya, and the American band's frontman performed on a song written by Mwamwaya, bringing the cycle of globalism to its completion.

In the New Yorker's review of musician Maya Arulpragasam, a.k.a MIA, whose music is a global pastiche incorporating the hip-hop of UK street culture with the droning siren-music of her native Sri Lanka, Sasha Frere-Jones writes: “It’s a voice from a place where kids throw rocks at tanks, where people pull down walls with their bare hands. It could be the sound of a carnival, or a riot.”

Not sure what that means on a global scale, guys. But it seems to me like Putumayo is making CD's that let us ignore Western interaction with other cultures, and sells a dream that this process isn't taking place.

This globalization is already here - and irreversible - so there's no reason to assume that a folk tradition wrapped in fake amber is any more 'authentic' than a folk tradition infected with Casio synths and drum machines hand claps. But one offers us a genuine insight into the world, and the other one just preserves a series of Western myths.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Race Noise and Crashpop

Kelefa Sanneh: Often with a subgenre that’s like a noisier version of X – often X is a black music, and the noisier version involves white people. Very recently that could be, adding noise to jungle. But we can go back and talk about distortion and amps. We can talk about rock abstracting itself from blues.

Bidoun: Post-punk abstracting itself from funk.

KS: Right. And often the impulse to make something noisier is to make it less black.

From Bidoun Magazine Issue #19 (here), via Mudd Up!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

8-bit Taiko Drum... Hero

This Japanese video game, Taiko no Tatsujin 2 for the Wii, is like "Guitar Hero" with a Taiko drum. If that weren't enough to post about, it also includes a track specifically written by 8-bit/Chiptune Electro musicians YMCK. I especially appreciate the animals doing the pogo at the 1:53 mark.