SB Tweet Digest #3 (april 2010) . [1/2]

may 02, 2010.

Last month the SoundBlog twitter birdie twittie yelped 26 times. Here's some of the things that it was on about (first of two digest posts):


[11865813045] I was intrigued by the 'urban parasites', created by the Mexican artist Gilberto Esparza, that I read about on Régine Debatty's WMMNA. Gilberto and his team construct dblt simple but ingenuous robots, mainly from scrap metal and other discarded stuff that they collect at junkyards. These 'robo-toys' are then set loose in the city, where the creatures look for free energy to feed on, in order to 'survive'. The dblt (which stands for diablito: imp) moves along the power cables spanning the streets, feeding on its electricity. Meanwhile, diablito records and stores sounds from its environment, which every now and then - depending on its mood - it plays back again ("Esta especie almacena sonidos de su entorno y los reproduce intermitentemente según su estado de ánimo." Which, you will agree, is an accurate definition of what is a phonographer.) You can see the imp in action in this short clip on the Parásitor Urbanos website. Besides being in spanish, much of the interesting content of that website is hidden behind a Flash-intro; if you'd like to explore some more visuals of Gilberto's work, better go directly to his proceso-page.

Is it because of my current reading of Steve Goodman's Sonic Warfare that I imagined this diablito evolving into a high-tech automatized spy-machine rather than an eco-woolen clad urban soundscape collector?
On the other hand, maybe some of its descendants will mutate into tape-o-bugs ... Now that would be awesome.

cover up
cover down

[12326992440] Digital Folklore is another book that I recently read. Edited by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenscheid, designed by Manuel Bürger. The design is an essential ingredient of the book, parts of which are about how websites used to look.
(Not only the browsers, also our screens were different back then; and so were the machines to which they were attached and the manner in which in turn the machine were hooked onto the web. In a user's experience of websites and the internet, all of this is intimately connected. Whence there is in fact no possible way to truly 'relive' the feel of the web of the past within that of today, using today's browsers, today's laptops and today's connections. [...] What is equally remarkable, is that these remarks sound as if I am considering a span of ages here, while it is actually no more than some 15 years.)
The Digital Folklore Reader takes you back to the days when much of the web, if not all of it, was a vernacular web, where users (which is the Reader's main key-word) welcomed one another on their personal homepages, adorned with free animated gifs a prominent and inviting mail me link and a short text set in Comic Sans, all put against a colorful and repeating, maybe even blinking, background, and with MIDI versions of popular tunes to set the tone and please the ear.
Indeed, they are much like this Rina's Page, that more than 10 years ago (in 1999), for some reason I decided to save for posterity (at least temporarily).
Over that decade, the editors observe, the web has become a far more 'developed and highly regulated space', where old fashioned homepages like Rina's have become obsolete.
Of course.
Rina'll be on Facebook now. ( * )
Her former homepage not only looks resplendently 'old school'. It is also very much out of place within the Google's Chrome browser that speads across the wide screen of my MacBook. Rina's site was a part of the early IE and Netscape 4 web, supposed to be dripping slowly onto the bulky but smallish square tube-screen of a PowerPC via a busily blinking telephone modem ... That is why this paper book is able to tell the story and bring across the feel of that 'bright, rich, personal, slow and under construction' web so much better than a website could, with a set of 're-built' old school pages, rendered at hi-speed in one of today's fast and standards compliant browsers.

Digital Folklore has three sections: an 'Observations' part (with texts on the 'vernacular web' (that I remembered having read before, online), on - up and coming - 'the cloud', ancient attempts at a 3D web with VRML, fonts, the computer ...), a 'Research' part (papers written by the editors' students) and 'Giving Back' (succinct, and glossy, presentations of a handful of projects of new media and interface design students at Merz Akademie).

indexDigital Folklore is a playful yet serious ode to the swarm of early web users, the amateurs who - it is the authors' solemn conviction - while diligently hacking out the simplest of HTML code to built personal home pages, cat sites, hobby sites and webrings, both were and made the web, until, somewhere in the mid/end 1990's, with dazzling speed it set out to commercialize. The management of its exponentially growing content was confided to database systems and a new caste of professionals took over its design and coding.

Digital Folklore tells (and shows) a certain history of a certain web in a certain way, that to many of its early active users will feel pretty familiar. A story that would be easy to dismiss as the smallest among footnotes to the one that's set in bold face, of a web that because of its in-near-to-no-time rise to the status of the most massive of mass media, became the battlefield for an ongoing power struggle between meta/mega-sized corporations and institutions.

The nostalgia lurking behind many of Digital Folklore's pages is not easy to avoid. The book had me ponder my personal online history. I recalled some of the sites and services that I frequented, but that since have perished (most notably one of the first examples of a 'social network site', sixdegrees.com, and the 'independent online music network', mp3.com). It made me think of the many successive and drastic metamorphoses that for years in a stretch many websites continued to undergo, as did my own. ( ** )
It had me dive deep into my archives to find the very first webpages that I made, some fifteen years ago, when we surfed on Mosaic. Those pages did survive. But not online. They only survived because, at the time, I printed them. On ordinary paper. I tried to unearth them with archive.org's WayBackMachine, but I guess they are way too back ( *** ). The printed versions allowed me to re-construct them.
(It was very easy in fact to find back exactly the same clip-art images online that I used originally (the little saxophone, the blue arrow, and the 'under construction' sign). That particular part of digital folklore - apparently - remains thoroughly rooted, also in today's web.)

On today's web users no longer copy and paste lines of HTML and then publish their homepages. They compose profiles (give away all their personal data) and (for free) hand over all sorts of (original and/or 'borrowed') content to a handful of commercial mega-platforms, for which rather than the users and the content they donate, the establishment, consolidation and growth of the power of the platform in and by itself is the foremost issue that is at stake, a power that is solely based on the potential (future) economic value of the platform's database with user-provided information.
I don't know whether that is good or whether that is bad. Or, I actually do know that it is bad, but that is another story altogether. It does not mean though, that I miss the long gone days of animated 'mail me' gifs, glittering backgrounds and 'under construction' signs. And it will also be very, very unlikely that Rina and the millions of other former 'Welcome to my Homepage' makers, would dump their Facebook account and switch their homepage back online, were they given the choice. They may have sold their souls in the process, but doesn't Facebook deliver what they've been asking for: visitors, attention, contacts?

Meanwhile content comes and content goes. It washes on and off our screens like the water of the oceans washes on and off our shores. Funny, really, that apparently though it is not the web itself that is the medium best suited to tell some of the (hi)stories related to all of that content and the forms in which it was presented.
Books do that much better.
Digital Folklore is a fine example.

(Easiest get will be to order it online ...)

Digital Folklore. To computer users, with love and respect. Olia Lialina, Dragan Espenschied (ed.) Merz & Solitude, 2009. 288p. ISBN: 9 783937 982255 ]

telefoon rood
drs P luisteraarster

[12167958658] Last month Moritz Ebinger's Radio Rood (Radio Red) continued its live broadcasts, on three successive wednesdays from inside the library of the FBKVB (the Netherlands Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Architecture) on the Amsterdam Brouwersgracht. Broadcasts, in the course of which a long parade of more or less colorful guests shone their light on all possible facets of ... red ... : red in general, but also more in particular: red.
Above there's a couple of red radio photographs. In the one in the lower left corner you see Heinz Hermann Polzer, better known - at least for the Dutch viewers - as Drs. P, who, surprisingly (or maybe not), was an undisputed highlight in this series of "red" broadcasts.

[12243530905] On his High Ponytail blog Maready posted an - as always, nice and thoughtful - entry on a 2003 Jandek album, "The Gone Wait". That was good enough reason for me to spend some time discovering this "outsider musician", whose name I saw regularly mentioned, who seemed to intrigue a great many, but whose music I had never heard. This changed with Maready's post. Indeed, I heard an awful lot of Jandek these past two weeks (and little else besides). Thirty (30) full albums, to be precise, some days played back at random, other days in their order of release. From the very first one (Corwood Industries 0739 - Ready for the House) up to the 29th (Corwood Industries 0767 - Put My Dream On This Planet). Then there's a little jump to the 35th: The Gone Wait. jandek gone waitTogether that's is about half of the complete oeuvre that Jandek steadily has been building since the late 1970s, released as a still ongoing stream of self-edited records, available by mail-order from (always the same) P.O. Box address somewhere in Houston, Texas. Highly recommended, actually. Not so much for its originality (none of it is terribly original in the sense of 'not having heard anything like it before'), as for its stubborness, an obvious obsessiveness, its coherence and consistency. And the man's untiring persistence in constructing something so ... monumental is the word, really. Most of time it is just him, singing (or rather 'chanting') and strumming a guitar, that is not so much un- as that it is open-tuned. Jandek sometimes sounds like a raving Dylan. And some of his stuff sounds as if recorded by an overly introvert Beefheart and his Magic Band. He often has a habit of __s t  r   e    t     c      h__-ing the words that he's uttering. Some are unaccompanied vocal recordings, a capella. On others Jandek plays the piano. Or (on "The Gone Wait") he uses a fretless electric bass instead of a guitar. Sometimes other instruments join in, sometimes there's also others playing along, though it certainly not always is the case that other or more instruments mean that there is also others performing in the recordings. Despite the changes occurring over time, from record to record, together the 30 album sound as if were but one, with - as far as I am concerned - rarely a dull moment.
Much looking forward now to getting to know also the remaining 30.
Who or whatever Jandek may be, the man is surely not a dilettante.

[ All Jandeks, including those originally released on vinyl, remain available as CDs and can be ordered by sending mail (and payment) to the Houston post-office box; each title costs a mere $8,== ]

- pt 2 : Jason Freeman's Piano Etudes
& Amsterdam Music Hack Day


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notes __ ::
(*) Rina's homepage used to be hosted by infoseek.com. The original url was http://homepages.infoseek.com/~smilestheultimatechattingmachine/ [ ^ ]
(**) In this sense the web did 'converge'. Nowadays drastic make-overs of complete web sites, which until the early 2000s were not unusual, nowadays are far more seldom. Sites continue to evolve, but do no longer change their 'looks' every six months or so. Most of them did arrive at some sort of optimum model for the presentation of their content. And then stick to it. [ ^ ]
(***) Archive.org does an admirable job. It has happened quite a few time that I managed to find back content on some site or other that no longer was part of the site's current version, but that was available using the archive's 'timemachine'. Generally speaking though, the attempt at archiving all of the web's past and future content in an ongoing series of successive snapshots, cannot be but Don Quixotean. [ ^ ]

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