Archive for December, 2007

Narrativity, Cross-media, Multi-Surface Computing, more Proliferation of Real-Time, Chladni Plates as metaphor, and why we (or at least me) should, perhaps, think less and do more…

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Three years ago I gave a talk to some students on narrativity. I didn’t pick the topic and it was hard work. I ended up explaining that narrativity is the degree to which a specific element within a given structure advances the goal of that structure. In a story, narrativity is the ability for specific elements to move the story along.

In a cross-media form like an Alternate Reality Game (link is to a .pdf – it is concise and an excellent introduction) the specific technologies employed in the various actions can be understood as having levels of narrativity – specifically, the relationship between the goal of a specific action and the technology used to reach that goal, and how those elements work together to reach the ultimate intention of the project.

As an example, the ‘beginning’ of the Alternate Reality Game “i love bees” featured a brief shot of a url at the bottom of the last frames for the trailer for Halo 2. As the ARG was part ad campaign for the upcoming release of Halo 2 this was an appropriate choice, and as the game required keen observation skills placing it in such a way made it available, primarily, to keen observers and, as the game required people willing to participate, showing just a URL, briefly, would require someone with the necessary motivation to go home and visit that sight. The fact that the URL was hard to see required, perhaps, a few viewings of the trailer so that both persistence (another trait essential to a successful ARG), and a willingness to spend money on entertainment (an essential trait in a potential consumer…) were also required. Jane Macgonigal’s choice to snail mail jars of honey with letters (spelling out “i love bees”) inside of them to a highly active ARG player (here for more details) thereby announcing the game to a wider audience let people know that the project would be highly cross-media, etc. Each of these technologies was used to advance specific elements of the overall narrative of the project in a highly skillful, very intelligent way.

Over the intervening years since my talk, and inspired by seeing this interview with physicist Lee Smolin (middle of page), where he talks about some string theorists favoring a discussion of area over volume, my thinking on the narrativity of objects has developed into a metaphorization of objects as surfaces, where each specific surface conveys different concepts/different information, more efficiently than other surfaces.

I’ll explain:

Imagine a chladni plate with, instead of salt or sand, different three-dimensional objects on it. As different frequencies vibrate the place, different objects on the plate respond to those frequencies by vibrating more or less. At any given frequency one or more objects will vibrate more than others – those objects can be understood as optimal forms to convey those specific frequencies. If, instead of frequencies you imagine ‘vibrating’ the plate with certain elements of a given story or project, you get the idea.

During a class last semester I described this as Multi-Surface, Cross-Media Computing, and I feel it is an important concept to wrap one’s head around if the goal is a cross-media application – ARG or otherwise. Some students seemed stuck on the word ‘surface’ and thought I was suggesting that this sort of activity was ‘superficial’ and, hence, shallow. I wasn’t.

I also feel that this sort of narrativity/resonance exists within objects that are not explicitly designed for this purpose.

I think that the objects we embed in our environment resonate with the concepts that are important to our culture. The web is such an ‘object’ or ‘surface’.

Even further explanation:

Imagine again the chladni plate, and this time it is wrapped around the surface of the earth and we, and everything else in our environment, is resting on it. This time, our ideas are what make it vibrate and our ideas are passing through our feet. As before, there are objects on the plate, and as before some objects vibrate harder – let’s say twice as hard, than others in response to the different frequencies (ideas) rippling from our minds, through our bodies and across the plate. The ideas we’re feeding into the plate are varied, obviously, and many ideas are rippling across the plate at any moment, just like at any moment people’s minds are considering all sorts of things. In my analogy people’s thoughts are ‘freely’ their own, so they run the gamut of whatever people happen to be thinking about at any time.

After a while we would begin to make connections regarding thoughts we had and objects that responded strongly to those thoughts. As consummate tinkerers, we would begin to build and assemble things that would respond to various thoughts/vibrations. Sometimes these objects would be designed specifically to respond to a specific idea, and sometimes that would work. Sometimes there would be unexpected consequences in the form of the object vibrating to some frequency that we hadn’t really been paying attention to.

If the object that vibrates to this unfamiliar frequency vibrates long and loud enough we’d have no choice but to pay attention to it and an aspect of our paying attention to it would produce a change in our focus and behavior. We would probably stop what we were doing and try to understand what was making this thing hum. Some people would explain it, and other people would listen and think about the explanation and test it out by incorporating it into other things. Eventually we would ‘understand’ it well enough to use it, at which point it would have been classified and probably named.

In this example the ‘new’ object would have a high level of narrativity for a concept that has evolved to be utterly real, prominent (it responds to a strong vibration emanating from us) and useful, but that seemed to emerge from our collective tinkering, and was not explicitly understood and designed first in our heads, and then projected into the environment where it was embodied in a specific resonant object solely via our explicit intentions. We certainly had a lot to do with it but its origins were not explicitly predicted by previous understandings.

If we were smart enough to accept the ‘new’ thing, listen to it, and integrate it into our collective toolkit our collective experience and future tinkering would be enhanced.

If we chose tell it what it is rather than listen to it by, for example, giving it a bizzaro nonsense description like, I don’t know, ‘alternate reality’, or ‘augmented reality’, or ‘virtual reality’, or ‘cyberspace‘ then our future tinkering and experience with and around it would be complicated…

As an aside, I just got this via email from transmediale that mentions their upcoming event which features a talk by Timothy Druckery (who I work with at MICA:

From ‘real’ to simulation, from simulation to virtualisation, the
assimilation of the reality function has haunted the continuing debates
about images and intelligibility. This, of course, is predicated on the
assumption that there is a stable, describable, ‘real’ that shares an
objective affinity to the world. Shattered by psychoanalysis, quantum
physics, semiotics, cybernetics, and, increasingly by computation, the
fiction of the ‘real’ is the indispensable conspiracy. This talk will
take aim at the ‘reality principle’ as the core tragedy of a culture
inebriated by a desperate illusion.”

A few months ago I heard the author Nassim Taleb say, “we are better at doing than understanding.” I feel that my analogy describes an evolutionary process based on, to put it simply, ‘doing’ (or, more accurately, ‘tinkering’) and then, when the sound gets loud enough, so to speak, and we can’t ignore it any more, applying an empiric (how things really are) point of view to understand the story we are collaborating on.

To me, we seem wired to pay attention to significant change. Sometimes the quality of the paying attention is a change in our tinkering (when the kettle squeals you go turn it off), and sometimes it requires intellection and understanding (choosing a candidate to vote for). I feel that the web has become loud enough (strong frequency) and it is one of those times when empiric (seeking to see things as they are) understanding is appropriate so that our tinkering can be more in tune with what our culture is trying to express.

I feel that the proliferation of streaming media is, as Caleb Waldorf declares in his work The Artificial Moon and The Post-Human and as I mentioned in my previous posting, presenting a different model of temporality, and I feel that if we consider that model empirically we will notice that other objects on our collective plate are resonating to the same frequency.

Here is, to me, is another example, from the offline world:

New Hair Follicles Created For The First Time, Mouse Study
Science Daily — Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found that hair follicles in adult mice regenerate by re-awakening genes once active only in developing embryos. These findings provide unequivocal evidence for the first time that, like other animals such as newts and salamanders, mammals have the power to regenerate. A better understanding of this process could lead to novel treatments for hair loss, other skin and hair disorders, and wounds.

“We showed that wound healing triggered an embryonic state in the skin which made it receptive to receiving instructions from wnt proteins,” says senior author George Cotsarelis, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology. “The wnts are a network of proteins implicated in hair-follicle development.”

Researchers previously believed that adult mammal skin could not regenerate hair follicles. In fact, investigators generally believe that mammals had essentially no true regenerative qualities. (The liver can regenerate large portions, but it is not de novo regeneration; some of the original liver has to remain so that it can regenerate.)

In this study, researchers found that wound healing in a mouse model created an “embryonic window” of opportunity. Dormant embryonic molecular pathways were awakened, sending stem cells to the area of injury. Unexpectedly, the regenerated hair follicles originated from non-hair-follicle stem cells.

“We’ve found that we can influence wound healing with wnts or other proteins that allow the skin to heal in a way that has less scarring and includes all the normal structures of the skin, such as hair follicles and oil glands, rather than just a scar,” explains Cotsarelis.

By introducing more wnt proteins to the wound, the researchers found that they could take advantage of the embryonic genes to promote hair-follicle growth, thus making skin regenerate instead of just repair. Conversely by blocking wnt proteins, they also found that they could stop the production of hair follicles in healed skin.

Increased wnt signaling doubled the number of new hair follicles. This suggests that the embryonic window created by the wound-healing process can be used to manipulate hair-follicle regeneration, leading to novel ways to treat hair loss and hair overgrowth.

These findings go beyond just a possible treatment for male-pattern baldness. If researchers can effectively control hair growth, then they could potentially find cures for people with hair and scalp disorders, such as scarring alopecia where the skin scars, and hair overgrowth.

This research was funded in part by the National Institute of Arthritis, Musculoskelatal and Skin Disease and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Other co-authors in addition to Cotsarelis are Mayumi Ito, Zaixin Yang, Thomas Andl, Chunhua Cui, Noori Kim, and Sarah E. Millar, all from Penn.

Cotsarelis and Ito are listed as inventors on a patent application related to hair-follicle neogenesis and owned by the University of Pennsylvania. Cotsarelis also serves on the scientific advisory board and has equity in Follica, a start-up company that has licensed the patent from the University of Pennsylvania. Cotsarelis was also a co-founder of Follica.

These findings are published in the May 17 issue of Nature.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

To repeat: “Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine have found that hair follicles in adult mice regenerate by re-awakening genes once active only in developing embryos. These findings provide unequivocal evidence for the first time that, like other animals such as newts and salamanders, mammals have the power to regenerate.” To me, this seems to resonate with with Caleb’s statement “as real time media took over at the turn of the 21st century, a paradigm shift occurred in which humanity realized that time had ceased to exist. With everything happening all at once and available to everyone, the idea of linear time lost hold. Time became a flat surface and history no longer existed. At this moment, what had long been seen as the paradox of time travel was no longer viewed up as illogical and the concern with traveling back in time to change things in the future ceased to be of concern.” I understand that the context of Caleb’s quote is fictive, but I feel he raises a very real implication of current technology.

I feel that we have tinkered ourselves into a very interesting place where some potential forms are being realized that haven’t been prominent in a while, and we need to work to observe and understand these changes and potentials just enough to inform our tinkering so that we can benefit from the interaction of, specifically, two different temporal models existing simultaneously.

a brief note: Some people view evolution as a fight to the death, survival of the fittest, and winner take all. I see it as an interaction among elements within an environment where conditions favor the proliferation of different forms at different times – and nothing is ever, truly obliterated. Some form [species, etc.] may be dissipated to the extent that they exist as a potential outcome of a combination of other elements, but nothing ever literally and thoroughly ceases to exist. To me (and others, I’m sure), evolution can occur in elements other than genetic materials, and can affect change in any environmental property [gravity, speed of light, etc.]. I feel that there is an evolution of ideas that goes on in our species and what I’m writing about now is but one example.//

The potency (the degree to which the form can generate change) is in the synergy that results from the interaction of the two, their co-presence, their simultaneity – not in the struggle for dominance by one over the other, not in the illusory either/or, winner take all format. We’ve certainly lived through a lot of that, haven’t we, and how has that worked out for most of us?

I think we can manage this interaction of simultaneous and different synergistic elements if we carefully manage and balance our tinkering and thinking.

Now we’ll see if I take my own advice.

A Proliferation of Real-Time

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

Up up up up

I’ve been having some wrist and hand issues lately from spending a lot of time on the computer and in an attempt to feel better I started using a speech to text program. When I turn it on, it often provides me with a few random words prior to the words that I intend to enter (ex. The “Up up up up” at the start of this post). When I started to quote Caleb Waldorf from his work The Artificial Moon and The Post-Human the first things I saw on the page were these:

Too cool Caleb Waldorf (No kidding. What I said was “to quote”, but I couldn’t agree more…)

Anyway:

Waldorf writes: “as real time media took over at the turn of the 21st century, a paradigm shift occurred in which humanity realized that time had ceased to exist. With everything happening all at once and available to everyone, the idea of linear time lost hold. Time became a flat surface and history no longer existed. At this moment, what had long been seen as the paradox of time travel was no longer viewed up as illogical (speech to text wrote: a logical entity) and the concern with traveling back in time to change things in the future ceased to be of concern. Ultimately there was no longer a past or future for humanity.”

I love this idea, and the piece is rich with other concepts and I hope you check it out. In brief the idea is that post-humans went back in time to create the moon as a map for us to understand them, and ourselves. The piece uses some information on the physical relationship of the earth and moon I’ve seen before in, among other places, Who Built the Moon, by Christopher Knight and Alan Butler and is also infused with the concepts of Lacan.

When I read this quote I immediately thought of Tolstoy’s remarks about history and historians in the epilogues of War and Peace – these quotes are from the second epilogue, chapter 3:

The only conception that can explain the movement of the peoples is that of some force commensurate with the whole movement of the peoples.

So long as histories are written of separate individuals, whether Caesars, Alexanders, Luthers, or Voltaires, and not the histories of all, absolutely all those who take part in an event, it is quite impossible to describe the movement of humanity without the conception of a force compelling men to direct their activity toward a certain end. And the only such conception known to historians is that of power.

To me, this implies that our will to monumentalize individuals, to make super heroes out of selected people, exemplifies the critical fault at the root of historical perspective. The historian wrestles to, as Tolstoy writes several times in the epilogue, “answer the question no one asked” – the historian attempts to elucidate the cause and effects that drive events from his/her lone perspective – and the creation of a super human who galvanizes an entire population and induces them to follow him or her is an analogy to what the historian himself is trying to do. This story, this method of understanding the world, seems embedded in our culture as a dominant narrative form, and we repeat it in various media, at various scales, persistently. When we repeat it we re-learn it, and we tend to analyze our experiences along the lines of the dominant analytical model.

To me, this model relies not only on the idea of super heroes, but also on the understanding that most of us exist to essentially serve a single dominant power at every given moment. This form seems embodied in our sense of time as an arrow moving from past to future, where the past is understood in the historical terms described above, and the present is at the service (‘duty now for the future’) of a future whose goals are determined by, inevitably, a higher authority that we may never even speak with or meet. This temporal/historical form effectively destabilizes our individual connection to the present because the past and future are managed officially by other, ‘higher’ powers than ourselves. The people are essentially farming the present for the officers of the state (or whatever agency defines a given cultures past and aspirations [future]).

A proliferation of real-time media means the web would be alive with, predominantly, broadcasts of what is going on right now, constantly, from many, many people. “Webtime” would equal right now always, and each visit to this web would give one access to the complexity that comprises the present, and would, as Tolstoy’s idea implies, permit each (or at least many) of us to report on our experience while interacting with others engaged in the same effort. This participatory, collective, and simultaneous ‘history’ would belie the narrow, linear, remote historical/temporal lens that we tend to understand and analyze most events through. A highly available web of predominantly real-time, and, one assumes, interactive ‘broadcasts’ may indeed alter our current model of historical/temporal perspective so dramatically that it would become one available method of understanding, and not the sole option. Perhaps this is the direction we are evolving towards.

A highly available, real-time streaming, collaborative, interactive web would also reinvigorate the notion of the local, as more and more people would be broadcasting and interacting from their homes and are becoming more comfortable speaking for themselves as opposed to expressing themselves primarily through consuming someone else’s products. This would minimize the destabilizing effects of the ‘scalable’ economy – in other words, it would re-empower the local citizen as a local citizen, foster an appreciation of being authentic and local, and in so doing potentially ward off the wandering professional who, in our current model, has unseated so many locals (chain stores, movies, recorded music, mass produced, professional touring whatevers, etc.).

In any case, Caleb’s project got me thinking about the relationship of our sense of time, and how that sense is maintained by the technologies we develop and surround ourselves with. His piece also got me thinking about the evolution of things other than species – ideas, technology, etc. Rather than explore that further here I will take a moment and then post another entry.

YouTube Preview Image

MobileMusicWorkshop ’08

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Frauke Behrendt, who I had the pleasure of meeting at this year’s Conflux when i moderated a talk she gave, sent me the following call and asked me to forward it. Here you go!

5TH INTERNATIONAL MOBILE MUSIC WORKSHOP 2008 13-15 May 2008, Vienna, Austria Call for Submissions: Deadline 10 February 2008 http://www.mobilemusicworkshop.org

The Mobile Music Workshop 2008 is the 5th in a series of annual international gatherings that explore the creative, critical and commercial potential of mobile music. They are inspired by the ever-changing social, geographic, ecological, emotional context of using mobile technology for creative ends. We are looking for new ideas and ground-breaking projects on sound in mobile contexts. What new forms of interaction with music and audio lie ahead as locative media, ubiquitous networks, and music access merge into new forms of experiences that shape the everyday? Can they change the way we think about our mobile devices and about walking through the city?

The emerging field of Mobile Music sits at the intersection of ubiquitous computing, portable audio technology and New Interfaces for Musical Expression (NIME). It goes beyond today’s personal music players to include creative practices of mobile music making, sharing and mixing. The mobile setting challenges existing notions of interfaces and interaction, stretching music to new creative limits. The workshop has been at the forefront of this innovative area since 2004. Past editions of the event have taken place in Amsterdam, Brighton, Vancouver and Göteborg in collaboration with the Viktoria Institute, STEIM, Waag Society, Futuresonic, NIME and others.

The 2008 edition of the workshop will be held in Vienna, one of the hotspots in the European for laptop, glitch, and electronic music. Hosted by the University of Applied Arts, it will feature three evenings of performances and installations, an exhibition in the heart of the city, invited speakers, paper presentations, posters and demo sessions as well as hands-on tutorials. Besides the workshop proceedings, we will publish a catalogue that will gather key contributions from the last 5 years. We invite artists, designers, academic researchers, hackers, industry professionals and practitioners from all areas, including music, technology development, new media, sound-art, music distribution, cultural/media studies and locative media and more to present and discuss projects, prototypes, applications, devices, performances, installations, theoretical and historical considerations.

IMPORTANT DEADLINES

Submission deadline: 10 February 2008
Notification of acceptance: 14 March 2008
Submission deadline for final papers: 14 April 2008
Registration deadline: 14 April 2008

PARTICIPATE

Please upload your submission in any of the three following categories
at http://ocs.waag.org/. Submissions will be peer-reviewed by a committee of international specialists in the field.

Papers

We invite submissions of workshop papers presenting new projects, approaches or reflections exploring the topic of mobile music. Potential submissions could include but are not limited to mobile music systems or enabling technologies, interface design, legal issues, user studies, ethnographic fieldwork, social implications, art pieces and other areas relevant to mobile music. Accepted paper authors will be given a time slot during the workshop for presentation and discussion of their work. They are encouraged to bring a demo of their work if possible.

Format: 4 pages in ACM SIG publications format (for templates, see http://www.acm.org/sigs/pubs/proceed/template.html). More artistic submissions are free to pay less attention to the academic or technical detail of the format, and to include more media instead.

Posters and Demos

We also invite the contribution of posters and demos that document work-in-progress projects or ideas in similar areas of mobile music technology as the papers. There will be a poster and demo presentation session where attendees will be able to discuss work with the authors. The most robust of the demos will be offered the opportunity to exhibit to the general public during the open sessions (although this is not mandatory). Posters will be on display for the duration of the conference.

Format: 2 pages in ACM SIG publications format (for templates, see
http://www.acm.org/sigs/pubs/proceed/template.html). More artistic submissions are free to pay less attention to the academic or technical detail of the format, and to include more media instead.

Installations and Performances

We invite mobile art installations and performances in the genres of mobile music and locative audio. There will be an exhibition space in central Vienna, and the possibility to show work in the city. There will also be a series of evening performances/concerts/parties.

Format: Please follow loosely the ACM SIG publications format (for templates, see http://www.acm.org/sigs/pubs/proceed/template.html) without too much academic or technical detail and include more media instead. Please indicate if your project would be suitable for indoor or outdoor, installation or performance.

REGISTRATION & FEE

The workshop will have both closed sessions for registered participants and sessions open to the general public. The number of participants for the closed sessions of the workshop is limited to 50 places. Accepted submitters are given priority, other participants are accepted on a first-come first-served basis. Registered participants will have automatic access to all sessions of the workshops.

Registrations fees for the closed sessions of the workshop have yet to be confirmed. However this will be in the region of 75 € at full rate and 45€ for concessions.

Deadline for Registration: 14th April 2007.

ORGANISERS&INFORMATION

The 2008 edition is hosted and co-organised by the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria (Nicolaj Kirisits). The Steering Committee is formed by Lalya Gaye (Dånk! Collective and IT-University of Göteborg, Sweden), Atau Tanaka (Culture Lab Newcastle, UK), Frauke Behrendt (University of Sussex, UK), Kristina Andersen (STEIM, The Netherlands).

Contact: info@mobilemusicworkshop.org More information: http://www.mobilemusicworkshop.org

FILE FESTIVAL 2008

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

I’ve received this announcement and post it as some of you may be interested. I have no affiliation with FILE.

FILE – Electronic Language International Festival – is opening registrations for its ninth edition, that will be held at Sesi Paulista’s cultural space, in Sao Paulo,Brazil, in the period from August 04 to August 31, 2008. Submissions are free and open to professionals, researchers and students of the electronic language.

In the last eight years, FILE has shown what’s been happening in the global networks related to digital and electronic arts, becoming a reference for studies and research on new media. It has exhibited web art, net art, artificial life,hypertext, computer animation, real time teleconference, virtual reality, soft art,games, interactive movies, e-videos, digital panoramas and electronic art installations and robotics, through interactive and immersive rooms.

FILE SYMPOSIUM has become a meeting point in the city of São Paulo, proposing discussions and tackling the electronic-digital culture in its relations to art,science and technologies.

FILE HIPERSÔNICA, the festival’s sonorous branch, is on it’s 6th edition and intends to elaborate connections between the world of images, the world of sonorities and the world of texts. Sound installations and real time performances will be presented by a number of groups and collectives, comprising both erudite and pop electronic music, but also electronic compositions, sound poetry, radio art, video music and sonic landscapes, as well as Djs and VJs presenting their sets through specific apparatus and installations with experimental and immersive projections.

For more information visit: http://www.file.org.br/

oh, holy sh…

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

Late this afternoon I went to see a new film called ‘Starting out in the Evening’ starring Frank Langella and Lili Taylor. It’s about a writer in NYC and I liked the story, the acting, and even the homesickness it induced.

When I left the theater it had turned dark and I realized that, like the film’s title, I too was starting out in the evening.

Feeling hungry I decided to see if a nearby pizza place I like would be open, and headed south, on foot down Charles St. Baltimore looked particularly empty as I approached W. Mt. Royal, and I noticed another person across the street – a young man dressed in dark jeans, a black down jacket, and a dark ski hat pulled just over his eyebrows. Both his hands were in his jacket pockets and he was looking around before we both began to cross the wide street towards each other.

We met at the median and as we passed he said something like “Happy Holidays”. I turned to say “Happy Holidays” back and found him pointing a gun at my leg while demanding whatever I had.

I’ve encountered would be muggers before in this area and my technique, which I don’t recommend, is to run like hell in the direction of a busy street. This has worked for me thus far. I don’t recommend it because it startles the mugger and that is dangerous. I find the adrenaline boost fuels my flight and it seems like I’m moving at warp speed.

As we were already in the middle of a six lane, well-lit (albeit deserted) street I figured I already had an advantage. I bolted and within about two strides realized the laces on my left shoe were loose. Four strong strides later the shoe flew off in an awkward tangent and I faced a decision: stop and get my shoe or sacrifice it for the three dollars I had in my pocket… then I factored in my cell phone with all of its’ photos, etc., and I opted to sacrifice the shoe. I continued to run in one sock. I should also mention that a few months ago I sprained my right ankle while doing an art project in NY State (more on that in a future post) – so running in this configuration was doubly complicated and uncomfortable – but I needed to run. Fast!

At first I wasn’t sure if I was even being followed, but I quickly sensed that I was, then, to my dismay, a few steps later I heard someone behind me yelling for me to stop. Hell no! I ran down Charles street to W. Preston, then made a hard right, thinking, hoping that I would run into a crowd headed to either the church I knew was on a corner of the next block, or, perhaps, entering the Meyerhoff theater where the BSO plays – perhaps they were giving a Christmas Eve concert, hopefully?

I didn’t see anything, or anyone and my pursuer was still yelling at me to stop. Near the corner where the church was I saw one little, elderly woman in a red wool coat with a rain bonnet on and a small, gold purse walking south, slowly. We were all on a collision course. I realized that I was leading the mugger right to her, and when I got to the corner I stopped and wheeled around, ready for something awful.

In an instant the guy was in front of me, walking in the middle of the street, holding a large, black gun. As he drew closer I saw he was smiling, I also noticed that he was about twelve, and wearing white pants. I then observed the gun suddenly morph into my left sneaker.

“This your shoe?”
“Yeah… thanks, I’m sorry, I heard you shouting while I was running and I thought you were the guy trying to rob me – that’s why I didn’t stop, I’m really sorry.”
“Yeah, I was across the street when you started running and your shoe bounced right in front of me.”
“Oh, well, thanks a lot!” I said, reaching for the shoe.
“You have any money?” He said, seriously, while cradling the shoe in his arms and twisting his body away from me.
“Give me the shoe. Now.” Said the woman in the red wool coat, who had reached us at the corner.
“I presume this is yours…” She said, looking at my sock while handing me the shoe.
Before I could say anything she continued:

“I don’t know what you two are doing out here, but in case you haven’t heard it’s Christmas Eve. Can’t you both go home to your families and have at least one blessed night this year? Really, this is just…. Merry Christmas, now please just go home!”

We all went our separate ways. She continued south, I continued west, and the kid walked east. Not wanting to linger, I waited to put my shoe on until I’d turned a corner and was sure I wasn’t being followed. I also double knotted both laces, then continued home.

bass-ackwards()

Monday, December 24th, 2007

When I was an undergrad studying music composition I worked, briefly, with the composer Samuel Adler. One day during a lesson he told me “artists, as a rule, do everything bass-ackwards”. I don’t recall the inspiration for his remark, but I do remember him raising his voice, shaking his head, and waving his arms as he said it. I came away with the impression that this sort of logic, for artists, was a part of our DNA and needed to be accepted and managed. Every once in a while I’ll catch myself doing something and remember Sam’s comment, and smile when I realize that, for me in that moment, there isn’t any other way, and it’s OK.

Recently a student in my interactive scripting class, questioned the importance of scripting cross-media events in pseudocode as we’d been doing all semester. She reminded me that she is an artist in art school (something I had reminded the students of a few times during the term), and she had already figured out a fine project without formally and abstractly writing down the logic.

I reminded her that a requirement of their final projects was, in addition to a completed project, a master script for the event(s) they had devised in pseudocode. This requirement struck her as useless given the fact that she had already conceptualized and begun to run her project without any pseudocoding: case closed.

I recalled this quote from John Dewey:

The artist has his problems and thinks as he works. But his thought is more immediately embodied in the object. Because of the comparative remoteness of his end, the scientific worker operates with symbols, words and mathematical signs. The artist does his thinking in the very qualitative media he works in, and the terms lie so close to the object that they merge directly into it.

Scripting, I reminded her, can serve as a tool for analyzing the causes and effects within a project to permit the creator(s) to fine-tune them by revealing some of the inner workings of the piece abstractly.

When we can view the logic of a gesture we may understand it in greater detail, and realize that it is composed of various elements and nuances. Understanding our intentions from this view we may then seek various viable hosts for the different aspects and nuances that comprise the gesture and find appropriate media to support and reveal each element, then edit accordingly to insure that the overall intention is effectively conveyed via the ensemble of actions and media we have devised.

I told my student that scripting after the project is already worked out in one’s head is just as useful as the other way around, especially for complex works whose medium is, essentially, an ensemble of actions across a broad spectrum of methods and materials. Then, privately (and after many years), I recalled Maestro Adler’s remark and saw my DNA as a script that contains a nucleotide base we’ll call the function bass-ackwards().