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Monthly Archives: March 2013

AMERICAN HARDCORE, 1978 – 1990

Exhibition running 11 April – 4 May 2013

Opening Reception Wednesday 10th April 6 – 9pm
The Vinyl Factory Chelsea
91 Walton Street
London SW3 2HP
The Gallery is open Monday – Saturday, 10 – 6pm
+44 (0) 207 589 0588

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The Mott Collection and The Vinyl Factory announce a new exhibition and publication:

AMERICAN HARDCORE, 1978 – 1990
Running 11 April – 4 May 2013

The exhibition brings together 50 American Hardcore single sleeves spanning the apex of the genre from the late 70’s up to the 90’s. The collection represents the subtle shifts and changes, and finally the overall unification of what began as a disparate musical style that developed into a rigid set of fixed codes, sounds, and political beliefs.

From the raw stripped down sounds of Black Flag to the spasmodic reggae influenced Bad Brains, Hardcore emerged as a puritanical suburban rely to the decadence of big city Punk Rock outfits such as the Ramones or the New York Dolls. Popping up in small West Coast communities like Hermosa Beach, Oxnard and San Pedro and simultaneously in East Coast cities such as Washington DC and Boston the Hardcore movement was obsessively local, yet at the same time extremely far reaching due to the punishing tour schedules bands would put themselves through sometimes touring non-stop for years. This had the effect of birthing small Hardcore scenes nationwide each with their own distinct flavours.

The exhibition also features a limited edition silk screen print featuring the ‘AMERICAN HARDCORE’ catalogue cover artwork.

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AMERICAN HARDCORE, 1978 – 1990

The catalogue, printed in an edition of 300 copies, documents 50 US Hardcore Punk singles and features an extended Q&A with author and UK Punk collector Toby Mott and US Punk collector and curator Bryan Ray Turcotte. Also included are a 7” vinyl pressing of a Black Flag interview from 1981 and an oversized foldout print.The catalogue is printed and designed by Ditto Press.

Opening Reception Wednesday 10th April 6 – 9pm
Exhibition runs 11 April – 4 May 2013

The Vinyl Factory Chelsea
91 Walton Street
London SW3 2HP

The Gallery is open Monday – Saturday, 10 – 6pm
+44 (0) 207 589 0588

www.vfeditions.com/product/view/98

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The 12 Paradoxes Of Graphic Design

By Dorothy Tan,

19 Mar 2013

Based on a lecture by graphic designer Adrian Shaughnessy, Stockholm-based designer Tobias Bergdahl has created minimalist visuals for the “12 Paradoxes of Graphic Design” that Shaughnessy spoke of.

Each paradox consists of an impossible shape—like the Möbius strip—accompanied by a simple statement about the practice of graphic design.

These illuminating and insightful messages are great advice for young graphic designers by urging them not to harbor misleading assumptions about important subjects like clients, money and ideas.

Scroll down to view all 12 paradoxes that may give you a new perspective of graphic design.

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[From: abduzeed.com]

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Harlem Shake: could it kill sampling?

An unexpected viral dance craze shot Baauer’s Harlem Shake to the top of the Billboard charts. Almost immediately, legal letters began to arrive. So, can cut-and-paste culture continue to flourish on the internet?

Sampled from:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/mar/13/harlem-shake-internet-killing-sampling?CMP=twt_gu

by Dorian Lynskey

The Guardian, Wednesday 13 March 2013 17.03 GMT

Baauer

Brooklyn-based producer Baauer could not have anticipated the success of Harlem Shake. Photograph: Jen Maler/CAMERA PRESS/Jen Maler

It didn’t take long for Baauer, AKA Brooklyn producer Harry Bauer Rodrigues, to realise the downside of freak success. Almost as soon as his bass-heavy minimalist dance track Harlem Shake was propelled to the top of the Billboard charts last month by a viral dance craze and a change in chart rules that took into account YouTube views he wascontacted by representatives for retired reggaeton artist Hector Delgado and Philadelphia MC Jayson Musson. Without realising it, both men were collaborators on a hit. It was Delgado who sang “Con los terroristas” on his 2006 single Maldades, and Musson who rapped “Do the Harlem Shake!” on Miller Time, a 2001 track by his group Plastic Little. Both vocal hooks were fundamental to the success of Baauer’s record but neither performer had been approached or paid.

On the surface, Baauer’s failure to license the samples would appear to stem from some combination of naivety, laziness and stupidity, but nothing about Harlem Shake is straightforward. At the beginning of February, this year-old underground club track suddenly became a worldwide phenomenon thanks to tens of thousands of people (including Egyptian protesters, Manchester City players, Stephen Colbert and The Simpsons) filming themselves dancing like idiots to a 30-second excerpt. By 20 February it was No 1 off the back of 103m YouTube views in a single week.

Link to video: Manchester City perform their version of the Harlem Shake

Had Baauer known a year ago that this would happen, he would doubtless have been more careful, but nobody saw it coming. The record got away from him, upending his assumptions and making him yet another name in the long and controversial history of sampling: a bewildering grey area shaped by legal confusion, financial necessity, technological advances, arguments over artistic freedom, and old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants chutzpah.

Hip-hop began in the early 1970s as a DJ-driven artform, with MCs initially employed as energetic hypemen. So when it eventually graduated from the club to the recording studio, the principle of rapping over other people’s records was a given, and the only obstacle was technological. The primitive nature of early samplers forced producers to use stiff programmed drums (think of any early Run-DMC or Beastie Boys single), rather than fluid breakbeats. But the release of samplers such as the E-mu SP-1200 and the Akai MPC60 in the late 80s revolutionised the form, enabling producers to ransack their record collections for ideas. Albums such as De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique worked dozens of samples into collages of psychedelic complexity. Public Enemy claimed that they had used so many sources in their 1989 hit Fight the Power that even they couldn’t identify them all afterwards.

Sometimes the original artists were paid and credited, but usually not. This wasn’t legal, it was just the way things were done. In retrospect, it seems startlingly blatant. Did MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice really not think to clear the huge and obvious samples (from Rick James and Queen respectively) that underpinned their breakthrough hits? No, because hardly anybody did. It was a free-for-all.

Gilbert O'Sullivan

Use of a song by Gilbert O’Sullivan caused problems for rapper Biz Markie. Photograph: Terry O’Neill/Getty Images

The Wild West era waned with Hammer and Vanilla Ice’s expensive retroactive settlements and ended decisively in 1991 when a federal court found rapper Biz Markie and his record label guilty of copyright infringement against singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan“Thou shalt not steal has been an admonition followed since the dawn of civilisation,”wrote Judge Kevin Thomas Duffy. “Unfortunately, in the modern world of business this admonition is not always followed.” When Markie was ordered to pay damages and remove the offending track from his album, the music industry panicked and insisted that artists declare all their samples in advance, thus making De La Soul-style collages prohibitively expensive and dramatically affecting the sound of hip-hop. These days, big stars rarely cross the line deliberately. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s recent scuffle with soul singer Syl Johnson arose from a paperwork error at their record label. Generally, the system works: in 2010 Johnson boasted that his house had effectively been paid for by the Wu-Tang Clan.

The Biz Markie case changed the practice of sampling but without establishing a watertight precedent or inspiring any clarifying legislation. Subsequent cases have only complicated the issue.

The problem for artists is that the criteria are nebulous and the judgments subjective. In the US, the “fair use” doctrine grants exemptions from copyright law in certain circumstances, for example if the new work is considered “transformative” rather than merely “derivative”, and doesn’t affect the value of the original work. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Florida rap group 2 Live Crew in a1994 case because their unlicensed copying of Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman was deemed a parody and therefore permissible under fair use. But artists who sample cannot be sure what qualifies as fair use until a case goes to court, so in practice it becomes a question of weighing risks against rewards.

Even apparently legitimate samples can be contentious. The Beastie Boys licensed the recording of jazz flautist James Newton‘s 1978 track Choir for use on 1992’s Pass the Mic but not the publishing rights, so a court had to decide in 2004 whether the six-second sample (“three notes separated by a half-step over a background C note” in the court’s words) counted as a significant part of Newton’s composition. The judge decided it did not.

The Verve, famously, were not so lucky when they lifted a loop onBittersweet Symphony from the Andrew Oldham Orchestra’s coverversion of The Last Time by the Rolling Stones.

They did, in fact, license the sample but ABKCO, which owned the rights to the record, claimed the Verve had used “too much” of it and won, in an out-of-court settlement, 100% of the publishing as well as a songwriting credit for Jagger/Richards, even though the sampled section owes nothing to the Stones’ own recording. The extremity of the settlement called into question the very nature of authorship.

Kraftwerk

A sample of Kraftwerk has been the subject of a lengthy wrangle in the German courts. Photograph: EMI

Sampling lawsuits require judges to make aesthetic calls that don’t always make sense. In a longrunning wrangle between Kraftwerk and two German hip-hop producers over a two-second drum loop from 1977’s Metal on Metal, Germany’s supreme court decreed that an unlicensed sample was only permissible if the same effect could not be achieved without sampling. After several expert witnesses banged pieces of metal together and fed the sounds through sampling technology available at the time the hip-hop track was made, the court decided that it was indeed possible and ruled in Kraftwerk’s favour.

But the court misunderstood the philosophy behind sampling. Producers such as DJ Shadow use samples precisely because they want to play with the aura of the original text. As sampling pioneer Steinski told the Guardian five years ago, “You want the thing; you don’t want the almost-thing”. By the German court’s criteria, Warhol should have painted his own pictures of Marilyn Monroe.

This would be a ruinous and artistically tone-deaf legal precedent.

So the law is a mess but the law isn’t all that counts. Most of the time the key question is what you can get away with, and it’s often a great deal. When bedroom producers began disseminating free online “mash-ups” of famous records a decade ago, the record industry initially responded with a flurry of cease-and-desist letters, but it soon realised that there was nothing to be gained by playing corporate Goliath to legions of plucky Davids. Danger Mouse’s 2004 release The Grey Album, a flagrantly illegal mash-up of Jay-Z and the Beatles, led not to a court case but a prolific, Grammy-winning career producing the likes of the Black Keys, Beck and Gorillaz.

Even more provocatively, US DJ Girl Talk, who describes himself as “taking a Warhol approach”, has released five albums, either free or on a pay-what-you-want basis, based on recontextualising chunks of instantly recognisable hit singles. Copyright reformers are eager for an artist or label to take the bait and sue Girl Talk, hoping that the case would clarify “fair use” in their favour, but the industry realises that is wiser to leave the arty outlaws alone while continuing to make money from licensing samples to mainstream artists.

Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean came under threat after using a sample of the Eagles on his 2011 mixtape ­Nostalgia, Ultra. Photograph: Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images

The same goes for online “mixtapes”: albums, often stuffed with unlicensed samples, that are given away online to whet appetites for official releases. R&B star Frank Ocean’s 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra used huge slabs of music from artists including Coldplay and MGMT but only his sample-cum-cover of the Eagles’ Hotel California inspired a threat of legal action. Frank Ocean’s defence was typical of the mixtape-and-mash-up generation: “Why sue the new guy? I didn’t make a dime off that song. I released it for free. If anything, I’m paying homage.” Cooler heads seem to have prevailed and the threat has gone no further. Nobody wants to be painted as a multimillionaire killjoy, especially when there’s no money to be made even if they won.

For now, the not-making-a-dime defence seems to be keeping potential litigants at bay, enabling a return to the unshackled creativity of the late 80s, but it is a precarious freedom. A single lawsuit, and a ruling more in line with Judge Duffy’s “thou shalt not steal” views than those of the copyright reformers, could bring the shutters clanging down.

For producers who choose to sell their copyright-flouting work, the situation is even hazier because their only defence is obscurity. Most independent labels lack the staff to vet and clear samples, and most of their artists lack the funds, so some choose to release the records anyway and, perversely, hope they don’t become attention-grabbing hits. Sometimes producers don’t even know what they’re meant to be clearing. The labyrinthine nature of the internet makes it easy for someone to come across samples via a trail of links without thinking to note their origin. Baauer’s claim that he can’t remember where he came across Hector Delgado’s vocal could be disingenuous but it’s at least possible.

It was success that got him into trouble. When Harlem Shake was first released on an underground EP in May last year, the samples predictably went unnoticed. Only when it took off last month did Delgado and Musson become aware of the record, and by then there was clearly big money involved. Understandably they both want their cut, although, interestingly they disagree on the ethics of illegal sampling. Musson responded equably, “I’m cool with it. That’s how artists do,” while Delgado complained: “It’s almost like they came on my land and built a house.”

Even if nothing is certain in the field of sampling law, the lesson of Baauer’s case is clear: thou can indeed steal as long as the people you’re stealing from don’t smell a payday. The same sample of Delgado’s voice that appears on Harlem Shake had been used three years ago in a remix by DJ duo Philadelphyinz. They haven’t heard from Delgado’s representative yet, but their remix wasn’t a hit.

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Seven Tips From William Faulkner on How to Write Fiction

“The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory,” said the Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner in his 1958 Paris Review interview. “Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice.”

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All the same, Faulkner offered plenty of advice to young writers in 1957 and 1958, when he was a writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia.

His various lectures and public talks during that time–some 28 hours of discussion–were tape recorded and can now be heard at the university’s Faulkner audio archive. We combed through the transcripts and selected seven quotations from Faulkner on the craft of writing fiction. In most cases, they were points Faulkner returned to again and again. Faulkner had a way of stammering when he composed his words out loud, so we have edited out the repetitions and false starts. We have provided links to each of the Virginia audio recordings, which are accompanied by word-for-word transcripts of each conversation.

1: Take what you need from other writers.

Faulkner had no qualms about borrowing from other writers when he saw a device or technique that seemed useful. In a February 25, 1957 writing class he says:

I think the writer, as I’ve said before, is completely amoral. He takes whatever he needs, wherever he needs, and he does that openly and honestly because he himself hopes that what he does will be good enough so that after him people will take from him, and they are welcome to take from him, as he feels that he would be welcome by the best of his predecessors to take what they had done.

2: Don’t worry about style.

A genuine writer–one “driven by demons,” to use Faulkner’s own phrase–is too busy writing to worry about style, he said. In an April 24, 1958 undergraduate writing class, Faulkner says:

I think the story compels its own style to a great extent, that the writer don’t need to bother too much about style. If he’s bothering about style, then he’s going to write precious emptiness–not necessarily nonsense…it’ll be quite beautiful and quite pleasing to the ear, but there won’t be much content in it.

3: Write from experience–but keep a very broad definition of “experience.”

Faulkner agreed with the old adage about writing from your own experience, but only because he thought it was impossible to do otherwise. He had a remarkably inclusive concept of “experience.” In a February 21, 1958 graduate class in American fiction, Faulkner says:

To me, experience is anything you have perceived. It can come from books, a book that–a story that–is true enough and alive enough to move you. That, in my opinion, is one of your experiences. You need not do the actions that the people in that book do, but if they strike you as being true, that they are things that people would do, that you can understand the feeling behind them that made them do that, then that’s an experience to me. And so, in my definition of experience, it’s impossible to write anything that is not an experience, because everything you have read, have heard, have sensed, have imagined is part of experience.

4: Know your characters well and the story will write itself.

When you have a clear conception of a character, said Faulkner, events in a story should flow naturally according to the character’s inner necessity. “With me,” he said, “the character does the work.” In the same February 21, 1958 American fiction class as above, a student asked Faulkner whether it was more difficult to get a character in his mind, or to get the character down on paper once he had him in his mind. Faulkner replies:

I would say to get the character in your mind. Once he is in your mind, and he is right, and he’s true, then he does the work himself. All you need to do then is to trot along behind him and put down what he does and what he says. It’s the ingestion and then the gestation. You’ve got to know the character. You’ve got to believe in him. You’ve got to feel that he is alive, and then, of course, you will have to do a certain amount of picking and choosing among the possibilities of his action, so that his actions fit the character which you believe in. After that, the business of putting him down on paper is mechanical.

5: Use dialect sparingly.

In a pair of local radio programs included in the University of Virginia audio archive, Faulkner has some interesting things to say about the nuances of the various dialects spoken by his characters from different ethnic and social groups in Mississippi. But in the May 6, 1958 broadcast of “What’s the Good Word?” Faulkner cautions that it’s important not to get carried away:

I think it best to use as little dialect as possible because it confuses people who are not familiar with it. That nobody should let the character speak completely in his own vernacular. It’s best indicated by a few simple, sparse but recognizable touches.

6: Don’t exhaust your imagination.

“Never write yourself to the end of a chapter or the end of a thought,” said Faulkner. The advice, given more than once during his Virginia talks, is virtually identical to something Ernest Hemingway often said. (See tip number two in “Seven Tips From Ernest Hemingway on How to Write Fiction.”) In the February 25, 1957 writing class, Faulkner says:

The only rule I have is to quit while it’s still hot. Never write yourself out. Always quit when it’s going good. Then it’s easier to take it up again. If you exhaust yourself, then you’ll get into a dead spell and you’ll have trouble with it.

7: Don’t make excuses.

In the same February 25, 1957 writing class, Faulkner has some blunt words for the frustrated writer who blames his circumstances:

I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well, if I were not married and had children, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.

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In popular culture

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The carousel slide projector was highlighted in the popular TV-series Mad Men (Season One, Episode 13, titled “The Wheel”) as a product for advertiser Don Draper to pitch. There, it was named the “Carousel” instead of “The Wheel”, because it was nostalgic and let its viewers travel through their memories as a child would, “around and around and back home again”.

From: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoKtk8L77-U

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The magical power of the projected image is unique to the medium. A beam of light, thrown out from the slide or film projector, bears sequences of images that reconstitute and take form when the light meets an opaque surface. Projected images are at once solid and transparent…The beam of light is a powerful sign of memory and the visual imagination. It transmits ghost images, figures that live only through the power of the projective apparatus and die as the picture vanishes. Projected in darkness, the cone of light traces the genesis of the images from projector to screen. It is spellbinding and full of promise”

– Lynda Nead, The Haunted Gallery

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A thoughtful article by ORIT GAT at http://rhizome.org/

Projected Projects: Slides, PowerPoints, Nostalgia, and a Sense of Belonging

ORIT GAT | Mon Nov 28th, 2011 10:35 a.m.

The discipline of art history used to have a sound, the click and growl of the slide projector. It had a look, too, that was composed of darkened lecture halls and sometimes-blurry images of a unified size.

Kodak stopped manufacturing 35mm slide projectors in 2004, a decision in line with the company’s current focus on digital photography. The website dedicated to Kodak slide projectors has been archived as a frozen version, current as of November 2004. Soon enough, that website would seem as old fashioned as the famous poster celebrating the invention of the carousel slide projector.

ABC’s “Mad Men” credited Don Draper, the head copywriter at the ad firm the show focuses on, as the inventor of the term “the carousel,” for Kodak’s then-cutting edge technology. In the scene where he pitches the term to Kodak, he states, “The Greeks call it nostalgia. […] It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.”

The fact that slide projectors are now becoming a technology on the verge of death invokes a new feeling of nostalgia. Slide projectors were commonly used for varied purposes, from the family slideshow through the business meeting display, and up to illustrated lectures. These devices were commonplace and their aesthetic, sound, and use bring up familiarity and a certain tradition.

In 2005, shortly after Kodak’s announcement that it will no longer produce slide projectors, curator Darsie Alexander at the Baltimore Museum of Art organized the exhibition “Slideshow.” Featuring nineteen works made between the 1960s and the early 2000s by artists such as Robert Smithson, Dennis Oppenheim, Ceal Floyer, and Dan Graham, “Slideshow” celebrated the medium itself. It was presented in a series of darkened rooms where the only light came from the slide projectors and the sound of the changing slides echoed throughout.

Robert Smithson, Hotel Palenque, 1969, 35mm slide projection (detail).

35mm slides have a number of built-in characteristics that appeal to artists. First and foremost, they are a high resolution color image, which, in the 1960s, was a refreshing change from the dominance of black and white photography. Secondly, the slide projectors have an inherent sense of narrative built into them. Be it an 80-slide or 140-slide tray, and whatever number of seconds it is set to automatically change slides after, the projector presents a story in a certain time frame and a specific number of images.

What was appealing for artists in the 35mm slides was slowly disappearing in the projection technologies that followed it—first, the overhead projector, and more so, PowerPoint. The overhead projector using transparencies is still quite frequently used in contemporary art. PowerPoint, however, is different.

Since its introduction in the early 1980s, PowerPoint has become the tool of corporate culture. It drove the overhead projector out of the boardroom quite quickly, but it also became a trope of contemporary communications. According to Microsoft, thirty million PowerPoint presentations are given every day, almost all of them featuring the silhouette stick figure that stands beneath a question mark. PowerPoint was not the natural digitized version of the slide or the overhead projector. It was not the Mr. Coffee to the plastic funnel coffee filter holder. PowerPoint comes with a culture of organizing information—in bulletproof points, using a series of templates, and with AutoContent complete into the program.

Ofri Cnaani, Moviemakers (detail), 2010, overhead projection, handmade transparencies.

Ceal Floyer, Overhead Projection, 2006.

The use and value of PowerPoint has been widely discussed. A doubt was cast upon its efficiency in Edward R. Tufte’s famous article “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint,” where he coined the (surprisingly commonplace) term “PowerPoint phluff” to describe inessential visuals in PowerPoint presentations (puzzled man silhouette included). The use of PowerPoint in the private and corporate realms was slighted in “Absolute PowerPoint” in The New Yorker in 2001, where the writer Ian Parker spells out how “PowerPoint is a software you impose on other people.”

Most art history classes are now taught using PowerPoint. We are getting more and more accustomed to viewing art digitally and online, insomuch that Google used its Street View technology to also make available virtual visits to museums across the world as part of Google Art Project. And the performative aspect of the PowerPoint is utilized in Pecha Kucha and Slideluck Potshow events. Maybe it is time that we throw thinking about the slideshow as a curatorial project into the mix. What worked for Baltimore Art Museum’s “Slideshow” will not work with PowerPoint, whose physical characteristics are quite different.

PowerPoint slides projected on the wall are heavy files in a low resolution, especially when compared to paper or 35mm slides. The capabilities of the human eye-brain system are much larger than what PowerPoint can offer, thereby making it harder to focus solely on the slides themselves. Notwithstanding projects like UC Berkeley Pacific Film Archive’s “PowerPoint to the People,” a competition of PowerPoint artworks (surveyed on Wired here) and Peter Norvig’s Gettysburg PowerPoint Presentationwhich has been linked to and mentioned countless times, a PowerPoint presentation still needs to be activated. It is a performative medium. Not surprisingly, many of the examples I could find of artists using PowerPoint are as part of performances. In his recent work, shown at Performa and SFMOMA, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Simon Fujiwara carries a remote control for a PowerPoint presentation that he uses as part of the performance almost throughout the work. Does this differ from giving a lecture while using PowerPoint? David Byrne gave a series of lectures titled “I [heart] PowerPoint” at museums and universities across the country. He also wrote a book about PowerPoint and displays PowerPoints in his exhibitions. As to the negative reactions to the software itself, Byrne says, “Rather than resist, I decided that I must surrender and learn to use this software myself, for, like everyone, I long to belong.”

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The history of advertising in quite a few objects: 33 The Carousel

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 21 June 2012 08:00AM Be the first to comment

In the three decades that followed its debut in the early 60s, the carousel slide projector was a key player at every big agency presentation – and one of the most cantankerous.

First carousel slide projector: by Eastman Kodak iFirst carousel slide projector: by Eastman Kodak i

It seemed almost to have a mind of its own. And if it didn’t like the way it was being treated, it had a habit of throwing a tantrum and making you look a complete twerp in front of the client you were most eager to impress.

Now that laptops and pen-drives have so dramatically reduced the chances of technical cock-ups at pitches, it’s hard to imagine how such a prosaic piece of equipment could make agencies hostages to fortune.

“You needed a knack to handle a carousel,” John Wringe, the chairman of the brand consultancy Your Future and an adman for more than 30 years, recalls. “The slides had to be loaded the wrong way round and upside down, so there was always a high chance of making a mistake.”

What’s more, to use a carousel was always to risk evoking Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong, it will.

And it did the time Bill Husselby, the Cogent chairman, was about to present to executives of Massey Ferguson, the agriculture equipment manufacturer and his agency’s biggest client, at their Canadian headquarters.

With the auditorium hushed and expectant, Husselby went backstage to check on the progress of the carousel slide presentation being put together by his managing director, Ray Lee.

Husselby opened the door, which hit Lee, sending him crashing into the projector and spilling the slides everywhere. Husselby then succeeded in turning a drama into a crisis by accidentally stepping on the slides, shattering many of them. “I’ll leave you to it, Ray,” a shamefaced Husselby said as he tiptoed away.

Curiously, the fact that the carousel was costly to use was also a benefit. “Each slide cost around £6.50 to produce, which made a lengthy slide presentation quite expensive,” Wringe says. It was a great incentive to keep the slides – and the verbosity – to a minimum.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

– The first carousel slide projector, launched by Eastman Kodak in 1962, was invented by Louis Misuraca, who emigrated to the US from Naples. Instead of royalties, he took a one-off payment from Kodak and used the money to take his family on a trip to Italy.

– An episode of Mad Men suggests the carousel was christened by Don Draper. Asked by Kodak to devise a campaign for their new but unexciting concept, Sterling Cooper’s creative chief, with his marriage on the rocks, talks emotionally of the projector as a “time machine” and uses it to screen images of his wife and children. “It takes us to a place where we ache to go again,” he tells them. “It’s called the carousel.”

– The arrival of the overhead projector and advances in digital photography marked the end of the carousel. Kodak ceased production in 2004.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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New Aesthetics: Cyber-Aesthetics and Degrees of Autonomy

By Patrick Lichty – 01/03/2013

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Five Thousand Feet is the Best by Omer Fast.

In perusing Honor Harger’s recent missive on drone aesthetics and James Bridle’s ongoing posts of drone images at Dronestagram, taken in context with the Glitch un-conference in Chicago, some new questions have come to mind. These questions have to do with conceptions of New Aesthetics in its various forms in terms of interaction with the program/device and its level of autonomy from the user. In my mind, there seems to be a NA continuum from generative programs that operate under the strict criteria of the programmer to the often-autonomous actions of drones and planetary rovers. As you can see, I am still chewing on the idea that The New Aesthetic as it seems to be defined, as encompassing all semi-autonomous aspects of ‘computer vision’. This includes Glitch, Algorism, Drone imagery, satellite photography and face recognition, and it’s sometimes a tough nugget to swallow that resonates with me on a number of levels.

First, image-creating technological agents are far from new, as Darko Fritz recently stated in a talk that algorithms have been creating images, in my opinion, within criteria of NA since the 60’s, and pioneers like Frieder Nake, A. Michael Noll, and Roman Verostko have been exploring algorithmic agency for decades. If we take these computer art pioneers into account, one can argue that NA has existed since the 60’s if one lumps in genres like Verostko’s ‘style’ of Algorism or the use of algorithms as aesthetic choice. A notch along the continuum toward the ‘fire and forget’ imaging (e.g. drones) is the Glitch contingent, which is less deterministic about their methodologies of data corruption aesthetics by either running a program that corrupts the media or they perform digital vivisection and watch what little monster they’ve created. Glitchers exhibit less control over their processes, and are much more akin to John Cage, Dada or Fluxus artists in their allowance of whimsical or chance elements in their media.

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However, as we slide along the spectrum of control/autonomy from the lockstep control of code to the less deterministic aesthetics of face recognition, drone imaging, robotic cameras, Google Street View cams, Mars Rovers and satellite imaging, things get murkier. Autonomic aesthetics remind me of the ruby-hued Terminator T500 vision generated by intelligent agents running the ‘housekeeping’ on the machine platform. I consider this continuum from Algorism to Glitch to autonomous robotic agents under an NA continuum of aesthetics is important insofar as it defines a balance of agency between the operator and the ‘tool’. For me this is the difference between the high degree of control of the Algorist, the ‘twiddle and tweak’ sensibility of the Glitcher, and the gleaning from the database of pseudo-autonomous images created by Big Imaging created by drones and automatic imaging. Notice I use the term ‘pseudo’ in that there are operators flying the platforms or driving the car, while the on-board agents take care of issues like pattern/face recognition and target acquisition. We also see this in Facebook, as recent technological changes as of 2012 have introduced face recognition in the tagging of images. From this, a key issue for me in this discussion of what began as a nebulous set of terms (the criteria of NA as defined by the global conversation) is that of agency and autonomy, and how much control the New Aestheticist gets in the execution of their process. Another important point is that I am not calling the ‘New Aestheticist’ an artist or curator, but something in between, but I’ll get to that later as this is also an issue of control of intent.

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Terminator T500 vision

Back to this idea of autonomy between the subject, the ‘curator’ and the viewer, what interests me is the degree of control or not that the person creating, tweaking, or gleaning the image has over the creation or contextualization of that image. In the case of the Algorist, this is the Control end of the spectrum, where the artist takes nearly full control of the process of creation of the image, unless there is a randomization function involved in the process, and that it itself is a form of control – very Cybernetic in nature. Agency is at a maximum here, as the artist and machine are in partnership. Roman Verostko is a prime example of this, as he explores intricate recursive images created by ink pen plotters using paints in the pens. What he, and the AI-driven AARON, by Harold Cohen, for that matter, are machine painting.

The next step down the autonomy spectrum would involve the use of ‘glitch’ tools and processes that distort, disturb, and warp digital media. The process involves executing a given intervention upon the medium, such as saving it improperly, hex editing its code to corrupt it, or as Caleb Kelly writes, ‘crack’ the media. There are differing degrees of disturbance of the media to inject chance processes into it, from a more ‘algoristic’/programmatic application of programs upon the media to directly changing the internal data structure through manipulating the information through hex code and text editors. The resultant process is an iterative ‘tweak and test’ methodology that still involves the user in the process to varying degrees. Of course, the direct manipulation of the data with a hex editor is the most intimate of the processes, but there is still one factor to account for. The factor in question is that there is the set of causes and effects that are set in motion when the artist/operator opens the media and the codec (Compressor/DECompressor) mis/interprets the media, as is intended by the artist.

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If we are to look at the glitch process, we can say that there is a point of intervention/disturbance upon the media, which is entirely a function of control on the part of the user. Afterwards, it is set loose into the system to allow the corruptions within the media to trigger chance/autonomous operations in its interpretation in the browser, etc. This is where the glitcher straddles the line between control and autonomy, as they manually insert noise into their media (control), then the codecs struggle with the ‘cracked’ media (autonomy). The glitcher, then, has the option to try a new iteration, thereby making the process cybernetic in nature. In Glitch, there is a conversation between the operator, the media and the codec. With the aesthetics created by drones, algorithmic recognition software, and satellite reconstructions, the process is far more autonomous/disjoint, and the New Aestheticist has to deal with this in the construction of their practice.

In the genre that I will call ‘mobEYEle’ imaging, the robot, satellite, or parabolic street eye abstracts from the ‘artist’, aptly turning them into an ‘aestheticist’, as their level of control is defined as that of a gleaner/pattern recognizer from the image bank of Big Data. Rhetorically speaking, we could say that a connection between the aestheticist and the generator of the image would be less abstract if, say, a New Aestheticist were to be in the room with a drone pilot, conversing about points of interest. It is likely that a military remote pilot and a graphic designer would have sharply differing views as to what constitutes a ‘target of interest’. Like that’s going to happen…

Therefore, let us just say that the collaboration of a New Aestheticist and a drone pilot is nightly unlikely, and that the New Aestheticist is therefore abstracted from the decisions of command and control involved in acquiring the image that eventually gets in their hands. This, however, presents us with two levels of autonomous agency, one human and one algotrithmic. But before I expand on this, I would like to discuss my decision to call the practitioner an ‘aestheticist’ as opposed to an artist or curator.

This decision rests on what I feel is the function of the aestheticist, that is, to glean value from an image and ‘ascribe’ an aesthetic to it. This position puts them in a murky locus between artist and curator, as they have elements of neither and both. For example, does the drone-image NA practitioner create the image; are they the artist per se, of the image? No. Although they are more closely aligned to curatorial practice as they collect, filter (to paraphrase Anne-Marie Schleiner), and post on tumblrs and Pinterests? From my perspective, the role of a curator is the suggestion of taste through and informed subjectivity through ecologies of trust and legitimacy, but the social image aggregator, although they might want to perform the same function, has no guarantee of accomplishing this unless they develop a following. Therefore, under my definition, they are neither creators nor taste-makers in the traditional sense, so what makes sense is to call them ‘aggregators’ of aesthetic material and thus my term ‘Aestheticist’.

Returning to our conversation, the drone aestheticist, then, is subject to one of two degrees of completely abstracted autonomy of the creation of the image; that of the operator or that of the algorithms operating the drone. The abstraction surrounding the human operator is easiest to resolve, as the images of interest are either the preference of the drone operator or those created by the operator under the parameters of the mission, and not the results of a New Aestheticist’s joyride on a Global Hawk. It is merely someone else’s volition selecting the image, and a confluence of personal interest deciding as to whether the image deserves to be on the New Aestheticist’s social imaging organ. However, it is the drone’s algorithmic image acquisition system that creates a more alien perspective in regards to aesthetics and autonomy of the image.

Compared to the Algorist or the Glitcher, all loosely placed under the banner of New Aesthetics, the Drone/Big Data Aestheticist is most problematic, as they are a fetishizer of sheer command and control operations that are potentially utterly abstracted from the pilot/driver’s volition. This creates a double abstraction through first the pilot, and then the algorithmic recognition system. There is no cybernetic loop here at all, as the gleaning of the item of interest from the beach of Big Data is twice removed from any feedback potential. Secondly, as I have written before, the Drone Aestheticist is exactly that, a gleaner of interesting images for use on their social image site, which in itself is a bit of an abject exercise.

Or is it? For example, if one is to say that the Aestheticist gleaning the images does so without intent or politics, and is merely operating on fetish/interest value, then this is perhaps one of the least interesting practices in New Aesthetic practice. But on the other hand, if one looks at the work of practitioners like Jordan Crandall, Trevor Paglen, or Ricardo Dominguez, who examine the acquired image as instrument of aggression, control, and oppression, this puts a new lease on the life of the Drone Aesthetic. In a way, though inquiry, there is an indirect feedback loop established in questioning the gaze of the device, its presence, and its function in its theater of operations. The politics of the New Aesthetic emerges here, in asking what mechanisms of command and control guide the machine eye and determine its targets of interest. This is of utmost importance, as the abstracted eye is guided without subjectivity or ethics and is determined solely by the parameters of its algorithms and the stated goals of its functions.

Is the aesthetic of the machine image merely a function of examining its processes, fetishizing its errors, or something else? The criteria of the New Aesthetic attempts to talk about a spectrum of digital imaging that stretches back into time far longer than 2010, and has a problematically broad sense of definition. Once these problems are set aside as a given, one of the key criteria for the evaluation of NA practice and the function of its images depends upon the degree of control and autonomy inherent in the process within the creation of the image. This is formed in a continuum of control and abstraction from Algorism and Generative Art to autonomous eyes like drones and satellites. Algorism is one of the oldest NA practices, and exhibits the closest relationship between artist, machine and determinacy of digital process. A greater degree of indeterminacy is evident in the Glitch, but the iterative process of tweaking the media and then setting it forth into the process of interpretation by the codec, foregrounds the issue of digital autonomy.

The eye of the unmanned platform abstracts creation from the human organism at least once if a human does not operate it remotely, and twice if it is. There is the Terminator-like fear of the autonomous robot, but at this time, perhaps the more salient questions regarding what I have qualified as drone/autonomous aestheticism under NA of what the function of the image is, and is it really that interesting? Are the practices of NA blurring artistic and curatorial practice into a conceptual aestheticism, creating a cool detachment from the image despite its source or method of creation? Is the bottom line to the genres of NA the degree of control that the artist or aestheticist has over the image’s creation or its modality/intent? It seems that NA is an ongoing reflection upon the continuum of control over the generation of the image, our beliefs regarding its aesthetics, and what the intentions or politics are behind the creation of the New Aesthetic image. Or, as I have written before, are we just pinning images from Big Data and saying, “Isn’t that kinda cool?”

Maybe it’s somewhere in the middle of intention and cool.

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