Archive

Post-Modernism

The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things

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Cyberman with Gargoyle
Cyberman Helmet, 1985, Courtesy Chris Balcombe, Photo: Chris Balcombe
Singing Gargoyle, England, c. 1200, Courtesy of Sam Fogg, London

Curated by Mark Leckey

Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Leckey has curated an exhibition that explores the magical world of new technology, as well as tracing its connections to the beliefs of our distant past.

Historical and contemporary works of art, videos, machines, archaeological artefacts and iconic objects, like the giant inflatable cartoon figure of Felix the Cat – the first image ever transmitted on TV – inhabit an “enchanted landscape” created in the Pavilion’s galleries, where objects seem to be communicating with each other and with us.

In Leckey’s exhibition “magic is literally in the air.” It reflects on a world where technology can bring inanimate “things” to life. Where websites predict what we want, we can ask our mobile phones for directions and smart fridges suggest recipes, count calories and even switch on the oven. By digitising objects, it can also make them “disappear” from the material world, re-emerging in any place or era.

In this timeless exhibition, “the real and the virtual co-exist”, Leckey has said. Perhaps technology has created its own form of consciousness – an animistic future. While we already live in the realms of what used to be science fiction, we seem to have simultaneously gone back to our ancestral past – a time when ancient civilisations believed spirits inhabited plants, animals, geographic features and even objects.

Leckey’s theatre of “things” is presented in specially designed environments. Works by artists such as William Blake, Louise Bourgeois, Martin Creed, Richard Hamilton, Nicola Hicks, Jim Shaw and Tøyen are displayed alongside a medieval silver hand containing the bones of a saint, an electronic prosthetic hand that connects with Bluetooth, a bisected 3D model of Snoopy showing his internal organs, and many other treasures that all share connections. Loosely divided into four themes or scenes – the Vegetable World, Animal Kingdom, Mankind and the Technological Domain, Leckey’s exhibition is a collection of not-so-dumb things that all talk, literally or metaphorically, to each other.

Mark Leckey was born in Birkenhead in 1964. He currently teaches at Goldsmiths College, University of London. In 2008 he won the Turner Prize. Recent solo exhibitions include Work & Leisure at Manchester Art Gallery (2012), and See We Assemble at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2011). The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things is the latest in a series of artist-curated Hayward Touring exhibitions.

‘The status of objects’, Leckey argues, ‘is changing, and we are once again in thrall to an enchanted world full of transformations and correspondences, a wonderful instability between things animate and inanimate, animal and human, mental and material’. Our hyper-rationalism of modern technology has paradoxically produced its opposite, an ‘irrational’ magical realm – or as Marshall McLuhan, communication theorist, described “a resonating world akin to the old tribal echo chamber where magic will live again”.

A Hayward Touring exhibition from Southbank Centre, London

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Woofer Design by Sander Mulder
© Sander Mulder

De La Warr Pavilion
Marina
Bexhill On Sea
East Sussex
TN40 1DP
Box Office and information:
01424 229 111 or boxoffice@dlwp.com

Sat 13 Jul 2013-
Sun 20 Oct 2013
Tickets: Free entry

Booking & Information:
01424 229 111

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard

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On an Ungrounded Earth, by Ben Woodard. Brooklyn, New York: Punctum Books. 118 pages. $12.00, paper. PDF

In a 2011 interview conducted by Bookfriendzy, when asked about why he started his multi-disciplinary journal Collapse, Robin Mackay said (and I’m doing my best to transcribe here), “There were a number of problems that it was designed to address, one of which is the problem of where philosophy can exist outside of the academic environment—because of certain constraints of the academic environment—and the way in which the discipline of philosophy is conducted and constrained, and the conviction that philosophy happens everywhere, not just in philosophy departments.”

It might sound obvious—and a little silly—to think about it that way but the idea of philosophy being created and consumed outside of academia is a relatively recent innovation. Collapse is merely one of several increasingly visible venues publishing philosophical thought outside “philosophy departments,” many of which have hefty presences on the web. Certainly towering figures such as Nick Land, whose writings span a huge variety of subjects, and Quentin Meillassoux, whose landmark 2006 text, After Finitude, helped usher in a new era of “modern” philosophy, have had a major influence over a new generation of thinkers, writers and artists looking to construct arguments without, as Mackay put it, constraints.

As philosophy has moved away from outmoded schools and systems of thought, it’s now acceptable—if not outwardly fashionable—for writers to include examples of both “high” and “low” culture to illustrate and support their points. This leads us to Ben Woodard’s absolutely astounding On an Unground Earth, in which Woodard samples from a dizzying array of literature and media, all primarily centered around the disciplines of philosophy, science-fiction and horror. (Here’s a brief list of references: Deleuze and Guattari, Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Reza Negarestani, Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Ligotti, Dune, Tremors, Star Trek, Star Wars, The Matrix series, The Technodrome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gears of War, Doom 3 and Dead Space—among many, many others.)

The subtitle of On an Ungrounded Earth is “Toward a New Geophilosophy.” As the back cover copy states, “In far too much continental philosophy, the Earth is a cold, dead place enlivened only by human thought—either as a thing to be exploited, or as an object of nostalgia.” One of Woodard’s contemporaries, Eugene Thacker, has written that there are three ways of interpreting the world as we know it: 1) the world-for-us, or the world in which we live; 2) the world-in-itself, or the inaccessible world which we then turn into the world-for us; and 3) the world-without-us, or the spectral and speculative world. In these terms then, Woodard’s Ungrounded Earth seeks to explore the relationship between human consciousness and the world-without-us.

Arranged in five sections—and despite its relatively brief page count—the text of On an Ungrounded Earth covers quite a bit of…well, ground. Abyssal and external “ungroundings,” giant worms, the panic of burial, the “dimensions” of hell, volcanic orifices—these are only a few of the topics explored. Because this is philosophy, and so much of the text builds off of ideas and concepts introduced in earlier passages, it’s difficult to pull any excerpts without disrupting Woodard’s meticulous terminology and contextualized language. Suffice it to say, that language is approachable and articulate. I wouldn’t exactly go so far as to call it accessible, but it’s certainly very readable. Overall, an excellent balance is struck between introducing new ideas, analyzing those ideas and explaining how everything relates back to the core idea of the book.

Part of that core is a deeply rooted fascination with the idea of philosophy itself, of “philosophically experiencing” the earth as we have come to understand it. On an Ungrounded Earth is one of an increasing number of texts that might be best described as speculative realism. Characterized by strong undercurrents of “anti-correlationism,” or, an outright rejection to Kant’s idea that we are limited to the correlation between thinking and being, speculative-realist texts are enjoying a good amount of attention in times of ecological imbalance and chaotic world trends. In 2013, a lot of us have spent the majority of our lives with the Internet. We have a constant supply of too much information—the anxiety of a shrinking world. We’ve long-ago accepted the idea of the universe expanding, seen a hundred movies depicting the destruction of our planet and helplessly witnessed the major religions of the world clash with one another again and again. Perhaps this is it. Perhaps whatever meaning there is to be found isn’t contained in the world-for-us. Perhaps, Woodard urges, the meaning we seek is right under our very feet—and has been for quite some time.

***

David Peak’s most recent book, Glowing in the Dark, was released by Aqueous Books in October, 2012. He is co-founder of Blue Square Press, an imprint of Mud Luscious Press, and lives in New York City.

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Speculations IV, June 2013, ISBN: 978-0615797861

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If philosophy begins in wonder, then where does it end? What is its end? Aristotle said that while it begins in wondrous questioning, it ends with “the better state” of attaining answers, like an itch we get rid of with a good scratch or a childhood disease that, once gotten over, never returns. How depressing! Why can’t a good question continue being questionable or, in a more literal translation of the German, “question-worthy?” As Heidegger puts it, “philosophical questions are in principle never settled as if some day one could set them aside.” Couldn’t we learn from questions without trying to settle them, resolve ourselves to not resolving them? Couldn’t wisdom be found in reconciling ourselves to its perpetual love, and never its possession? Wittgenstein once wrote that “a philosophical problem has the form: ‘I don’t know my way about,’” which was the symptom of the deep confusion that constituted philosophy for him. But Heidegger loved wandering aimlessly in the woods, following Holzwege or paths that lead nowhere, stumbling onto dead-ends which could also be clearings.

–Lee Braver, “On Not Settling the Issue of Realism”

Download Speculations IV as a PDF.

Purchase print edition HERE.

–TABLE OF CONTENTS–

Editorial Introduction

PART I: REFLECTIONS

On Not Settling the Issue of Realism
Lee Braver

Politics and Speculative Realism
Levi R. Bryant

The Current State of Speculative Realism
Graham Harman

Weird Reading
Eileen A. Joy

A Very Dangerous Supplement: Speculative Realism, Academic Blogging, and the Future of Philosophy
Adam Kotsko

Speculative Realism: Interim Report with Just a Few Caveats
Christopher Norris

The Future of an Illusion
Jon Roffe

Realism and Representation: On the Ontological Turn
Daniel Sacilotto

PART II: PROPOSALS

“The World is an Egg”: Realism, Mathematics, and the Thresholds of Difference
Jeffrey A. Bell

Ontological Commitments
Manuel DeLanda

The Meaning of “Existence” and the Contingency of Sense
Markus Gabriel

Post-Deconstructive Realism: It’s About Time
Peter Gratton

Points of Forced Freedom: Eleven (More) Theses on Materialism
Adrian Johnston

Realism and the Infinite
Paul M. Livingston

How to Behave Like a Non-Philosopher, or, Speculative Versus Revisionary Metaphysics
John Mullarkey

“The Horror of Darkness”: Toward an Unhuman Phenomenology
Dylan Trigg

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Who Do You Think You Are?/Don’t You Know Who I Am?

HAND IN DATE: Wednesday 24 April 2013 by 4pm.

Please read carefully…

You need to be as creative as you can with the way this essay is presented. You do not have to stick to the conventional A4 layout. You could make it double sided/double spread. You could male it A1/2/3/5 if you wish. It could look like magazine. Be creative in the way you lay out the images. Think about their relationships to the text. Use all your design intelligence to create a publication design that reflects its contents.

19_003

Emigre 19 
Starting From Zero (1991)

http://www.emigre.com/EMag.php?issue=19

You will hand in a hard copy to the Student Office in E-Block

AND email me a single PDF file to m.ingham@arts.ac.uk

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Here is a reminder of the brief…

For this written text you will become the interviewer/storyteller/narrator of a fictional event. You will create a scenario where the person from the 19th/early 20th centuries that you have already been assigned to research/become will meet a “post-modernist” designer/artist/thinker and if you so wish one or two other characters of your own choice.

You will be assigned a producer or critic of post-modern culture to begin with. You will then be able to choose another person from a list of people from the later modernist period and/or someone of your own choosing, who you may already know something about or are a fan of theirs and their work. They could be a; musician, fashion designer, artist, filmmaker, poet, etc.

This brief is about being able to ask the right questions when writing a text. These questions will have to be based on extensive research of your characters and the worlds they inhabit(ed). Without high quality research your questions will lack the depth for you to elicit quality answers. (You will of course be answering your questions on the behave of your characters.)

The first thing you will need to decide if you are going to stick with a three way correspondence/conversation or go for the more complicated but possibly more rewarding four or five way debate.

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So the options are:

1. You + Your Person from Modernity + Your Given Post-modernist.

= 3 people in the conversation.

2. You + Your Person from Modernity + Your Given Post-modernist + A Modernist from the given list OR and person of your choice.

= 4 people in the conversation.

3. You + Your Person from Modernity + Your Given Post-modernist + A Modernist from the given list AND and person of your choice.

= 5 people in the conversation.

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Once you have decided on which option you want to pursue, you then have to think about a scenario where they might all might meet up or correspond with each other. This will be a fictional event or process and it is much more than likely that they never met in real life. Will you invent a machine that sends you back in time and collect all your characters for a Radio/TV special on their lives? Will it be a ‘This is Your Life’ type event? You may wish to have them casually bump into each other in a coffee shop/bar/swimming pool and start up a conversation. You may want to do all the correspondence between your characters by post-card/letter/e-mail/twitter/SMS. You could create a fictitious play where they all appear in. You can be as creative as you wish with this element and take them to Mars if you fancy….

You will be the person you initiates the first questions to your characters and you will have to introduce them to each other. From then onwards you will be the narrator/interviewer and they will also want to speak to each other. This might then start a debate about the merits of modernism/post-modernism or any other issue the may have a bee in their bonnet or issue with.

You must start investigating and researching into your characters straight away, as this will be what you will base your questions on and will help you create and exciting and dynamic story. It is a flight of fantasy and is not real but will be based of the facts, works and words of your characters lives. You will create an extensive bibliography, which will be attached to this written text, as you WILL look for as many books/websites/films/journals articles about your characters and their lives and the worlds they lived in.

You MUST include in text referencing in this work. So you would say: (YOU) Dear Marcel Duchamp many thanks for being here today in is a great honour and pleasure. My first question is that, according to your friend and writer, Pierre Cabanne (1987) in his fascinating book Dialogues With Marcel Duchamp he asks you what your greatest regret was? Can you remember what you said” (MD) Yes of course I can remember as if it was yesterday day, I said, ‘I don’t have any. I’ve missed nothing.’ (Cabanne 1987 p15)

You must find a way of incorporating as many images of your characters work as possible into your chosen scenario and therefore the written text. If you are sending postcards for instance, send them images of your own work and they will then send you and each other images of their work. If in a café/bar they may have their portfolio/smart phone with them and they can introduce themselves through their work. They and you can then critique this work and a heated debate might arise. These images also must be referenced in full in a list, which can go wherever you like in this text. Your scenario might end up in an argument and one of your characters flouncing out in a huff.

 The elements of this text will be:

1. A title. It should be a hook and make the reader want to read your story.

2. An Introduction by yourself to the scenario you have imaginatively chosen for you people to come together and converse and a short introduction to these people and their lives.

3. The main text written as a continuous narrated dialogue between you are your characters and between each other, whether in the form of a script, letters, novel dialogue. As the narrator you are the questioner/interviewer/referee and the person who describes what is happening.

4. A conclusion where you sum up what happened and your thoughts on the events that have just ensued. A good ending is always important.

5. A list of illustrations which tells the reader exactly who took/made the image the date it was made where you got it from and when you accessed it, if in was from and on-line source.

6. A bibliography, which has FULL references for each source of information, you have used or looked at during your research. You MUST not just include an URL, there should be an author, date, title, site, URL, when access information included.

If in doubt look at: Guide to the Harvard System of Referencing http://bit.ly/12eP1Wt

You will be graded using the Undergraduate Marking Criteria Matrix: http://bit.ly/Z9L58o

HAND IN DATE: Wednesday 24 April 2013 by 12.05pm.

You will hand in a hard copy to the Student Office in E-Block AND email me a single PDF file to m.ingham@arts.ac.uk

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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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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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The ‘text’ for you to look at for our next session on Wednesday 13.03.13 is the documentary:

STYLE WARS

http://www.stylewars.com/watch

STYLE WARS Hip Hop Documentary 1 of 5 graffiti movie

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STYLE WARS Hip Hop Documentary 2 of 5 graffiti movie

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STYLE WARS Hip Hop Documentary 3 of 5 graffiti movie

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STYLE WARS Hip Hop Documentary 4 of 5 graffiti movie

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STYLE WARS Hip Hop Documentary 5 of 5 graffiti movie

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THE DOCUMENTARY

Directed by Tony Silver and produced by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant, it was awarded the Grand Prize for Documentaries at the 1983 Sundance Film Festival. STYLE WARS is regarded as the indispensable document of New York Street culture of the early ’80s, the filmic record of a golden age of youthful creativity that exploded into the world from a city in crisis.

STYLE WARS captured the look and feel of New York’s ramshackle subway system as graffiti writers’ public playground, battleground and spectacular artistic canvas. Opposing them by every means possible were Mayor Edward Koch, the police, and the New York Transit Authority. Meanwhile MCs, DJs and B-boys rocked the city with new sounds and new moves and street corner breakdance battles evolved into performance art.

New York’s legendary kings of graffiti and b-boys own a special place in the hip hop pantheon. STYLE WARS has become an emblem of the original, embracing spirit of hip hop as it reached out across the world from underground tunnels, uptown streets, clubs and playgrounds.

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AND read

Michael Bierut’s

Style: An Inventory

http://observatory.designobserver.com/feature/style-an-inventory/36718/

36718-style-inventory_525

Vault doors manufactured by Remington & Sterling Company (detail), c. 1912. Photograph by Niko SkourtisStyle as learning

. It is your first big assignment in design school. You know, or think you know, about problem solving. You know, or think you know, about communication. You know about composition, about white space, about kerning. But this is not enough. With all those issues addressed, there are still decisions to be made, decisions that seem perfectly, maddeningly arbitrary. What typeface? What color? Not what does it say, or how does it work, but what does it look like? These decisions, arbitrary though they are, have an oversized impact. How do you decide? Do you copy something you like? (Is thatplagiarism?) Do you do something that no one else has ever done? (Is that even possible?) The blank piece of paper is overwhelming. You make your choices, and you look at the results. This is your first lesson in the power of style.Style as destiny. Style was never discussed when I was a student. There was a vague sense that genuine style emerged unconsciously in its own time, like breasts or facial hair. Trying too hard would derail the process and result in something less than authentic. What a wonderful promise: within each of us is a unique voice that will reveal itself, but only through patience and practice. Use the force, Luke. Do or do not, there is no try.

Style as compulsion. Where does style come from? Put more broadly, why do people do what they do? Nature or nurture? Free will or intention? How much of our particular version of the design process is hardwired directly into our basic brain functions? The designer can’t help it.

Style as ideology. It is unnerving to some that certain design decisions, particularly those related to style, are motivated subconsciously. “I don’t know, I just like it that way,” doesn’t always work for teachers, bosses, clients and judges of design competitions. Thus we have the post-rationalizations of the style deniers. Ideology is the superego to style’s id.

Style as habit. At the outset of his political career, Barack Obama decided to wear nothing but dull blue, black and gray suits so he could focus his attention on more important things. Here is William James in 1877: “The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.”

Style as uniform. Charles Baudelaire: “Dress like a bourgeoisie, think like a revolutionary.”

Style as epithet. Stefan Sagmeister originated the easy-to-remember equation “Style = Fart.” He later said he no longer believed this, acknowledging that appropriate use of style could aid communication.Style as crutch. Every great designer has a default mode that provides a solution when original thinking, for whatever reason, is impossible. This default mode, deployed with regularity, becomes associated with that designer’s unique personal style. Do not fear your default mode, but nor should you seek it. Simply know that there’s a safety net if you need it. Knowing that makes you less likely to need it.

Style as assimilation. We are taught to value originality, to assume that the first goal of every design solution is differentiation. If you think that standing out in a crowd is a universal goal, take a look around. You will see few people sporting hula skirts or top hats. Instead, everyone is trying to fit in. Some design challenges have the same requirement. If you’re creating packaging for spaghetti sauce, you can make it jump out from the shelf by making it look like a bottle of shampoo. But people in the pasta aisle aren’t looking for shampoo. They’re looking for spaghetti sauce. And what makes spaghetti sauce look like spaghetti sauce is the aggregation of a hundred small stylistic cues that need to be understood and mastered. Once you know how to fit in, you can decide what it will take to break out.

Style as nemesis. Paul Rand almost never talked about or even acknowledged living graphic designers: his heroes tended to be European, usually obscure, and preferably dead. But in “Design, Form and Chaos,” he described the styles of some of his contemporaries, and one can almost imagining him spitting out the adjectives between clenched teeth: “squiggles, pixels, doodles; corny woodcuts on moody browns and russets; indecipherable, zany typography; peach, pea green, and lavender; tiny color photos surrounded by acres of white space.” On the other hand, I remember being introduced to Rand’s work as a first year design student in 1975 and thinking it looked naïve and old fashioned.

Style as straightjacket. Philip Glass: “I know you’re all worried about finding your voice. Actually you’re going to find your voice. By the time you’re 30, you’ll find it. But that’s not the problem. The problem is getting rid of it.”

Style as rebellion. How to break out. If you’re right handed, draw with your left hand. Determine the most sensible, practical thing to do, and then do the exact opposite. Pick a color at random. Force yourself to use the typeface you hate the most. Take on a problem that you’ve never faced before. Overturn the game board and make up new rules based on where the pieces fall.

Style as substance. Oscar Wilde: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

Style as groupthink. Everyone’s doing it, why can’t I? It’s difficult to resist the zeitgeist, particularly if it doesn’t even feel like the zeitgeist, but simply the way things are supposed to look these days. And then…Style as timestamp. [Year] called, they want their [dated graphic trope] back. Oh, snap!

Style as denial. I don’t like to think I have an identifiable style, says the designer with the identifiable style. A way of working can become so comfortable that small differences can seem exaggerated. With surprising regularity, a designer is blind to the fact that it all looks alike, that the same patterns are being repeated over and over. The entire field of psychiatry exists to address this problem in daily life. At what point do you need professional help?

Style as trademark. You can identify an Emily Dickenson poem by the punctuation alone. There is an entire profession called “forensic linguistics;” its specialists can authenticate a Shakespeare sonnet or derive a criminal profile from a ransom note. What evidence are you leaving behind?

Style as narcissism. Or, falling in love with your own handwriting.

Style as disguise. Planner Andres Duany has said that the comforting style of New Urbanism — front porches, picket fences — is nothing more than the nostalgia-imbuedTrojan Horse in which the radical planning ideas — no cars, tiny yards — are delivered.Mary Poppins: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

Style as professionalism. Eero Saarinen’s motto was “The style for the job.” His design for the TWA Terminal was as different from his General Motors Technical Center was as different from his U.S. Embassy in London as air travel is from automotive engineering is from international diplomacy. Purists viewed him with suspicion, but he was enormously successful and made the cover of Time magazine. After his early death, his work seemed to date badly. Today, everyone loves the TWA Terminal.

Style as prostitution. The oldest profession(alism). Who would the client like me to be today? “I’m a whore,” Philip Johnson liked to admit, preempting any criticism.

Style as homage. The gala invitation done in the mode of the event’s honoree. At a party for architecture dean Jay Chatterjee, famously fond of bow ties, attendees were asked to wear bow ties.

Style as impersonation. It can be surprisingly satisfying to attempt to channel the voice of John Baskerville, or William Morris, or Alvin Lustig, or Robert Brownjohn. Satisfying and, to some, dangerously addictive. Like a painting student copying an old master at the Musee de Beaux Arts, Hunter S. Thompson once typed out the entire text of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He said he wanted to find out what it felt like to write a masterpiece.

Style as indulgence. Even at its emptiest, style can be a source of great pleasure. I work in a building that was constructed 100 years ago as a bank. In the basement, side by side, are two vaults. Each vault has a massive door manufactured by the Remington & Sterling Company, made of brass and steel, with a gleaming mechanism visible behind glass. Each door is covered with elaborate, hand-engraved filigree, graceful and exuberant, purely decorative, and destined to be — literally — locked away from public view, for the decoration is all on the inside. But that’s not the amazing thing. The amazing thing is that the doors have slightly different patterns. One is based on oak leaves. The other is based on maple leaves. It’s as if some craftsperson said back in 1912: these two doors for the job at 204 Fifth Avenue, are they right next to each other? I’d better make sure they’re different. The vault doors would work just fine without any decoration at all, of course. That makes the gift ever more special.

Style as style.

This essay was commissioned by Julia Hoffmann and Joe Marianek for the 2013 School of Visual Arts Senior Library, a book celebrating the best work of that year’s graduating class

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