Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Culture Synchronised: Remixes with Nick Cook and Eclectic Method

The room Hel 252 is starting to have good karma as the remix-class room at Anglia Ruskin. Not because its equipped with computers, editing equipment or such, but because it is starting to have a good track record as the room where we have now hosted both the screening and discussion of RIP: Remix Manifesto with Brett Gaylor, and now also discussed the work of Eclectic Method -- one of the most well known remix-acts.

Geoff Gamlen, a founding member of Eclectic Method, visited us in the context of Professor Nicholas Cook's talk on musical multimedia. Professor Cook continued themes that were addressed already in his 1998 book on the topic and now followed up in the form of a new book project that deals with performance. With a full room of excited audience, Cook gave a strong presentation on hot topics in musicology and the need to move to new areas of investigation, as well as showing how such ideas relate to the wider field of cultural production in the digital age. Remix-culture is not restricted to music but where such examples as Eclectic Method (or we could as well mention for example Girl Talk) are emblematic of software driven cultural production that ties contemporary culture with early 20th century avant-garde art practices, and shows how political economy of copyright/copyleft, of participatory and collaborative modes of sharing and producing, of aesthetics of image/sound-collages and synchronisations, all are involved in this wider musical assemblage. What Cook argued in terms of musicological approaches that, in my own words, are suggesting "the primacy of variation" was apt. Such performance practices as Eclectic Method's are important in trying to come up with up-to-date understanding of what is performance, what is the author, and how performance practices relate to wider media cultural changes that are as much about the sonic, as they are about pop cultural aesthetics -- hence the examples on Tarantino were apt in the presentation. We need to move on (whether in terms of the epistemic frameworks or the legal ones) from the 19th century romantic notion of the Creator as the source of the artwork to what I would suggest (in a kinda of a Henry Jenkins sort of way) to an alternative 19th century of folk cultures where sharing and participating was the way culture was distributed, and in continuous variation. Despite the increasing amount of skeptics from Andrew Keen to Jaron Lanier (and in a much more interesting fashion Dmytri Kleiner), who also rightly so remind us that Web 2.0 is not only about celebration of amateur creativity and sharing but a business strategy that compiles free labour through website bottlenecks into privatized value, I would suggest that there is a lot to learn from such practices of creation as remixing and their implications for a theoretical understanding of musical and media performance.

Eclectic Method's work...range from political remixes... pop/rock culture synchronisations...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Bookmachines, Soundmachines

Kettle's Yard had today a CoDEful of people performing on "Musical and Poetic Approaches to Technology, from subversive, DIY and historical perspectives." By CoDEful I mean Katy Price, Tom Hall and Richard Hoadley, all affiliated with our institute.

The experimental takes on sound, music and performance moved from digital investigations into soundscapes (Katherine Norman's pieces) to for example physical computing and interface experiments as with Richard Hoadley who performed with his self designed Gaggle too -- along with two new devices, Wired and Gagglina.

I truly enjoyed Katy Price's performance piece Bookmachine which is described as "found poem drawn from three sources about books and machines." The opening line "the book is a machine to think with" is a declaration of book's haptic, sonic, material qualities; an exploration into the pragmatics of the book. (And as I learned, comes from I.A.Richard's). Indeed, the book is touched, scraped, made into a sonic platform; it is torn, taped back together, punctured. The book is less read, and when its read, its not a work of extracting meanings from it, for sure. The book is "typed into a BBC Microcomputer simulator running 'Speech' and the speech facility in a Macbook." The book does, and is an object of doing much more than meaning in a Deleuzian spirit.

This is where I am alluding to, Deleuze and Guattari on the book: the root-book is very different even if its the classical form of the book; hierarchical and full of meaning. We read such books as we should read books -- the way we are taught. Start in the beginning, think of what it means. The modernists then were already cutting up books (cut-ups by Burroughs) and making new kinds of series proliferate. But books can be made to do other kinds of things; books are machines, and machines connect. They connect to senses, new uses, making books into objects, trajectories, surfaces, scapes. A machine to think with alludes to the fact that books always function as part of assemblages. We like to think of book's as organic and self-sustaining, but they always are there to help to do stuff, to think with, to accompany. We become with books. And if the book is a machine to think with, it also alludes that there are other machines to think with too; that the book is a machine similarly as computers and such are.

Book as a machinic assemblage is much more than we usually attribute to literature, and sees it even as a , well, war-machine (in the DeleuzeGuattarian-sense again). To quote Gregg Lambert:
"...literature functions as a war machine. 'The only way to defend language is to attack it'(Proust, quoted in CC4). This could be the principle of much of modern literature and capture the sense of process that aims beyond the limit of language. As noted above, however, this limit beyond which the outside of language appears is not outside language, but appears in its points of rupture, in the gaps, or tears, in the interstices between words, or between one word and the next." (Lambert, The Non-Philosophy of Deleuze, 141).

Literally, what lies between words are blank gaps on the page, but also paper, and the porous surface of inscription. There is always a lot that goes on between any word - much more than hallucination of meaning. The stuttering "and" is what constitutes an experimental assemblage of the book machine which tries out the various material modalities in which text, covers, paper, expose much more than meaning. The rhizome-book is the bookmachine, it reaches to outsides and neglects illusions of books as images of the world. It represents less, but sounds a lot more.

The book too has its on level of "body without organs" -- the final phrase from the performance. Much more, such perspectives relate to futures of literature and literature studies. New territories of how we approach literature, books, meanings do not take at face value the idea of hermeneutics and deciphering meanings in that traditional sense, but are open to, well, opening up the book in different ways. Literature can be made into such new contexts of use and imagination where semantics and interpretation can be seen as only one way of "practicing literature". This is where the translation of literature whether into data open to algorithmic manipulations, or then new realms of sensation in terms of multimodality, or part of other creative, experimental takes finds its futures.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Across scales, contagious movement

I wrote this short text as a response, inspired by Stamatia Portanova's recent introduction to her concept of movement-object...published on the In Medias Res-website.

Why is global capitalism so interested in dance? Why is it so interested in flexible, able, creative bodies that show virtuosity and skill? It seems that the emblematic body of contemporary network(ed) capitalism of creative industries and digital economy is that of the dancer, the performer, what Virno referred to as virtuosity; not solely the individual performer however, but indeed a collective quite often. Its flash mobs on train stations, not the worker at the conveyer belt; indeed, train stations instead of factories. What is being produced is movement, or perhaps, from a moving, creative, related set of bodies something emerges; what is that what interests capitalism in that sense? Of course, football is the great art of relationality (think of Douglas Gordon’s Zidane-film!) but as much a condensation of creative capitalism; a condensation of not only flows of skill, but flows of capital and profit. In South-Africa, at the moment, with the World Cup approaching, new territories of security are being created where wrong bodies (street kids, and other not-wanted-disturbances) are being cleaned out from the streets in preparation for the celebration of global society under the banner of football.

An excerpt from another text, forthcoming:

“Indeed, the dancing and moving body can be seen in historical terms as a specific form of knowledge production with an increasing economic importance. Dance is the perfect interface for cultural theories of movement (bodies in variation) to understand the complexity of interaction, an ethology of forces/bodies and the object of cultural industries of affect and experiences. Nigel Thrift writes: ‘[…] dance can sensitize us to the bodily sensorium of a culture, to touch, force, tension, weight, shape, tempo, phrasing, intervalation, even coalescence, to the serial mimesis of not quite a copy through which we are reconstituted moment by moment’ (2008: 140).”

“Not quite a copy” seems to be the contagious element of propagation.

You (referring to Stamatia) start with viruses, with bacteria, which is apt in terms of thinking the contagious nature of gesturality/movement (despite a post-fordist emphasis on flexible bodies, actually the mapping of the gestural, flexible body was part of the earlier phase of capitalism, the cinematic one already since he 19th century) and movement-objects as you call them. It seems to convey the idea of such objects themselves as condensations of intensities that can spread across levels, in this case from the thickness of the event/bodies performing in relation to e.g. algorithmic environments, digital techniques/milieus of creation. Indeed, its not only an abstraction of lived relations of organic kinds, but another scale of relations that is being superposed, or ties in with bodies, and that intertwining of scales and techniques interests me a lot. The digital object is far from static but incorporates too an intensity that stems from its relational status. We can also approach digital objects through the notion of affect whether on the level of design where e.g. object-orientated-design deals with such relations, or then more widely through the assemblage nature of digital nature. Digital objects, software and such, are, for me, characterised by their translational capacities. Not only that through algorithmic measures we are able to abstract etc. things into datasets, but that such abstractions return to organic bodies and their actions; they return as sounds and visions, as actions or frameworks for action (operating systems, bank cash dispensers, and such). This generative circuit that software participates in between a variety of bodies, this relationality, is how I would read also “movement-objects” circulating and distributing certain relations and gesturality even.

I think this multiplicity of ecologies is one thing that strikes me about your movement-objects; they always creatively “mediate” between scales; whether digital objects-organics, or then the idea about beats, where the beat-object is formed through combination of grains, as you put it following Alanna, and where on another scale of bodies’ beats create combinations; bodies pulsating together at a disco! Or again, at the train station as with flash mobs harnessed as part of mobile operator adverts! Its contagious, indeed, and again ties in these contemporary themes together with crowds, social imitation as creativity of bodies in concert, all symptomatic of modernity already in the sense Gabriel Tarde talked about (and more recently Tony Sampson has been interested in!).