Author Archives: mjl

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Disquiet Junto projects 62 & 63.

Between dayjob demands and dealing with a seemingly non-ending stream of weekly blizzards, I’ve been lax at updating. Here’s the last two Disquiet Junto projects I participated in.

Last week, everyone built a piece using three sine waves as the building blocks:


And this past weekend, folks were asked to use a source track (Italian monks in a Gregorian chant), re-record it in a reverberant environment, and use the result as the basis of a new piece. (With neither field recording equipment nor a convenient space available, my ‘reverberant environment’ of choice turned out to be a metal canister, adorned with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and the rest, that had once held caramel corn):




Process details for each piece are given on the Soundcloud site.

‘Indie Capitalism’: Once you name it, it’s a Thing.

After yesterday’s rant on the Great Inevitable Future of Work, I stumble onto this article in WiReD about ‘Indie Capitalism’. This article, itself, quotes another article in Businessweek on the same subject– arguably a more mainstream/non-techie publication, which indicates that the idea has ‘arrived’, I suppose.

So, ‘Indie Capitalism’ now has a name. Which means that it is now a Thing (ie a meme or concept that I now expect to see mentioned or bandied about all over the place over the next few months).

Another cultural indicator: Amanda Palmer’s TED talk on ‘The Art of Asking’ (via boingboing), giving a pop-musician’s view on how to use Kickstarter and social media. Note that the self-named ‘Happy Mutant’ set is precisely the well-off, largely self-employed demographic I referred to yesterday, so those circles bear watching.

I’ll just wryly note that now that ‘Indie Capitalism’ is a Cool Thing, then (almost by definition) that means that exclusionary networks are sure to arise (or existing ones re-enforced) to limit access to the Cool Thing… because otherwise, the Thing would cease to be Cool.

This was essentially what I was trying to get at with yesterday’s post– Damien Walter’s article is the only one I’ve read on the subject that doesn’t make the implicit assumption that all class/social barriers to entry to this new ‘regime of work’ are either already gone, or about to disappear.

contra leisuretopia (some random thoughts).

Just wanted to make note of an interesting article by sci-fi author Damien Walter in aeon magazine about the possibility of a ‘creative culture’ arising in the near future, as the natural result of increased automation and our current, inexorable shift towards a pure-knowledge economy.

The article falls in line with current thoughts and assumptions about the Great Inevitable Future of Work. It’s not an unusual vision by now: Most of the drudge-labor gets delegated to machines. Most manufacturing is done on-site via 3D printers. The now-displaced labor class then somehow gets magically educated into the ‘knowledge economy’, and voila!, fast forward— It’s the late 21st century! And all nine billion souls on the planet are earning a living wage by doing 10-15 hrs a week of freelance work (all funded on Kickstarter, of course) on their laptops at the local cafe!

I’ll just politely note that these claims are invariably made by well-born, well-educated, well-off, well-connected and generally self-employed types who already inhabit a world that looks much like this. It’s a very nice, pleasant and well-meaning vision (though I can’t help but wonder how much of it is unconsciously driven by guilt: Don’t worry, unemployed laborers… soon you’ll all get to live and work like we do! Just be patient!) While I agree in principle that such a society is theoretically possible (and may in fact be one of the few pleasant near-futures available to us), to ignore issues of custom, law and class –not to mention human nature– when talking about the transition always seemed somewhat naive to me.

Which is why this article jumped out at me: Mr. Walter actually mentions class. Money quote:

As much as our social hierarchies are about limiting and controlling access to wealth, they are also about limiting and controlling access to creativity. Increasingly, the real benefit that money buys is the time, freedom and power to act creatively.

Bingo. I’ll also note, without comment, that only a Brit could have written the above English sentence so honestly, and gotten it published. (Here in the US, you can’t even utter the words ‘social hierarchy’ in most circles without being greeted by eyerolls– we’re quite well trained in that respect).

At least here in the first world, while we clearly haven’t banished poverty or inequity (far from it), all but the very poorest among us can afford at least some degree of what would have been considered physical plenty by their ancestors. They don’t live in rags, as the pre-Revolutionary French peasants would have done. Many have ‘luxuries’ like HDTVs, a cellphone, and often some kind of vehicle (albeit a used one). Once mere possession of an object could no longer serve as a suitable class marker, the discriminating factor became Quality. Compare a 1975 BMW or Mercedes against a 1975 Ford or Chevy, for example. Most of us got access to automobiles by that point, thanks to a half-century of Fordism… but only the Quality could afford the Best (or vice versa).

But in the ensuing decades, manufacturing has become so efficient that we now live in a world where lower-end products have almost equivalent utility to their higher-end counterparts: Going back to our car example, compare a 2012 BMW to a 2012 Ford or Honda, and you’ll note much less difference-in-quality between the two than there would have been 35+ years prior. Is the $1800 Mac better than the $900 PC with equivalent specs? IMO, yes, it still is. Is it twice as good or useful? No. No it isn’t. The surplus is for that logo– which, you’ll note, is conspicuously placed on the backside of the laptop, for others to see. Not you.

IMO, this is what has driven our current era’s obsession with ‘Branding’ and ‘Mindshare’. Our cultural wiring still requires Discriminators, so we insist they are there when they’re really not. Clothing would be another area where the only real discriminator at this point is the trademarked icon put there by the manufacturer: Since almost anyone can afford a decent shirt, pants and shoes nowadays, those little icons on your chest are all that’s left to announce your social status, economic worth, general class and tribal affiliation to any passers-by who might wish to evaluate you. Those sigils by Apple, Nike, Champion or BMW are essentially the current incarnation of tribal tattoos, put there for others to see. Not you.

Back to Walter’s article: Leisure time has of course been a class marker for at least as long as there has been such a thing as social hierarchies: It was never coincidence that the Throne was a seat, before which you stood (or knelt, or groveled). But, with increased automation and lesser need for human labor, ‘leisure’ has become available to more people than ever before (ironically, even in the case of the chronically un-/under-employed, who would perhaps prefer to be less idle). So, as with Branding, the game has to change to suit our habitual nature– and I believe Walter’s quote up above points out our current quandary very nicely.

I live in a country where people argue against food stamps/unemployment insurance because some cunning idler might use them to buy cigarettes, or booze, or cellphones (none of these claims are objectively true, since purchases are limited by category, but cross-tribal hatreds run strong in an era of perceived decline). Few seem willing to pay to educate the entire American populace up the economic food chain, either. Nor does our current economy seem able to create jobs for all those who do manage to get educated above their birth-class. So it’s not clear to me how we’re supposed to transition from our current state of affairs to some post-Labor Leisure Culture. We can’t all start businesses, Capital is too scarce (ie the banks would never fund them all). We can’t all go freelance, because there are only so many slots available, and so many barriers to entry and gatekeepers in the way.

Most serious thinkers seem to realize the necessary End Game at this point, but none seem to have a serious, believable, achievable path to get there without some massive (and very unlikely) mass-transformation in the culture and psychology of those currently living.

I’ll let Mr Walter finish the topic, since it was his article that got me started:

We need to learn this lesson as a culture. We have to place the human capacity to create at the very centre of our social and political life. Instead of treating it as a peripheral benefit of economic growth, we need to understand that our wealth only grows at the speed that we can develop our creative capacities. And we must realise that we can no longer afford to empower the creativity of the few at the cost of the many. Our systems of government, business and education must make it their mission to support the creative fulfilment of every human being.

So… how to get to this future, from here?

Or are we just kidding ourselves?

disquiet: i, io.

I had started last week’s disquiet project, but then nature intervened with three feet of snow.

That said, this week’s project had us using our own voices for raw material. This worried me (singing is not exactly my forté), plus I intentionally forced myself to use Audiomulch, which I barely know, as part of the exercise. But here it is:

I’m going to continue working with Audiomulch, for awhile. I haven’t been able to configure it to use MIDI events (like a key press) to trigger/start/stop clips as easily as I can in Ableton Live, but I expect this problem to be solvable. Others have solved it already.

Meanwhile, I listened to Tubular Bells for the first time today, on the drive into work. The album’s almost as old as I am, and I had bought this CD set back in 2002, but there it sat in a box all this time.

No impressions yet (when you look at something 40 years past, ‘impressions’ degenerate into ‘historicism’ so I doubt I’ll even bother to go there). But I do note the whimsy. All that English Musical Whimsy, even back then.

slouching towards zanzibar…

SOTU is in a half hour or so. To my mind, this is when the second Obama Administration begins (everything since the election –Hagel, Brennan, drone memos, the fiscal cliff– has just been the usual noise and aftermath, at this scale). That just seems to be part of the national rhythm. Between that, and exhaustion, I haven’t been paying as much attention to politics since the election as I usually do.

It’s been a bizarre few weeks, outside of politics: Aaron Swartz committed suicide over the JSTOR case. Iran may (or may not) have launched a monkey into space and got it back to Earth safely. North Korea managed to sort of launch a rocket, and then went on to confirm that they could still make Uranium go critical under highly controlled conditions underground. We had a Blizzard of ’78 class storm here. The pope resigned (like many, I didn’t even know he could do that). An ex-cop starts out on an OJ-esque rampage of revengeful murders and multi-cop chase scenes, and (as I write this) ends up in a Waco-esque burning cabin, complete with billowing black smoke (in karmic honor of the upcoming Conclave, I can only assume).

Oh, and Ted Nugent (who has made physical threats against coined some disturbingly colorful ‘metaphors’ involving POTUS in the past) will attend the SOTU, at the personal invitation of some (to me) obscure Tea-Party House member.

Compare this to the post-2003 career trajectory of the ill-fated, anti-Bush Dixie Chicks.

About ten minutes to SOTU now. And they’re announcing Dorner’s apparent death (and that of at least one deputy). Finishing up just in time for the 9pm speech coverage. Tidy, that.

The title came to me as I was typing my news summary, it really is the Stand on Zanzibar era in some ways… and I really do need to finish that book.

let me tell you… (phonemetransmit)

Disquiet #0057 had us working with voice samples from three languages. Pick four words from each, and do something with the twelve.

The full set is posted here.

In other news: Laurie Anderson interviews Brian Eno in this article. And some Boston organization I’ve never heard of before is asking for funding to have another concert season.

I also found this beast in my attic closet: realistic_mixer
Someone moved and gave us some old stuff several years ago, I had just put it somewhere out of the way and forgotten about it. Price tag of $69.95 still on the box, probably from the late 1980s. It’s basically a standard two-turntables-and-a-microphone mixer, without the crossfader. Or EQ.

I’m wondering if the phono preamps in it are any good…

woodpecker summons time (disquiet0056-matteroftime)

This was last week’s Disquiet, I wanted to post it here before I forgot (busy week):


Process details are over there, no need to repeat them here. Used a simple drawing tablet as a ‘controller’ (ie pen) for Live. The pen doesn’t work well at all for adjusting volume/effect/etc controls, but those are already mapped to the nano-kontroller. The tablet did seem a more fluid way to launch and stop clips. Especially when compared to the MPC nanopads I’ve been using to trigger clips. The pen was also, if not optimal, much better than the trackpad or the mouse in editing and manipulating the audio waveforms in Live’s clip editor.

Not really eager to spend gobs of money on better MIDI controllers, so I’ll keep using the pen and tablet for awhile and see how that works.

That’s it for now.

update (release notes, basically)

Haven’t had much time to write on here. I had to skip last week’s Junto, but managed this week’s (even with Arisia over the weekend).

This week’s exercise (disquiet0055-twoscrews) had us rework two pieces (Do and Re) from Nils Frahm’s Screws:

Done with Ableton Live (yes, still stuck back in 5.2.2) and Audacity. Project details over at disquiet, or via the above SoundCloud widget. No need to repeat them here.

In other news, decided that I want (need?) to take a break from working with the old 2002 material, and decided to just hurry up and finish the almost-done EP-thing from 2007 (enoch is the title, I’ve decided). The first track is called, appropriately enough, enoch:

The stem of this piece was made in Ableton Live in early 2007. Some of the sounds date back to 2003. Remixed, remastered a little with my current setup. This is actually the last serious drone piece I did… because every other drone piece I’ve tried to make since has sounded just like it. (I’ve started to refer to this as my Drone Wall, because I need to break beyond it eventually).

The second piece, march, is from the same session but completely different:

At least one of the sounds in this (the core guitar sample, my own) dates back to the late 1980s (though it doesn’t sound much like itself here). It’s probably a Peavey.

I still have the Live Sets for these two pieces, intact. I could even play them again (roughly), if I ever had to. There are two more for this collection/EP, and that batch will be done.

Medium-term, my goal is still to get the 2002 and 2007 stuff finalized and posted to SoundCloud and bandcamp (as ‘name your own price’ albums). With the already-posted outside, that will place anything made post-2000 online.

As it should have been, all along.

the boatman’s dream (at year’s end).

My second attempt at a Disquiet Junto project. I had to sit out last week’s junto as that called for a ‘musical diary’ using work from throughout the year, and I’ve only been doing this again since June. Embarrassing, that. Fortunately, there’s no pressure, so I’ll just do it as I can. So, for this week:

Project parameters are here. We were asked to take samples from three specific songs published under the Bump Foot netlabel (link saved for later reference). I won’t go into process details here, it’s all over at the SoundCloud site. It was good to jump into Ableton again. I hadn’t really touched it since 2007 (I’m still using v5.2).

In other news, I’ve been playing around with Pure Data in the background for a few weeks now. I’ve looked into the Max/AudioMulch/Pd way of doing things for over a year, and decided to just go with the free option for now. I’m currently struggling with how to best draw mathematical expressions in Pd, it’s not (yet) intuitive to me how Pd does it. There’s an ‘expression’ object, but its use is discouraged for most cases for reasons I don’t yet understand. So you end up drawing ‘math tree networks’ with individual operators to get the result you want.

But it’s been fun to play with oscillators and such again. Meanwhile, through a comedy of Christmas errors, we ended up with an ‘extra’ USB drawing tablet in the house. Before sending it back, I decided to hook it up to my machine, and quickly found that it was perfect for use with Pd. So I’m keeping it.

New year in a little under 10 hours. Good luck to us all.