Two Facebook Essays

In the previous post two links to essays about Facebook were put up. For the record John Lingan's take is preferable to Zadie Smith's New York Review of Books rake-over. Her literate-us-versus-unwashed-them frame is something I keep having projected onto me and that's not how I see it (one can hate the idea of Facebook without being down on all 2.0 media).

Lingan puts it in better perspective:

To a lesser degree, she makes [Malcolm] Gladwell’s mistake of assuming that newfangled social media is designed to be radical or revolutionary. But these things are just platforms. Twitter, MySpace, Tumblr, et al would rust and moss-over if and when the patrons ever go away. People–typically older people–who stare at these odd new tools with bemused skepticism grant them too much power. You might as well look for meaning in a newly designed baseball glove.

But Lingan quotes Smith favorably on this point:

It feels important to remind ourselves, at this point, that Facebook, our new beloved interface with reality, was designed by a Harvard sophomore with a Harvard sophomore’s preoccupations. What is your relationship status? (Choose one. There can be only one answer. People need to know.) Do you have a “life”? (Prove it. Post pictures.) Do you like the right sort of things? (Make a list. Things to like will include: movies, music, books and television, but not architecture, ideas, or plants.)

[...]

Finally, it’s the idea of Facebook that disappoints. If it were a genuinely interesting interface, built for these genuinely different 2.0 kids to live in, well, that would be something. It’s not that. It’s the wild west of the Internet tamed to fit the suburban fantasies of a suburban soul.

Semi-Indie

A few days ago, one of the artists in Carriage Trade gallery's "Social Photography" benefit emailed me a link to the photos in the show--was annoyed to click on it and discover it was a Facebook sign-in.

Then I got a note from Carriage Trade that the photos had been moved from Facebook because Zuckerberg & Co had arbitrarily taken down the entire page one day, claiming one of the photos violated the site's "terms of use." That's an example of why I never want to join.

Since the photos would now be shown on the open web I emailed Carriage Trade's director and said "thank you - now I can see the work!"

In the comments to Marc Weidenbaum's blog disquiet we've been discussing whether a long-established blog particularly needs to join the Zuckerberg empire, with all its negatives. I've asked Marc to let me know, down the road, whether his recently-created disquiet Facebook page gives him anything he's not already getting from being on the Web for years.

In connection with that query, Weidenbaum did some research and found that the following sites have Facebook pages: Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, Soft Skull Press, and the Internet Archive. All kind of surprising given their integrity and what we know about Facebook's bald commercialism and non-commitment to privacy.

On his twitter page Marc said he was

Pondering the presence of EFF and Creative Commons pages on Facebook. Are they embassies, shantytowns, protest sites, provocations? AOTA*?

In his blog comments I noted, less diplomatically:

On the plane this weekend American Airlines was showing The Social Network. I sampled a few random minutes with the sound off. Rapidly-edited, choreographed closeups of tense faces shot in half-shadow or by the glow of screen light: it looks like a TV biopic crossed with a horror film. Again, no offense meant, but I kept thinking about Creative Commons, EFF, and Soft Skull Press and wondering what they could possibly find so appealing about a site--nay, a virtual reality cosmos--designed by a maladjusted Harvard undergrad.

Nothing against Harvard undergrads, but as has been noted elsewhere, the site's architecture reflects the brain of the creator in the way it yearns for indiscriminate "connection" and facilitates stalking. To quote a '90s kitsch classic: "Lawnmower Man in your mind now!"

*all of the above, not AOTA

Glitch notes; on and off the road

Thanks to the University of Texas at Dallas and the CentralTrak art space for flying me to Dallas for talks in connection with the "Glitch" show at CentralTrak. Here are my notes. It was a pleasure sharing the podium with Jon Cates for yesterday's talk, seeing old friends, and tripping down Johnny Mnemonic lane to such locales as the former State Bar, Dickie's Barbecue, the "Belmont," and La Calle Doce. Many thanks to John Pomara, Kate Sheerin, and others for making this happen.

And off topic, but a large, plangent Booo to Ed Ruscha, Gagosian gallery, and the Fort Worth Modern for producing a Ruscha-illustrated collector's edition of Kerouac's On the Road and using the museum as a sales floor. We're talking a book the size of a coffee table displayed in a vitrine, with some its individual hackneyed pages in frames on the surrounding walls (featuring black and white, found "pop" photos integrated into the text). I love Ed Ruscha but success breeds hubris in the best of practitioners. Everyone knows On the Road should only be consumed as a dog-eared paperback, by anxious undergrads.

from the vault: Carsten Nicolai

Speaking of "glitch" art, here is some writing I did in 2000 for Very magazine about Carsten Nicolai's CD Telefunken, released under his "noto" name.

noto

THE TROUBLE IS (NOT) WITH YOUR SET
by Tom Moody

Berlin artist Carsten Nicolai works with both image and sound, often exploring the nexus between the two. In a piece titled Frozen Water, he bombarded a container of H2O with ultra-low, overlapping frequencies, causing ripples on the surface to immobilize through the phenomenon of "wave impedance"; in an installation at the Liverpool Biennial, he created aqueous peaks and valleys inside glass beakers using a pair of oscillators and eight speakers. Giving form to what is normally invisible, these ephemeral sculptures are throwbacks to the high Modernist era of the '50s and '60s, when the pursuit of formal beauty was inextricably linked with scientific investigation (think tensegrity sculptures, serialist synth compositions, Fuller domes).

Yet unlike his forerunners working exclusively in the ivory tower of the museum and the university, Nicolai also operates on the fringe of the popular (techno) music underground, releasing CDs on the Raster Music label under the name "noto." Marketed through indie distribution channels such as forcedexposure.com, the CDs make it possible for consumers to enjoy the avant garde experience at affordable prices: noto's most recent offering, Telefunken, arguably fulfills one of the unrealized dreams of the Futurists, Russian constructivists, et al, of making an abstract, industrial sublime available to everyone (or at least everyone with a TV and CD player).

To activate Telefunken, you simply plug one of the stereo outputs of the CD player into the audio input of the television and the other into its video input. The same electronic signal that produces sound in the speakers interferes, in real time, with the horizontal scan of the TV, creating linear, minimalist patterns that move in synch with the sound. The soundtrack is a riveting procession of hums, clicks, and test-tones--the type of palette also favored by Finnish audio-sculptors Pan Sonic (one of whom, Mika Vainio, has collaborated in the past with noto). Balanced on the knife-edge between pleasure and pain, these pared-down, eerie sonorities conjure electricity in its raw, pure state (as Rob Young of The Wire has suggested), shorn of the synthesizer's user-friendly filters and modulators.

Visually, Telefunken harks back to the tube-tweaking experiments of video artist Nam Jun Paik, in particular Participation TV (1969), where viewers made sounds into a microphone plugged into the TV's video input jack, causing looping lines and streaks to appear on the screen. Nicolai makes a more disciplined, choreographed use of such effects, however, carefully working out which sounds yield which video effects and creating an extensive repertoire of lo-fi patterns. In Telefunken he organizes them into layered and reprising themes: a kind of electro-Art Brut sonata.

At the beginning of the piece, fleeting white horizontal lines on the black screen accompany clicks on the soundtrack; as the clicks double in speed the number of lines increases proportionately. As the lines continue to form new patterns, the sound becomes a continuous, all encompassing buzz, gradually rising and falling in pitch--an effect reminiscent of psychedelic "phase-shifting" effects. Midway through the 20-minute opus, a side-to-side movement of faint linear debris invokes a sensation of great speed, as if one were looking at painted lines on a tunnel wall from inside a bullet train. Near the end, a tone begins inexorably rising in frequency, accompanied by a geometric doubling, tripling, quadrupling, etc. of lines on the screen; what starts as horizontal Barnett Newman eventually becomes screen-filling Bridget Riley, a cacophonic, stroboscopic climax so jarring it may send you scurrying protectively for the pause button.

The best thing about this project-cum-product is it gives many people the opportunity to have a seductive, out-there, New-Music-Festival experience at home, and to do it by abusing consumer products--or at least using them in ways the Global Amusement Empire (Sony, TimeWarner, AOL, Microsoft et al) never intended. Instead of passively sucking on the cathode crack pipe, for $14 plus shipping and handling you can watch your home entertainment center go noisily, blindingly to hell. Telefunken doesn't actually hurt the TV, but for a few moments you think it might, and that's strangely cathartic.

This essay originally appeared in VERY magazine, No. 8, October 2000. Right: Carsten Nicolai, Telefunken, installation view. (C) Uwe Walter, Berlin, courtesy EIGEN + ART, Berlin/Leipzig

Update: Posted the entire essay here instead of just an excerpt.