tom moody

Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

new-ish vimeos

Have been neglecting my Vimeo account, mainly because I hate video and think there's too much of it in our world. Yesterday I posted a couple of laid-back efforts from late 2014 I had been sitting on:

Ambient Bro Environment

Walk to Liberty

Was sort of briefly interested in the idea of home movies as art -- taking that trope of ultimate boredom and elevating it to festival material, as a form of protest or Dada or what have you. I even went as far as to submit Idyllic Bike Ride to the festival "Migrating Forms" (where it was rejected). What happened was, I get a lot of press releases going back to my years as a pundit. Some are welcome and some go to spam. Migrating Forms sent me an announcement with a call for entries. It took about five minutes to submit Idyllic Bike Ride -- I thought a dude's bike ride might be an amusing break or palate cleanser in several hours of heavy identity exploration. It was rejected, and also lessened my spam traffic because I stopped receiving Migrating Forms announcements! Unlike moi, they do not hate video.

- tom moody

March 23rd, 2017 at 8:10 am

Posted in theory, video - tm

bank lobby semiotics


Citibank has been remodeling its New York branches. In Australia they've stopped accepting cash, and it's clear they'd do that here if they could. Paper deposit and withdrawal slips have been phased out.
Teller lines still exist but ATMs are the future. The first thing the teller requests is a card swipe.
Instead of offices where bankers assist you, they offer long tables with computer monitors, like open plan classrooms, where employees give tutorials on how to do online banking.
Comfy seats for waiting customers are replaced with a bleak, padded bench or two.
A posh seating area can still be found but it's for "Citigold" clients paying a higher tier for wealth management services. This lounge-like environment is clearly set apart from the benches.
Outside, facing the street, they have "Citigold" signs, with gold lettering.

- tom moody

March 2nd, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Posted in theory

network plasticity

From a recent interview:

Angelo Romeo: What does the Internet mean to you today?

Geert Lovink: I got to know computers and computer networks in the late 1980s in my late 20s so I can’t say I grew up with them, even though their arrival was announced in films, magazines and science fiction was announced well before I was born. As an undergrad I was still using IBM punch cards. I would not describe my generation as pioneers. We grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, in the ruins of the industrial revolution. It was not a period of prosperity but one of crisis, decay and unemployment. Doom and gloom: no gentrification but squats. In that environment the internet offered an alternative future that first came to us through cyberpunk sci-fi literature. The 1968 generation had nothing to offer to us, and we became cynical because of their failed idealism and double standards. Armed struggle was bankrupt. It is with a certain ironic ambivalence that we entered the internet realm. Some of my friends did not enter the game, while others did. Younger people jumped on it. Internet indeed offered us an opportunity, to get out of the margins, claim a strategic terrain and move into the unknown, cyberspace. This is pretty much the same, 30 years later. The younger you are, the better. The internet never disappointed me. It is society that steers it architectures and applications. Turned into platform capitalism, filtered by authoritarian regimes, pushed by neo-liberal design of the precarious self, that’s what the internet means to us today. This doesn’t say anything about tomorrow. Luckily, we can still speculate about ‘network plasticity’. Platform is not our destiny.

Am a bit more pessimistic about the resilience of "the network," as in, a world wide web, in view of monopolist challenges to neutrality, on the one hand, and the sheeplike migration of citizens to "platforms," on the other. Even smaller networks that are parasitic to the global Internet will be affected by Balkanization. A small case in point, I've been learning to use a Linux system, and while some of the how-to is handled over IRC chat, much is still dependent on Googling. The Ardour forum moderators tell newbies, in so many words, "don't rely on our in-house search to find if your topic has been covered, use Google, it's much more thorough." If Google searching (or DuckDuckGo, or Bing) becomes deprecated because of post-neutrality slow lanes or "platform" dominance of search, Linux mavericks are screwed.

- tom moody

February 27th, 2017 at 8:57 am

Posted in linux diary, theory memorial, cont'd

Screenshot of tweet by Katie Notopoulos, a tech and internet writer for Buzzfeed, recommending Joe Milutis' Hyperallergic essay memorializing It's fun to be an unsung hero -- presumably the other 15% of the current web aesthetic originates with Pepe.

- tom moody

February 25th, 2017 at 9:26 am

Posted in theory

dudes gone wild

If you want to understand the rise of President Trump, you must understand the rise of 4chan, and, leaving gender normativity matters aside (even though that's not possible), you must understand that the issue is, these guys don't have girlfriends, and it's not the left's problem or duty to reach across that particular aisle.

That's a brief summation of this post by Belle Waring, which responds to this article by Dale Beran.

- tom moody

February 25th, 2017 at 8:59 am

Posted in theory

Joe Milutis Eulogizes

On Hyperallergic, Joe Milutis discusses the recently-deceased website, in an essay titled In Memory of An Endlessly Collaborative Image Poem.

Neither an art-world-ish “internet surf club” nor a monetized zeitgeist sump pump, dump seemed to harken back to a pre-1997 internet era, when it was possible to imagine that the users you met online were a small enough cohort to seem communitarian, but not large enough to merely replicate the social structures and hierarchies of the world at large.

Milutis' treatment of the site as a poetic language is appreciated:

Weird fragments, heavy dithering, pieces of images or text floating without context. Inaction gifs as opposed to reaction gifs. The quasi-syntactical combinations of these crappy objects were only possible if participants were more interested in treating the combinations like a language — one for which they would both have to amass the vocabulary and then be willing to speak with it. The rapidity of these combinations allowed for the unexpected, as if Breton’s automatic writing had finally found its imagistic counterpart.

Milutis avoids the political in discussing the Rene Abythe GIF below, except in the sense of dump-vs-tumblr politics and dump's intriguing disconnections with the rest of the world ("real" or online). For the record, it depicts Hillary Clinton's "pointing to the right and the red" logo crudely morphing into the Outback Steakhouse logo. (Electors asked Where's the Beef and gave us Trump.) The geek joke is that that the red arrow, when compressed, becomes a jagged outline resembling that familiar outdoors-y mountain range, helpfully rotated so we can see it.

- tom moody

February 7th, 2017 at 6:34 am

social media and "scenius"

An artist emailed asking for recommendations of theorists on art and social media. He's interested in the idea of an art based on collective intelligence and feels that Facebook and Twitter would be the logical place to look for such networks, given those platforms' "relative ubiquity." The idea of the hive mind has been with us since before the cyberpunk era (see Theodore Sturgeon's books More Than Human and To Marry Medusa) and could even be traced back to the collective wisdom of the twelve-person jury system. In the artistic context, Brian Eno used the term "scenius," which Simon Reynolds applied to the mostly anonymous DJ-producers who rapidly built on each other's discoveries and group-innovated musically in the jungle/drum and bass era. It's a real phenomenon and not inherently to be laughed off with Borg jokes, but one might still balk at Facebook and Twitter being a place to find it. Here's the skeptical reply I sent:

Geert Lovink ( ) is one a few writers on this topic but he's mostly negative on the "big soclal media" (facebook and twitter) and I agree.
I understand the urge to use twitter for art-as-social-experiment but even *you* are hosting the results [of your art project] on an independent site (that is, not Facebook or Twitter).
For me, the big sites are too controlled to be a place for meaningful art activity (controlled as in monitored, policed, relentlessly monetized) and also too large for any one theorist to grasp.
We'd like to think an art could emerge from places where so much of the world spends so much of its time but I feel it's doomed at the outset because the hosts -- the masters -- are essentially soulless tech zombies. I'm interested in the idea of "the occult" and "the underground" that exists outside those platforms, almost by virtue of being non-participants.

There were some early attempts to curate Twitter (am thinking of Travis Hallenbeck's book Twitter Favs) and journalists regularly mine and massage collections of tweet screenshots as an indicator of group or mass opinion. I see less Facebook screenshotting but it may be because "everyone is on Facebook" and feels what's on there is always accessible, even though it's not. Whatever scenius is, it's not mere demographics; what we're looking for is cults, in the sense of a shared aesthetic, and Twitter unquestionably has them (spend five minutes looking at anyone's followers, and followers of followers). The question is how to cull them and make sense of them, ideally non-algorithmically, in an environment increasingly larded and confused with ads, promotions, and scams. Am admittedly not up to the task and would just rather look elsewhere on the still-wide Internet.

To be precise, this particular artist wasn't looking for Twitter cults but had a project somewhat akin to Amazon Mechanical Turk-like employment of Twitter users for aesthetic ends. Am personally not a fan of these kinds of overdetermined tech art schemes, which seem inevitably to cross over to venture capitalist/incubator notions of technological-innovation-for-profit.

- tom moody

January 21st, 2017 at 8:48 am

Posted in theory

more geert lovink on social media dominance

Sena Partal: What do you think about the social media companies that are applying filters and recommendations to people’s information? What are the established interests behind it?

Geert Lovink: The mechanisms at work here have been known for years. The turning point is arbitrary but I would put it somewhere after 2008, when the founding frenzy of Web 2.0 had come to an end and the scaled-up platforms were getting serious about making money, in short, when the internet entered its monopoly stage. It wasn’t anymore about sheer possibilities.

The focus shifted to locking in customers...


SP: Do you think social media users in general are interested in having control over their news feed?

GL: I doubt it. Once a tool or service is new, we like to find out their affordances and play around with settings, we discuss them with peers. Facebook and many other social media services have become so powerful precisely because they became part our daily lives [speak for yourself --tm], they are now deeply routed into our routines. At first, me, and many others, were confident that the stubborn and independent internet generation would get bored soon, and would, almost intuitively, started looking for the Next Thing (as happened in the past with MySpace, Blogger etc.). This didn’t happen. Most users I speak to start to get uncomfortable when I raise the issue why they are still on Facebook. They got lured into it and do not know how this happened, and how to quit. There is no reason to quit. Slavoj Žižek is right with his bad [conscience] (we know it is bad for us but still use it etc.) [speak for yourself --tm]. Yet, he doesn’t offer an alternative either, and this is where the social media story gets stuck. Spreading critical information how news feeds work is good and feeds the uncomfortable feeling -- but doesn’t change much. It merely raises the paradoxes we have to live under. [or that people choose to live under --tm]

- tom moody

October 20th, 2016 at 3:54 pm

short reply to curtis roads re: the relevance of 12 note equal temperament

A while back I quoted Curtis Roads' book Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic on the subject of conventional Western harmony:

A formidable advantage of 12-note ET [equal temperament] over its predecessors was the equality of its intervals. For example, an ET “perfect” fifth interval will sound equivalent no matter which pitches are used to form it; this is not generally true of non-ET tuning systems. Such flexibility means that a composer can write functionally equivalent melodies and chord progressions in any key. It also enables harmonic modulation (i.e., a transition from one key to another by means of a chord common to both). The same flexibility fostered the rise of atonal and serial music and the promulgation of increasingly abstract operations on pitch class sets.

The mother lode of 12-note ET has been mined for 500 years by millions of musicians in innumerable compositions. The tuning is so ingrained that it is virtually impossible to musically express anything new about it. Consider a work for piano; it is constrained by its tuning and timbre from the start. If it is to find novelty, it must seek them not in tuning or timbre, but in other aspects of the composition. This is not to say that it is impossible to express anything new with 12-note ET. However, the new thing is not about the tuning. Rather, the novelty lies elsewhere, for example, in a new interpolation between existing genres, an unusual rhythmic organization, an atypical formal structure, a fresh combination of timbres, a philosophical message, etc.

The pop music industry sometimes manufactures songs that are attractive despite the use of 12-note ET in worn-out harmonic and rhythmic formulas. Yet some combination of elements in the voice, lyrics, audio production, fashion, face, camera angle, lens, setting, hairstyle, body language, stage show, animation, or attitude spawns mass fascination. The familiar melodic and harmonic formula—like the formulaic beat—serves as a comfortable backdrop.

Throughout the book Roads asserts that electronic music breaks new sonic ground and implicitly, it's time to move on from 12 note ET. ("Implicitly" because the vast majority of his electronic music examples do not use 12 note ET.) One could have a different opinion, though: which is that the new sonic ground means musicians can keep working in 12 note ET, or whatever other existing tuning schemes are out there, because the timbres and time manipulation of electronic music radically change the meaning of those notes. Suddenly it's no longer a piano playing that sequence but a what-the-hell-is-that instrument with different overtones, dynamics, and relationships to other instruments -- aural as well as semantic. The harmony of a string quartet is not the same as the harmony of a polyphonic array of synths designed in the last six months. It's a whole new set of problems to be worked out.

- tom moody

August 4th, 2016 at 8:45 am

Posted in theory

trump and brexit happened because the internet is "about the past," says Rushkoff

Techno-explainer Douglas Rushkoff has a theory to help us understand Trump and Brexit. Strap yourself in, here it comes:

Because TV was a global medium, broadening our minds, but the Internet is a local medium, reinforcing stupid prejudices.

Ah, yes, when George Bush appeared on TV on that aircraft carrier deck, surrounded by wildly applauding men in color-coded uniforms, he wasn't appealing to American exceptionalism and hokey patriotism -- that message was enjoyed by the entire world. And back in the '80s, when Americans got their taste of 500 cable channels, their horizons were immediately widened by all the French language TV offerings. Telenovelas became all the rage in white Appalachia, and more channels were demanded for cinema from Ghana and Nigeria.

But then the internet came along, and suddenly Americans lost interest in everything but Alex Jones and Leave it to Beaver reruns.

That's the drift of it, anyway. Salon calls Rushkoff's warmed-over-McLuhan-in-the-service-of-global-elitism "fascinating." It is fascinating... that such an idea has immediate traction.

- tom moody

July 9th, 2016 at 6:04 am