tom moody

Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

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

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

alex bacon - the standard essay

@ to concerned artists

i see alex bacon as court stenographer-in-waiting for various galleries showing post internet-style abstract painting. he had a group of favorite artists (jacob kassay, parker ito, etc) and when invited to do the brushes panel at the newmu he clearly wasn't very conversant with michael connor's chosen artists (laura brothers, michael manning). so he adapted and expanded his boilerplate theoretical essay about painting in the digital age to include brothers, beef up his discussion of manning, and add some newbies. his theory is ultimately elastic, but not elastic enough to include outsiders/outliers from the gaming or geek spheres, such as andrej ujhazy, a brushes panel artist bacon omits from his rhizome essay

^Written a few weeks ago -- to flesh it out a bit:

Bacon's modus operandi seems to be roping standard gallery abstraction styles into "digital" discourse, or vice versa. During Bacon's slide talk for the Brushes panel, you could almost feel the collective wince when he described some window-mounted panels as "physical jpegs." His defense of 303 Gallery hot artist du jour Jacob Kassay is similarly "off." Kassay's paintings have a reflective silver surface; some discussion could be had about the materials -- paint vs plated silver, support vs surface, "presence," etc -- but there is nothing intrinsically "cyber" about this work.


Yet in a 2014 interview, Bacon trowels on the digital metaphors to make the work seem relevant to the Facebook era:

They are about the fragmentary and contingent nature of vision and, insofar as this relates to our forging of identity through the endless stream of images we seamlessly upload and download, they have a contemporary valence. We expect for the Kassay to mirror us back, but instead we are faced with a caesura of vision, a literal blurring out. A Kassay constructs a complex visual system, because you want to move around them to resolve the image, but it’s an impossibility. Nor can the autofocus of a camera map one of these paintings, which is radical considering the sinister potential of technologized forms of spatial mapping and image profiling. The work is not “about” that technology, but it has that valence.

The au courant techno-connections -- autofocus, uploading -- offer flimsy, ex post facto justifications for material work. When Georg Herold used a mirrored surface back in the dot com era, it was in the context of a show called "compu.comp.virtual visualities.equivacs.bitmapdyes," so a critic could sort of legitimately talk about mirrors as "screens."

For his Brushes panel essay for, Bacon recycles the same Kassay apologetics:

Jacob Kassay’s silver paintings, which are canvases coated in acrylic that the artist sends to be commercially plated with silver, are about our expectations of how vision operates—what we see, and our engagement with our own image. People talk about how they absorb their surroundings, but of course they are not mirrors, they are plated silver. You have to burnish the silver to make it reflective and Kassay doesn’t do that, he just takes them as they’re made in the plating process, which gives them very interesting surfaces. Up close the reflection is hazy, but as you go back it gets clearer, and if someone walks by you see them very clearly, while they see themselves as a blur. They are a very concrete commentary on a certain type of perception. These paintings are a suggestion about the fragmentary and contingent nature of vision and, insofar as this relates to our forging of identity through the endless stream of images we seamlessly upload and download, they have a contemporary valence. This is embedded in the functioning of Kassay’s surfaces, which solicit our desire to see ourselves, which has found the apogee of its contemporary expression in the obsession with taking and sharing of selfies. Indeed, people love to try to take their picture as it appears in a Kassay painting, but they find that their individuality is all but melted by the distortions of the plated metal. We expect for the Kassay to mirror us back, but instead we are faced with a caesura of vision, a literal blurring out. A Kassay painting is a construction of a complex visual system, because a viewer wants to move around them to resolve the image, but it’s impossible. Nor can the autofocus of a camera map one of these paintings, which is radical considering the sinister potential of technologized forms of spatial mapping and image profiling. The work is not “about” that technology, but it nonetheless speaks to it obliquely.

- tom moody

June 20th, 2016 at 9:34 am

Posted in art - others, theory