March 28, 2006

the Amen Break

For those of you interested in copyright and creative commons issues, check out this video. Nothing interesting happens visually, so you can just listen to it and open other pages on your browser, have a cup of tea, or just sit back and listen. Originally found on the blog We Make Money Not Art.

Can I Get An Amen?, by Nate Harrison, unfolds a critical perspective on one of the most sampled drums beat in the history of recorded music, the Amen Break. It begins with the pop track Amen Brother by 60’s soul band The Winstons, and traces the transformation of their drum solo from its original context as part of a ‘B’ side vinyl single into its use as a key aural ingredient in contemporary cultural expression. The work attempts to bring into scrutiny the techno-utopian notion that “information wants to be free.” it questions its effectiveness as a democratizing agent. Video on Internet Archive.)

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This brings up some critical issues with copyrights and the public domain. Copyright laws as they stand now seem like they are trying to erect a dam against the wave of postmodern expression. I don’t think it will hold.

I’ve been reading Azuma Hiroki’s lecture on postmodernism in Japan where he talks about the concept of originality being lost:

As postmodernists often say, all the postmodern works (not only fine art but literature, music and many pop cultural works) are created not by being led by an idea, not an authorship nor an ideology, but by deconstructing and reconstructing the preceding works or re-reading them in a different way. In other words, postmodern artists or authors prefer dismantling the preceding works into some elements or fragments and reassembling them repeatedly rather than expressing their own authorship or originality. The accumulation of those fragments (CDs, video clips, web sites…) now becomes a kind of anonymous database from where new works emerge.

Azuma’s own take on postmodernism concerns the concept of the “database” replacing the Narrative, where originality is deemphasized and creation consists of the rearrangement of elements in the database. The Amen Break to most people is a drum beat that is reproduced everywhere, an element that DJs employ in every club around the world, an element found on countless records, a promotional tool. In other words, it is just part of the database of popular culture. No one really gives a second thought to where it originally came from.
What we see in the Amen Break is Baudrillard’s theory of the simulacrum in action. Luckily we have Nate Harrison to track down the original and follow the copies from there.

March 23, 2006

Found photos

Just browsing through this blog, Transfer, which features photographs of New York City architecture among other things, lots of found photos and old photographs from books, when I found this.

I think it is one of the most exquisite things I have seen in a long time. So ordinary, yet so loaded with meaning and deep emotion, sorrow, and longing.

March 22, 2006

You and Me and Everyone We Know is on Myspace

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Podcast number 2! Click the headphones! 20.7 MB, 22.35 minutes

So this is my Myspace episode, as in all of the bands represented are from Myspace and I got permission to use their music.

Featured bands:

the Flash Express

Mae Shi

Minus Fashion

Numbers

Erase Errata

Matt McCluer

By the way, the title of this post is stolen from my friend Meghan, who stole it from the Miranda July film. Which rules by the way.

Hope you like it. Subscribe! Drag this link into your iTunes. Next episode is the SOUL episode.

March 21, 2006

Modern Architecture, the architecture of death

concretetower

Lately I have been coming across a lot of weblogs and sites devoted to modernist architecture and city planning, now fallen into decay after decades. I was especially happy to run across this post which pointed me to this incredible article by J.G. Ballard.

...in its heyday between the wars, modernism was a vast utopian project, and perhaps the last utopian project we will ever see, now that we are well aware that all utopias have their dark side.

The photo above was taken from the monorail train in Naha, Okinawa. Each floor is a single apartment from what I can tell. The following is Naminoue Beach in Naha, the only beach in the city, with a scenic view of an overpass right over the water rendering the horizon invisible.

overpassbeachnicedayatthebeach

Another beach we visited was called “Tropical Beach,” but a more accurate name might have been “Industrial Wasteland Beach.”

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I’m not unhappy about the view at the beach. I wasn’t expecting pristine palm forests and cabanas. But a lot of people would be disappointed to see an industrial complex dominating the skyline when they come for their vacation on Okinawa. This is one of the reasons why the military bases actually detract from Okinawa’s economy, whose number one industry is tourism, rather than boosting it as they would try to get you to believe.

But besides the political, there is much beauty to be found in modern architecture. Those concrete structures evoke a certain sorrow over the idealism of the past now faded and unkempt and out of date.

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The above photo is from a fantastic project called Restmodern, a collaborative effort of two Berliners, Andreas Muhs and Oliver Elser, who are documenting the everyday, postwar architecture of Berlin. According to their site, in the wave of renovation in the past ten years many of these buildings will be demolished to make way for the new. Restmodern wants to make sure we remember this architecture before it is too late.

Most people would ignore the tower blocks and overpasses, or treat them as eyesores. Greg Ercolano, however, finds beauty in one of the largest, most despised concrete structures that to many people signifies the absolute loss of nature in return for urbanity—the Los Angeles River. You can see his photo project here, at Friends of Vast Industrial Concrete Kafkaesque Structures (FOVICKS). Ercolano gives us not only great photos of the river, but a good explanation of the physics at work and the reasoning behind its structure.

When we ignore those structures that seem so unremarkable we learn nothing from them. Those concrete tower blocks and overpasses and strip malls affect us in many ways, psychologically and spiritually, but simply tearing them down and trying to forget that ugly environment won’t immediately create an environment that is pleasing and naturalistic.

I believe the Restmodern has the right idea. We cannot only look at the highpoints of architecture but must recognize the everyday, often seen but seldom analyzed. Let’s appreciate it for what it is, think about it, feel the hope in the building and the sorrow in the decay, before it is too late and these everyday buildings are demolished and we’ve moved on to the next stage of architectural style.

This hope and sorrow inherent in concrete ruins is what Mari finds beautiful, what the Japanese call “mono no aware.” In her post on the ruins of Gunkanjima she describes:

Why do ruins have some charm? I think it would be related to the feeling of “mono no aware”. There is no life, guilt, desire, joy, happiness, pain, or anything any more. Everything is over and just wind-blown.

She says the Japanese can find beauty in something that is dying, something ephemeral. Perhaps that is why some of us can see the beauty in the architecture of death. These structures once held all the promises that modernism never delivered. Now perhaps they are too ugly to redeem themselves from demolition. But isn’t it beautiful anyway?
demolishing

March 15, 2006

the Kids are back once again…

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23.0 MB / 25.08 minutes Click the headphones!
This is my first ever podcast program. I’m gettin the hang of all this new-fangled technologies. Nice to be DJing (in a way) but I miss the turntables. Staring at your computer screen might be a nice way to spend the weekend, but when it comes to spinning records nothing beats the decks.

But hey, I’m in Japan! And this way everyone can hear my show! Whenever they want!

For those of you who don’t know, I used to have a show called “The Kids are Alright” back in the day on KUCI 88.9 FM in Irvine California. When I moved to SF, the Kids came with me and we rocked on Pirate Cat Radio on 87.9FM. Both stations you can tune to on your iTunes radio, so checkem out! Back at Pirate Cat they tried to get me to understand RSS and podcasts and all that madness but my brain couldn’t soak it all up. Now I am totally WIRED. So the Kids are moving into the 21st century.

This program contains music from

Roy Orbison – Blue Bayou

Television Personalities – 14th Floor

the Flying Saucers – Sukiyaki

the Blood Safari – Zombie

the Red Onions – Truth

Gogogoairheart – Glad to See You

Mice Parade – the Good Red Road

the Slits – I Heard it Through the Grapevine

If you liked this program and you would like to hear more, just drag this *link* into your iTunes and new podcasts will show up automatically!.

March 12, 2006

Suburban spaces

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...Only a few years later, the lawns are now cluttered with car repair shops, grocery stores and taco stands. New floors have been added, single-family homes have been joined together to house extended families, and many of the beige facades have been repainted in bright colors. Mr. Cruz sees the mix as a richer, more vibrant landscape — a spirited answer to the alienation that many of us associate with conventional American suburbs…

I came across this article about Teddy Cruz, who has some fascinating views on modern architecture and community.

I grew up in Southern California, surrounded by the gated communities Cruz talks about. I lived in an apartment complex for a short time, but it only partially felt like a community, like where the association would sponsor a “Halloween decoration contest” (which we won, yeah!), but I never made friends with the kids in the neighborhood. It is a very different feeling from the kind of community I experience when sitting on my stoop in Hayes Valley, San Francisco, meeting my neighbors’ dogs and kids.
I seriously have a hard time with neighborhood associations and their restrictions regarding the color of your house, where you hang you laundry, etc. Seems awfully stifling, as opposed to the communities where the members are free to transform their space how they want to. Even if they want to keep a bunch of car parts in their front lawn.

Cruz’ designs for new suburban spaces are mentioned, but as the plans have not been approved yet, there are no pictures as of yet. I would be very interested to see how they turn out. His ideas and influences are fascinating and could be very valuable in the future of our communities.

March 11, 2006

Peace museums, simulation, and interactivity

Ayme Frye posted recently about the Navy Underground Tunnels on Okinawa, including a recording she took while in the tunnels. Walking around the tunnels and even outside you couldn’t escape the mindless looped flute music and narration piped through speakers everywhere.

For me, the presentation of the underground tunnels showed a desire to mask or forget the realities of the tragedy. From the soothing music (it sounded like inane versions of martial music actually), to the cheery, polite voice; from the souvenirs assaulting you immediately after you exit, to the euphemistic brochure—it all seemed to be an attempt to distract from the gravity of the place. Almost like a way to distract so one wouldn’t suffer the embarassment of being emotionally touched. All it lacked was a kawaii mascot.

I’m not sure if you could relegate this to the realm of “cultural difference,” as the trip to the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Museum later that day attested to the possibilities of a very powerful and emotional representation of war tragedy. Also contrasted with the Hiroshima Peace Museum, another highly sophisticated museum, I would dare to say that the presentation of the Navy Underground Tunnels has more to do with funding and poor design than any sort of cultural difference. Unless you take the view that the other Peace Museums, because they are more international in scope, take on a more international and less Japanese method of presentation, with multi-media displays, etc. But I would venture to say that the Underground Tunnels was merely a poor imitation of these more sophisticated museums, trying to integrate some level of multi-media with its audio presentation. What they forgot was that the other museums were built from the ground up, so to speak, and need to use these multi-media presentations in order to simulate the effects of war. What they forgot was the inherent power of the tunnels themselves, and by trying to integrate the multi-media aspect they actually succeeded in detracting from the immediacy of them. I found the whole experience to be incredibly alienating.

To go back once again to Nadine Wasserman; at the end of her essay she talks about culture and marketing in the 21st century:

The real and the simulacra are interchangeable. Visitors can see “masterpieces” at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas—the land of simulation—just as easily as they can at the Met. Cultural tourism can lead to Disney’s Epcot or Nike Town just as easily as to a “real” museum; and museums are borrowing tactics from shopping malls and from Disney to learn more about interactivity and visitor services.

This is incredibly apparent when walking through the Peace Museums. The appeal to the senses is so strong, especially at the Okinawa Museum with its nearly life-size recreation of the caves in which Okinawans sought refuge (complete with chilling wind simulation) and the post-war Okinawa street. They pulled out all the stops, practically transporting the viewer back in time.

I have visited many museums documenting the tragedies of war, but those built on actual sites don’t need to rely on Disney methods of interactivity and simulation. The chill is already in the air and the silence is so powerful.

March 10, 2006

Art and the Everyday

In a previous post there was a discussion about the purpose of art and whether it still reaches for transcendence or is entrenched in the mundane. Nadine Wasserman defends the mundane, offering the argument that art as an expression of everyday things is, in other words, art inseparable from life, a tradition that reaches back into tribal cultures.

She posits that 20th century art has been preoccupied with “the collapse of the boundary between art and life.” And yet in ancient cultures there was no boundary, art was a part of life and every member of the group took part in the arts of making music and decorative art. I find this especially fascinating because in the Japanese language the words used to describe the fine arts, 芸術 or 美術 (geijutsu or bijutsu)、are relatively new to the language, not an inherent part of the culture, having been introduced after the exposure to Western cultures.

Wasserman goes on to talk about the language of art and how it attempts to convey what is completely subjective, “as a form of interpretation of lived experience,” which is something Aaron was touching on in his comment to the previous post. Wasserman points out that the problem with trying to convey a subjective experience in this day and age is that

...communication is complicated further by an ever-expanding global community in which people encounter a multiplicity of cultures, a multiplicity of values…

In many ways, however, marketing has overcome these difficulties through the use of brand recognition (check this link). Of course advertisements aren’t trying to get across any tough or sublime concepts, but perhaps this is our common experience, a way of bridging those gaps of communication and culture.

Much of the art that fascinates me, particularly coming from Japan, embraces the methods of mass-marketing in order to appeal to a broad demographic, whole-heartedly accepting, albeit consciously, the commodification of their images and icons. Artist Takashi Murakami, creates characters with the intention of rivalling the brand recognition of Mickey Mouse.

This is a blatant disregard for the boundaries of art, those entrenched values that uphold that art should be separate from life and society, somehow untouched and transcendent. Wasserman talks about an “optimistic cynicism” that many artists have toward the hyper-realist, media saturated world we live in. This type of art, indistinguishable in its method and use of media from mass-marketing, shows a further breakdown between art and life, reality and illusion.

March 9, 2006

Ali Farka Toure

Ali Farka Toure, a musician from Mali, died today in his sleep.
I was first introduced to his music by poet/musician Avotcja at a poetry reading in San Francisco.  She was telling me about the blues’ roots being drawn from West African dirges and spiritual songs and told me to listen to Toure’s music.  He will live on in our memories and through his amazing music.

March 7, 2006

Love Letters

I have been wasting away the afternoon reading this collection of anonymous love letters, curated by artist Cindy Loehr. Some are funny, some are heartbreaking, some are way too familiar. Check out my faves: Why Aren’t You Dead Yet?, Chemical Change, My Aorta Hurts, Two Socks Worth, You Are My Antithesis, and Where I Belong...

Wow I have been spending way too much time reading these. Some of them have made me cry even. So prepare to spend a little time. Or maybe you aren’t as emotionally sensitive as me right now and you can just browse at your leisure.

You can submit your own love letters, or letters written to you, or letters you have never sent, and maybe it will be included in an art exhibit or read on the radio!

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