Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Logic Bending"

Wonder why I never thought or read of it before. Seems an obvious logical and praxological extension of the idea of circuit bending. Logic bending: To alter a program's source code by trial and error. Seems a genuinely novel thought. Google didn't turn up a single hit as of this writing.

(Logical and praxological extension by etymological extension. Hmm.)

Anyway, "logic bending" would be the the programming equivalent of the circuit bending as practiced by Reed Ghazala and his kind. About rewriting source code by doing things like commenting out, changing parameter values, deleting libraries, inverting while and for loop sequences, reordering blocks of code and so on --and then seeing what happens. More an antidote to the usual state of affairs of consumers running the programs they're given and having them mutilate them empirically instead. It's likely the results of running a program so treated would produce results that would tie in to the aesthetics of machine failure, incorporated by musical genres like glitch and so on.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

"Somatodelic"



Malek Lopez (a friend and a spectacularly talented composer who can compose and produce in a variety of styles but who personally favors a kind of Aphex Twin type of crammed, fractured techo) linked to this clip on facebook, and I commented as follows:

Almost a science-fiction trope, like something out of Delany. The blind, black Mozart backed by two whitehaired old English scientists ministering to the Machine, coaxing somatodelic, booty-shaking funk out of silicon. Gotta be a book out there with the black history of electronic music, away from Stockhausen, Babbit and all the white avant-garde. Scratch Perry, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Afrika Bambataa, etc etc etc

"Somatodelic" -- a throwaway word I came up with. Analogous and complementary to "psychedelic." According to wikipedia, "The term psychedelic is derived from the Greek words ψυχή (psyche, "soul") and δηλοῦν (deloun, "to manifest"), translating to "mind-manifesting."" Visions manifesting in the mind. The mind's latent powers and contents making manifest.

Substitute "soma" (σώμα, "body") for "psyche" and get "somatodelic," meaning "body-manifesting. " Visions received by the body. Not visions. "Visions" too oculocentric. Touches, sensations, pokes, strokes. Not visual revelations, but tactile revelations. Maybe "tactile" is even wrong, because it seems to refer to something touched outside the body, like a page of braille. I'm thinking of sensations from a Beyond that emerge from within the body, the way dreams and visions come from a Beyond but emerge from within the mind. A sneeze emerges from within the body. So does an itch, a shiver and an orgasm. Sequences of organized sound revealing, provoking new motions from the body. Intrasomatic, intratactile(?) revelations.

Formal, written histories of "Electronic Music" usually trace it in connection with the goals of serialism, musique concrete, John Cage, etc which are linked not only by their connection to the academe and European art music, but also by their unanimous neglect (or even explicit rejection) of danceability as an artistic goal. None of these traditions valorize the ability of a piece to evoke (to put "danceability" in more respectable language) preverbal, ecstatic somatic response. A totally different, alternative, dark-side-of-the-moon history of electronic music could be written from a viewpoint where funk/danceability was the highest value and the focus of all researches. A History of Electronic Music written as a history of investigation of Preverbal Somatic Response.

Then Ill Primitivo, hiphop producer and another friend, introduced me to the term Afrofuturism, which, according to the facebook page he linked to, is

an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past. Examples of seminal afrofuturistic works include the novels of Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler; the canvases of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the photography of Renée Cox; as well as the extraterrestrial mythos of Parliament-Funkadelic and Sun Ra, and the recombinant sonic texts of DJ Spooky.


So. In response to the dry, academic Histories of Electronic Music, a playful, mythopoetic, mythologizing history of black American music, a populist, dance-centric, somatocentric, rhythm-centric musical tradition. A multifaceted, sprawling inquiry into somadelia. Swing. Rock, Reggae, Funk, Hiphop, rhythmic discoveries engendering novel somatic motion.

Stevie Wonder pursuing electronic timbres for their fleshy, buttshaking potential. The universe of electronic sound filtered through a sensibility tuned to dance, tuned to the body. Dance enshrined as the highest purpose of musical creation. Funk adept Bootsy Collins nodding in approval from behind sequin-studded glasses: "You can't cut that with a knife." Electronic timbres as inroads to the body, its verdant mysteries and sudden flowerings. As opposed to, say, Babbitt and Stockhausen's stuff, whose music inspired people to level words like "coldness" and associated epithets at synthesizers. People like Lee Perry, Stevie Wonder and Prince exploring the same sonic universe by a completely different light. Somatodelic. Turned out that musical synthesis wasn't a cold, mechanical process or field, only that it was being researched/tilled by people who liked the cold.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Twinning Machine: Second Iteration



New Twinning Machine collaboration with Rhosam ("Sam") Prudenciado. This time occasioned by the 2010 Fete dela WSK. "WSK" is pronounced "Wasak" whose literal meaning in Tagalog is "broken," or "crazy," but which means something like "bad" or "badass" in 2010. A hip, colloquial term of approval, like the terms "hayop," "hanep," "astig," and "ayos" before it. Fete dela WSK is, in the words of its director and chief architect Tengal Drilon, " a festival of post-music and sonic bricolage," which took place in Manila from 19Nov to 28Nov 2010, about which I'll go into greater detail in another post.

(See here for my notes on the first iteration.)

I'd like to thank Myra Beltran, DanceForum and the Contemporary Dance Network of the Philippines (of which Sam is a member) for their support, and the grant of the space and time to explore this enterprise, which is essentially an effort to make a dancer dance with himself. Sam and I do this with the use of the Twinning Machine --an original program that I coded with Processing-- basically a video sampler with a live camera input.

Of course, I reserve my biggest thanks for Sam, without whom this would have been impossible or worse, unwatchable. Video feedback is a noisy and dangerous beast. It fills the screen with bodies, and if the choreography is cluttered, it can easily turn the screen into visual sludge. Sam's style of alternating modular variations of a single graphic gesture (most clearly illustrated in 7:00 to 7:35, where he basically stands in various locations on the stage) with sections of "lead guitar" is particularly suited to the idiosyncracies of the program. I really also like the way he will sometimes do things backwards, in order to complicate the reading of the images. Whether they are moving normally or in reverse becomes harder to tell when the dancer himself is prone to walking backwards.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Paradise-A Pinoy Cafe 1

First heard the phrase "brain drain" back in the eighties, I think. A couple of months ago the Danish theater director Ms Ditte Maria Bjerg, with whom I had been emailing back and forth, introduced me to the phrase "care drain." As soon as she said it, I understood: I suddenly saw the Pinays flooding the streets of the Hong Kong Sunday again, most of them married, with children back in the Philippines. For almost every family abroad who gets a Pinay helper, a family back in the Phil loses a mother. Her children are raised by their grandparents. Ditte however, wanted to focus on the grandmothers, who, on top of losing the help of their daughters, had to shoulder the rearing of a second generation of children even as they got weaker with age. It's a state of affairs that could inspire any number of gritty, Brockaesque, award-winning, entirely and excruciatingly unwatchable social-realist films, so I liked that what Ditte was planning did NOT involve any plans to make any such film.

Denmark, along many other European countries, imports Pinays as "au pairs." "Au Pair is a French phrase that means "equal," as in "you are my equal." Same root as the phrase "on par with." Pair. Par. Equal. Basically an au pair is a young foreigner who is supposed to live with a host family and perform some basic domestic work in return for room, board and an allowance of some 200-280 Euro -- ie some 11 to 16 thousand pesos -- a month, according to www.aupair-world.net. The arrangement was first conceived to facilitate a kind of intra-European cultural exchange so that students could live with host families in other countries. So that (for example) a Swedish college student could sharpen her French by living in Paris with a family in exchange for doing some cooking, walking the kids to school, and so on. Because this was the function the arrangement was supposed to serve, the governments of various countries cooperated in setting up basic rules that more or less meant to uphold the idea that au pairs were essentially cultural students, and not to be seen as a cheap way to get the washing done. And so for example, most countries forbid that the au pairs wear a uniform, specify that they must eat at table with the host family, and set limits as to how many hours they can work in the home.

Of course the economy and and history of Europe has proceeded to develop a state of affairs where more and more Europeans disdain to perform domestic chores for other families. Naturally, an influx of Pinays have arrived to fill the demand for a cheap way to get the washing done. (Technically the au pair could be male or female, but in practice, the vast majority of au pairs are women for the same reason that most domestic helpers are women: they are generally less threatening to take into one's household.) So here we are in Denmark, with a steady influx of Pinay au pairs.

Ditte's idea was to exaggerate the conveniences that the Pinay au pairs afforded to the Danish populace by playing with the idea of "Paradise". A Paradise of no work, where your needs are attended to by ministering angels. Uniformed Pinays were to enact a kind of theater of paradise for the Danish audience in various coffeeshops around Copenhagen. It would be my job to create a soundscape for this idea, to envelop the audience in the sounds of a Tropical Paradise, and perhaps to break the spell when necessary. Of course, the art part of the idea, the artistic problem, was how to introduce the customers to the idea that somehow, somebody somewhere was paying for this service paradise even as they immersed themselves in it. To show them, to paraphrase Kerouac, the naked lunch on the end of their fork.

To this end, Ditte recruited the director Khavn de la Cruz and various stalwarts of the Manila independent scene to shoot footage of various Pinay grandmothers in their houses, going about their day, and even addressing their daughters through the camera, as they made video letters that Ditte would deliver to their daughters. Various bits of the footage will be displayed on video screens distributed about the cafe. We are currently in rehearsal, trying out various other bits to
reinforce that aspect of the piece that the videos stab at constructing. The complacence-poisoning, insidiously educational aspect of the piece. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cirque Trottola

Went to the circus last night. Ditte tells me Cirque Trottola is an exponent of New Circus, which mostly uses human performers. Cirque du Soleil is new circus, but extremely high-budget and gorgeous. Cirque Trottola has a punk feel, a Violent-Femmes-on-the-sidewalk version of the circus. Minimal, lean, stripped down. A return to the roots of human spectacle. 5 performers in a tiny tent that seated maybe 300 people. One strong man, one juggler, and an androgynous female acrobat ( "voltigeuse" on the CD) who looked like a tiny Rod Stewart, performing in trio and various duets. Occasional solo pieces, including a really memorable one by the juggler, who animated a dress hung on a stand that he balanced on the end of his push-broom. Ghostly and forlorn, like something out of Magritte. All sounds done live by two brilliant multi-instrumentalists playing detuned electric guitar, found percussion, violin and keyboards. Nobody spoke or ever changed costume. All characters, costumes and fragmented narratives reminiscent of Waiting for Godot. Or is it that Waiting for Godot is based on the imagery of the low-budget circus? A revelation for me, anyway. Bought the CD from the guitarist/percussionist Thomas Barriere who was hawking it by the tent exit with the violinist/keyboardist Bastien Pelenc (more punk aesthetics)! Should have got the CD signed. No fanboy/collector instincts, me. Oh well.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Copenhagen 1 (København)


These days I'm in Denmark. Technically on Amager island --which is pronounced Ama island. Silent "ger" and more on this later. Think Mactan to Cebu where Cebu is Copenhagen. Except closer, as I could literally bike over the bridge to Copenhagen or, since I'm writing this on a computer and it's the god-damn millenium, København, as she is spelled here. First time I've formally used that weirdo vowel. Been here since August 1 to do sound design for Pinoy Cafe, a multimedia theater piece with synchronized video, performance, sound effects and maybe 2 chickens (!) to be staged at various coffeeshops around Copenhagen. Will be here till October. Nice to be on a job in Europe, (I'm not good at taking vacations in foreign countries. I get bored and antsy) --especially in a place where people religiously preserve time for themselves and families. No pito-pito work-24-hours-a-day-on-2-cups-of-rice-and-adobo-sauce-without-sleep-for-a-week shit here. People take the god-damn weekends off from Friday afternoon onwards and have barbecues in a family cabin in the mountains of Sweden, or play with their kids in a city without skyscrapers and work is walking distance from home. Had a couple of strange nights wondering whether this was all real or my plane crashed and this was a weird pre-death hallucination I was having as my torn-off head sank to the bottom of the sea. Everything is so...rational, sculpted to give people pleasant lives, as opposed to Manila or Tokyo, where (and it never occurred to me to think this before) it seems that people assume that life is something you have to buy from the world at whatever cost it demands. If it demands that you work 36 hours without protection spraying lead-based paint on a wall in a windowless room for 200 pesos a day, well, that's the cost of biological life on this ball of dirt and say thank you, you piece of shit, if you want to keep your god-damn life. Instead, here, people walk over to bring their daughter to kindergarten before biking off to work in the neighborhood, and go home at 5PM, after the daily swim at the beach. Lives tracked by light jazz. Or so it seems from the vantage of this project. Since I'm working in theater, this might not be an accurate impression. Maybe high-powered stockbrokers in Copenhagen central live the usual hyper-slave-to-the-grind life in the Millenium. Maybe. Or maybe it's just that it's high summer in a cold country and everybody's high on sunlight and in some kind of Garden of Eden mode because of summer's 17 hours of daylight per day. Or maybe it's just that they were extremely rich until a few years ago (welfare state) and this are the last wisps of the rich life that their welfare state bought them in the 60's. Certainly life in Alabang on a Sunday afternoon (millionnaire gated community in Manila) seems blessed and rational, compared to the weekday grind of the average Filipino film production. So maybe Denmark is just a country-sized Alabang?

Who knows! I'm completely at sea. Don't remember feeling this off-balanced even when I lived in Japan for the first time, where nobody spoke English, and (because this was back in '83) English signs were at a minimum. Dunno if it's because I was 19 or because I simply assumed nothing. Here, I find myself constantly being knocked back on my feet because I assumed something without even realizing I assumed it. For instance, people are passing around a box of grapes at the office. They look like grapes, they're colored green. I put them into my mouth, Bang! They're really sour, and I realize I had assumed I was going to taste a sweet musk grape flavor. I check out the faces of everybody around the table, but everybody seems to be enjoying the grapes. So they like sour grapes here? Or they assume there's a spectrum of acceptable grape taste that ranges from really sour to really sweet? Or take another example. I walk by a shop that looks like what Hollywood movies have assured me a butcher shop looks like. I see a sign saying "Bacon - 44.5dk 1/2 kg" standing next to a slab of dry red meat. So I congratulate myself on being so enlightened as to know that not all bacon comes in strips in greasy vacuum-packed packages in supermarket freezers labeled Swift's Honeycured. That bacon can actually be made by humans wielding salt, smoke, and slabs of pork hacked off an actual pig. So I buy a half kilo of this "bacon" that I also have the foresight to ask the butcher to slice, thinly. When I make breakfast this morning though, it seems that the bacon takes forever to crisp. It's like it doesn't want to crisp. So okay, I figure, not crispy for this breakfast. When I eat it though, I find it has a completely different taste from what I was expecting. It's...I don't know. Meaty. Meaty, like a pork chop. It is also strangely more salty that I thought it would be. But, in a way I can't put more accurately, somehow also less salty that I thought it would be. And it has a tough rind that I have to spit out (but which perhaps people just swallow here as something normal and bacony?), because the slab of meat it was cut off had skin, and the skin fries up tough, not crispy. I'm constantly bumping into things like that, hour to hour. It's endlessly fascinating, but it can get tiring. It can take a while to find a comfortable corner at the end of a long day.

Another place that is a constant area of mild irritation is the language. And when I say irritation, I don't mean that I get annoyed or angry. I mean that I am constantly aware of language, like a coat that is slightly too tight or a new shirt that is slightly scratchy all over. I don't know why I never experienced this in Thailand, Bali, Japan, or Hong Kong, but it's something completely new. Nearly everybody can speak English, but nearly every written sign is in Danish. And Danish has almost no etymological information I can use as a clue. In Hong Kong, I could read signs in English, or read Chinese characters that they shared with Japanese (I can speak/read Japanese). If I were in France or Spain, I could use the store of Latin root-words that abound in the Spanish words that tagalog has absorbed as clues as to what words mean. Here, I see the word Rådhuspladsen or something and I don't know what any of the pieces mean. Is 'Råd' red? or 'Root' as in the latin 'Radix?' Is 'pladsen' the same as "place?" or maybe it's "plaza"?. My mind is convinced there is information to be had and so is constantly in overdrive, constantly seeking clues, order and information in the signs. And of course the sounds are different. I cannot even guess how the sounds that people are saying to me are meant to be spelled. I hear a name that sounds like "Kostko" and find it's spelled Kjærsgård. Somebody tells me I should meet "Annas Elbole" and when I tell him to write this "Annas"'s name down, he prints "Anders Elberling." It's like they're constantly using 3x the number of letters necessary to notate the sounds I hear. For the first time in my life I have an insight of how English can appear to the Japanese. You hear the word "laughter" and imagine it's spelled "lafta" then find out there's this u and g and h in there that basically do nothing.

So that's what it's like, here on this side of the looking-glass. Will be meeting the Mad Hatter and Dormouse later. All for now.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Night Festival

1 gig down one to go! Performing again tonight at the 2010 Singapore Night Festival with Malek Lopez, and Caliph8 at No Bleeding Hearts, the show curated by Green Papaya. Anybody I haven't reached through the regular spam channels and in Singapore come on by tonight July 17. The Philippine contingent representing at 10PM-2AM at the 2nd floor of the National Museum (What they call the 'Glass Atrium' near that installation with the swinging lamps). Radioactive Sago is there, for all you guys for whom the prospect of seeing my/Malek/Caliph's work with networked sound and video is insufficient temptation. Woohoo!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Networking, Friendship and Collaboration

Why is the word "networking" respectable and grant-friendly, but the phrase "making friends" not? Bands are small networks of friends, and are responsible for some literally world-shaking achievements. There's some fuzziness, a missing word here. Maybe a whole missing taxonomy. We need a terminology for types of friends.

Acquaintances. Exes. Drinking buddies. Fuck buddies. Close friends. Lovers. Notice that the activities we associate with the terms seem "trivial" in the sense that they benefit no-one else but the parties involved. Maybe "trivial" is the wrong word. Private and ephemeral: Drinking. Sex. Kwento. Hanging out, as in on a hike, or at the beach or something.

"Collaborators" is a signpost towards the language we're missing. People who work and create together, ranging from cyber-acquaintances on a mailing list to incestuous, frankly polyamorous groups whose personal relationships deepen and are deepened (ruin and are ruined?) by the work. We need better terms. A more specific, technical, and nuanced taxonomy for collaborators. Friends you work with, produce with, research with, heal with. To be able to talk about the relationship of Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, say. Will and Ariel Durant. The Surrealists. The film crew of Ogawa Shinsuke. A Butoh dance commune. Factory Records. The Factory. The Situationists. The Beatles. Frank Doell and Helen Hanff. Einstein and Godel. Crick and Watson. Pierre and Marie Curie. A basketball team. The crew of the Rainbow Warrior. William Burroughs, Ian Sommerville, and Brion Gysin. Five people who meet on weekends to build a cyclotron. A gamelan troupe. A research group. The communes described in Samuel R. Delany's book, Heavenly Breakfast. Competing teams on a reality show. A terrorist cell. The translators of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The cast of The Brady Bunch.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Proposal: Independent Digital Preservation Laboratoria


I had discussion a few days ago with sound artists Tengal, Erick Calilan and Cris Garcimo, about how the published works the late Dr. Jose Maceda (contemporary composer and ethnomusicologist) were either out of print or scattered in journals, many of which had ceased to exist. Of course, this is the case with the writings of almost all Filipino scholars, theorists and writers. The conversation grew like a rogue yahoogroup on Erick's facebook wall, with digressions about the books we had, books we were reading, books we wanted to read. At some point I proposed that the solution would be an independent, crowdsourced digital preservation program. Digitizing books could even be a social occasion, a weekly get-together where groups of people could chip at the massive problem around potluck, coffee and conversations about the books and the field that concerned them. The sessions could even bear fruit in more writing that might be uploaded, or passed around. It could happen in somebody's living room or even a sympathetic cafe, using a DIY bookscanner like one of the ones pictured at the source of the photo above: www.diybookscanner.org, founded by Daniel Reetz. (They even have their own scan correction software!)

I like this notion of independent workshop-socials, social rituals yoked to creative/cultural/cultural healing activities. I was thinking that people generally found band rehearsal, sports and Bible study perfectly credible 'independent workgroups' but that the list of activities seemed remarkably few. I was thinking that although these days 'laboratory' means 'a room set aside for scientific work,' it's roots come 'laborare,' the Latin word for labor, and laboratory literally just means 'place of work', or 'workshop'. What would it take for people to see it as a perfectly credible option to create original laboratoria, maybe take pride in the arcaneness/obscurity/outlandishness of their laboratorium?

"We're Ugnayan, an independent laboratorium working on the digital preservation of Dr. Jose Maceda's writings. "
"Kami naman ang Vocodex, we're studying the DSP applications of the Fast Fourier Transform. "
"Wala 'yan sa laboratorium ng lolo ko!"

Monday, June 07, 2010

Systems and Limits

Once there was a Baker who wanted to integrate all recipes of bread into a master recipe. And so, instead of writing something like “ Add 2 cups of water 4 tsp of yeast and salt and 6 cups of wheat flour” he wrote: "Add any amount of flour made from any grain to any amount of water, salt and yeast, plus anything else. You may also omit water, and use milk, yogurt, soup, coffee, tea or any flavored liquid instead.”

Now, this is not a master recipe. Nor is it a system for baking bread. It doesn’t help you make bread. It simply catalogs possibility. A system that helps someone do or make something helps him limit the possible outcomes of his activity.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

"Interaction"

Forms of transformation and dependency

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Possible Research Projects

Some ideas of possible artscience/new media research initiatives.


1) OSC, networked performance -- already ongoing at Sweetspot by Malek and me. Essentially a cybernetics workshop/research group of two.

2) Decentralized wireless technologies -- to explore the possibility of a network that does not rely on central structures eg cellphone towers, torrent servers, wireless routers.
Analogous maybe to cb/ham radio, but incorporated with computers and technologies of data exchange.

3) Aquaponics -- this is a relatively new tech that involves growing fish and plants together to maximize food production, minimize water usage. Allows families or small communities to grow their own food in barrels. A LITTLE technical, so one initiative might be to help spread small, teaching projects to familiarize schoolchildren with the science/techniques involved. Great vehicle for teaching/exploring ideas/issues of biology, ecology, agronomy, population, climate, etc. Very possibly a matrix for a bio-artscience that is linked to issues of survival.The REAL biomodd.

4) Scenes form/decay around watering holes/centers where people can casually wander into. Centers I've known/been to: Penguin, Mowelfund, Red Rocks, Club Dredd, Mayrics, Inka, Mogwai, all of Cubao X, Crazy Daisy, Saguijo, Sweetspot, Espasyo Siningdikato, Green Papaya. Met all sorts of artists, writers there. Not too many scientists, which is something to think about. As far as I know, no one knows how a center forms, what factors contribute to it. It can't be useless to try to answer the following questions: How is a center formed? What factors contribute to it? Is it possible to create one deliberately? What would it take to add scientists into the mix, and is it possible to design environments to favor Apollonian over Dionysian behavior? To favor making and discussion (eg Mowelfund, where people would drop in and wind up helping someone make a short film, video) over watching other people perform and getting drunk. Not to say there's anything wrong with spaces that encourage the latter, but there aren't too many that encourage the former. If it is not possible to create the spaces deliberately, we should at least find out why it isn't possible, and if it is at least possible to optimize conditions for/encourage their spontaneous generation. A science of Convivial Spaces = a science of encouraging spontaneous networking.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Collab in Hong Kong 3

This is a still from the karaoke loop component of Drifted Narratives, basically a distillation/ summary of the ideas/impressions engendered by hanging around the Pinay workers in Hong Kong. Ideas about travel, exile, camps, temporary recreations of home and so on. Click on the photo to see the video, uploaded to youtube.

The incorporation of the karaoke seemed like the thing to do. It recalled the prevalence of karaoke at Filipino gatherings, it was an ironic way to serenade the girls, it adds a weird layer of associations to a saccharine pop song (something I find enjoyable in and of itself), and it was a chance to point to the brainless massacre that is karaoke imagery. I hadn't thought it was possible to do worse than generic bikini girl shots, but the production companies have apparently taken to incorporating montages of American NBA footage as well. Call it folk/corporate surreality, I dunno. An essay/post for another day.

As per the photo below, the installation itself became a kind of triptych that basically took over the 2nd floor of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, framed as it was by a huge photographic banner mounted on a wall made of recycled cardboard boxes bought from the same vendors who sold boxes ( for1 HK$ each) to the Pinays.



The left and right panels hosted projections of the timelapse footages from the IFC mall and the ground floor of the HSBC. The photographic panel showed Tita in the astronaut suit standing in front of the Pinoy village:



The center of the triptych was occupied by what Ming-chong and I referred to as the "shrine", a functional sculpture hosting the karaoke loop.



The suitcase contained a science-fictional distillation of the idea of "a Pinay's life-support system": a Santo Niño (= Baby Jesus, lit with a votary candle-bulb, which I thought tied nicely in with the fact that many Pinays are engaged as yayas/governesses for HK kids) ; iconic comfort/junk foods; shampoo sachets; romance novels; toilet paper; sanitary napkins; a DVD player; a car battery (that had earlier served to power the mobile time-lapse lab I built) ; a power inverter; and so on.

The DVD player that ran the karaoke loop was one of those jobs with a microphone jack, which I hooked up to a live microphone, so it was theoretically possible to sing the work, as it were. Ming-chong and I actually did this at the opening, but of course the shrine was locked behind a glass door most of the time.




The video was a lot of fun to shoot. It wasn't until I was halfway through it that I realized I was reprising a technique from Roxlee's brilliant short film Juan Gapang, which was a major inspiration for me when I stumbled onto filmmaking at the Mowelfund Film Institute way back when. The short remains edgy and watchable to this day, filled with images that fuse the fantastic with public performance and abrasive social criticism. For my part, I particularly liked the fact that the Pinays on the street immediately recognized the person inside the astronaut suit as a fellow Pinay, but were flummoxed by the fact that she was being followed and attended to by a crew of Hong Kong locals who would do things like fan her and hold her helmet for her in between takes. It constituted an inversion of the class structure that they lived in, and it was a spectacle I was happy to stage for them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Collab in Hong Kong 2


Huh. Been awhile since part 1. Oh well. Anyway, this is a still from the time lapse footage I took on the walkway of the IFC mall in November 2009. The video's here on youtube. This is a fair sample of what happens in many of the public spaces in Hong Kong. The domestics, who live cheek-by-jowl with their employers, get the hell out of the house and picnic. Hang with their friends, often bringing rolling suitcases filled with food. Some have prayer meetings, dance, practice martial arts. They eat together, chat, play cards, give each other pedicures. Some even just sleep.

Gotta say that the Hong Kong-ese have a very enlightened view about the spectacle. (And it's not just the Filipinos who do this. The area around Victoria park is Indonesian territory, for instance. I don't know if the Thais have adopted an area.) Apparently there were major debates in the 80's about the propriety and desirability of having major swaths of Hong Kong space being essentially colonized by foreigners camping on scrap cardboard amidst their shiny architecture, but more intelligent elements in the country seem to realize that not to permit this would be to do away with a social and psychological safety valve that sustains the viability of hiring alien domestics. I doubt Filipino administrators would be as tolerant.

As I said, Ming-chong and I took the students to a field trip as part of the workshop that we were running during the collaboration. While we had the cameras shooting time lapse, we took the students to Lantau -- an island about a half-hour from Hong Kong by catamaran ferry -- where there is a designer community called Discovery Bay, (sometimes just referred to as "DB") populated primarily by the rich and expatriated. Like Alabang, only with yachts. And more white people. And no cars. (Only DB officials can use internal combustion. Everyone else has to use golf carts, or the island buses.) Yacht-dwelling foreigners moor their boats in the place called The Marina, and (as is the case in much of the world) their domestics and helpers are Filipino. Mostly Filipinas.

At any rate, the Filipinos do not live on said boats with their employers, but have effectively colonized an old fishing village in the area called Nim Shue Wan.

This is the entrance to the village:



Basically, we took the students there to see the Filipinos in a setting closer to their natural habitat, as it were: living in their own houses, among their countrymen. Of course, it's still a highly unnatural environment. Most rent rooms in houses that are communally occupied, and the female to male ratio must run to the tens, if not the hundreds. The village lies on a known hiking trail, so the residents are used to whites and Hong Kong locals passing through.



This is what it looks like from the beach. You get the idea. 1-2 floor concrete structures inherited from the fishermen, most of which have air conditioning. Some living spaces extended by adding posts and beams and stretching tarps over the resulting space. A little crumbling about the edges, and the odd pile abandoned furniture/appliances lying about, but the toilets are in order, there's power, running water, even cable and internet access. Nothing like a Manila slum.



Naturally, we wound up getting directed to a birthday party being held on the beach, where everyone immediately decided we were guests. Good thing there was a lot of food. I wondered if I was amplifying some kind of stereotype of the happy-go-lucky Filipinos: I got the sense that Filipinos served as a symbol for "soul" to some of the more thoughtful students, somewhat in the way blacks served as that symbol for Kerouac. They see the girls as singing innocents, ambassadors of values they feel are under siege by technology and commercialism.

After we dismissed the class, I stayed and hung out a bit. After night fell, we moved to someone's yard where somebody (naturally) hauled out the karaoke. Party kept on till night, when a shower forced us all inside.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blinded By The Light-- Notes on Corsello's Profile on Manny Pacquiao



The original article is here.

Some of it ranges from good to brilliant, I think. I've never seen an American writer draw such a successful bead on our culture. For that matter, I haven't read many Filipino writers who've done it as well as he does in this article. The wealth of detail. The meanings he finds in those details. His propensity for holding his self-importance so lightly. In spite of being slighted innumerable times, he understands on a completely instinctive level that the offenses are trivial matters, and it's this unwillingness to indulge his self-love that allows him to see that these slights as an entry into the real story, which is about surreal cordon sanitaire surrounding Pacquiao, a shell of chaotic social activity he and at least one other writer has described as "dysfunctional". Another piece of brilliance lies in the precision with which he describes how Filipinos see Pacquiao as embodying an innocence that is threatened and contradicted by his political aspirations and the monstrous trapos like Chavit and the Ampatuans that hover around him. The Filipino dark side, the pit.

Some of it, I repeat, is brilliant. Maybe even most of it. BUT.

But: Corsello crashes burning when he mystifies what his powers of analysis fail to grasp. And what he is most unable to grasp are the roots of the chaos -- a chaos with social, political, and apparently psychological aspects-- that restricts his access to the subject of his story, so much so that he is reduced to offering his readers Paquiao's indigestible and incomprehensible answers verbatim at the end of his article. This in spite of the fact that he did, after a long and merry chase, finally come face to face with Pacquiao, who looked him in the eye and invited his questions.

Corsello does not explain why the interview failed, which is the proper word to describe an interview that results in a clutch of cryptic Pacquiaoisms that Corsello abandons the reader to decipher without assistance. An interview where Corsello's words are obliterated by the Word of Pacquiao.

An interviewer is supposed to mediate between his subject and his readers. To clarify the subject for the readers. To help the subject make his meaning plain. But when Corsello finally sits across Pacquiao, he seems to disappear in a white light, as if he had been incinerated by a furnace at the center of the labyrinth, or taken up to Heaven like Elijah, where matters were revealed to him indescribable in the words of men. He draws a curtain across the failure, and does not make it clear whether he was prevented from asking follow-up questions by Pacquiao's lieutenants, whether Pacquiao refused to amplify his answers, or whether he, Corsello, was so frazzled to be sitting across a man that he describes with what must we must call religious language, that he was incapable of insulting his god by giving any sign of puzzlement or incomprehension.

For whatever reason, he runs into a wall. Or, perhaps, another labyrinth.

Incapable of making sense of the chaos around Pacquiao, he resorts, or is reduced to, mystification. Corsello attributes both the chaos and Pacquiao's boxing accomplishments to a mysterious quality in Pacquiao that Corsello intimates is beyond human ken, beyond language. "The strange," he calls it reverently, but he might as well call it "the miraculous", because he uses the phrase to assert the existence of some eerie, unsayable power in Pacquiao in which antithetical qualities are resolved and united.

Not true. The contradictions surrounding Pacquiao are all recognizable Pinoy weirdness. Not standard weirdness by a long shot, but not unique either. Corsello would have glimpsed similarities and parallels if he's gone to the celebrations of other big men, other stars. The untalented performances offered as entertainment, the excess, the schizophrenic/hallucinogenic interior design by untalented friends-and-relations are common phenomena in the celebrations of Filipino families. They're just amplified by orders of magnitude in Pacquiao's case, because of his wealth.

Many of the phenomena that Corsello observed are not even uniquely Filipino. D. A. Pennebaker's documentary Don't Look Back captured a similar vortex of idolatry, political jostling, mystification, transference and projection surrounding Bob Dylan in 1967. Accounts of Louis XIV's court in 17th Century Versailles record courtiers jockeying for the honor of handing the Sun King his shirt at his morning toilette exactly the way Pacquiao's lieutenants vye for the honor of fluffing his rice. However, I think Corsello may be the first to document the process by which the idolatry that envelopes the inner circle results in choking the flow of information to the idol the circle professes to love and serve. The process by which a star is eclipsed from view by the shell of asteroids it attracts.

A question kept hovering in my head the whole time I was reading the profile: To what extent does Pacquiao enable the weirdness around him? What does he get out of it? I can't help but think that Pacquiao is not an innocent here, not the simple victim of sycophants and courtiers that he cannot distinguish from true friends. An entourage, or any social structure for that matter (especially one as expensive and logistically unwieldy as the one surrounding Pacquiao) is supported and maintained in spite of its inconveniences for the sake of the advantages it confers. What those are however, I probably don't completely grasp, because I don't like large groups. However, I have a deep suspicion that the group serves as a portable jungle in which Pacquiao feels safe: Protected. Powerful. Hidden. One of the aspects of a large intimate group is that responsibility becomes shared and diffuse. Roach and Corsello find it impossible to blame Pacquiao or even the various "chiefs of staff" they speak to who represent Pacquiao, because the structure makes personal blame impossible. Nobody can be identified as Colonel Parker, as the one controlling access to Pacquiao. Roach's comments make it clear that Team Pacquiao's fear of Manny's displeasure makes it difficult to ask him questions, even if -- perhaps even especially if -- they are important questions, because it is precisely the important questions that could be freighted with unpleasantness. It appears to me that the main advantage of such an arrangement is that it makes it possible for Pacquiao to avoid doing things he finds distasteful, inconvenient, or just plain tedious. I specifically suspect that the shell allows him to elude the grasp of marketers, entrepreneurs, and garden-variety yahoos (Pacman dolls? Pacman sneakers? Lunchboxes? Video games? Cellphone borloloy?) that flock around American celebrities; allows him to avoid having to explicitly refuse them, avoid even listening to a Filipino intermediary plead their cases. Any such intermediary who persisted in backing a prospect, a deal, a person... Anyone backing anything Manny found tiresome would quickly find himself outside the circle of favor. It may seem like an expensive, inefficient way to avoid having to say no, but I suspect that many Filipinos would understand the motive. Saying no is work. Even just listening to proposals is work. How much is peace and quiet worth? It may sound strange to speak of peace and quiet in the middle of a mob. But as Corsello himself notes, it is Pacquiao's prerogative to end any conversation any time he sees fit. The slightest tilting of his head places him completely out of reach in a way even a foreigner can understand.

(It just occurred to me that it is probably the case that most foreigners -- or at least many Western foreigners -- might not understand. That it might have been precisely Corsello's sensitivity to these cues -- one might say his susceptibility to group pressure -- that was responsible for finally giving him access to Pacquiao. When I say this, I don't mean to say that I think meetings took place discussing what to do with the white guy. More likely what happened was that Pacquiao, and the people around him gradually became reassured that this Corsello guy was a good egg; marunong mahiya, as we say: capable of shame/tact/discretion. Corsello's reflexes reassured people, and their guards relaxed. And opportunities opened as a result.)

How much is peace and quiet worth? This question can be read in two ways. It can be a question about the price of peace and quiet: How much would you be willing to pay to have it? However, it can also be a question about the obtainability of peace and quiet. When your consent can set millions of dollars into motion, how much do you have to pay to get peace and quiet? In the Philippines. In America. In Las Vegas. Maybe it is extremely hard to get peace and quiet once the bitch-goddess of American success has rubbed up against you. Maybe it is so hard to get that you need a shell of Filipino chaos that large in order to obtain it. It could be, that against the chaos of entrepreneurial capitalism, that Filipino social chaos is a perfectly rational, perfectly functional defense.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sineselpon


Dibs on history! Philippine history anyway. Am teaching a video production workshop for the NCCA's Kalahi Cultural Summit. Underequipped, as per usual. They gave me one camera (albeit a little beaut of a DVX100B) for a workshop that they opened to all comers. Hit on the bright idea of teaching the workshoppers to make and edit videos with footage shot with their cellphones. I'm calling the idea Sineselpon --a Tagalog-phoneticization of "Cine-cellphone." Serendipitously, sineselpon would also be the (Tagalog) present progressive and transitive form of selpon. In English it would be the equivalent of the word "cellphoning," only (like I said) transitive, like the verb shoot. "He's cellphoning the sunset". I've already made an account in youtube called selpontv. Empty as of now. Got the workshoppers downloading video files from their cellphones with a card reader, converting them to DV AVIs with Super, (a freeware video format converter) and editing them on Vegas 3, still hands down the most user-friendly video editor I've ever come across, small and powerful and handy as a pair of longnose pliers. Was a hit of an idea. Buncha kids sitting around my laptop arguing in Boholano and waving off entreaties that they take a break and get something to eat. Naturally, it turns out other people have had the same idea. The French Pocket Film Festival is on their sixth year already, so this is not a world first, and why should I have thought it would be? Phones shoot video, after all. You don't have to be a genius to think hey, we should make films/fiction/narrative with them. Think Nokia or something even got guys like Quark Henares and Raymond Red to make some as a publicity stunt for one of their high end models. Fuck that. The Phil is exactly the place where this art novelty/corporate gimmick could be the gift of water to people dying of thirst. Philippine cinema was a child of feudalism. The early movie studios were owned by hacienderos, landed oligarchs who recruited their tenants for labor. For the capacity to write with images to literally fall into the hands of the tenants represents the complete demolition of that structure. We're talking the potential of making democratic, groundroots, punk moving-picture praxis like the world has never seen or imagined, away from the dons and doñas, bypassing issues of funding, ideology and patronage, uploaded straight to the internet and talking to the world. This could really be something.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Lisbeth Salander = Batman

Lisbeth Salander is the short, tattooed bisexual punk with Asperger's who is the unlikely heroine of Steig Larsen's detective series. In The Girl with a Dragon Tatoo she was only half Batman: a grim technofetishist, a detective, and a revenge-driven do-gooder with an extreme and unyielding moral code. In the sequel she's also become a billionaire and a master of disguise, with a car, a hideout, concealed (and nonlethal) weapons and a nemesis she's known from childhood!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Notes on the Music of the Lost Cities

First, thanks to Jing for this amazing photo. Lighting, blocking and and color reminds me of Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters. This is from the the second project of the Oakland-Manila Art Exchange, Music of The Lost Cities. Held at The Living Room in Malate last Feb 6. Three of us at a round table. Chris Brown on the far left, Malek Lopez in the center, and me on the right running two laptops. Not visible is Caliph8, who was behind Chris on turntable and samplers and the muralist Johanna Poethig, whose photographs and concept of "sub-colonials" formed the material of the video projections and the theme of the performance.

Music of The Lost Cities explored the use of networked sound and visuals, and the theme of cultural hybridity. Cultures, customs and technology mixing in the wake of colonial history. Rogue histories of influence and feedback. It's a subject that resonates with the structure of networked music, I think. Networked electronic music is old territory to Chris, who co-founded The Hub in 1986. The Hub was a group formed to explore the possibilities of networked electronic music. The members want to find ways to transmit digital information between the players' instruments, and new ways for musicians to interact. The gig marked the first time Chris' experiments have integrated video, which makes it a milestone of sorts. Caliph, Malek and I have previously used MIDI to sync visuals to live music (notably at the screening and jam/re-edit/deconstruction of the 1921 Italian SF film Mechanical Man at the 2008 Silent Film Festival) but this is the first time we've used (on Chris' insistence) the Open Sound Control (OSC) data protocol.

OSC definitely opens up the idea of interaction. I hadn't understood that OSC meant that you could invent your own data fields. That for instance, Chris's machine could send me a message like "/trg /sample 22 /beat 13 /cycle 27 /bpm 95 " and so convey to my laptop that it was triggering a Marvin Gaye sample on the 13th beat of a 27 beat, 95 bpm cycle. A sentence like that changes the paradigm, the shape of the data space. You hear that and you think, well, then I could send Malek a message that 25 yellow circles are drifting across the screen at 10 pixels a second. It literally changes what you are able to think.

For instance, the open structure of OSC made it possible for me conceive the idea of receiving messages not only about what Chris' machine was doing now, (eg outputting a Marvin Gaye sample) but also about what Chris' machine would do in the future. If I could receive that, then the visuals could forbode and anticipate changes in the music. And so on.

Chris had to rehearse and conduct Invention # 8, a piece he'd written for gangsa and electronics for the anniversary of Dr Maceda's death. Malek and I spent 2 days with him and Johanna in their hotel room jamming code and images together. It was a very new, very pleasant experience to write and test code communally, the first time I've ever done it, I think.
Programming is (like any form of writing) usually a solitary business. It's hard to convey what good company Chris and Johanna are. Laid back, down to earth, and very funny. They're hearty eaters to boot, who chow down on sisig (Pig cheeks, ears and liver chopped, marinated in vinegar then pan-fried. Slave food, but delicious.) without turning a hair. Both of them lived in the Philippines back in the 70s and know how to take the surreal in stride.

The gig was a success, near as I could tell. Lots of questions. Got to hold forth on electronic music as cybernetic performance, ie as the art of steering large, automatic beasts. I have a lot of questions myself, basically subsets of the big question "What sorts of things can we do with this?"

I'm wondering whether there's a taxonomy of interactions somewhere in some book on information theory. I have a growing list that so far contains 6 types of interaction that we could implement between machines. I've named them after the image/practice that exemplify them.

1) Tabletop. People drumming on the same table ie triggering stuff on a common instrument/program. The program reacts to all the triggers independently. This is basically no different from the situation where individual players play individual instruments.

2) Light Switch. The program/instrument can be in one of a set of mutually exclusive states. Anyone can specify that state, but doing so changes/overwrites what anybody has done.

3) Stompbox. I modify somebody else's signal. A variation would be that my output would pass into the mix in parallel with the original signal.

4) Spirit Glass. The program/instrument's output is determined by multiple inputs that are averaged, or somehow combined, the way that the path of the planchette on an Ouija board is the vector sum of all the pressures exerted on it by the participants' hands. "Spirit Glass" refers to the ordinary drinking glass that Filipinos use as a planchette on an improvised Ouija board to play the game known locally as "Spirit of the Glass."

5) Dragon Dance. Parallel inputs are summed to create an output that is perceived as a single, complex output.

6) Harmony. Singers can sing in unison, or contrapuntally. By the same token, two machines can sync to each other or enact counterpoint. So for example, video can cut to the drums, or instead of slaving to an existing drum pattern, it can act like another drummer and create a different pattern based on a common pulse. Machines can base their behavior on explicit or implicit data.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

New(ish) Music at UP Diliman

video

First, my apologies for not managing to let anybody know about the performance of Ugnayan, Dr. Maceda's revolutionary 20-channel piece, played yesterday Feb 1 at the UP Carillion Plaza to a motley collection of radios via a 4-watt FM transmitter set up for the occasion. Only discovered that it was scheduled the day before. It was performed along with Dr. Ramon Santos' Likas-An, a piece that, aside from the usual motif of dropped-bamboo sounds (first used by Maceda and still the sonic signature of much Philippine art music) also included idiophones of found scrapmetal, a screaming, crank-driven iron wheel (shades of Russolo's Intonarumori!) and full-bore radio feedback. Unfortunately, the performance of Ugnayan got screwed by a software glitch and so was inaudible for better than 75% of the duration of the piece. Sigh. Hopefully they do it again some time. And with BETTER PUBLICITY, please! Jesus, it's as if the internet and texting didn't exist! The event wasn't mentioned even on the College of Music's own News and Events webpage. As if the organizers themselves didn't think this stuff would interest anybody.

Anyway. I hereby copy out from the pamphlet passed out yesterday:

2Feb2010 Tuesday
6PM in the garden by the College of Music in UP Diliman will be performed:

Basbasan -- Jonas Baes
N(y)üma -- Verne dela Peña
Uyayi --Trad. Performed by Chin Chin Guttierrez

Yup, Chin Chin "I See Elf People" Guttierrez. Don't ask me. Her presence, and the fact that the performance is preceeded by a Forum (3-5 PM in Abelardo Hall) titled Environment/Nature (in opposition to tomorrow's Forum, titled Technology) leads one to expect a lean towards the new-agey, animistic side of things.

3Feb2010 Wednesday
The 3-5 forum is titled Technology. Might try to make this one. The performances will be at the foot of the Carillion at 6PM. The pieces will be:

Elira --Katherine Tranco
Invention No. 8 --Chris Brown
Prefab # 2 --Nick Quejada
Performance by the UP Kekeli African Drum and Dance Ensemble

Don't know anything about the pieces mentioned, except that the piece by Chris Brown (a pioneering American electronic music composer that some of us performed with last year at Green Papaya and Mogwai ) will be using gangsa and electronics. Chris and his wife Johanna Poethig lived in the Phil in the 70s. He openly acknowledges the influence of Dr. Maceda on his work and was instrumental in getting three albums of Maceda's work released on John Zorn's label Tzadik. (see here)


Daan kayo!