Cut &
Paste:

The
MUTEK
Recorder
Claire L. Evans ‘records’ the 2021 MUTEK Forum, sharing knowledge and research methods from selected guests

The MUTEK Recorder is a real-time research experiment that captures, filters, and analyzes the 2021 MUTEK Forum through daily broadcasts and a sustained publishing sprint.

© 2021 HOLO

001 – Note: A Tool for Thinking (11/08/2021)
“What we think is a consequence of the tools we use to think. Computers are tools for thinking, as are scissors and paste pots. This dossier, we hope, will be a tool for thinking too.”

Claire L. Evans is a writer and musician based in Los Angeles. She is the singer and coauthor of the Grammy-nominated pop group YACHT, and the founding editor of Terraform, VICE‘s science-fiction vertical. She is also the former futures editor of Motherboard, and a contributor to VICE, Rhizome, The Guardian, and many other publications. Her 2018 book, Broad Band, tells the history of the female visionaries at the vanguard of technology and innovation.

When the visionary hypertext designer Ted Nelson was a young man, he took a job at the New York Times. One of his primary responsibilities at the paper was to refill the paste pots journalists used to cut and paste their stories together. Before the invention of the word processor, working writers often physically cut text into paragraph-sized chunks and rearranged them on tables to tease out interesting associations before ultimately deciding on a structure for their work.

“The words cut and paste, for writers, always meant taking your material, cutting it up, and putting it all around in front of you, in parallel, so you could see it side-by-side,” Nelson explained in a late ‘90s interview. This was the cut-up of the Dada poets and William S. Burroughs—an aleatory, sometimes radical juxtaposition of ideas—not the cut and paste of the computer, which Nelson condemns as an abomination.

When we ‘cut’ text in a word processor, it disappears to a clipboard, which holds it until it is ‘pasted’ elsewhere. Since the clipboard only holds one thing at a time, and remains hidden from view, a writer can only rearrange ideas in an extremely limited sense. Cut and paste, Nelson surmised, are “two holy words about human creativity,” and engineers, fundamentally misunderstanding them, desecrated the act of writing, creating an impoverished tool that reduces our ability to puzzle together complex ideas.

What we think is a consequence of the tools we use to think. Computers are tools for thinking, as are scissors and paste pots. This dossier, we hope, will be a tool for thinking too: a collage of insights, references, and thoughts that will accumulate as we simultaneously process and record our impressions of this year’s MUTEK Forum (Aug 24–Sep 2) in real time. Alongside the daily dossier, we’ll be broadcasting our findings live in an experimental variety half-hour mapping what we’ve learned from each day of the festival. To learn more about how others ‘record’ information, we’ll be joined by daily guests—artists, designers, musicians, and authors—who will share their tools for thinking and show us how they conduct research within their practice.

We’re not reporters, exactly; we’re recorders. But like journalists of another century, we will be speaking Nelson’s holy words, cutting, pasting, arranging and re-arranging, observing what connections we can make together, until something new begins to emerge from the noise. HOLO has invited me to refill the paste pots. Let’s see how the story comes together.

“We’re not reporters, exactly; we’re recorders. But like journalists of another century, we will be cutting, pasting, arranging and re-arranging, until something new emerges from the noise.”

Based in Montréal and active through many international satellites, MUTEK is one of the world’s most storied electronic music festivals, having nurtured eclectic and experimental acts since 2000. Beyond their indefatigable promotion of new sounds and audiovisual performance, MUTEK’s flagship edition has always made space for critical conversations about all facets of digital art and culture. This year, we look forward to hearing from keynote speaker Benjamin Bratton, and artists Memo Akten, Sarah Friend, Ying Gao, Sabrina Ratté, and many others.

002 – Note: Meet the Guests (24/08/2021)
“How do artists, designers, novelists, and theorists ‘record’ within their practice? HOLO invited eight multidisciplinary luminaries to share their research methods, data practice, central software, and information diet.”

How does a sound artist translate their learnings into a new instrument design? What curiosities give life to a media artist’s installation? How do advocates leverage technology to nurture ethics and community? And which tools and methodologies do researchers, authors, and theorists use to organize information? To help us understand how different creative practitioners ‘record’ within their practice, HOLO invited eight multidisciplinary luminaries, one per MUTEK Recorder episode, to share glimpses into their research methods, data practice, central software, and media diet.

Tune into the daily MUTEK Recorder broadcast via the MUTEK website and follow this dossier for learnings, references, further readings from selected MUTEK Forum sessions.

Guest Voices: Aug 24–27
August 24:

Yuri Suzuki (UK)
Pentagram
August 25:

Mindy Seu (US)
Designer and researcher
August 26:

Samaneh Moafi (UK)
Forensic Architecture
August 27:

Dorothy R. Santos (US)
Processing Foundation
24/08

Sound artist Yuri Suzuki works in installation and instrument design, and instruments like the synth he designed for Jeff Mills (2015) and his reimagination of the Electronium for the Barbican (2019) signal a deep reverence for electronic music. Over the last few years, London-based Suzuki became a partner at the international design studio Pentagram, where he has worked on branding projects for clients including Roland and the MIDI association.

25/08

Mindy Seu is a deep thinker about publishing, research, and archives, her recent projects include the much lauded Cyberfeminism Index, which compiled feminist provocations from Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” through present day, providing an invaluable public resource. The New York-based designer is currently undertaking research stints with the MIT Media Lab Poetic Justice group and metaLab Harvard.

26/08

London-based Samaneh Moafi is a Senior Researcher at Forensic Architecture, a research agency investigating human rights violations and violence committed by states, police forces, militaries, and corporations. Moafi heads up the group’s Centre for Contemporary Nature, where she develops “new evidentiary techniques for environmental violence,” including analyses of environmental racism in Louisiana (2021) and the destruction of agricultural plots by Israeli forces at the edge of the Gaza Strip (2014-).

27/08

Dorothy R. Santos is the Executive Director of the Processing Foundation. Overseeing the foundation’s advocacy for software literacy in the visual arts, the San Francisco-based writer and curator has been integral in helping execute its mandate of increasing diversity in creative coding communities. In addition to her work for Processing, Santos is a co-founder of the REFRESH curatorial collective, which emerged in 2019 with a focus on inclusivity and promoting ”sustainable artistic and curatorial practices.”

Guest Voices: Aug 30–Sep 02
August 31:

Jürg Lehni (CH)
Artist and designer
August 30:

Xiaowei R. Wang (US)
Logic
September 01:

Tim Maughan (UK/CA)
Journalist and author
September 02:

Benjamin Bratton
Theorist, author, educator
30/08

Writer and designer Xiaowei R. Wang is driven by beliefs in the “political power of being present, in dissolving the universal and categorical.” They are the Creative Director of Logic, and author of Blockchain Chicken Farm, a book that looks to rural China—not their homefront Silicon Valley—as a locus of tech-innovation. Wang’s recent artistic works include Future of Memory (2019-), an exploration of language and algorithmic censorship, and Shanzhai Secrets (2019), which explores consumption and copyright by way of Shenzhen.

31/08

Making his mark on digital art over the last two decades, Jürg Lehni has mobilized Hektor, Rita, and Viktor, a series (2002-) of quirky drawing machines, as platforms for research on representation and histories of technology. Parallel to his robotic storytelling, the Zurich-based artist and designer has made open software for others, including the prescient Adobe Illustrator plug-in Scriptographer (2001-12), that pushed the graphic design tool towards more open-ended experimentation, and, more recently, the browser-based “Swiss Army knife of vector graphics” Paper.js (2011-).

01/09

Hailing from the UK and now based in Ottawa, Tim Maughan traces the contours of contemporary phenomena including logistics and complexity as a journalist and technology pundit, which informs his science fiction. His first novel Infinite Detail (2019) wryly imagined a post-internet future (and related calamities). In addition to that debut, which was heralded as a Sci-Fi book of the year by The Guardian, he has written screenplays for the experimental short films Where the City Can’t See (2019) and In Robot Skies (2018), both directed by Liam Young.

02/09

Benjamin Bratton is Professor of visual arts at UCSD in San Diego, and author of The Stack (2016) and The Revenge of the Real (2021), which, respectively, schematize systems of scale and governance after Big Tech, and consider what politics in a post-pandemic world could be. Bratton is also the Program Director for The Terraforming, a multi-year initiative at Moscow’s Strelka Institute that tasks design students with taclking the radical transformations required for Earth to remain a viable host for life as we know it.

003 – 24/08: Planetary Computation (24/08/2021)
Keynote
The Artificial and the Synthetic: Intelligence, Language, Model
Speakers:
Benjamin Bratton
Orit Halpern
Profile:
Benjamin Bratton
Benjamin Bratton is Professor of visual arts at UCSD in San Diego, and author of The Stack (2016) and The Revenge of the Real (2021), which, respectively, schematize systems of scale and governance after Big Tech, and consider what politics in a post-pandemic world could be. Bratton is also the Program Director for The Terraforming, an initiative at Moscow’s Strelka Institute that tasks design students with tackling the radical transformations required for Earth to remain a viable host for life.
Soundbite:
“A thought experiment: what if the iconic blue marble photograph was a blue marble movie. One that showed the entire multi-billion year history of humankind in fast forward? You’d see volcanoes erupt, life form, and after that blur, in the very last few moments of that movie you’d see the wrapping of the sky in satellites, the formation of an intricate planetary crust capable of sensing—the emergence of planetary sapience.”
Benjamin Bratton, hijacking the discourse around the ‘blue marble’ photograph and using it to tell a different story about humanity’s history and place in the galaxy
Takeaway:
Bratton opens by locating the history of technology as also being a history of thought. Noting the true product created by philosophers of technology (like the recently passed Jean-Luc Nancy) is that grappling with the implication of new technologies reveals new facets of how we already think, and how we might think in the future.
Takeaway:
Recent AI systems move beyond the clumsiness of early chatbots like ELIZA. Their ability to understand and respond to semantics and engage in wordplay—actions we’d normally associate with intelligence—suggest we’ve crossed a threshold where artificial systems can absorb knowledge. We’ve been stuck in a loop for a while with our discourse about these systems though: we erroneously confuse their competency for comprehension.
Soundbite:
“It didn’t feel like a factory in the Charlie Chaplin Sense: it felt like a garden in the Richard Brautigan sense.”
Benjamin Bratton, on the euphoric sense of synergy and synchronization he felt when visiting an intensely automated factory in Shenzhen
Definition:
The ‘Artificial’ in artificial intelligence is located in the artifact, in material culture. Example: an arrowhead reveals an intentionality towards the natural world.
Fave:
“We’re using our distributed computer power to distribute 4K video on TikTok when we could be dedicating those resources to sophisticated natural language processing.”
Precedent:
Hatched between 1964–66 at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum, ELIZA is a mock psychotherapist—and the original chatbot. Based on early natural language processing, the program used pattern matching and substitution to create the appearance that it was responding to user text input. This attempt to simulate human speech patterns, and, more cunningly, basic empathy (ELIZA might ask “How do you feel about cars?” after a user mentioned them) could fool someone for a moment, but it only takes a few interactions to realize “it’s not smart, it just spits back responses that humans associate with intentionality. There’s really nobody home.” While crude, ELIZA succeeded as a proof of concept demonstration of Alan Turing’s evocative Turing Test hypothesis.
Soundbite:
“Creating synthetic intelligence is less about our creating machines that think how we think we think, but that we encounter machines that think differently and reflect the larger scope of what thinking actually is.”
Benjamin Bratton, clarifying his position on productive goals for machine intelligence
Profile:
Orit Halpern
Orit Halpern is an associate professor at Concordia University in Montréal, working within the Speculative Life cluster within the Milieux Institute. Her work bridges histories of science, computing, and cybernetics, and she is the author of Beautiful Data (2015).
Soundbite:
“There’s an emerging territoriality that’s coming out of procurement centres and data infrastructures.”
Orit Halpern, on how space has been permeated by software
Model:
The metaphor at the heart of Benjamin Bratton’s 2016 book The Stack is exactly that: a layer cake of ‘levels’ that animate the world. Bratton describes this assemblage as an “accidental megastructure” and the interaction of earth, cloud, city, address, interface, and user are the points of inflection for global governance. Appropriating the rhetoric of ‘a tech stack’ of libraries and protocols, or even vertical integration, the stack is a diagram that replaces the Mercator map of yesteryear—its neat and tidy delineations between states—with a new messy reality of corporatized Big Tech shaping geopolitics and lived experience.

Stack diagram by Metahaven.
Soundbite:
“The 1990s mythology that computation was virtual and immaterial got us into a lot of trouble.”
Benjamin Bratton, linking digital immateriality with the climate crises
Takeaway:
‘Data’ and ’waste’ are problematic qualifiers for thinking about what gets generated by technological systems. The distinctions are not as clear-cut as we might think are and often what we label as one, might actually be the other.
Takeaway:
We’ve been overly “blunt” in how we use the word ‘surveillance,’ and focused on its negative connotations. A more useful term is ‘sensing layer’ whereby that monitoring is mobilized for governance. In the popular vernacular about surveillance there is a concern about individuals being seen, watched, and compromised, but there are just as many cases of communities and bodies not being seen or tended to (e.g. the many demographics that have become invisible during the pandemic). We’ve been collecting the wrong data—habits of consumption—and it does not help conceive or implement needed positive social change. Climate science is a key example of the kind of datasets and archives we should be building—and acting on.
Soundbite:
“No one single neuro-anatomical disposition has a privileged monopoly on how to think intelligently. What might qualify as intelligence is not duty-bound to any species or phylum. The ability of an organism, however primitive, to map its own surroundings, particularly in relation to the basic terms of friend, food, and foe, is a primordial abstraction, which we do not graduate from so much as develop from this to something like reason and its local human variations.”
Benjamin Bratton, dismissing the primacy of human consciousness
Resources:
• Benjamin Bratton, “Planetary Sapience,” Noema (2021)
• Richard Brautigan, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (1969)
• Anastasia Sinitsyna et al, “Face As Infrastructure” (2020)
Commentary:
Bratton’s framing of the artificial vs. the synthetic, and the statement early in his keynote that “no one single neuro-anatomical disposition has a privileged monopoly on how to think intelligently” echoes some of my own recent research into unconventional computing and Artificial Life, a discipline in computer science concerned with building life, or intelligence, from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. ALife researchers see life as a property of form, not matter—a perspective Bratton evidently shares! The computer scientist Christopher Langton writes about life as a dynamic, non-linear system, which emerges from the interactions between parts. Using an analytic method to examine life’s constituent parts in isolation makes no sense, because we lose those critical interactions that define life. It’s more generative to take a synthetic approach, examining life’s constituent parts in each others’ presence—and even to build instances of those constituent parts in silico. “Rather than take living things apart,” Langton writes, “Artificial Life attempts to put living things together.”
004 – 24/08: Monetizing Digital Art (24/08/2021)
Panel
Monetizing Digital Art: What has Changed with NFTs?
Speakers:
Eliane Ellbogen, Elena Zavelev, Cadie Desbiens-Desmeules, Ryan Stec, Joseph Cutts
Profile:
Eliane Ellbogen
Eliane Ellbogen is an intellectual property lawyer with business law firm Fasken, and focused on information technology. She advises and represents clients in complex, high-profile patent, trademark, copyright and trade secret matters
Takeaway:
In this boom phase, NFTs prompt far more questions than answers. The lack of standardization around copyright and the durability of the work are thorny issues for both artists and buyers alike. We’re truly making up the rules as we go, thus far.
Precedent:
Beyond all the noise made about Beeple’s $69 Million Everydays sale, Dmitri Cherniak’s Ringers has become one of the most influential blockchain-based pieces of art to emerge during the NFT boom. Hosted on the Art Blocks platform, and sold in an edition of 1,000, the project’s simple generative grammar of grids, cylinders, bands, and colour captured the imagination of fledgling crypto art collectors by offering a more abstract example of what blockchain-based art could be. Distinct from the JPEGs, GIFs, and HD imagery that populate many platforms, works like Ringers (and the projects on Art Blocks, in general) illustrate how the hash data of the minting process—the transaction—can become data that shapes the work.
Soundbite:
“An NFT is a bundle of rights. You can use it, access it, control it, destroy it. It is not necessarily the associated artwork, which may surprise many folks. It’s a digital signature that points to the artwork on a third party platform or decentralized server.”
Eliane Ellbogen, giving a snapshot of the legal perspective on NFTs
Soundbite:
“One thing I see as potentially revolutionary in NFTs is the artist’s resale rights. Where a portion of secondary sales are redistributed back to the original artist.”
Eliane Ellbogen, on where she sees the most potential artists in the burgeoning NFT market
Profile:
Ryan Stec
Ryan Stec is an artist, producer and designer working in both research and production. He is a PhD Candidate at Carleton University, and the Artistic Director of Artengine, a non-profit center for art and technology in Ottawa.
Soundbite:
“Perhaps the only authentic crypto artist is the one who engages smart contracts as a material in their practice.”
Ryan Stec, sidestepping a question to define who/what a crypto artist is
NFT Marketplace:
Founded by Brazilian software engineer Rafael Lima in March 2020, Hic et Nunc has emerged as a NFT platform favoured by artists. Unlike its Ethereum-based peers, it’s built on the inexpensive proof-of-stake cryptocurrency Tezos, solving some of the issues of access and waste associated with older blockchains (gas fees for Ethereum transactions can cost $100 USD and up, pricing some folks out of participating). The platform has also nurtured a friendly and enthusiastic collector class, and compared to venture capital-backed NFT Gateway and OpenSea the difference in mood and atmosphere is palpable. The platform will lean into what makes it unique in the future as plans are afoot to invite power user artists and collectors to participate in its governance.

Image: Hic et Nunc profile of AI artist Mario Klingemann
Number:
$939,357.86 USD (292.45 ETH)
Ethereum gas fees for NFT transactions on OpenSea this afternoon (data courtesy of Ether Scan Gas Tracker)
Fave:
“How can we leverage NFTs but not reproduce the same power structures that already exist and without widening the gap between those that succeed and those that don’t?”
Artengine Artistic Director Ryan Stec, on using technology to improve all artists’ lives
Commentary:
Elena Zavelev makes a great point about the role of community in the NFT marketplace. To me this is most novel aspect of crypto-art: artists are collecting one another left and right, at a scale and with a vocal enthusiasm you just don’t see in the traditional art marketplace, which is too financially prohibitive for the kinds of smaller-scale, armchair collectors that are the lifeblood of the NFT markets. On Hic et Nunc, for example, artists regularly sell inexpensive editions, which makes owning their work accessible to a much broader group of people. I’ve written about how these inexpensive editions—and the relative exchange rate of cryptocurrencies around the world, relative to the cost of living—has opened up new economic realities for artists in the Global South. There are massive crypto-art scenes in Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, and the Philippines. I find that extraordinarily exciting.
005 – 24/08: EPISODE 01—Yuri Suzuki (24/08/2021)
The MUTEK Recorder
Episode 01: Yuri Suzuki
Speakers:
Claire L. Evans
Yuri Suzuki
Profile:
Yuri Suzuki
Sound artist Yuri Suzuki works in installation and instrument design and is best known for the synth he designed for Jeff Mills (2015) and his reimagination of the Electronium for the Barbican (2019). More recently, London-based Suzuki became a partner at the international design studio Pentagram, where he has worked on branding projects for clients including Roland and the MIDI association.
Soundbite:
“The Electronium was a lifetime project for Raymond Scott, and he got considerable support and funding from Berry Gordon and Motown Records to develop it. It was intended to be a intelligent instrument—quite similar to today’s Magenta or machine learning-based tools.”
Yuri Suzuki, on one of his biggest inspirations
Reference:
The opus instrument project of Raymond Scott, The Electronium was developed while the electronic music pioneer served as Motown Records’ Director of Electronic Music R&D From 1971–77. Building on his previous experimentation with analog sequencers, the device was envisioned as an “instantaneous performance-composition machine, able to intelligently generate music by responding to sequenced melodic phrases.” It remained unfinished, however, after Scott suffered a severe stroke in 1987. Suzuki picked up the development decades later, and worked with AI specialists Counterpoint to realize Scott’s original vision, and honoured it at the Barbican’s “AI: More Than Human” exhibition in 2019.
Soundbite:
“Raymond Scott tried to make random access memory through soldering analog circuits, it’s absolutely shocking how ambitious he was.”
Yuri Suzuki, underscoring how ahead of his time Raymond Scott was
Soundbite:
“Jeff Mills came to me with an idea about a bespoke instrument. He is known for his use of the Roland TR-909—it’s iconic within his music. So we tried to treat his instrument almost as an art piece, ‘The Visitor’ is a combination between a sculpture and an instrument.”
Yuri Suzuki, on how to respond to an invitation to create an instrument for someone who is nicknamed “The Wizard”
Project:
Commissioned by Detroit techno legend and globetrotting DJ Jeff Mills, The Visitor is a custom synth/drum machine. Suzuki notes the device is was inspired by Mills’ mastery of the Roland TR-909 drum machine, but that it contrasted the iconic Japanese drum machine’s design and interface. The Visitor is still used regularly by Mills during performances, and was exhibitied at the “Weapons” exhibition in Tokyo in 2015.
Soundbite:
“The TR-909 is all straight lines, so I tried to be a bit more playful with ‘The Visitor’ and play with different geometries for the sequencer and the armature.”
Yuri Suzuki, on moving beyond the default box-y design language of syntheizer and drum machine convention
Project:
EZ Record Maker
The antithesis of our current Spotify moment, EZ Record Maker is a joint-venture by Suzuki and Japanese publisher Gakken that endeavours to bring low cost vinyl record creation to the masses. With a dead simple interface, users simply plays audio through the an auxillary cable or USB and then lifts the cutting arm onto a blank disc—and voila, EZ record, made.
Soundbite:
“I love this idea of manifesting yesterday’s dreams—being the future that the past deserves. And looking at the ideas of the past and creating something novel out of them.”
Claire L. Evans, beaming over the ‘analog dreams’ at play within Suzuki’s EZ Record Maker
006 – 25/08: Tides and Tides Again (25/08/2021)
Conversation
Tides and Tides Again
Speakers:
Sabrina Calvo
sava saheli singh
Profile:
Sabrina Calvo
Sabrina Calvo is a transdisciplinary artist who has spent twenty years deconstructing narratives and designing virtual worlds. Calvo is the author of the novels Toxoplasma (2016) and Melmoth Furieux (2021). She rediscovered sewing in 2020, a practice allowing her to build “an intimate poetry between clothing and magic.”
Soundbite:
“I guess that thread is my grandmother—it’s very personal. She was a seamstress first in Tunisia, then in France. I started my life learning art in her seamstress workshop. I learned to draw, to look, and how to listen to people—to appreciate beauty.”
Sabrina Calvo, when asked to identify the thread that runs through her work
work-in-progress:
Reve Riviere
Calvo rediscovered sewing in 2020 and her designs are brimming with cuts, tears, strings, and sashes. See her Instagram account @reve.riviere, where she dutifully logs impressionistic sketches, material samples, and the glorious mess of her sewing table.
Takeaway:
Having worked across fiction, performance, and fashion Calvo points to two common themes that fuel her work. The first is being attuned to dreams and “trying to manifest them” irregardless of medium or material. Secondly, a deep empathy, informed by introspection about what one can offer, and listening closely for what others need.
Takeaway:
Queer and marginalized creators have an opportunity to help others with their stories, by representing alterity and other ways of being, and also by combatting the “monpolization” of spirituality by non-inclusive actors.
Takeaway:
How to nurture a radical, inclusive, art-making practice that is not driven by profit. Stay focused on work you love while learning your craft very well, then, outsource your technical skills. Channel that revenue back to your art and keep your practice pure.
Reference:
Calvo namechecks German philosopher Walter Benjamin as an enduring influence—and references his ruminations on fashion. In Benjamin’s opus Arcades Project, written between 1927 and 1940, he catalogued hundreds of short notes logging observations made in Parisian shopping districts related to capitalism, class relations, aesthetics, and the palpable mood as the 19th century receded from memory. Clothing is a central topic in the Arcades Project, and of it Benjamin famously (and morbidly) wrote “fashion is never anything other than the parody of the motley cadaver.”
Soundbite:
“The two extremes of fashion are death and frivolity… What is happening between these two extremes? When this ephemeral movement of grace is passing through time, passing through desire?”
Sabrina Calvo, on navigating time and desire
Profile:
sava saheli singh
sava saheli singh is the eQuality-Scotiabank Postdoctoral Fellow in AI and Surveillance at the University of Ottawa AI + Society Initiative. In a previous post-doc at Kingston University singh co-produced three experimental short films as part of the Screening Surveillance series, and she is currently researching how teachers use learning technologies in their practice and how this has been impacted by COVID-19.
Soundbite:
“I would call them more than dresses. I don’t know that there’s a word related to clothing that captures what you do. There is a fluidity, there is a colour, there is a texture and it’s been wonderful to watch this work emerge.”
sava saheli singh, commenting on Calvo’s fashion process-focused Instagram account
Soundbite:
“I was a fashion designer in Second Life for ten years basically, and I didn’t want to cross that barrier and engage matter.”
Sabrina Calvo, on her ‘virtual’ origins in fashion
Starting points:
Long before her interest in physical fashion was renewed, Calvo worked on clothing for avatars in Second Life. Predating Fortnite and Decentraland, the original open-ended MMO laid a foundation for our current ‘metaverse moment.’ Launched by Linden Labs in 2003, Second Life’s in-game currency of Linden dollars became a major motivator for many users—bespoke user-generated economies of clothing, jewellery, and architecture flourished, briefly.
Fave:
“Fashion is just being draped in dreams, basically. Dreams are manifest, with us every day, and a form in themself.”
Book:
Toxoplasma
Calvo’s 2016 science fiction novel takes place after the revolution. In it the island of Montréal is under siege—its bridges are blocked by the federal army. Supporters of the old liberal world and those who aspire to an anarchist society are tearing the streets up, seizing the moment and transforming the cityscape into something new, in which human communities survive and reconfigure themselves.
Soundbite:
“Stories are used to manipulate us right now. Politics are all about stories, we’ve seen that over the last five years.”
Sabrina Calvo, zooming out from art to address bigger narratives
Commentary:
Calvo has an expansive practice, spanning writing, game design, and textile work. I loved her graceful way of talking about both the immaterial and the material aspects of art-making, and the “beautiful correlations” she discovers while working across mediums. The practice of sewing by hand, for example, drew her back to writing by hand, after she realized how much of writing passes through gesture. What emerges from the pen is so much different than what emerges from the keyboard, I think because the tip of a pen on paper is a single point of focus, a direct line from the mind through the body and onto the page. Typing, on the other hand, requires a forking of focus: the eyes land in one place, the screen, while the hands are off doing their own thing. Calvo talked about dreams, about the project of making dreams manifest. I think that requires a certain fluid, frictionless relation between body and mind.
007 – 25/08: Sound is the Object (25/08/2021)
Panel
Sound is the Object: Creative Approaches to Mindful Sonic Experiences
Speakers:
Lukas Volz, Grand River, Richard Chartier, John Connell
Profile:
Lukas Volz
Lukas Volz is a neurologist and head of the Network Plasticity Lab at the University of Cologne, where he investigates neural plasticity and the reorganization of human brain networks using neurostimulation and neuroimaging. Lukas undertook graduate studies at the Ruhr-University in Germany and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Max-Planck-Institute for Neurological Research and UC Santa Barbara.
Soundbite:
“We normally talk about attention as if it were one thing. In reality, there are at least three brain systems at work. First, the alerting network, based in our brain stem, which warns us of danger. Secondly, the orienting network, based in the cerebral cortex, it allows us to focus on specific things. Finally, the executive network, it gives us the ability to direct sustained attention over minutes and hours.”
Lukas Volz, on how attention is not monolithic but emergent, from distinct processes and physiology
Takeaway:
The relationship between meditation—focused breathing—and wellness is well documented but the recent ‘mindfulness turn’ has seen a wider public interested in sharpening their attention. Musicians have a place in this conversation and by treating sound as an object (rather than commodity) we might further mold our capacity to listen and be present.
Soundbite:
“Attention is really one of the most essential functions that our brain executes to keep us healthy and alive. Think about predators sneaking up on you, or trying to cross a busy Manhattan street. To cultivate attention, sound meditation offers a unique opportunity because it constantly engages the brain’s three systems in a way that silent meditation cannot.”
Lukas Volz, on audible paths towards mindfulness
Profile:
Grand River
Aimée Portiolia is a Dutch-Italian composer and sound designer who records and performs as Grand River. Influenced by classical minimal music, her debut album Crescente was released in 2017 on Spazio Disponibile and her sophomore album Blink A Few Times To Clear Your Eyes was released on Editions Mego in 2020.
Profile:
Richard Chartier
Richard Chartier is a Los Angeles-based artist and composer. His works explore the inter-relationships between the spatial nature of sound, silence, focus, perception, and the act of listening itself. Chartier has released music on labels including Room40, Editions Mego, and his own imprint LINE. Beyond composition, he has collaborated on installations with artists including Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, and Linn Meyers.
Project:
Aimée Portiolia’s “De Partage” and Richard Chartier’s “Recomposure” are two of the “mindful sonic experiences” offered by Soundworks, a new sound meditation app “without the bells and whistles—or gongs.” The software features daily sound meditations, deep listening courses, educational modules on sound, auditory cognition and the brain—all created in collaboration with artists and grounded in neuroscience.
Soundbite:
“In composing ‘De Partage,’ I took my usual tonal and timbral approach, and self-tested by trying to meditate to it. This was not easy, because the instinct is for the inner-voice to critique and drown out my mediation.”
Aimée Portiolia, on how it is difficult to be your own guinea pig
Soundbite:
“As someone who is not an active meditator, I came into creating ‘Recomposure’ with a frame of reference about what would take people ‘elsewhere.’ When I play live people often come up to me and say ‘why did you only play for 15 minutes?’ when I played for 45. The idea of stopping time is interesting to me and a feeling or experience I try to create.”
Richard Chartier, on the intended effects of his music on listeners
Reference:
At the Network Plasticity Lab, Lukas Volz and team work at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and clinical neurology, with the stated goal to advance our mechanistic understanding of neural information processing in the human brain. To achieve this goal, they design and perform experiments in neurological patients and healthy volunteers, using a multimodal combination of advanced non-invasive methods including functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), diffusion MRI (dMRI), and electroencephalography (EEG). The lab’s published research spans post-stroke cerebral reorganisation, brain stimulation, decision making, learning, and consciousness. “Our quest to advance mechanism-based clinical applications is complemented by furthering our understanding of human consciousness from a neural perspective,” state the researchers.
Soundbite:
“The brain doen’t just ‘listen’ to sensory input, but rather it constructs an internal model of the world while constantly predicting what’s going to happen next. Why does it do that? It saves processing power and allows for a richer experience when there is little—or no—input.”
Lukas Volz, on the subjective experience we call reality
Commentary:
The mindfulness conversation entered brain-bending territory when the neuroscientist Dr. Lukas Volz pointed out that our brains construct an internal model of the world that constantly predicts what will happen next—which means that what we experience in any given moment is not what is actually happening around us. Rather, our brains constantly create their own subjective illusion of reality, which then effectively becomes our reality. How can we gain access to this internal model and improve it, so that we can in turn improve our lives? Dr. Volz suggests that sound is a way in—and that music, with its repetitive patterns and rhythms, might in fact tickle the internal model’s predictive mechanism. I found this unexpected relationship between perception, sound, and time fascinating. It lends a measure of scientific rigor to the promises of mindfulness, of course, but it also explains the primal appeal of music, more generally.
008 – 25/08: Site-Specific Software (25/08/2021)
Q&A
Site-Specific Software: A Conversation with Sarah Friend
Speakers:
Sarah Friend
Charlie Robin Jones
Profile:
Sarah Friend
Sarah Friend is an artist and software developer who engages software as a site-specific media, systems as speculative fictions, and worldbuilding as praxis. She is a participant in the Berlin Program for Artists, a co-curator of Ender Gallery, an artist residency taking place inside the game Minecraft, an alumni of Recurse Centre, and an organiser of Our Networks, a conference on all aspects of the distributed web.
Soundbite:
“I’m creating structures for people to participate in and what happens is always surprising. Sometimes people troll you but often they sincerely engage you and make you think about the work in new ways.”
Sarah Friend, on the pleasure of engaging a public through her work
Soundbite:
“A large portion of the NFT marketplace is people buying and selling JPEGs and as a developer I can’t help but feel the medium is not reaching its full potential. So I wanted to invert the idea of the JPEG.”
Sarah Friend, on not being onboard for the ‘JPEG Summer’ stage of the NFT boom
Takeaway:
The crypto world is awash in protocols that have for better and worse given us many new forms to make sense of. Friend’s body of work is a sustained critique of these new typologies and lays bare how these new mechanics of generating wealth and ascribing value work. Rather than take this new vernacular—mining, minting, owning—for granted, we need to interrogate these new ways of relating and interacting.
Project:
A blockchain based game that says what it does and does what it says, clickmine is Friend’s take on the ‘clicker’ genre. In it, players click to ‘mine’ a virtual plot of land simultaneously minting ERC-20 (Ethereum) tokens, collecting power-ups, and ravaging the landscape. “As wealth is created, it is also destroyed,” she notes in her artist statement, and the commentary clearly extends beyond the browser-based game and applies to the broader crypto ecosystem as well.
Soundbite:
“I like to describe Off as a massively multiplayer prisoners dilemma. Every player has the choice to collaborate or keep their NFT for themselves. It becomes a way to think about what ownership and value means.”
Sarah Friend, on her recent project Off, which turns many of the expectations of NFT consumption upside-down
Project:
Sarah Friend’s Off is an NFT project that is artist edition, artwork, and multiplayer game all at once. 255 collectables, each the exact pixel dimension of various computer, smartphone, and tablet screens, contain both a public and a secret image. Hidden across all secret images is an encrypted essay and its key. With a majority of key shards required to decrypt the hidden sentences, the essay is revealed only if enough collectors are willing to share their images. “Will you choose to cooperate or defect?”
Profile:
Charlie Robin Jones
Charlie Robin Jones is the head of external relations for the cultural strategy group Flamingo, editor-at-large of materialist journal Real Review and UK correspondent of Flash Art, where he writes a quarterly column on fashion.
Soundbite:
“The play of visibility and invisibility is an interesting strand of your work. You look at how one could show or hide things, or read them versus rendering them illegible.”
Charlie Robin Jones, on Friend’s tendency to give and take within her work
Soundbite:
“My peer Martin Zeilinger noted that on NFT marketplaces if you compare the amount of screen real estate dedicated to the image, the actual work, versus its sale history—it’s incredibly revealing which is emphasized.”
Sarah Friend, on close reading NFT marketplace interfaces
Resources:
Circles UBI (the blockchain-based UBI experiment Friend worked on)
• Dean Kissick, “The Downward SpiralSpike (A vital takedown of the aspects of NFT consumption much of Friend’s work critiques)
Remembering Network (Sarah Friend’s digital “seed vault” for threatened and extinct species)
009 – 25/08: EPISODE 02—Mindy Seu (25/08/2021)
The MUTEK Recorder
Episode 02: Mindy Seu
Speakers:
Claire L. Evans
Mindy Seu
Profile:
Mindy Seu
Mindy Seu is a deep thinker about publishing, research, and archives, her recent projects include the much lauded Cyberfeminism Index, which compiled feminist provocations from Donna Haraway’s essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” through present day, providing an invaluable public resource. The New York-based designer is currently undertaking research stints with the MIT Media Lab Poetic Justice group and metaLab Harvard.
Soundbite:
“Hypertext has really been around since the origins of the printed word, if you think about bibliographies, footnotes, indexes—all of these things influenced the cross-referencing systems that we currently see as hyperlinks.”
Mindy Seu, on how hypertext as a concept existed long before HTML
Reference:
The central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law, the Talmund’s importance extends beyond Judaism. Noting how the ancient book’s two layers of margins surrounding the primary text make room for scholarship on the original, and then a second layer of scholarship responding to the first layer, the Talmund radically imagines books as ‘conversations in progress’ rather than fixed and bound things. Cited as a precedent by Ted Nelson and other hypertext pioneers, Seu has internalized the logic of the Talmund in Cyberfeminism Index and other participatory publications and projects.
Soundbite:
“The Talmud is the primary theological and religious text of Judaism, but it is also the primary influence for the modern concept of digital hypertext.”
Mindy Seu, pointing to an ancient precedent
Soundbite:
“I was thinking about the record in two forms as both a noun and a verb. So for the ‘Cyberfeminism Index’ the verb form is how you are recording this revisionist history in progress and retroactively—but also thinking about the record.”
Mindy Seu, on making a ‘living’ archive
Project:
Commissioned by Rhizome, and facilitated and gathered by Seu, Cyberfeminism Index launched in 2020. The site offers a deep archive of hundreds of critical gender studies texts, manifestos, and inititiatives. To aid in navigating its voluminous collection, its interface includes curated ‘collections’ by key voices including original cyberfeminists VNS Matrix, bio-hacker Mary Maggic, and the xenofeminist collective Laboria Cuboniks.
Soundbite:
“As you scroll through, everything that you click is captured in what we call the ‘side panel trail,’ so this is whether intuitive or intentional, we’re trying to build connections between what catches your eye and what you’re trying to build upon.”
Mindy Seu, on visualizing the thought and connection-making that goes on when we browse an archive
Soundbite:
“We also embedded a lot of cross-references to either juxtapose or support a lot of the different entries—there are over 750 entries currently, and growing…”
Mindy Seu, on creating different ways to move across and through the Cyberfeminism Index
Project:
Cyberfeminism Catalog
The precursor to Cyberfeminism Index, Cyberfeminism Catalog was Seu‘s 2019 thesis project at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Much of the legwork for the index was done here, and Seu collected, collated, and ruminated on the origins of 1980s and ’90s origins of cyberfeminism, ”pushing it into plain sight for others to respond and build upon,” in print before HTML.
Soundbite:
“I imagine you had to get in touch with a lot of people to build this index, I wonder how you see the relationship between archives and communities and how they create or inform one another?”
Claire L. Evans, asking about the people and stories, rather than rows and columns, that comprise Cyberfeminism Index
Soundbite:
“There’s an anecdote that I like, this project started in response to the The New Woman’s Survival Catalog which was a feminist response to the Whole Earth Catalog and its publishers made that resource by getting in a car and driving across America and visiting grassroots organizing sites on their trip.”
Mindy Seu, on how a road trip and a feminist ‘survival catalog’ are the distant ancestors of Cyberfeminism Index
010 – 26/08: Greening the Music Industry (26/08/2021)
Conversation
A Greener Restart to the Music Industry
Speakers:
Matthew Herbert
Love Ssega
Profile:
Matthew Herbert
Matthew Herbert is a composer, producer, and writer who has recorded more than 30 albums. These include the much-celebrated Bodily Functions, a score for the Oscar-winning film A Fantastic Woman, and music for the National Theatre. Herbert has performed solo, as a DJ, and with various musicians including his own 21-piece big band and 100-piece choir—from the Sydney Opera House to the Hollywood Bowl—and created installations, plays, and operas.
Soundbite:
“The biggest problem for me is that the music industry is still dominated by white men, about my age probably. If you’re the middle class white man of a major or publishing company, everything is fine and it’s working for you—there’s no need to change.”
Matthew Herbert, on how a few men are too comfortable, to the detriment of everyone else
Takeaway:
The music industry is having a real stocktaking about its environmental impact at the moment. While physical media is passé, the streaming economy is hardly immaterial—Spotify ranks alongside YouTube in its emissions. Musicians that choose to minimize their impact on the environment have difficult decisions to make. While the prospect of economic sacrifice is daunting, it can be received positively: as an opportunity to rethink how musicians release, distribute, and perform.
Takeaway:
We need more punk! Many genres ripple with subversive energy, music—as a force—has histories and tactics it can draw on to make noise that is loud enough to capture the public’s imagination.
Takeaway:
It’s naive to put cultural production outside capitalism, and if musicians are scoring the soundtrack of advertisements promoting wasteful products and services, they are part of the problem not part of the solution.
Profile:
Love Ssega
Love Ssega is a British-Ugandan artist and producer from London, UK. He was a founder member of Grammy Award-winning band Clean Bandit and has a PhD in Laser Spectroscopy from Cambridge University. As a solo artist he has toured globally and been the Musician in Residence of China for the British Council and PRS Foundation. He was also recently commissioned for a national year-long artistic response to the climate action, celebrating underrepresented voices.
Soundbite:
“The transition towards streaming recorded music from internet-connected devices has resulted in significantly higher carbon emissions than at any other point in the history of music.”
Love Ssega, quoting University of Oslo researcher Kyle Devine
Soundbite:
“The systems we operate within, they are designed to do things the worst way possible. It’s way more expensive to travel via train, there’s no tax on aircraft fuel—the wrong things are being subsidized.”
Matthew Herbert, on how environmental ethics are expensive for consumers
Reference:
Founded by Brian Eno and launched earlier this year, Earth Percent is a charity dedicated to interface between the music industry and the climate justice movement. The charity is encouraging artists to rethink their practices and providing a way for music ventures to redirect a portion of their revenue to organizations that are making a difference in the battle against climate change.
Soundbite:
“I won’t fault an up-and-coming young musician who gets the opportunity to go do a headlining gig at a festival in Portugal and takes easyJet.”
Matthew Herbert, on how it’s important to make space for newer artists to establish themselves
Soundbite:
“It’s really frustrating having been thirteen in 1985—I was writing letters trying to get disposable plastic banned. And if you think about now, the billions and billions of tonnes, the emissions really shot up in the 1990s with the rise of neoliberal globalization. I have to face that that is when I started travelling—I’m part of the problem.”
Matthew Herbert, reconciling his gigging with its impact on the environment
Project:
A “contemplation of what it means to be British in 2018,” the cheekily titled The State Between Us brought together 1,000 musicians as the Matthew Herbert Big Band. A sixteen track album signifying a trek across the country, with a stopover in English Channel and solemn acknowledgment of the Grenfell Tower Fire, Herbert promoted unity and inclusivity in response to Brexit-fueled xenophobia. Pitchfork’s Jazz Monroe noted the record’s “grand vision could easily live on as a post-colonial, anti-nationalist allegory.”
Number:
20–60 Million Tonnes
Greenhouse gas emissions generated per year by the music industry (including streaming, venues, touring, and merch and physical media production)
Fave:
“Who are we waiting for? Another Ghandi? Is that who it will take to stop us from shopping and travelling ourselves to death?”
Matthew Herbert, urging action
Soundbite:
“It needs to be feminist, it’s needs to be anticapitalist, and antiracist, and it needs to be environmentally sound.”
Matthew Herbert, on the governance we need (and that that he hopes Generation Z will usher in)
Soundbite:
“Look at the Dakota pipeline in America, and resistance to pipelines in Canada as well. The voices, ideas, and tactics are all there—in Indigenous resistance.”
Love Ssega, on the road-tested environmental activism playbook that is right in front of us
Soundbite:
“This is an incredible opportunity, it’s a great gift for a thoughtful and introspective government to absolutely restructure society in a positive direction. Restructure our work-life balance and our relationship with travel. Unfortunately we have a terrible government in the UK, and there are many more horrible ones around the world.”
Matthew Herbert, on what might be a truly squandered opportunity with pandemic economic bailouts awarded to the fossil fuel industry over the last 18 months
Commentary:
It strikes me that the conversation about sustainability and music reached a kind of critical mass earlier this year, in tandem with what Sarah Friend yesterday referred to as the “JPEG summer” of NFT hype. During that initial upwelling of interest in crypto-art, audiences, collectors, and critics alike were actively measuring the carbon footprint of individual artworks using calculators like CryptoArt.wtf—a tool that was eventually retired after it was being used to harass and abuse artists in this space. A consequence of those heated conversations, however, was a larger reckoning about the carbon footprint of so many other things artists take for granted as being part of the the cost of doing business: touring worldwide in gas-guzzling airplanes, buses, and cars, the detrimental ecological effects of printing and shipping merchandise, and what it takes to have every song in the world available for streaming on a moments’ notice. Ultimately it seems there is no 100% environmentally sustainable way to build an economically sustainable career.
011 – 26/08: Does Volume Equal Power? (26/08/2021)
Panel
Does Volume Equal Power? The Use of Sonic Intensity in Electronic Music and Digital Arts
Speaker:
Analucia Roeder, Sol Rezza, Gabrielle HB, Amanda Guiterrez
Profile:
Gabrielle HB
Gabrielle HB is a sound artist working between the unceded territories of Nitaskinan and Tiohtià:ke, known as Lanaudière and Montreal. She uses voice, words, synthesisers and field recording to generate works, oscillating between free improvisation and slow composition. Her album Playing the Daily Scores was presented during the 2020 edition of Suoni per il Popolo festival and she is a member of Le désert mauve and Jardin.
Soundbite:
“As I approached the venue, the whole block was shaking. The subwoofers were rumbling, I could feel it in the sidewalk underfoot. It turned out that this was the soundcheck, so I assumed it was the loudest it would get—and I was wrong. I had to leave the venue because I could not handle the intensity.”
Gabrielle HB, on a show that was so loud, she still remembers its volume
Takeaway:
The empathy and respect implicit in consent culture could easily be extended to sound. As digital art and music lovers we’ve gone to one or two shows that were just unbearably loud—and experienced the ringing in our ears hours or days later. In hindsight, isn’t that discomfort, to say nothing of the permanent hearing damage, a violation?
Takeaway:
Embodiment and immersion are ubiquitous ideas that we all understand. We desire stimulation and expect it from our digital media. However, perhaps we need to step back from this consumptive mindset and think about the types of experience we want and need, versus always default to the spectacular.
Takeaway:
The influence of AI is pronounced on many aspects of culture, but relative to listening it’s a bit more subtle in its influence. If algorithms are now tasked with aspects of mixing and mastering; compressing frequencies to conserve bandwidth; and building our custom-tailored playlists based on mood, previous activity, and demographics, they’re tangibly changing how we listen and what we hear, as well as picking the soundtrack to our lives.
Soundbite:
“Just like we have the one to five little red chillies on the menu that describe how hot the dish is at the restaurant—I think we need something similar for concerts.”
Gabrielle HB, on how promoters could signal how loud shows would be to listeners.
Profile:
Amanda Guiterrez
Amanda Gutiérrez is a Ph.D. student at Concordia University who uses a range of media, such as sound and performance art, to investigate the aural culture of everyday life. Gutierrez is actively advocating for listening practices while being one of the board of directors of the World Listening Project and serving on the scientific comitée of the Red Ecología Acústica México.
Reference:
As one of the driving forces in London’s early dubstep scene Steve Goodman (aka Kode9) knows a thing or two about bass music. His interests in dance music were always paralleled by deeper interests in sound as a type of violence, or mode of control, and PhD research he conducted on these topics was the subject of his 2012 book Sonic Warfare. In it, Goodman ties together many twentieth century threads—futurism, militarization, nefarious R&D—to map out the weaponization of sound. “The production of the ecology of fear is intensified under the shadow of ‘shock and awe,’” he writes of technologies like LRAD coming of age in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq.
Profile:
Analucia Roeder
Analucia Roeder is a Lima-based multimedia artist working across documentary, live visuals, generative art, and VR. Currently part of MUTEK’s AMPLIFY D.A. cohort, her 2016 documentary Cocachauca (2016) was awarded Most Innovative Film at Argentina’s CINECIEN and she premiered her first solo VR experience, Inside A at London’s Sommerset House Studios.
Soundbite:
“I think not only of the trust audiences have in artists, but that we artists have in audiences. Because we are trusted perhaps we feel compelled to overwhelm our audiences’ senses.”
Analucia Roeder, underscoring that less is indeed more
Soundbite:
“Is there a way to redomesticate our senses? Is there a need for it? If we think of silence or emptiness as an invitation to create, why aren’t we addressing our audiences as curious minds, that are not only there to be amazed, but there to take part in a conscious process.”
Analucia Roeder, suggesting that spectacle is highly overrated
Reference:
The loudness war is the name of the trend of increasing audio levels in recordings over the last four decades. The shift from analog media to the (digital) compact disk ushered in myriad signal processing possibilities, including enhanced dynamic range compression and equalization, which has resulted in engineers amping up intensity in search of a ‘hotter’ sound. “Waging the Loudness War means finding new and better ways to decrease or ‘compress’ dynamic range, so that a record’s average levels are nearly as high as the peaks,” writes Greg Milner in a chapter dedicated to the ‘wars’ in Perfecting Sound Forever (2009).
Profile:
Sol Rezza
Sol Rezza is an Argentinean composer and sound designer fusing experimental electronics with immersive audio. A specialist in audio spatialization and digital storytelling, she develops her work in virtual environments and live performances moving between art, psychoacoustics, and technology. Her work has been featured at festivals including CTM Festival & Deutschlandradio Kultur (DE), MUTEK (CA), and File Prix Lux Festival (BR).
Soundbite:
“AI has had a significant impact on workflow. Assisted mixing, assisted mastering, and assisted composing are all increasingly prominent. As artists we know that any intervention has crucial impacts on our processes. But most of the time these processes are overlooked.”
Sol Rezza, on how algorithmic ‘optimization’ and ‘streamlining’ are more insidious than we might think
Soundbite:
“Androids may not dream of electric sheep yet, but they have much more impact than that—they make decisions for us.”
Sol Rezza, on what we give up when we hand the reins over to automated systems
Commentary:
Recently I went to a NASCAR race. I’ve never experienced such a sonic assault; the dull roaring drone of twenty high-powered cars tearing across a concave circuit was physically obliterating. Volume is everywhere. In many situations, it’s beyond our control. As artists, we have the responsibility to use volume mindfully. Sonic intensity is common, but sonic intensity with purpose, deployed conscientiously, with clear markers so that audiences can consent to entering into the experience, is rare.

I appreciated Gabrielle HB’s call to explore a diversity of intensity in electronic music. Our culture seems to take loudness as a default—she referred to it as a “culture of loudness.” Perhaps it’s easy to be loud. It’s shorthand for power. It’s like in visual art—bigger paintings sell. There’s something about presence that captures the market’s imagination, that sweeps audiences away. It’s more difficult to be subtle. Perhaps the pandemic, the kind of interiority that the pandemic has sparked in us collectively, will reveal a more diffuse, quiet, and nuanced end of the sonic spectrum.
012 – 26/08: EPISODE 03—Samaneh Moafi (26/08/2021)
The MUTEK Recorder
Episode 03: Samaneh Moafi
Speakers:
Claire L. Evans
Samaneh Moafi
Profile:
Samaneh Moafi
Samaneh Moafi is a Senior Researcher at Forensic Architecture, a London-based research agency investigating human rights violations and violence committed by states, police forces, militaries, and corporations. As head of the group’s Centre for Contemporary Nature, she develops “new evidentiary techniques for environmental violence,” including analyses of environmental racism in Louisiana (2021) and the destruction of agricultural plots at the edge of the Gaza Strip (2014-).
Soundbite:
“Forensic Architecture does counter-forensics. We use publicly available images, videos, data sets, and other sources of information to deconstruct state narratives.”
Samaneh Moafi, on Forensic Architecture’s research methodology
Soundbite:
Cloud Studies is a reading across a series of our investigations of toxic clouds, from Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia and the US–Mexico border. We breathe carcinogens, the cloud of tear gas forces protestors off the street, and the smoke of the forest fires is lingering on our horizons.”
Samaneh Moafi, on ‘the cloud’ as a figure, a subject of investigation, and a trace of violence
Project:
Commissioned for the Manchester International Festival and currently on view at The Whitworth art gallery, “Cloud Studies” is an exhibition that builds on several of Forensic Architecture’s research projects that “explore and expose how power reshapes the very air we breathe”—from Palestine to Beirut, London to Indonesia and the US–Mexico border. “Tear gas clouds spread poison where we gather, bomb clouds vaporize buildings, chemical weapons suffocate entire neighbourhoods and air pollution targets the marginalized,” the group states. “Our air is weaponized. Our clouds are toxic.” Mixing science, art, journalism, and protest, the group gathered historical maps, pollution data, 3D models and footage from various sources, including social media, to take stock of ‘the gaseous’ as a site of violence and clouds as “the epitome of transformation.” The Whitworth show expands on an earlier iteration produced for “Critical Zones: Observatories for earthly politics” at ZKM Centre for Art and Media in Karlsruhe in 2020 and includes the first phase of a major new investigation on environmental racism along the banks of the Mississippi in Louisiana. “Here, majority-Black communities whose ancestors were enslaved on these grounds breathe the most toxic air in the US—leading to the region’s nickname, ‘Cancer Alley.‘”
Soundbite:
“Clouds dissipate into the atmosphere, so how can we define and bring accountability for them? We need to start developing new evidentiary techniques around the formation of clouds.”
Samaneh Moafi, on the challenge of documenting the ephemeral
Note:
Earlier this month, Forensic Architecture temporarily closed “Cloud Studies” in protest, after The Whitworth art gallery caved to pressure by the UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI)—the same group that contested Forensic Architecture’s Turner Prize nomination—to remove a statement in support of Palestine. After the show reopened with the statement reinstated, Forensic Architecture penned a Guardian op-ed noting “galleries increasingly look to host political art, institutions and publics alike should not be surprised when political art is, well, political.”
Soundbite:
“We constructed this CGI model of the Beirut port explosion from images and videos that were posted online. Our model is a poly-perspectival one that brings together different situated testimonials of the violence.”
Samaneh Moafi, unpacking the group’s investigation of the Beirut port explosion that occured summer 2020, killing more than two hundred people, wounding thousands, and destroying large parts of the city
Soundbite:
“What is the role of architecture then, in bringing together all these different records?”
Samaneh Moafi, asking how the ‘architectural toolkit’ of representational techniques can be used to bear witness and consolidate individual accounts
013 – 27/08: Orchestrating Audience Journeys (27/08/2021)
Conversation
Orchestrating Audience Journeys for Physical Experiences at Global Scale
Speakers:
Ryan Howard
Tina Blakeney
Profile:
Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard leads a global portfolio of experiential programs at Google with a focus on enabling experiences at enterprise scale. Previously, he led similar programs at Goldman Sachs and worked as a design and engineering consultant spanning a wide range of creative technology applications.
Profile:
Tina Blakeney
​​Tina Blakeney is a Director of Production in the Thinkwell Group’s Montréal Studio, where she draws on her background in the creative and digital industries, themed environments, immersive experience design, video production, and post production. Blakeney is an experimental filmmaker, photographer and VJ, working with 8mm and 16mm film for live performances and installations.
Soundbite:
“A lot of design is thinking about transactions. I don’t just mean financial ones, but around brand reception and community interaction. Thinking about what is being exchanged and what is desired, is a good way to start a conversation about value.”
Ryan Howard, on setting an agenda for a design project
Takeaway:
Tech companies like Google find themselves in a (fairly) unique position of designing products and experiences for individual users and billion-plus audiences. This unprecedented scale has prompted considerable internal soul searching about guidelines for accessibility and flexibility.
Takeaway:
Contemporary users expect emotional engagement, not just functionality or rich user experiences. This spans software and space and the expectations about these two realms are not mutually exclusive.
Soundbite:
“I think a way to frame the changes that are going on right now is that many companies find themselves moving away from the idea of ‘content management systems’ towards ‘journey management systems.’”
​​Tina Blakeney, on moving beyond information architecture towards full-on experience design
Soundbite:
“Applying notions of responsive design into physical as well as digital space opens up interesting conversations about scale. When we are talking about scale, how do we confront the biases that we begin to introduce?”
​​Tina Blakeney, on (wanting to avoid) making assumptions about audiences
Soundbite:
“The baseline problem that we are trying to solve is that there are screens everywhere in the world right now—of myriad sizes and aspect ratios. How do you create content that works in all those contexts? How do we free content from the web browser and bring it to multiple contexts?”
Ryan Howard, on creating flexible systems versus static designs
Project:
The Grove Experience Center is a project to emerge from Thinkwell and Google’s ongoing collaborations on spatial design. Taking inspiration from its California environs, the space engages in playful biomimicry, with structural and decorative nods to the trees Redwood City is named after. The center’s spaces contain numerous examples of hybrid experiences Blakeney and Howard describe, including a ‘digital campfire,’ a Google Assistant-powered gathering space, to a whimsical tunnel scored by machine learning-generated tunes.
Soundbite:
“User journey is always centred on the human. Whether that is an audience of a thousand or a single person.”
Ryan Howard, on user flow as first principle
Soundbite:
“It’s not just about wow moments, it doesn’t always have to end in something fantastic. Small daily interactions can be simple and intuitive—not everything has to inspire.”
​​Tina Blakeney, on resisting the urge to always make grand gestures
Commentary:
This might be tangential, but I wanted to share an anecdote: when I was writing my book, Broad Band, I profiled a group of women who built one of the earliest online services targeted explicitly to women, a First-Class BBS community called Women’s Wire, which became women.com in the early ‘90s. There was a tension within the Women’s Wire group that occurred at a key moment between the era of dial-up services, listservs, and message boards and the dawn of the World Wide Web. Basically, they couldn’t agree what the internet was for. Was it an information resource—a place where people went to get weather reports and stock updates—or was it an exchange—a place people went to share their experiences with others? Choosing one side, at the time, seemed vital to building a coherent business. One member of the team, however, told me something that I think is very wise. “At a certain level of intensity in an either/or argument,” she said, “the fact that it has reached that intensity is the indicator that the right answer is and.” When we’re talking about bridging between screens, and between meatspace and cyberspace, we should keep that in mind: we’re long past “either/or.” The answer is always “and.” And is fertile. We’re inhabiting a great big “and” right now, with this Forum, which exists everywhere and nowhere at once.
014 – 27/08: AI and Human Intention (27/08/2021)
Panel
The Question of Autonomy and Human Intention in Art and AI
Speakers:
Isabella Salas, Yuri Suzuki, Maya Indira Ganesh, Ali Nikrang
Profile:
Isabella Salas
Born and raised in Mexico City, Isabella Salas’ interdisciplinary artworks use artificial intelligence, video, synthesized sound, video projection as medium to create multisensorial digital experiences based on neuroaesthetics design. Her work has been presented in digital art institutions including the Societe des Arts et Technologies, MUTEK AI Lab, Gamma XR Lab, TransArt Festival.
Profile:
Maya Indira Ganesh
Maya Indira Ganesh is a tech and digital cultures theorist. Her dissertation research examined the political-economic, social, and cultural dimensions of how the ‘ethical’ is being shaped in data-field worlds, rich in histories and imaginaries, of AI and autonomous technologies. Prior to this, she worked at the intersection of gender justice, digital activism, and international development.
Soundbite:
“What I am interested in is how the technology becomes seductive in enhancing and augmenting what humans already do. Perhaps there is more that is opaque or inaccessible about the way that AI technologies are architected, further up the chain. But things appear to the user as fairly remarkable, overwhelming even, in what the tool is able to do or generate.”
Maya Indira Ganesh, reminding us not to be blinded by novelty or (seeming) complexity
Takeaway:
Because we can’t define creativity precisely, attempts to categorize algorithmically produced work as ‘creative’ or ‘not creative’ are futile. The discussants all sidestepped a question to this effect and they instead seemed more interested in clarifying how AI helped their process than judging the authenticity of what (or how) their machines produced.
Takeaway:
Intentionality is just as thorny as ‘creativity,’ and using that as a lens for analyzing automation prompts a few interesting questions. First, to what degree can an artist or creator erase themselves from a process they set in motion? Second, how have automation’s failures—glitches, crashes—impacted our aesthetics?
Profile:
Yuri Suzuki
Sound artist Yuri Suzuki works in installation and instrument design and is best known for the synth he designed for Jeff Mills (2015) and his reimagination of the Electronium for the Barbican (2019). More recently, London-based Suzuki became a partner at the international design studio Pentagram, where he has worked on branding projects for clients including Roland and the MIDI association.
Profile:
Ali Nikrang
Ali Nikrang is a key researcher and artist at the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria. His background is in both technology and art, and his research centers around the interaction between human and AI systems for creative tasks, with a focus on music. He is the creator of the software Ricercar, an AI-based collaborative music composition system for classical music.
Soundbite:
“I notice that some artists that use AI are looking for moments when the algorithm intervenes, like a glitch, the machine showing itself as kind of an aesthetic. So there is something to be said about the actual process of selecting what gets into a final work.”
Yuri Suzuki, on using AI versus picking things that sound machinic
Soundbite:
“One question that is coming is ‘do we have to pay royalties?” for art created by machine learning trained on existing art protected under copyright.”
Yuri Suzuki, on the lawsuits on the horizon
Reference:
Focused on the daunting question “can machines think?,” Ars Electronica Futurelab’s Interaction and Collaboration in AI-based Creative and Artistic Applications research group focuses squarely on AI co-creation. Their portfolio of projects includes the AI-based Musical Companion Ricecar, an AI intervention that speculatively completed Gustav Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony, research into AI instrument antecedents, and ruminations on how machines perceive music.
Soundbite:
“When I’m communicating with AI, I feel like I’m talking to a two-year-old, it’s sleepy, and cries, and just does what it wants. You cannot expect to do exactly what you tell it, and you have to learn to communicate with it.”
Isabella Salas, de-romanticizing machine intelligence
Soundbite:
“One artist that I think is doing very interesting work is Nora Al-Badri, who is a German-Iraqi artist using Generative Adversarial Networks to do speculative archaeology, to look at artifacts and antiquities that have been lost, stolen, or are missing from Iraq. This tells you more about the state of that archive than about AI itself.”
Maya Indira Ganesh, on using AI to catalyze cultural and political conversations versus treating it as an end unto itself
Reference:
Namechecked by Maya Indira Ganesh as compelling case study for thinking about AI and culture, Nora Al-Badri’s Babylonian Vision (2020) uses General Adversarial Networks to create an image of a composite Mesopotamian, Neo-Sumerian, and Assyrian artifact based on a training set of 10,000 photographs from major museum collections. At times using public APIs but “often crawling and scraping without the permission of the institution,” the work creates new synthetic images based on open (and purloined) cultural data. The work of speculative archaeology was shown in the Inga Seidler-curated exhibition “Possessed” at Kunsthalle Osnabrück.
Soundbite:
“I’m always looking for where the shadow human is in the loop.”
Maya Indira Ganesh, reminding us there is always a (hu)man behind the curtain that we should pay attention to
Soundbite:
“The language is so laden with mythology and imaginaries. Even this idea of autonomy is understood as a fetishized isolation. Just look around, nothing works on its own—everything is radically interconnected.”
Maya Indira Ganesh, wondering why we always default to ‘intention’ and ‘autonomy’ when discussing AI
Resources:
  • Kate Crawford, Atlas of AI (2021)
  • Maya Indira Ganesh, “Beauty blooms: Abundant and generous digital futures,” (2021)
  • Ali Nikrang, “AI & Musical Creativity” (2020)
  • Ben Vickers & K Allado-McDowell, Atlas of Anomalous AI (2021)
  • Commentary:
    So much of the discourse around AI and art recently framed the AI itself as an agent of creativity, rather than as a tool through which artists can explore and expand their own perceptions or abilities. I’m all for the thought experiment of trying to appreciate the output of an AI on its own merit—maybe it even helps us to decenter the human perspective—but if I’ve learned anything from my own work researching the history of computation, it’s that we have an almost uncanny ability to gloss over the human in the loop in favor of a good story. And that always causes harm. The very first time the press reported about the ENIAC, the first programmable electronic computer, after it was declassified at the end of the Second World War, they were so seduced by the idea of a giant electronic brain that they completely ignored the fact that the “giant electronic brain” was useless without the teams of programmers who spent weeks setting up problems and physically feeding them, byte by byte, into the machine. We are not doing much better with AI today: a notion lingers that technology is neutral, autonomous, and infallible. What a drag. Artists have an enormous role to play here, both in pushing the technology forward and being very clear about the labor, thought, and intention surrounding work produced with the assistance of AI or machine learning techniques. As Maya Indira Ganesh said during this conversation, there’s always a shadow human in the loop. Where and who are they? What is their intention? What are they trying to say, using this technology as a conduit?
    015 – 27/08: EPISODE 04—Dorothy R. Santos (30/08/2021)
    The MUTEK Recorder
    Episode 04: Dorothy R. Santos
    Speakers:
    Claire L. Evans
    Dorothy R. Santos
    Profile:
    Dorothy R. Santos
    Dorothy R. Santos is the Executive Director of the Processing Foundation. Overseeing the foundation’s advocacy for software literacy in the visual arts, the San Francisco-based writer and curator has been integral in helping execute its mandate of increasing diversity in creative coding communities. In addition to her work for Processing, Santos is a co-founder of the REFRESH curatorial collective, which emerged in 2019 with a focus on inclusivity and promoting ”sustainable artistic and curatorial practices.”
    Soundbite:
    “Dorothy is the Executive Director of the Processing Foundation, whose aim is to promote software literacy within the visual arts, and visual literacy within technology. Processing just celebrated 20 years, so happy anniversary!”
    Claire L. Evans, welcoming Dorothy R. Santos to the MUTEK Recorder
    Soundbite:
    “Since this is The Recorder: I remember meeting Casey Reas in 2011. He actually led a drawing workshop and you didn’t need a laptop. You just needed to show up with paper and pens.”
    Dorothy R. Santos, reminiscing about her first encounter with the American software artist and Processing co-founder
    Soundbite:
    “Little did I know, that ten years later I would be working closely with Casey Reas, Lauren Lee McCarthy, Daniel Shiffman, Johanna Hedva, Cassie Tarakajian, Qianqian Ye, Saber Khan, Evelyn Masso, and Toni Pizza.”
    Dorothy R. Santos, providing a warm roll call of the Processing Foundation team
    Reference:
    Processing, the graphical library and integrated development environment created by Ben Fry and Casey Reas in 2001, has grown from a niche tool into a full-on cultural force. Conceived as a ‘software sketchbook’ that made programming more accessible to visual artists, an enthusiastic community grew around the open source tool during its first decade, contributing libraries and building-out its capabilities. Processing the application was later subsumed by Processing Foundation, the charity, which stewards development but more broadly promotes software literacy and education (and access and inclusion) in the visual arts. The celebration of Processing’s 20th birthday was celebrated with the release of the first beta of version 4.0 (image).
    Soundbite:
    “We constantly think about how we can document the evolution of different programming languages beyond Processing—and be stewards.”
    Dorothy R. Santos, on the Processing Foundation’s expanded mandate
    016 – 30/08: Digital Detox (30/08/2021)
    Keynote
    Screen Time and Digital Detox
    Speakers:
    Safa Ghnaim
    Katja Melzer
    Profile:
    Safa Ghnaim
    Safa Ghnaim is a member of Tactical Tech, an international NGO that engages with citizens and civil-society organizations to explore and mitigate the impacts of technology on society. Lead of the Data Detox Kit and the forthcoming Digital Enquirer Kit project, before joining Tactical Tech Ghnaim developed partnerships and led workshops around the world.
    Soundbite:
    “I’m thinking about the big C, Corona—and everything that goes along with it. Not just the virus, but the news, the environment, and everything I have to take in when I’m doom scrolling. That’s why I’m here today, to talk about screen time and digital detox.”
    Safa Ghnaim, on why the pandemic has made conversations about digital wellness more important than ever
    Takeaway:
    Pop-ups, prompts, notifications—smartphones are attention magnets that demand constant engagement and interaction. The business model of the internet is to capitalize on your attention. With some education and introspection we can regain some of our agency in this (over) stimulating media landscape.
    Takeaway:
    We no longer have a clean division between online and offline anymore. The lack of a distinction brings complications with it—today we’re convening to consider that, as citizens and users, we need a digital detox.
    Takeaway:
    Screen time is potentially nonstop and we have to reconcile that with the rhythm of the day, and our physiological need to rest and rejuvenate at night. You probably shouldn’t engage the internet the same way at 10pm as you do at 10am. Putting some thought into how and what you engage at night—setting limits—is an act of self care.
    Soundbite:
    “We’re not only talking about a digital detox for people that spend too much time on social media—this is about our broader reliance on digital technologies. The point of a digital detox is to acknowledge that the technology we carry in the palms of our hands and in our pockets is complex and multilayered.”
    Safa Ghnaim, on how detox doesn’t necessarily mean ‘refusal’ or (techno) abstinence—just introspection
    Project:
    Collecting everyday steps you can follow to control your digital privacy, security, and wellbeing, Tactical Tech’s Data Detox Kit is a comprehensive and accessible resource intended to educate users of digital technology. Spanning data protection, misinformation, and mental health, the kit contains exercises and inventories that any individual (regardless of tech acumen or age) can go through to manage, moderate, and improve what and how they use the myriad apps and services in their lives.
    Soundbite:
    “We’ve seen during the pandemic that technology amplifies existing problems, rather than necessarily creating new problems. The creators of systems code their biases into them.”
    Safa Ghnaim, on how human-designed technologies and systems reveal structural flaws
    Soundbite:
    “It’s not a foreign and distant land that we’re talking about, every country is having a critical conversation about technology use right now.”
    Safa Ghnaim, on the global backlash against Big Tech
    Project:
    The Glass Room“ was launched by Tactical Tech at Berlin’s HKW in 2016. Fusing exhibition space with classroom, the initiative successfully combines a growing library of artworks that problematize digital technologies with accessible public programing. Several ‘editions’ of the space have been developed, addressing topics including the internet of things and misinformation. The exhibition has toured internationally with stops in New York, London, and San Francisco—and its future itinerary includes The Netherlands and Australia. The exhibition and a ‘pop-up version’ have reached an audience of 219,000, globally.
    Soundbite:
    “Take a pause and notice your body before sharing something online. Maybe you’re experiencing a negative red flag emotion. Find tools and practices that align with your vision. A digital detox shouldn’t be a checklist that you fill but a journey you go on.”
    Safa Ghnaim, on how a simple self-check is a productive pre-post social media strategy
    Commentary:
    Ghnaim began by acknowledging that a “digital detox” is essentially impossible, since we increasingly rely on smartphones as a lifeline to connect us to essential services and to the social fabric of our communities near and far. We simply can’t just throw our phones into the ocean. Only folks in an enormous position of privilege can even entertain the notion, and, as Ghnaim pointed out—going cold-turkey isn’t sustainable, nor is it really the point. I couldn’t help but think of Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing, which places digital detox culture in a historical lineage of absolutist refusal dating back to the Ancient Greek Epicurean garden school. The desire to drop out is all-too-common: Odell cites, too, the failed utopian communes of the ‘70s back-to-the-land movement and Silicon Valley’s current obsession with Seasteading. “Utopia,” of course, means “no-place,” and attempts to sidestep the world completely, however well-intentioned, lead to myopia, tyranny, and collapse. Instead of total renunciation, Odell argues instead for “refusal-in-place,” a way of “standing apart” from the world without running away from it. “To stand apart is to look at the world (now),” she writes, “from the point of view of the world as it could be (the future), with all the hope and sorrowful contemplation that entails.”
    017 – 30/08: (Non-)Human Algorithmic Creativity (30/08/2021)
    Roundtable
    (Non-)Human Explorations into Algorithmic Creativity
    Speakers:
    Celine Garcia, Nao Tokui, Noah Pred, Sarah Ciston
    Profile:
    Nao Tokui
    Nao Tokui is an artist, DJ, and researcher, and the founder of Qosmo, an AI creative studio based in Japan. While pursuing his Ph.D. at The University of Tokyo, he released his first album and other singles, including a 12-inch with Nujabes, the legendary Japanese hip-hop producer. Since then, he has been exploring the potential expansion of human creativity through AI.
    Soundbite:
    “I’m not interested in imitating what’s already been created. Nor am I interested in streamlining production to make hit music more economically. AI is a tool that helps you make interesting, meaningful mistakes.”
    Nao Tokui, setting out some ground rules for the session
    Takeaway:
    Part of artists’ responsibility is to misuse tools. Designers never anticipate what creatives will do with their inventions, and the tensions between designers and users pushes tools (and practices) forward. AI intervenes in this process, creating new opportunities for us to be surprised by art, and also necessitating new criteria for evaluating it.
    Takeaway:
    Like the lawsuits over sampling that happened in the early 1990s, computer-assisted creativity will soon be the site of serious litigation. Many questions of copyright, influence, and derivative works will inevitably soon be in the spotlight, as we re-draw the boundaries between protecting intellectual property while making space for algorithmic (co-)creation.
    Takeaway:
    Generative approaches to making art are liberatory. They free creators from centuries old rigid framings of where authorship begins and ends, while also creating some space between intent and execution—separating the artist’s ego from the work.
    Soundite:
    “If a tool is too well-packaged, it’s difficult to misuse.”
    Nao Tokui, on keeping tools a little messy and dangerous
    Profile:
    Celine Garcia
    Celine Garcia is a manager and publisher who has produced numerous innovative musical projects. She is the project manager of French musician SKYGGE, who is at the vanguard of AI technologies and music creation. In 2017, she oversaw the publication of SKYGGE’s album, Hello World; shortly after, she joined together to found Puppet Master Label & Publishing in 2018.
    Soundbite:
    “There are two types of AI outputs. The spontaneous—generated by AI—and the assisted, where the machine or system helps the musician.”
    Celine Garcia, clarifying the (quite) different types of art we can make with machines
    Profile:
    Noah Pred
    Noah Pred is a Canadian artist exploring generative audio-visual and multimedia installation work. A Juno-nominated producer, he has released on labels such as Cynosure, Highgrade, and Trapez LTD. Founder of the acclaimed Thoughtless imprint, Pred is an accomplished DJ who has toured worldwide. As a freelance sound designer, he has worked for Native Instruments and Ableton, among others.
    Soundbite:
    “For me everything ranging from the tiling patterns of ancient mosques to the cut-up poetry of artists like William S. Burroughs falls under the umbrella of generative art”
    Noah Pred, pointing out that there has always been ‘automation’
    Soundbite:
    “Algorithmic tools give us the ability to create compositions with intricacy that even the most talented performers would struggle to perform.”
    Noah Pred, on how digital audio workstation (DAW) software and algorithmic tools render traditional notions of musical virtuosity obsolete
    Reference:
    The third edition of MUTEK AI Art Lab took place in spring 2020 and set out to “explore AI conceptual perspective, to deconstruct popular assumptions about AI, and to investigate our relationship with this cognitive science and its ever-increasing place in our daily lives.” Led by curator Natalia Fuchs, along with organizers Maurice Jones, Peter Kirn, Max Frenzel, and Habib Hajimolahoseini, the team convened a working group of 14 artists from 6 countries including Alexandre Burton, Lucas LaRochelle, and Isabella Salas. “The character of this AI Lab is all about how to figure out where creativity and AI expertise can connect and what they might do together,” explains Kirn in the recap video on MUTEK’s website.
    Profile:
    Sarah Ciston
    Sarah Ciston is a Mellon Fellow and PhD Candidate in Media Arts and Practice at the University of Southern California and a Virtual Fellow at the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society in Berlin. Their research investigates how to bring intersectionality to artificial intelligence by employing queer, anti-racist, anti-ableist, and feminist theories, ethics, and tactics. They also lead Creative Code Collective—a student community for co-learning programming using approachable, interdisciplinary strategies.
    Soundbite:
    “AI does not really understand the problem you want to solve.”
    Sarah Ciston, quoting Janelle Shane on how our desire to anthropomorphize automation is misguided
    Soundbite:
    “There might not be machinic agency as such, but generative systems open up new thresholds of speed and scale. Nonhuman generative systems can also offset existing myths of the genius auteur and the omniscient, rational machine.”
    Sarah Ciston, moving beyond the usual AI analysis tropes of ‘intention’ and ‘authorship’
    Commentary:
    Nao Taokui explains that the history of music technology is a history of misuse, misapplication, and misappropriation. The makers of the vinyl record had no way of anticipating turntablism, for example—that was an innovation brought by artists using records “wrong.” Another good example is the early history of the synthesizer and the drum machine, technologies initially created to replace live string sections and drummers for the purposes of creating inexpensive demo recordings. Many musicians at the time were seriously opposed to this. The British Musicians’ Union—bless their hearts—tried to ban synthesizers in the ‘80s. Ultimately, however, artists figured out how to use these tools “wrong,” pushing and bending them to create techno, hip-hop, New Wave, post-punk, house, and basically all the interesting music of the 20th century. This seems to happen again and again: technologies arrive that claim to simplify a process while implicitly displacing or automating creative workers, until creative workers stop that from happening by making the technology central to a new form of creative work that only they can do. It’s like defusing a bomb by turning it into an engine. Why should AI be any different?
    018 – 30/08: EPISODE 05—Xiaowei Wang (30/08/2021)
    The MUTEK Recorder
    Episode 05: Xiaowei Wang
    Speakers:
    Claire L. Evans
    Xiaowei Wang
    Profile:
    Xiaowei Wang
    Writer and designer Xiaowei R. Wang is driven by beliefs in the “political power of being present, in dissolving the universal and categorical.” They are the Creative Director of Logic, and author of Blockchain Chicken Farm, a book that looks to rural China—not their homefront Silicon Valley—as a locus of tech-innovation. Wang’s recent artistic works include Future of Memory (2019-), an exploration of language and algorithmic censorship, and Shanzhai Secrets (2019), which explores consumption and copyright by way of Shenzhen.
    Soundbite:
    Blockchain Chicken Farm is a book about tech in China’s countryside that looks at a series of contemporary moments. At blockchain chicken farm, this actual farm that I visited, for example, all the chickens wore chicken fitbits that tracked their movements—they were heavily surveilled—and blockchain was used in order to guarantee food safety and track provenance.”
    Xiaowei R. Wang, on looking to rural China rather than North American or European consumer electronics as the locus of tech innovation
    Soundbite:
    “In terms of recording, in the book I have a lot of speculative recipes. Recipes are a format that I see as a way of recording in the field. Whenever I visit people, I try to share meals with them and gather recipes.”
    Xiaowei R. Wang, on breaking bread as research ritual
    Project:
    Published last year, Blockchain Chicken Farm is not specifically about any of the things mentioned in its title but a sustained analysis by Wang that looks to rural China as the locus of tech innovation. Decentering the white North American or European tech consumer as ‘the subject’ of innovation, the book looks to food, agriculture, and the East Asian (agrarian) citizen as sites where new technologies are integrated into the fabric of everyday life. Leaning into the centrality of food, Wang includes a number of ‘sinofuturist recipes’ that extrapolate different futures, based on shifting norms and scarcity.
    Soundbite:
    “I want to quickly show you some of the things I have in my kitchen right now. I have some osmanthus flower—I’m going to make a tea with it. It’s a lovely cooling drink to which I’ll add licorice root, some hawthorn slices, and some hibiscus.”
    Xiaowei R. Wang, sharing a fragrant kitchen inventory with MUTEK Recorder viewers
    Soundbite:
    “I really love thinking about the kitchen as a studio or gallery. There’s always something that’s really feminized about the kitchen and often ignored. Recipes are often discredited because it’s seen as a form of feminized labour.”
    Xiaowei R. Wang, on resisting the erasure of the kitchen—by foregrounding it
    019 – 31/08: Poetics of Interactive Clothing (31/08/2021)
    Conversation
    The Poetics of Interactive Clothing
    Speakers:
    Ying Gao
    Joanna Berzowska
    Profile:
    Ying Gao
    A Montréal-based fashion designer and professor at the Université of Quebec in Montréal, Ying Gao questions our assumptions about clothing by combining fashion design, product design, and media design. She explores the construction of the garment, taking her inspiration from the transformations of the social and urban environment. Her work has been featured globally, at venues including the Textile Museum of Canada, the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design, and HeK Basel.
    Takeaway:
    For better or worse, fashion is is cyclical and animated by rhythms of obsolescence that drive consumption. What if fashion was a more sensitive register of what was happening in the world? We have haute couture, why not expand our conception of fashion to include clothes that are critical or speculative?
    Takeaway:
    Like with art, fashion is about sparking the imagination of the viewer. Designers in interactive fashion and wearable technology are acutely aware of the centrality of representation. Unlike disposable ‘fast’ fashion, more conceptual designs wiill never be worn, so what or how they work (or how they were made) has to be communicated in other ways. To work in this field is as much about being a creative director or filmmaker as a designer of clothing.
    Soundbite:
    “For me, the primary condition for practicing design is the capacity to assimilate the idea that an object comes before its image. That is to say, you don’t create an object with the goal of creating an image. You must think of the object first, and the image second. These days, especially with Instagram, we’re tempted to create an image quickly, before the object itself is fully conceived.”
    Ying Gao, on focusing on concept before worrying about aesthetic
    Soundbite:
    “For once, the body is outside of the clothes. The body isn’t inside the clothes. The clothes do not cover the body. They’re separate. The object of consumption has left that which consumes it. You don’t consume my garments, you observe them.”
    Ying Gao, on how her fashion resides in the imagination of the viewer
    Project:
    Whether intentional or not Purple Skin (2020), captures the PVC zeitgeist of post-pandemic life. Described as “artificial skin,” Gao’s silicon, glass, and polyethylene design creates a protective layer between wearer and world. ”Ambivalently evoking skin folds and wounds,” the thick pseudo-fabrics and helmet play with material expectations while projecting an aesthetic that simultaneously evokes the smartness of a Vogue spread and the cringe of David Cronenberg-style body horror.
    Definition:
    Soft sculpture: Ying Gao’s shorthand for fashion-as-object, clothing that is ambiguous enough to escape being pigeonholed strictly as either ‘art’ or ‘design.’
    Profile:
    Joanna Berzowska
    Joanna Berzowska is the founder and research director of XS Labs, a design research studio focussing on innovation in the fields of electronic textiles and reactive garments. Her research involves the development of enabling methods, materials, and technologies—through soft electronic circuits and composite fibers—as well as exploring the expressive potential of soft reactive structures. Her work has been shown in the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in NYC, the V&A in London, the Millenium Museum in Beijing, and other venues.
    Soundbite:
    “Viewers can’t touch, look at, or feel the sensations of your designs—they can’t inhabit them. How do you think about engaging an audience?”
    Joanna Berzowska, on the fact that most folks that appreciate fashion will never wear it
    Soundbite:
    “The pertinent question that follows is that although this object isn’t meant or destined to be worn, it’s represented by videos and images. We don’t have access to the object itself. We can’t see it, we can’t observe how it’s sewn, how it was conceived, how it moves. Most people see these objects through a screen or in a newspaper. That’s why I make such an effort to produce images that are faithful to my garments.”
    Ying Gao, on the work that goes into communicating fashion that is interactive or makes use of novel production techniques
    Reference:
    Gao cites Paul Virilio’s The Aesthetics of Disappearance as a key influence while paging through a slideshow of her works. Written in 1980, the book re-centres several of the French theorist’s central interests—speed, perception, violence—with the rapid shifts in worldview during globalization. He writes “with speed, the world keeps on coming at us, to the detriment of the object, which is itself now assimilated to the sending of information. It is this intervention that destroys the world as we know it…” While Gao‘s designs do not specifically address speed they all hinge on the notion of altered or radically transformed objects.
    Soundbite:
    “We should redefine the word ‘useful.’ What is useful? A philosophical thought is more useful to a designer than a pair of jeans.”
    Ying Gao, underscoring that she reaches for her Virilio before her Levi’s
    Project:
    A pair of interactive dresses, ostensibly about absence (or at least ephemerality), (no)where (now)here (2013) presents formalwear that is constantly in flux. Made of photoluminescent thread that responds to eye tracking software, the dresses’ shimmer is tied to the gaze of its viewer. Stranger still, there’s no fixed form and the state of the dresses when they are not being viewed, becomes a vexing question.
    Soundbite:
    Is design ephemeral? Everything is ephemeral, but not everything is disposable.
    Ying Gao, making space for fashion that isn’t ‘fast’
    Commentary:
    Gao does not see herself as an ‘haute couture’ designer in the traditional sense, but her garments, like haute couture dresses, are not meant to be worn. Instead, they are “soft sculptures,” and when she considers the body, it’s the body standing outside, looking in. There is an element of post-human strangeness to Gao’s work, in this sense of fractured perspective between wearer and viewer, and because her garments have their own agency, are reactive, appear to breathe, as we breathe, continuously and unexpectedly. It’s beautiful but alienating, which is perhaps why Berzowska was so keen to pinpoint biological inspirations in Gao’s work, comparing her garments to octopi, the fractured perspective of houseflies, and even artificial organisms. Gao refused those interpretations, claiming to draw more inspiration from atmospheric phenomena like clouds, reflections, and mists. These, too, have a lifelike quality—biologically dead, but fluid, mutable, and volumetric. The biological and the chemical, the living and the dead, the metaphoric and the literal, the inevitable and the accidental—as much as Gao professed to compartmentalize, these are ambiguous dualities, especially when expressed through clothing. Perhaps because clothing is the permeable boundary between the body and the world, it can exist in a state of perpetual negotiation.
    020 – 31/08: NFTs, Blockchain, Music (31/08/2021)
    Panel
    NFTs, the Blockchain and the Changing Dynamics of the Music Industry
    Speakers:
    Damien Roach, Lindsay Howard, Matthew McQueen, Phillipe Aubin-Dionne, Shawn Reynaldo
    Profile:
    Damien Roach
    Damien Roach records under the alias patten, and works more broadly across design, installation, film, and live performance. His recent work includes shows at the ICA and Tate Modern in London, an AV tour with SHAPE Platform in 2019, and creative direction and design for Caribou’s Jiaolong label & Daphni project, and animation & artwork for Nathan Fake’s ‘Blizzards’ LP. He is also the force behind the 555-5555 web forum following his creative agency of the same name.
    Profile:
    Lindsay Howard
    Lindsay Howard is the Head of Community at Foundation. A distinguished curator and expert in contemporary art, Howard has spent the last decade organizing projects with the New Museum, Museum of the Moving Image, Kickstarter, Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, and Phillips Auction House. She has written and spoken extensively about digital art and new approaches to valuation, and serves on the board of Rhizome, an organization that champions born-digital art and culture.
    Soundbite:
    “Foundation is a platform that is bridging culture and crypto to build mutual support among these two different communities. In my work I’ve traditionally played the role of curator, working with digital artists to help sell their work. At Foundation, I’ve overseen over 20 million dollars worth of NFT sales.”
    Lindsay Howard, on how her work at NFT platform Foundation is directly aligned with her with her mandate to help artists prosper
    Soundbite:
    “There’s always been a quiet, non-mainstream, point of contact to encourage people to enter into this space. The community aspect, in terms of creators, but also the way that collectors are engaging with the work and what it is they are actually doing when they purchase the work. It’s about mutual support, and patronage.”
    Damien Roach, on the (enthusiastic) invitatations from supportive friends that got him into crypto and NFTs
    Takeaway:
    A common refrain amongst the musicians in this session was that in less than a year, everyone has had their understanding of what selling music is or could be turned upside-down. Albums now feel quaint, touring no longer needs to be a given. The direct connection between NFT creator and buyer eliminates layers of intermediaries (labels, publishers, festivals, venues) and forces a rethinking of what good or service musicians can make, and might want to make.
    Takeaway:
    Stepping back from audience reach and sales numbers, the panelists engaged in a broader conversation about value. There was considerable excitement about moving beyond the thinking associated with fiat currencies as cryptocurrencies like Ethereum (or Tezos, Solana, etc.) can serve as more than just ‘another medium of exchange’—but also enact different ways of conducting business and mediating relationships.
    Soundbite:
    “Just because things are decentralized doesn’t mean they are automatically better. Who has seats at the table is important.”
    Lindsay Howard, debunking one of crypto’s founding myths
    Reference:
    she256
    One of Lindsay Howard’s first Foundation projects was connecting with she256. Formed in 2018, the California-based organizations runs a steady stream of events—‘Crypto Taxes Tips & Tricks,’ ‘NFTs 101’—and a Discord to usher under-represented communities into crypto. The group’s goal: set an inclusive “culture and tone” while the blockchain space is still forming and ripe for influencing.
    Soundbite:
    “The headlines have been about huge sales and crypto’s environmental impact. But there’s a lot more going on here—the radical redistribution of wealth doesn’t get the same airtime.”
    Damien Roach, alluding to the narratives that don’t get coverage
    Soundbite:
    “The ways that artists work is by pushing buttons. And I think that a lot of the critiques around the environmental impact of cryptocurrency were not as well articulated as they are are now. So bringing that energy into crypto has improved the space tenfold.”
    Lindsay Howard, on how the influx of artists and musicians into crypto during the NFT boom has been a benefit to the broader ecosystem
    Profile:
    Matthew McQueen
    Recording as Matthewdavid, Matthew McQueen is an experimental all-genre artist and musician from Los Angeles. He is the founder of Leaving Records, a label established in 2008 whose roster of artists includes Dntel, Laraaji, and Ras_G.
    Profile:
    Philippe Aubin-Dionne
    Jacques Greene is the artist name of Montréal-born and raised DJ and producer Philippe Aubin-Dionne. Between producing for artists like Katy B, Tinashe, and How To Dress Well, he has remixed acts including Radiohead, Flume, Rhye, and MorMor. Aubin-Dionne’s productions include the genre defining “Another Girl,” a revered and widely imitated house anthem with future R&B leanings.
    Soundbite:
    “Right as I left my job and a label partnership a crypto-savvy friend jumped onboard with us: now we have a social token, a DAO, and we’re experimenting with NFTs. We still have a lot of work to do with educating the community but it just feels like it aligns with our ethos and values and why we started a label in the first place—to provide our artists with opportunities.”
    Matthew McQueen, on Leaving Records’ foray into decentralization and community governance
    Soundbite:
    “I found a rhythm on how to engage those that are and aren’t interested in crypto. Now I’m pretty at peace with it.”
    Matthew McQueen, on learning how to engage NFT boosters and haters
    Project:
    “As we explore the possibilities of art on the chain and the promise of web3, we can maybe begin to let go of old systems.” Thus reads the caption for Jacques Green’s song “Promise” which was sold as a 1 of 1 edition on Foundation for 13 ETH in February (then worth $23,000 USD). Interestingly, the song wasn’t all that was for sale and the purchase included the publishing rights, in perpetuity. Viewed in that light the transaction could be considered a thrifty purchase of a copyright versus an extravagant purchase of a short video.
    Soundbite:
    “I have had my ups and downs with the traditional forms of publishing in the music industry. And for me, my first NFT sale kind of boiled down the endless possibilities that emerge from these new protocols.”
    Philippe Aubin-Dionne, on his Foundation NFT sale
    Soundbite:
    “For the last ten years in the music industry, it’s morsely been an unending series of conversations about the tyranny of Spotify and the streaming economy. It is thrilling to be having conversations about new possibilities.”
    Philippe Aubin-Dionne, on how great it is to be optimistic again
    Soundbite:
    I appreciate the candor with which the panelists discussed the pushback they received as a consequence of releasing NFT projects during the peak moment of NFT hype in February-March of this year. Matthewdavid talked about losing sleep; Jacques Green observed that musicians bore the brunt of social media’s fire and brimstone. My own band released a series of NFT stems in March 2020, and I can speak to how heated that moment was—I didn’t get much sleep either. In retrospect, it feels like a moment of collective hysteria, compounded by an extraordinary irony: the one thing that promised to rescue musicians from a year of extreme financial precarity was precisely the thing that most enraged and alienated a substantial portion of their fanbase. Thankfully the conversation has evolved, along with the technology. We now have secondary markets, social tokens for fan communities, and new forms of collective ownership and governance. As Foundation’s Lindsay Howard pointed out, artists have pushed the space forward by pushing buttons and inciting conversation. We must continue to do that—while also making sure that we do not reaffirm the existing hierarchies of the art world or bring the music industry’s more pernicious policies with us into the metaverse.
    022 – 01/09: Blockchain Disruption (01/09/2021)
    Keynote
    The Disruptive Potential of Blockchain
    Speakers:
    Michael Casey
    Catalina Briceno
    Profile:
    Michael Casey
    Michael Casey is Chief Content Officer at CoinDesk, the leading media platform for the blockchain and digital asset community. He writes CoinDesk’s weekly Money Reimagined newsletter and co-hosts the podcast. Casey is also cofounder of Streambed Media, a blockchain-based digital rights management platform. Prior to joining CoinDesk, Casey was a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan School of Management and on-staff Senior Advisor at the MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, where he maintains a pro bono advisory role.
    Soundbite:
    “Until Bitcoin came along, we had no way of enforcing digital scarcity—everything digital could be reproduced. Rather than owning the MP3 or JPEG, you had a license to it. If you tried copying that and selling it—you would be sued.”
    Michael Casey, on what digital copyright has historically looked like
    Soundbite:
    “Now we have a unique identifier connecting to both the creator and the history of the authenticated claim. On this, we can start to build a whole new legal framework.”
    Michael Casey, on the provenance offered by the blockchain
    Takeaway:
    We live in an age of abundance where (some) have access to resources, content, you name it. However, one resource that is not abundant is attention. We all have myriad actors competing for our attention—which makes it tremendously valuable.
    Takeaway:
    An immediate benefit of the NFT economy is seeing marginalized creators flourish. A stodgy institution like Soethby’s is a gatekeeper, arbiter of taste, and caters towards a very particular (white) audience. Decentralized platforms make it easier for marginalized creators to bypass middlemen and all their historical baggage.
    Book:
    Published in 2018, The Truth Machine laid out a foundation for many of the idea discussed by Michael Casey in his keynote. Optimistically framing blockchain as a “society building tool” Casey broadly makes the case that the coming token economy, ‘digital plumbing,’ and shift towards a new era of (increased) self-sovereignty will be net-positive for both creators and consumers. While the changes underscored by Casey and other blockchain evangelists felt distant in 2017-8, it’s remarkable how real and tangible they’ve become in a few short years.
    Takeaway:
    After the NFT collectible craze we may see massive disruption in fundraising. The smart contract terms that direct a portion of secondary sales to creators can easily be used to seamlessly fundraise for worthy causes—piggybacking philanthropy on top of this booming corner of the economy.
    Takeaway:
    Decentralized Autonomous Organizations aren’t on the horizon—they’re already here. A tangible manifestation of crypto’s foundational decentralization, blockchain-powered governance is already being used in all kinds of communities. It’s early days (and a nascent toolkit) but we’re embarking on what will be an ambitious experiment in how organizations, fandoms, investor collectives, record labels, and you name it are co-managed by communities. Will this result in efficient synergy or more middling decision making? Time will tell.
    Soundbite:
    “We had the dot com bubble, people were throwing money at anything, but the reality is that all of that speculation—that capital—translated into brand new business models. We got Google, Facebook, and Web 2.0. To get to that with crypto we need to get through the speculative process in order to get to our new paradigms.”
    Michael Casey, reminding the audience that the dot com boom was intensely speculative
    Soundbite:
    “You can own rights to a piece of digital real estate in the same way you can own rights to a house. Why does this matter? It relates back to Marc Andreessen’s famous essay ‘Why Software Is Eating the World.’ That process is intensifying and it’s speeding up economic opportunity.”
    Michael Casey, alluding to the visceral thesis of the venture capitalist’s 2011 essay as the reason were seeing such explosive growth in crypto right now
    Reference:
    Earlier this year, Kei Kreutler wrote A Prehistory of DAOs,” a sprawling history of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations. Noteworthy DAOs, both active and defunct get air time, as does the significant influence of game guilds; ultimately Kreutler schematizes DAOs as “tokens, teams, and missions,” and “compelling environments players want to inhabit, recognizing narratives, aesthetics, and goals held in common.”
    Profile:
    Catalina Briceno
    As a seasoned Executive and Scholar, Catalina Briceno addresses the digital transition of the media and cultural industries in her research work. Her expertise is based on 20 years’ hands-on experience as an executive producer, followed by decision-making positions within government-related organizations. She is currently a professor for the School of Media at UQÀM where she teaches Media Economy, Strategic watch and Foresight, as well as Information and Network architecture.
    Soundbite:
    “You spoke about crypto kitties, there’s this current pop culture project called Stoner Cats that’s an animated series that has big Hollywood names—Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Chris Rock—attached to it. It quickly raised $9 million for NFTs based on that intellectual property.”
    Catalina Briceno, on one of the more high profile Hollywood-adjacent NFT projects
    Soundbite:
    “Currently, the returns from the crypto boom are very concentrated. An immense amount of wealth is in the hands of a small number of early adopters.”
    Michael Casey, calling for more diversity and a deconcentration of wealth within the noveau cryporich
    Commentary:
    Michael Casey cited Silicon Valley’s current buzzword of choice: the “metaverse.” As a longtime reader of science fiction, I’m bemused by the universal adoption of this term to describe the virtual real estate of the coming crypto-era. As the writer Brian Merchant recently pointed out in a piece for VICE, the “metaverse” has always been a dystopian idea. The word comes from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash—in that novel, the metaverse is a successor to the internet, a massively multiplayer online game that entertains the desperate denizens of a world overrun by mercenaries and corporate overlords. While the metaverse serves as an escape from reality, it reaffirms its hierarchies and exclusions: the poor wear low-quality avatars and have limited access to the gated communities of the virtual world. This isn’t the first time that Silicon Valley has missed the point of its favorite science fiction novels—don’t get me started on cyberpunk—but I hope the leaders in this space take pains to ensure that the leap from IRL to the metaverse isn’t over another yawning digital divide.
    023 – 01/09: EPISODE 07—Tim Maughan (01/09/2021)
    The MUTEK Recorder
    Episode 07: Tim Maughan
    Speakers:
    Claire L. Evans
    Tim Maughan
    Profile:
    Tim Maughan
    Hailing from the UK and now based in Ottawa, Tim Maughan traces the contours of contemporary phenomena including logistics and complexity as a journalist and technology pundit, which informs his science fiction. His debut novel Infinite Detail (2019), which wryly imagined a post-internet future, was heralded as Sci-Fi book of the year by The Guardian. He has also written screenplays for the experimental short films Where the City Can’t See (2019) and In Robot Skies (2018), both directed by Liam Young.
    Soundbite:
    “With new technology or emerging trends I always ask myself this simple question: what could possibly go wrong? It’s become my slightly sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek mantra for thinking about the future.”
    Tim Maughan, on a simple and effective way to speculate (pessimistic) futures
    Soundbite:
    “I want to push back against Silicon Valley optimism which takes science fiction imagery and uses it to sell products and ideas, but minus the critical reflection that good science fiction always provides.”
    Tim Maughan, on how Big Tech reduces big ideas to mere marketing
    Book:
    Published in 2019, Tim Maughan’s debut science fiction novel Infinite Detail flips the table of platform capitalism and delineates a post-internet world. In the same way his earlier short story collection Paintwork riffed on and extrapolated based on what was happening in augmented reality over the last decade, here Maughan projects from the stormy media post-Trump and -Brexit media environment. While things get dire in what emerges from the rubble, Maughan ends with optimism, imagining new decentralized networks growing like weeds.
    Soundbite:
    “One of the ways it bubbled up and out of me into public view was on Twitter, where, for a number of years, I maintained an ongoing Twitter thread that retweeted wide-eyed tech news headlines, with the added question: ‘what could possibly go wrong?’”
    Tim Maughan, on turing tech cynicism into laughs and retweets
    Reference:
    More method than catchphrase, “what could possibly go wrong?” is something Tim Maughan asks a lot. Not a fan on myopic ‘tech optimism’ emanating out of and responding to Silicon Valley, he began using the question generatively. Following Frederik Pohl’s adage “a good science fiction story should be able to predict not the automobile but the traffic jam,” Maughan looks at a tech story—AI, CRISPR, self-driving cars—and imagines outcomes ranging from banal to horrific. The exercise became a long (now deleted) twitter thread, that Maughan revisited—and resurrected—in 2020 for a HOLO-curated workshop at Poland’s Digital Cultures Festival. Under his direction, 30 participants engaged in speculative headline writing by looking at choice articles from Maughan’s collection and asking: “what could possibly go wrong?”
    Soundbite:
    “Defenders of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk demand that we remain respectful and quiet, as tech innovators and disruptors save the world. Asking ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ is an act of defiance. It’s a way to see through capitalism’s hype cycles.”
    Tim Maughan, explaining that, no, Elon Musk is not in fact Tony Stark
    Soundbite:
    “Companies pay people to come in and say ‘everything is going to be great.’ I offer a radically different service to that. It was a hard sell for a while—until Trump came in. Now I get more business.”
    Tim Maughan, on how his design consultancy has pickup in recent years
    024 – 02/09: Creation Without Limits (02/09/2021)
    Keynote
    Creation Without Limits
    Speakers:
    Viktoria Modesta
    David Hershkovits
    Profile:
    Viktoria Modesta
    Viktoria Modesta is a bionic pop artist and creative director. Brought up in London and now based in LA, Modesta is known for her multidisciplinary approach to future pop and performance art with a posthuman edge. Her work embodies sci-fi in real life bridging music, body art, sculptural tech-fashion, and an otherworldly narrative. Modesta changed the world’s perspective on post-disability when she performed as the Snow Queen during the Paralympics 2012, wearing a diamond-encrusted prosthetic.
    Soundbite:
    “At the age of twenty I decided to have a voluntary amputation in order to safeguard my health and that just opened a Pandora’s Box. At the time I was so inspired by Alexander McQueen, Matthew Barney, and the choreographer Ganesh Acharya–and I wanted to see what the modern interpretation of being your own creator is. What happens when you become your own muse.”
    Viktoria Modesta, describing her artistic awakening
    Takeaway:
    Viktoria Modesta is a self-described ‘bionic popstar’ and the fact that framing is so singular is compelling. In all her augmented fierencess, she commands a spot in the pantheon of what a popstar (or anti-popstar) might be alongside fellow trailblazers Arca or Sophie. While pop stars might not have quite the same wattage they used to, they might be getting more interesting. And a line of reasoning Modesta kept returning to that was tantalizing was the idea of ‘constructing’ a popstar or diva as making an avatar or worldbuilding.
    Takeaway:
    As with feature films, pop stars are constructs that emerge from the collaboration of large multidisciplinary teams—but all too often erroneously attributed to a ‘lone auteur.’ Viktoria Modesta was refreshingly candid about how her ideas emerge from close collaboration with niche specialists spanning not just cinematography and production but wearable tech and software art.
    Soundbite:
    “After being born in the USSR and going through hell a lot of the time—being in and out of hospitals—I found myself in London at the age of twelve and at the epicentre of subculture. I spent time interfacing with the most extreme and underground performers, artists, body artists, performance artists, musicians. At the time, it was the perfect escape for me, really, to study how we can redesign our identity through the arts.”
    Viktoria Modesta, on her formative years in London
    Soundbite:
    “In 2012, I played the Paralympics closing ceremony and shortly after that I was fronting the Channel 4 campaign for Born Risky, which was the first ever piece of content that had any kind of budget behind it that tried to tackle how to rebrand disability with a much more bold creative approach.”
    Viktoria Modesta, on the two opportunities that put her on the map
    Reference:
    The release of “Prototype” (2014) was a breakthrough moment for Viktoria Modesta. Directed by Saam Farahmand for Channel 4, the video asked viewers to “forget what they know about disability” and foregrounded an intensely positive (and intensely aestheticized) vision of augmentation and empowerment. Modesta slides and struts on illuminated and diamond encrusted prosthetics, asserting “I’m the pro. I’m the pro. Im the prototype.” Instead of falling back on narratives of ‘overcoming hardship’ (less than) she confidently positions herself as more than human. The video struck a major chord on release, raking up millions of views on YouTube, and earned Modesta a global platform.

    Like many creators Viktoria Modesta used the Foundation platform to capitalize on her pop culture cache at the peak of the first wave of NFT mania. Distilling her “Prototype” video ‘spike dance’ sequence down to its most iconic moments—stripping away the song entirely—it serves a posthuman ballet of measured footsteps and scraping metal. Given the video‘s cultural impact, the short animation commanded an expectedly high fee of 30 ETH (worth $52,000 USD, at the time).
    Soundbite:
    “I feel very distant from a lot of the traditional ideas of transhumanism, cyborgs, and all that. I hope, however, that the pandemic, a time of reduced mobility, inspires people to think about their body and how it interfaces with technology.”
    Viktoria Modesta, on stillness and introspection
    Profile:
    David Hershkovits
    David Hershkovits is the founder of Paper magazine and currently hosts The Light Culture podcast where he interviews cultural disruptors of the past, present, and future. Steeped in the legacy of New York in the 80s, he focuses on the crossover of creative scenes and movements from the underground to pop. He has written for many publications and taught at University of New Orleans and in the School of Media Studies at CUNY, Queens College.
    Soundbite:
    “You’re obviously brave, but from a business view: when your ‘Prototype’ video became a viral success story, and suddenly people wanted you to work with them and you had many offers that you could have pursued in music and pop culture—and you walked away from all that to the MIT Media Lab, which took you to another world.”
    David Hershkovits, acknowledging how Modesta easily could have focused on stardom after breaking through
    Soundbite:
    “I went on to work with a number of incredible innovators and that was all thanks to the MIT Media Lab. I became a fellow there six years ago and I think that was the teleport moment. I went from hospitals in the USSR, to London’s wildest subcultures, to the Media Lab in America.”
    Viktoria Modesta, plotting her geographic trajectory
    Project:
    In 2017, Victoria Modesta collaborated with a cadre of digital artists to produce Sonifica, a performance of “3D printed interactive instrumentations focused on the taxonomy of art, technology and architecture” that was presented during Art Basel Miami. Working closely with fashion tech designer Anouk Wipprecht and fabrication specialists MONAD Studio, the collective developed interactive kit for Modesta including a accelerator-equipped prosthetic leg and bustier tusks that allowed her to play and modulate samples based on here movement. Improvising with MONAD’s ensemble of digitally fabricated instruments (playing strange quasi-violins) she blurred the line between fashion, prosthetic, and instrument.
    Soundbite:
    “Thirty-three years ago, everything that was on the periphery of my imagination, all of those projects—I’m working on them now. Looking back on it, some of my initial designs and worldbuilding with my body and the wearables, I was designing an avatar before I ever really thought about it. At the moment, I’m leaning into this amazing collective energy of people exploring everything from digital fashion, to virtual production to using AI, to the introduction of crypto art—it’s sort of everything I’ve been waiting for.”
    Viktoria Modesta, being excited about the present
    Commentary:
    Modesta’s disability, the fact that she is missing a piece of her biological body, has given her a sense of the body as a mutable tool, which can be adapted, refined, and modified to suit different purposes. It’s also given her a sensitivity to the experiential aspects of identity—how it feels to be able to swap out parts of yourself. She brings this perspective to the formation of her digital identity, and seems energized by the idea of porting her work to the metaverse. Modesta indicated that the pandemic has served as a catalyst for people to take virtual identity seriously, largely because virtuality has become a more embodied experience—we’re living on our computers, she says, and suddenly realizing “wow, this is real life.” She hopes that people, contending with the limited mobility of their quarantine experiences, will start to think more deeply about what their body is, and how it interfaces with technology. Of course, people with disabilities have always been at the forefront of these questions, particularly when it comes to embodiment in virtual space. I think it’s instructive to look at the disability community in Second Life, which has been thinking through these issues for decades. A key reference for me is Our Digital Selves: My Avatar is Me, a documentary exploring the experiences of 13 people with disabilities in the virtual worlds of Second Life, High Fidelity, and Sansar, which was the product of a three-year research study on embodiment and placemaking in VR.
    025 – 02/09: EPISODE 08—Benjamin Bratton (02/09/2021)
    The MUTEK Recorder
    Episode 08: Benjamin Bratton
    Speakers:
    Claire L. Evans
    Benjamin Bratton
    Profile:
    Benjamin Bratton
    Benjamin Bratton is Professor of visual arts at UCSD in San Diego, and author of The Stack (2016) and The Revenge of the Real (2021), which, respectively, schematize systems of scale and governance after Big Tech, and consider what politics in a post-pandemic world could be. Bratton is also the Program Director for The Terraforming, an initiative at Moscow’s Strelka Institute that tasks design students with tackling the radical transformations required for Earth to remain a viable host for life.
    Soundbite:
    “Planetary, or planetarity, implies many different things. One of them is the scale of the astronomic condition of the earth—the 4.7 billion years or so over which biomes and ecologies, species and phyla have emerged. This includes us, and our peculiar capacity for sapience. And our peculiar capacity to construct machines that mimic that sapience. All of that is part of what a planet does.”
    Benjamin Bratton, defining ‘planetarity’
    Soundbite:
    “Recording for me is, like most writers, being a packrat of ideas that get gathered and sorted, and rearticulated. Like jokes, they get told over and over until they are just right and then you move onto other ones. And they get arranged and sequenced, and become books.”
    Benjamin Bratton, on how ideas are collected, iterated, and ‘exorcised’
    Book:
    Benjamin Bratton’s follow-up to The Stack (2016), The Revenge of the Real (2021) is a polemic about the abject failures of governance that we’ve witnessed during COVID-19. Drawing on the rise of populism and the resulting ‘mask wars’ that politicized what should have been uncontestable science-driven policy, Bratton argues for a global polity that does not reject ‘reality’ but honours it through a compassionate collectivism that transcends the borders of individual countries. Looking beyond the pandemic, he critiques the prevalent knee jerk response to surveillance culture and challenges us to think beyond data ‘extraction’ from our lives, and instead harness planetary computation to build and, crucially, act on new communal archives (and models) to mitigate the climate crisis.
    Soundbite:
    “What we call ‘planetary scale computation,’ all of the satellites and data centres and capacity for modelling and simulation, have provided another kind of epistemological accomplishment: the understanding of climate change as a concept. It requires the recording, and archiving, of millions and millions of data points that become a model, that can be interpreted.”
    Benjamin Bratton, on how the concept of climate change emerged from computation
    Reference:
    The Blue Marble
    Taken on December 7, 1972, by Apollo 17 astronauts Harrison Schmitt and Ron Evans while en route to the Moon, The Blue Marble is one of the most circulated photographs in history. Benjamin Bratton notes “what Frank White called the Overview Effect—it preceded Yuri Gagarin, it preceded not only the Blue Marble but humans in space. It was conceived and announced in advance in the 1940s and ‘50s.” Even before we had the iconic image we had an idea about how it would stir our imagination about planetary unity.
    Soundbite:
    “It’s important to understand planetary and planetarity not as a metonym for the global, but as something multi-scalar: the molecular matters as much as the atmospheric in scale. Unlike the logic of Eames’ Powers of Ten, where all the scales stay in the right place as you zoom in, reality has scales that penetrate one another and overlap.”
    Benjamin Bratton, on how the interrelations between different ‘levels’ of reality are what makes it so complicated
    Reference:
    A film “dealing with the relative size of things in the universe,” Powers of Ten might be Charles and Ray Eames most enduring contribution to visual culture. Capping a multi-year collaboration with IBM, the film was completed in 1977 and produced to help (better) establish a sense of understanding of the magnitude of known existence—from the subatomic through the “limit of human vision,” a zoomed-out view of the universe “where whole galaxies of stars are seen as one.” Starting from the human scale of an idyllic Chicago picnic the camera zooms out light years to the macro, and back down to the micro—perhaps the most ambitious cinematography in the history of film.
    Soundbite:
    “I feel like The Blue Marble image has lost a lot of its power. Flat earth conspiracies, climate denial, evangelicals—we know the age of the planet and yet plenty of people refuse to believe it. Could a sapient planet have the will to refuse to look at itself?”
    Claire L. Evans, on the tactical ignorance that is unfortunately so common today
    Soundbite:
    “The paradox of this moment is that the models of reality we have are unable to act back upon reality because other models of reality that we have deep cultural investment in are hogging all the oxygen in the room. And we have a body count to prove it.”
    Benjamin Bratton, on the undeniable COVID-19 metric that measures our collective shortcomings
    026 – Note: A Memory Palace (11/09/2021)
    “Transcribing, translating, and free-associating live—there was no time to sit with our thoughts. We were forced to reflect as we went, in God mode, getting it all down for posterity. A syndrome I called documentia.”

    Claire L. Evans is a writer and musician based in Los Angeles. She is the singer and coauthor of the Grammy-nominated pop group YACHT, and the founding editor of Terraform, VICE‘s science-fiction vertical. She is also the former futures editor of Motherboard, and a contributor to VICE, Rhizome, The Guardian, and many other publications. Her 2018 book, Broad Band, tells the history of the female visionaries at the vanguard of technology and innovation.

    For two weeks we lived the MUTEK Forum, documenting talks, roundtables, and workshops in real time. I’ll spare you our big takeaways from the Forum itself—the palpable excitement about decentralization, the collective desire to reframe artificial intelligence as tool and collaborator, or the eternal tension between the humanities and the sciences—as these are all contained in our sprawling dossier, in the form of soundbites and learnings. Instead I want to focus on the act of recording itself.

    The MUTEK Recorder was a real-time publishing experiment. We worked under the watchful eye of the clock: up first thing in the morning and right into the thick of it, transcribing, translating, and free-associating live, synthesizing disparate conversations in time for an afternoon broadcast. There was no time to sit with our thoughts; we were forced to reflect as we went, in God mode, getting it all down for posterity. For something that required total presence, it was oddly dissociative. We were in the moment, at a distance. Jokingly, I called our syndrome documentia.

    In his opening keynote, Benjamin Bratton cited Derrida: “the archive is a promise to the future that the present time will make itself accountable,” he said. “It can also be a technology to ensure that the future is even possible in the first place.” I wonder if our work recording MUTEK is quite the same as an archive. By virtue of how quickly we worked, we could never claim to have produced something so complete. And our small group, each of us guided by of our own interests, interpreted the Forum’s conversations subjectively.

    I couldn’t help but spin up anecdotes from my own research, for example, or pull references from my library shelves. The practice of recording in this way became self-reflexive. A panel about sound intensity in electronic music awoke my tinnitus, reminding me of the obliterating drone of a NASCAR race; a conversation about procedural game maps conjured the time, years ago, that a friend and I tried to swim across the ocean in Grand Theft Auto V.

    “The practice of recording in this way became self-reflexive. A panel about sound intensity in electronic music awoke my tinnitus, a conversation about procedural game maps conjured the time that I tried to swim across the ocean in Grand Theft Auto V.”

    Maybe what we produced was not an archive at all, but a memory palace. The Romans called it the “method of loci,” of places: to remember things, imagine them in the rooms of a house you know well, then wander its halls, recalling. Roman orators would prepare long speeches in the rooms of imagined houses; each orator had their own memory palace, an empty architecture that could be filled and filled again with new ideas. In the modern world, we have little need for such techniques, which emerged before writing. But the mechanism retains its archaic power.

    The Romans enlisted their greatest technology, architecture, in the service of memory; perhaps our virtual architecture—a dossier, embedded on the World Wide Web—could do the same. I might wander these rooms in a year and remember the conversations that echoed within, which in turn may invite their own memories, their own interpretations. I might also find new tenants in their place: the foundations of the Web are never solid.

    Of course, there are other, fine approaches. Our guests were generous enough to share a few: Mindy Seu builds archives, Xiaowei Wang uses recipes to record in the field, and Tim Maughan captures the present in science fiction stories. We all have our tools for thinking, each with their own shape. Perhaps by including all of these approaches, our Recorder was something more like a toolbox—a collection of strategies, suited to different applications, stress-tested and ready to work. Perhaps the mark of a successful project is how well it resists being defined by such neat metaphors.

    “Maybe what we produced was not an archive at all, but a memory palace. I might wander these rooms in a year and recall the conversations that echoed within, which in turn may invite their own memories, their own interpretations.”
    This dossier is in progress. Please check back for future entries.