Ever More Paranoid, Ever More Critical

Game Design

In this episode – more paranoia. The swelling continues to the point where my head feels giddy. I sketched out a 3D model of an area the size of Disneyland, with minimal pathways and buildings. I see that I am not considering the spaces between attractions, which I have made tedious to navigate and have no character. A theme park/fair ground is first of all a park. How are parks navigated? Why do the pathways connect and curve the way they do? I called up a map of Central Park in NYC and wondered at how/why the many pathways intersect over 4Km. You could spend hours on the history of this park, and the varied battles over its purpose and design. I looked at London’s Hyde Park, I started to read up on landscape design – it opens up like a bottomless pit.

Meanwhile I followed up on Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind – “one of the best-selling and most popular books of poetry ever published”, sayeth City Lights. What did Ferlinghetti intend by this title? It’s taken from a book Into The Night Life hand made by Henry Miller and Bezalel Schatz, a book so horribly rare and unobtainable that it leads down another bottomless pit. Do I refer to this book or the poems that followed it?


Ferlinghetti’s poems are “a circus of the soul”. It is critical of a soulless society, gawking at bright lights, consuming and feeling very little. It’s lyrical, self-mocking and funny. I’d like to hitch my wagon to either project, calling my work a c21st Coney Island of the Mind, knowing full well it’s a tenuous connection that could break any time.

So that’s how I connected up landscape gardening and beat poetry and got a headache.

I also re-read Jekyll and Hyde which is actually more subtle than its reputation. Jekyll is not a good man, and at no stage becomes good. He is a professional that wants an excuse to act unprofessionally, to be childish, impulsive – ‘let his hair down’ as was once described. His experiment was not noble, it was just that tension between responsibility and selfishness that we all feel at some point. He is surprised by the purity of Hyde, who is not just uncivilised, but sociopathic. This means I am (a) wrong to use it as a diagram of my concept but (b) given a very interesting reason for developing this artwork. I am torn between having a paying job where I pretend to be an academic and running off to play music at goth festivals.


Hello there I am a game designer.

So then, two ‘artistic’ reasons for doing it – self-analysis and a re-appraisal of a reputable older work. I’ve seen worse.

Academia is Academia

I’m now an “Education Focused” Lecturer, which means my research load is about quality of learning (my real research load is the game). My concern becomes the continued worth of teaching sound around 20th century film production. Much of what is current – game, interface, built environment etc. still depends on the skill set of film. E.g. games still have dialogue and Foley, and still need good microphone placement and spatial treatment. But adaptive audio is a whole layer on that.

One week into this new role I missed a meeting in which, apparently, sound has been marked for deletion as a ‘studio area’. I’ve protested of course. Unless silent movies are making a comeback, we still need to cover sound recording – and where is that going to go? Squeezed into moving image? As well as animation? Do we now have two classes frantically teaching sound where there was one? Head slap!

Just being selfish for a moment – why on earth employ somebody in teaching sound design, add on the expectation that they contribute to teaching quality, then mark their area for deletion? “Hey we could improve … er … never mind, don’t bother.”

Alongside this I am tasked with becoming a certified Unity3D associate. I’ve been using Unity since 2013 but that’s like saying I’ve water-skied on a lake for a long time. Doesn’t mean I can list the fish species that live in that lake. I also have the coding skills of a dead cat, so some study is on the table.

More study.

Paranoid Critical

I haven’t said much about theme parks recently, even though that’s where all the pain is taking place. It seems time for a Pain Bulletin. A really long one, sorry.

(Well actually I should briefly mention some pain not to do with study. A few days ago I had the left half of my thyroid removed, because it was something out of Lovecraft. Be blessed you know nothing of its dark and terrible nature, it is consigned to the flames of hell etc. They cut across my throat to get it out so I am sitting here looking like a Halloween mask. The days of vocals on stage are done, but that was always part of the plan.)

I am determined to make an major artwork based on research. It tells a story in virtual architecture – and architecture in itself is complex battleground. This story extends over centuries, it includes white supremacy, colonialism, surrealism, religion, the psych, notions of progress, pornography, midgets and freaks, kings and presidents… it is like swallowing a grand piano to play it.

Eiffeltorni, Pariisin maailmannäyttely 1889

Paris 1889. A game of my tower is bigger than your tower.

I first understood an Orphic view of the fairground – that it is a combination and opposition of light and dark, yin and yang, Jekyll and Hyde. To attempt a purely ‘light’ version as did Disney, is an act of denial. He banned roller coasters and grog from his land – and they slid back into the vacuum the moment his personal power waned. It is better to employ the dark as a painter does, accentuating the light.

The makers of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition learned this the hard way when the ‘dark’ settled around the perimeter of their bright white city – in the Midway Plaisance. They lost control of the booze and sex shows and – learning that it’s better to piss out of the tent – they incorporated it inside as THE MIDWAY. A world fair now has two hemispheres – the WHITE CITY and the MIDWAY.

On reaching this Orphic view I read architect Rem Koolhaas’s Delirious New York. At one point he introduces a mock battle between Salvador Dali and Le Corbusier for NYC and the 1939 fair – the baked bean versus the cube – the same fight designed into every World Fairground. In this he explains Dali’s paranoid critical method. Once I understood this process I realised it is necessary to my own work.

Dali, 1939 fair

Currently I am finding infinite resonance and connection between every aspect of my source material. All evidence is interpreted as support for my idée fixe. For example it is possible to see the fairground as the two sides of the human brain, bridged by a corpus callosum – that bridge is right there in the 1939 map. The relationships become tenuous when looked at critically – but that’s for later, when the design has to collapse into an actual production.


NYC 1939 Fair map.

The designers have placed bridges and a portal between these hemispheres

Colonialism and other isms.

A great deal has been written about the racism and colonialism expressed in world fairs. (For example here’s a very useful source regarding fairground Orientalism.) Other people have covered this far better than I can, plus there’s debate that I’m not equipped to settle. For example the common claim that the centre of each fair was the White Anglo-Saxon exhibit, with increasingly ‘inferior races’ spread out towards the edges – one critic has pointed out that just looking at the maps you can see that Austrians must have been held inferior to Hottentots if that were the case and there are more complex economic reasons for the layout than simplistic racial theories.

I’ve been worried about portraying the reality of a 20th century fairground – midgets, belly dancers, American Indians etc. that are going to ‘trigger’ somebody somewhere who can’t see the difference between what was and what should be. Bluntly – my Midway cannot and will not have a Little Miracle or Coon Town even though these were real. They were supposed to present a scale of civilization – which I also need to present, but without the hurtful pseudoscience or the notion of superiority.


Instead I will hold that some mental formations are more primal / fundamental, and portray these as architecture. Rather than arraying people and cultures along my map, I can set the ‘civilized’ Jekyll against the ‘primal’ Hyde, with the constant refrain of their interdependence. For Freud, there was the contest between id and superego, for Jung there were the archetypes, then there are the spiritualists and surrealists and many other symbols I can use without hurting anyone. My exposition will be an interior landscape that informs the exterior civilization.

Sort of. It’s not exactly clear how this will work. On one side the WHITE CITY, tall, hard edged, streamline style, progressive. On the other side of the bridge, the MIDWAY, soft and fleshy, primal and filled with ancient emotions. But who will be in this landscape? What goals? What challenges? There’s a long way to go.



Problems with realism (part 1): The Lion King and DMT

The King is Dead

I was recently taken to see the remake of The Lion King in which the characters are played by realistic 3D animals. Because I’d never actually seen the 1994 cartoon version (yes, I know), we watched the original first, so I’d have some idea what the remake was about.

And it was very odd.

In the original you notice all the flourishes that animation involves – the squash and stretch, the exaggerated facial features and distortions – and my primary interest – the ‘pink elephants’ section, where west-coast Disney abstract colour-music style comes into play (the ‘I Can’t Wait to be King’ song). How the hell are you going to do that with hairy puppets?

Try this with realistic whales.

Try this with realistic whales. Fantasia includes many similar moments which don’t fit reality.

And they didn’t. There was no abstraction, no traditional distortions. When an animal couldn’t do something, it didn’t happen. Their faces were expressionless. It was all based on REALITY. But you know – it’s not reality. This leads to confusion like adding strong female characters to a plot where the male hero wins back his harem of acquiescent females – back to screwing his aunts, mother and bride – who is of course his step sister. Because you know lions aren’t REAL people.

Nothing wrong with the film, worth seeing, and good job on the income it’s making. But the original cartoon is actually more real for the storyline. And this leads to some thoughts about our artistic pursuit of reality and where it has taken us.


The same year as the original Lion King, iD’s DOOM2 ushered in the age of the first-person shooter (or FPS). It pretended to work in 3D but really used “2.5D”, where flat surfaces are scaled and overlayed by depth, back to front, presenting a pseudo 3D effect. DOOM was obviously a cartoon, with cartoon logic, as were first-person shooters over the following decade. But constant battle between FPS authors reached greater realism both in image and physics – and by 2004 games such as Half Life 2 were more photographic than comic. We can now make games that look ‘real enough’ or ‘movie quality’. Which I think, like The Lion King, is a dead end. Because we’re losing hold of the unreal.


Half Life 2 aspired to be cinematic

An example of unreal I’d like to pick out is Action Half Life, around 1999, a FPS game which allowed ‘modders’ to create their own maps for multiplayer combat. Specifically, I look at modifications created by ‘Hondo’, a reclusive author of what seem to be standard play maps which conceal vast and surreal hidden areas for players to discover. The vast majority of players would never know that a push at a certain wall, or a gunshot that touched a certain window, would open a portal to apparent madness. The message is that most people do not care to know, or need to know, that there is something beyond the mainstream. It was a topic much on people’s mind at the time – but already an old topic by 1927 when Hesse wrote about the “Magic Theatre, Not For Everyone.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steppenwolf_(novel)

Hondo 5AM

Hondo 5AM – inside a giant clock where each hour is a psychedelic puzzle.

When you look at Hondo’s levels now, they seem chunky, simplistic – cartoony. It takes a strong imagination to be enthralled by that you might think. Same goes for many other weird old games from the old days. But I think the limitation in plausible reality of the game engine enabled Hondo to create worlds beyond reality. To put that another way – it is becoming more difficult to conceive abnormality as computer worlds become more realistic. Which is perhaps why 2D games came back into fashion around the same time as the 3D game touched upon reality.

Two dimensions greater than three.

When attempting my first computer game/album I was inspired by many things. One was the game Dream Diary by Kikiyama which has a wonderful disregard for reality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yume_Nikki


Although it’s thematically based on a familiar idea of dreams and dream logic, it goes beyond The Wizard of Oz et al. which simply swap a different politics for our own – that one needs to overcome a new social hierarchy. The dreamspace is more flexible than the usual workings of the of the mind – the author has worked in the larger palette of 2 dimensions. When I stupidly tried to use similar devices in 3D I was confined. In 2D, distance is not fixed, everything can squash and stretch. Colour is texture but also topology, mood, meaning. Objects are implied, and do not take on more detail as you get near. There’s more – but let’s just sum it up by saying there are stories that cannot be properly told in a certain space.*


An often-used narrative is the inside. The hero is in a world – the plot reveals to them that their world is inside what we know to be the real world. It’s satisfying to be in the know and anticipate the drama they will find in our familiar place. Sometimes the story starts by concealing the inside – a story such as The Truman Show is obvious, but quite a few detective stories like Blue Velvet share this mechanism – the reveal of the real.

Much more difficult is creating the outside. Because the outside should really be outside. Which means the writer really needs to be outside as well. (It’s been said that Phillip K. Dick was such a writer, but perhaps it was his insides that were so unique.) I am not sure that an outside can be written by a normally functioning human mind.

For me, if there is any interest in portraying 3D ‘real’ worlds, it’s in their outside – that which falls outside the walls that contain the player and the specifications of the maker. Again, for me, a game such as Red Dead Redemption is merely a cowboy simulator, which becomes far more exciting once you find a crack in the wall and the true unknown behind. https://in.ign.com/red-dead-redemption-2/136692/news/red-dead-online-players-discover-a-whole-new-land-beyond-world-boundary

Look at the many examples of outsides that have come about in game design. Most are discarded scenery and are interesting the way urbex in abandoned buildings is interesting. But some of the outside is the gibberish of incomplete or overlapping code. Sometimes ‘gibberish’ is only a problem in seeing what is really there. The ‘real world’ – as perceived by the mind – has an ‘outside’ in that we are confounded by ‘gibberish’ such as quantum entanglement. I’m far too stupid to go into this – I’ll let a grown up try to explain: https://www.quantamagazine.org/were-stuck-inside-the-universe-lee-smolin-has-an-idea-for-how-to-study-it-anyway-20190627/

Anything that disrupts the sense-making of the brain, that disables the definition of correct/incorrect seems to take you outside. LSD is well known. I’m particularly fond of the described effects of DMT – I am not a user of psychedelics. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/5gkkpd/dmt-you-cannot-imagine-a-stranger-drug-or-a-stranger-experience-365

DMT is probably disabling some censorship of experience. You are always making things up, but you’re making up something different to usual. That’s important.


So long as I keep working inside, I’m going to see inadequate results. That’s OK for the most part – if Disney are happy to trade art for success then I’m in good company. But there’s a feeling like I am wasting time on trivial things. I know there’s an outside, I know it stays outside, and even though you can damage your head with drugs and see stars, that’s not the same.

I would rather damage the media, the way Hondo damaged it. If you rip the canvas you can get results that you would not otherwise reach. But I don’t know what the canvas is or how it can be ripped. I guess the programmers of Red Dead Redemption know the holes they are leaving in their maps – calculated mistakes. I’m not as clever as they are in that and perhaps it comes down the old principle of knowing your art.

An old argument I used have with Paul Mac. He’d say you have to know how to play the piano to know how not to play the piano. I’d say you can just hit the piano with an axe. But I think he’s right. Then I’m right. Know how to play the piano. Then hit it with an axe.

* Since writing, two 3D versions of the game have shown up with which to test my argument. One is a fan tribute by Eddy using a period game engine (for Duke Nukem 3D). This keeps the old cartoon effect and seems favorably received by players. The other is an ‘official version’ by the makers of the game engine used for the original 2D game. It earned quite a bucketing here – I am sorry, lots of adverts.

I’ve had a go at the Eddy version. It’s reminiscent of the original and so I think I am having my memory feelers tickled. But while it’s kept the strangeness definitely not adding anything and arguably exploring the space seems much less exotic. I didn’t look at the other – it sounds badly written.

Barbara rUFO

For the last 12 years, every four years, I have made music about a mythical place called Barbara Island. This year sees the fourth and last chapter, titled Barbara rUFO, and I would like to tell the whole story of how it came to be, and why it finishes in 2018. This is a longish story, but don’t worry I’ll keep it tight.

We could start late in the last century, when I found two painted wheat bags on a telegraph pole outside my house. One of them looks like this:


At the time 2018 seemed a long long time away. But time speeds up.

Over Barbara Island

In 2006 the National Art School held a fund raiser. I was asked to contribute a live performance, and I said yes. The school is housed in a very old prison with small stone cells, but the show was to be held outside. As it was winter, they would supply tiki lamps. I thought ‘tiki lamps!’ and started to make something a little Martin Denny and a bit stormy. As it turned out the night was very stormy itself, and the show had to be held in a small jail cell. Not very exotic.

At the time I was making what was to be the last Severed Heads album, called Under Gail Succubus. This was a silly band name I had come up with years before – I always thought it worth using someday. I added the live show to the main album as a bonus, and thought it would fun to call it Over Barbara Island. And so – Gail and Barbara.

It was the last full Heads album (although many years later some shorter special projects went out under that name). In 2008, the band was lowered into a grave.

A funny side note is that a local agency tried adapting some of Barbara for a Coca-Cola advert. Three attempts did not get run-it-up-the-flagpole, and so sadly Things did not Go Better With Barbara.

Return to Barbara Island

In 2010 the body was exhumed for the Sydney Festival, and as a consequence I was asked to perform at another charitable event – this time for Rainforest Rescue. Again, yes, and again it seemed a good time for palm trees. This event was more bumpy bumpy and so Return to Barbara Island is a lot more streamlined that the volumes before or after. I made videos for each track, but the screen was a gaggle of hexagons and so no one really saw what I was showing. And like the previous event I don’t think there was too much benefit for the Rainforest, but I got an album out of it.

Around this time I wondered of there really is a Barbara Island, and there is. It’s very cold, but maybe not forever.

Barbara Channel Three

In 2013 Severed Heads played the Adelaide festival. We were both dead and alive, an echo, and I was desperately trying to come up with new material with which to move on. But being a full time academic, delivering a computer game for the festival, and being carer for an invalid spouse I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t going to happen in time.

It was 2014 before this material came together, and here was the four year cycle demanding that it be obeyed. So it was to be Barbara again. Channel Three refers to radio and there are many radiophonic touches – but much of what appears to be shortwave is actually synthesisers. I’d regained a hardware sound studio, including some of the gear I had owned back in the 1970’s, so there’s some familiar old sounds in there. But to buy the gear I needed the job that meant I never had time to use the gear.

When the UK magazine The Wire requested some music from ‘Severed Heads’ it was a horrible dilemma – this was me, Tom, not Severed Heads. But without the old name there was no interest. I had to supply them with some of Barbara, which mean ‘moving on’ was yet again defeated.

This is around when I pulled out my wheat bag with the UFO message. 2018 was four years away, and it dawned on me that there must be a Barbara FOUr, actually a Barbara rUFO in this year. I needed to go back to the wheat bags.

Barbara rUFO

By now I knew of the UFO Man, Alan Philp. I had seen him standing out in the mall, sun hat on and wheat bag around his neck. But by this time he had faded from the collective memory and needed to be brought back. In 2017 Severed Heads toured on an image that recalled his message.


But it was only in 2018 I found his image on a older blog site. This is Mr. Philp.


We must respect the message that he gave us for decades. When the UFO comes this year, what will it want? Will be a handshake or a spanking? Will we end up gods, or meat Popsicles? This is what Barbara will tell us I hope.

Since 2014 I have become successfully underemployed, the band continues, the bad times that ran through all the previous chapters have faded away. I have just finished Barbara rUFO today. It is the last Barbara, and perhaps, UFO willing, the last normal album I do. It is time for change.

I hope you will like it, but please also hear the earlier chapters, they do not cost. I will let you know when the UFO lands.

Dear diary.

Dear diary I know I haven’t written anything here for a while but there’s been a lot going on in what we call the ‘real world’. And I should mention Facebook because I never realised how, for many people, it is the real world.

In staying away from Facebook, I’d imagined it to be like the many other social networks I have made or joined since the beginning of the internet. I felt I could judge it by technical aspects, but the difference between a small town and New York is not in the shape of buildings. If you have enough people and you influence the mob subtly, everything changes. The machinery itself stays distant, watching and silently moving the streets around to guide the parades. I have learned much about breakfasts, worldwide.


The first distressing thing I noticed is a clock that says when people last visited. A simple thing and yet it says you just missed somebody, or they are ‘here’ and ignoring you, or that you yourself are desperately avoiding real work and were ‘here’ only a hour ago. It’s a banal evil. Twitter is much better at letting you dip in and out of the water without splashing others.

Seems the other billion users are fine with being confronted by people about whom they have old mixed feelings. I’ve not had that many relationships (I tend to the long term) so I guess it wasn’t such a feat for FB to have them all lined up in my “friends” apart from the one who died and another that it suggested I might go ahead and add to the list OUCH are you kidding me? Was I so sensitive that I found this utterly horrible, and have become so insensitive now that it doesn’t phase me to see them all there in neat order? Plus they all got fat. They think that too when looking at me.

It’s been instructive to watch Bradbury raging at the machine, trying to be as vile and angry as he could manage at the population of Pleasantville, who just smiled and waved at him as they hosed their lush social lawns. He reached maximum vomit and finally disappeared in a puff of smoke, defeated. This instruction led me to try a different kind of rebellion, a surreal mockery of their breakfasts, but that was just as useless, and so I just write whatever gibberish I feel like writing. Besides I am there to test my 360 degree videos and sell some music and that’s working.

Extruding into the real world, a message on Facebook from somebody I last met more than a decade ago. We met again, we have been meeting, and this has become that purgatory of hope and despair we all know as dating. I haven’t dated since my early 20’s and it makes me feel both young and as confused as I was back then. As there are two people involved I can’t be quite as talkative about this as my bereavement, but can I just say that I look forward to the day when I’m not driving through an endless line of emotional crash barriers.

fat crash test windshield.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

Let’s see, we’ve done death of parents, major financial problem, death of spouse, loss of job, new relationship… hmm, I see Christmas is on the list, let’s do that one for some more points.

Life Hacks for the recently widowed.

I am a widower. You got knocked down, but you get back up. Everybody finds their way again, and these are some ways I am doing it.

Set a deadline. I don’t have any strong culture or religion to work from so I just figured out a year is good round symbolic duration. For one year I am a widower. After that I am a millionaire playboy philanthropist. From Batman to Bruce Wayne. There will be a little re-birthday just for me.

I find the worst thing is having to re-live my loss to strangers – to the police, to the bank, to immigration officers, to co-workers. Which you will have to do sometimes, but you have plenty of other happier things to talk about as well. It’s not wrong to put your loss to one side for later, it’ll always be there, but you will be stronger. Every couple of months I get sent a newsletter about suicide. I’m sure it helps some people but I hate the damn thing, it goes in the bin.

Common knowledge is to re-arrange all your furniture. Like, if a tornado hit it. Like, you are exhausted by carrying things up and down stairs and so you sleep soundly. Like, you are on a mission that allows no other intrusive thought. Like, whatever life was lived here it’s been remixed by a bad DJ. And in your new environment you can get on with your new life.

Obviously you need to put something where you-know-what happened. If you choose something ridiculous you might find yourself staring forlornly at a novelty sock drawer, and snap out of it.


Don’t just get a hobby. Become theatrically obsessed with something. I want to be the tedious Man Cave guy, not the dead wife guy. Particularly as my Man Cave jokes are a re-occupation of space in my home which would otherwise be sad.

Whenever you get the bad thoughts go out and walk around. Look at the world. Wear out some shoes and wear out that misdirected energy.

Sleep is key. Sleep is repair. A strategically placed pillow allows you to sleep in the same positions you’ve known for the last 25 years without your knees knocking together. It should not have an anime picture on it that’s gross.

Despite that you’re going to age visibly. Sorry. If that worries you then lay off the grog. For me grog is not a problem but not everyone is so lucky. Careful.

Time to reread your old Roman stoic philosophers. No matter what they say, everyone you know is terrified that you’re going to weep all over them and will avoid you. Fortunately for me I did so much of that when young I’ve worn it out. You might once, but you’re in charge of the tone of your friendships, and if you practice calm and acceptance then they will too. And being chill actually helps your mood.

Caution: That person at a party that reminds you of your partner has no especial insight into your loss. That’s all in your head.

You remember your partner when you and they were young. But look in the mirror, time’s moved on. I’m pleased to say I have no great desire to shack up with a 20 year old, may you also be free of such delusion.

Ghosts: There are only the ghosts in your head. If you find it hard to go to the toilet because you might be observed by angels, you could hold a cleansing ceremony. Some people use incense. I have preferred to unleash an endless torrent of belching and other biological sonic place markers of such might that no woman alive or dead would possibly share this space.

It’s OK to talk aloud to yourself. Or a cat. I can’t have a cat right now, might get a robot one, which is just as oblivious as the real thing. It’s even OK to talk to the dead, because you’re really addressing some of the wiring in your own head that needs revision.


Media: I have a ritual of scanning and sorting photographs of the dead which I’ve done twice now. I think it’s because you look through them all and then you reach an end point where you can stop, and not have to look at them until much later.

If after a year you are healed and looking forward to new adventures then you have only done what your partner should have hoped for you. You’re a living thing not a grave marker. And at least for me, I do not believe in afterlife, nobody is watching, it’s completely up to me to make sure that life is spent well.

Is cinematography a biological technology? Probably not.

Here’s a thing – if you run Deleuze through a piece of cloth and strain out all the poo, you end up with some reasonable, if fairly simple ideas. (Of course that ‘does violence to his concepts’ but I can live with that).

So here’s one. Technology is a mechanism by which we make our actions easier and more potent. A telescope enables us to see further, a microscope allows us to see smaller and if you’re Dziga Vertov, a camera enables us to see things more clearly. Deleuze is even more enthusiastic – cinema is a technology which entwines with our own innate technology of seeing. Unlike a microscope or a telescope, cinema is a means by which our perceptive apparatus and therefore mind processes can be analyzed and re-synthesized. Cinematic language is an exercise of attention that leads to new modes of thought.


His argument is more visible now than when he was writing. When you see a child fascinated by an iPad, to the extent of being oblivious to nature around them, you may feel the sense of unease that he mentions – it’s hard to say whether the child is accelerated, sensing the game world at immense speed, or senile in being unable to sense anything else. It can be both.

Where I disagree is that I do NOT see cinema as privileged in this way. When I recently bought some prescription glasses and walked home I was appalled to find that everything was now taller (and so my feet found it difficult to hit the ground) and that people far away had faces, which was extremely disturbing. That’s not equivalent to the entirety of cinema – it doesn’t have to be. I think that any technology does what he describes to some extent.

Now, a related factoid is about episodic memory, which is stored as sensory impressions with duration, or at least sequence. If you blast the right part of the temporal lobe with electricity you can bring up auras which include sensory impressions before they have been organised into a narrative (e.g. one stimulation brought ‘being at a wedding, throwing a bouquet’, another ‘the theme from Star Wars’ source). For a short while it was thought that we record everything like a video camera. But then it was noticed that memories are cinematically assembled, to the extent that you may see yourself ‘filmed’ in the third person. There’s further evidence that recall is drawn from a storyline – {me}{the beach}{ball}{hit} = embarrassing – and turned into visuals. You will note the comparison between episodic memory and film, which at first blush leads one to think that narrative film is a technical realisation of episodic memory.

But it’s always good to be sceptical. By which I mean we’ve only buzzed people since there was film. If you buzzed someone from several hundred years ago would they see through the media of a painted triptych? If you went back far enough, would Julian Jaynes be right and you get the Voice of Gods explaining what happened in your past? Did perspective arrive in the mind when it arrived in art? Because as much as we may be inspired by our bodies and minds to extend them, we may also train our minds and bodies to emulate mechanical systems. It could be a cycle, and Deleuze was right to be worried that we have cut off the variety of existence that we could otherwise have.

The sensory impressions found in the temporal lobes are not organised in the way we store files on a hard drive. There are related items spread all over the place to the extent that if you snip out a relevant bit of flesh, the memory is still retrievable, but more blurry. So how this material is ‘scored’, or even manifested is (I guess) a matter of the installed biological software. That software could have evolved over time – in fact I would be amazed if it hadn’t. The manner in which the episodic impressions are realised, and how their causal chains are linked cannot have been the same for all human history.

A quick reality check is dreams, which at best guess involves random excitation of these impressions and attempts by the hippocampus to stitch them into a causal chain. Blind dreamers do not dream visually. But their dreams still involve narrative structure. The camerawork of the sighted dreamer doesn’t occur naturally – it’s more likely that camera work in film has responded to the mental mechanism, which in turn has noticed patterns in camera work and responded in kind. I am pretty sure that yes, Deleuze is right about film now, but I also think that the use of fire was once just as important, perhaps the start of animistic religion. And god knows how these images once served human thought:


We go to the moon.

This is going to be a bit disjointed. Good. If it amuses you, pretend it’s the drugs talking, despite there being none.

I’m in Santa Cruz, in a small cottage style hotel within earshot of the Pacific. Unfortunately, mostly within eyeshot of the parking lot, but it’s about time my ears got going. I have been so deaf. Close the eyes. I hear sea, birds, and many frogs. Have you seen Hitchcock’s The Birds? That gives you the exact place*.


View from my window.

What am I doing here? Which is a different question to why am I here? I am here to carry the remains of Stacy Glasier in a little space capsule back up out of the gravity well**, to the real world where she started. That’s the way the narrative has to go, win or lose, the protagonist has to cycle back for the wisdom to take hold in the world. We were going to have a ceremony at this end involving many sea lions, but there was no need really. The fable is already told: they did not live happily ever after.

Which comes back to what am I doing here? Supposedly writing my idiot thesis so that other Titled Idiots can award me the honour of cloning more of them. I have spent years working at my Idiot status, but I guess The Birds*** have grown sick of this entire BS and decided to launch me on this space mission to learn something. They are screaming their heads off. It’s driving me nuts; I don’t understand what they want.


Much of what I am writing is about The Spiritual. That was the term used 100 years ago by Kandinsky and Schoenberg and all the crew for the rules of the metaphysical space that energized their art. In my Idiot thesis I’ve managed to carry that idea through a set of transformations, through ‘the apparatus world’ of the early video synthesizer artists, through ‘the platform’ of the early computer people and connect it to ‘cyberspace’ and ‘big data’ and now ‘virtual reality’ which has slunk back out of its hole. By the time I link it to ‘creative practice’ it’s a mummified corpse. That’s what I’m supposed to be writing right now, an incantation to imprison an idea.

Instead tonight I’m writing this.

The analytical mind has wrapped reality around its own shape. The allusive and intuitive mind is dismissed. This makes perfect sense. Fuck perfect sense. In the continental philosophy of the last century, the practitioners played like kittens with sense and nonsense. The academy, unable to exorcise them, murdered their play into a hard stupid rule set. How many times at university did I get told “Deleuze says that…” “Foucault says that…”. May as well be “Mao says that…”.

That’s what the Titled Idiots do to inspiration, they assassinate it. I don’t want to be like this. But I just can’t seem to break out of it. For about six months now I’ve gone insane trying to work out what I’m doing. What I am doing here?

Down at the water there is a shop that sells little glass globes with painted splats down the bottom. Most of them are rubbish. One was important and I needed it. My grandmother owned a glass globe, actually three in a stack, like a snowman. Inside there was coloured cloth coiled up in a bouquet. As I remember it, surely it was the most beautiful thing in the world. When was it made? Where did it come from? This little globe will never match it, but holding it I can see a connection – no, seriously – see a line stretching between them. And that’s an inkling of The Spiritual, far more useful than any of the bullshit that fits into a thesis. Somehow I put that under the heading of research.

Because things properly connect in ‘strange ways’. If I think of all the odd little ideas that inspire my work they do not come from “Deleuze says that” or from collaborating with a weapons specialist on a video mural. Reality of the sort that is natural and humane seems far more reliant on intuitive mind-soup than any Idiot Metric.

But it’s also soup. By which I mean:

I read a lot of Jung because I teach storytelling, that’s my job. Jung is all about the life story, the characters and chapters by which you measure your journey. Jung is full of the most amazing bullshit, really. They all were – Freud, Adler, Reich et al., partly because they were all nature and not enough culture. For Jung movies are drawn from the narrative faculty of the brain, instead of the obvious alternative of the brain drawing narrative from the movies. (People who watched Black and White TV mainly reported dreaming in Black and White. Clue train arriving at Jung Station.)


Like all of them Jung went through a ‘creative illness’. He kept a diary, the so-called red book. It was supposed to remain private, but because Jung thought he was Jesus Come Again of course it was eventually published. For Jung it was perfect. For everyone else it was a total crock. But at least I can look at that, and the creative illness of others and have a guide for something that is long overdue.

Here I am in Monterey. It has been a very long time since ‘gentle people with flowers in their hair’. No one is eight miles high. But if you wanted to apprentice yourself to a good dose of mind soup, then is this not the place? Of course a good whack of well made LSD might help, but it’s been a fair while since Sandoz made the real stuff. My old man used to use it in psychotherapy, wish he’d left some in a drawer, along with the glass spheres.

I go to the moon, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. Maybe the answer is here, but more likely I will make some space for the birds to nest and tell me what to do next.

* The Birds was inspired by an event on August 18, 1961 at Capitola. Another reason to visit.

** The gravity well is the effort it takes to get your spacecraft up to the orbit. From there, it’s comparatively smooth sailing. If you live in Australia, you’re well aware of the long long flight required to get anywhere else. Once you’re there – it’s no problem.

*** I have to again explain that ‘The Birds’ come to me every now and then and fill my head with ideas. They make no effort to clarify what the instructions are, they just pour some thoughts in there and shake-not-stir the cocktail. It’s always been this way and if I could catch them I would wring their little necks.

Sometimes I have a fever and get sick when the birds come. It got diagnosed once as encephalitis. Sensibly it’s a nickname for some back-end process going on that’s imperfectly connected to my so-called consciousness. It computes and delivers large-scale solutions to back of mind queries whenever it feels like it.


For the last week I’ve had no phone line, no internet except that which comes over the ‘smart phone’. Holy Shit how do people ‘consume’ through that tenuous porthole? Here’s me holding the phone up in the air trying to catch a reasonable WiFi signal, just so I can maybe see 5 words at a time from a ‘mobile’ news site – which is bowdlerised to the hell to show only ‘popular’ news items. No wonder so many dumb-ass millennials if that’s their online experience.

Anyway – it’s relevant to the topic at hand – what is ‘a book’ in this year 2015? What will ‘a book’ be in 2025? This really should be of interest to budding media designers, who spend too much time creating content and not enough worrying about publishing it. I’m starting a course on this topic because it makes no sense to keep teaching people how to animate for film and TV. That’s like teaching how to hoist sails on a long ship. Good luck on the high seas matey. I am no expert in electronic publishing, but then again I got the gig teaching ‘film studies’ 7 years ago from being a musician, and no complaints.


There will be paper books, they will be expensive collectables, like vinyl. Never mind that foppery. There will tablets, watches and perhaps eReaders, although the most recent Kindles seem to announce death of the purpose designed reader. You would hope that the book would not just be a flow of endless text pulled from a word processor, and would in some way respond to the potential of the device with sound and animation.

In 2011 the ePub3 format finally took on fixed text and multimedia. But in 2015 most eReaders still do not properly reproduce this format.

Obviously Apple got sick of that shit and Embraced, Expanded and Extinguished it into iBooks. You can’t blame them for getting tired of waiting, in fact you have to admire their snappy Hugo Boss uniforms. But at some point the iPad will no longer be the Fuhrer, and iBooks will be a dead end. ePub, like HTML5, is a mongrel, but it’s the mongrel we have to adopt.

A group of Nazi troops and students gather seized papers and books to burn, in the Opernplatz, Berlin.   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Nazis and university students. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Most of Apple’s shenanigans have to do with punching Adobe in the face enough times to try kill it, but you can’t kill that which does not live. Example – having been punched for Flash, Adobe built a tool called Edge Animate that creates Javascript animations. People build these into iBooks. Apple updates iBooks with a kill switch for Edge. Adobe updates Edge with a cloaking device. I am mainly on Adobe’s side because at least they are building a tool, whereas Apple is breaking it. Flash may have been too hard on the first iPads, but that’s turned into an ancestral dispute.

My students need to publish visually dense books that represent artistic folios, and that means InDesign. It will make ePub3 as well as PDF, which is a strong format for print publication and archives, but a little too heavy for portable devices. You can also get a HTML5 website out of it, which might equally be a book in 2025.

Under the hood the ePub is an XHTML file, the format that lead to the great HTML rebellion (in which the W3c tried to move the community over to clean and tidy XHTML only to have outsiders instead propose the messy and forgiving HTML5 spec.). Sadly that means they preserve a religious schism that has since healed, and makes hand scripting difficult. An eBook also uses Scalable Vector Graphics, while HTML5 avoids this heavy computation. All up it’s the kind of file zoo that existed all over digital media back in the good old days.

Of course there are many more things that you can do on a pad that have artistic merit. If they want to dip into objective C then it’s their private hell. Some students might want to make ‘apps’, which run on watches. Bless them, I do not know how you can convey important things on a watch.

Will we make 2025 books? Will they be good books? Can we start a dialogue between engineer and artist?

Why must art students learn coding?

I’m not opposed to it. I’m actively organising it for my particular barrel of monkeys. But the opinion seems to be much stronger than the reasoning and I would be glad to hear a well formed argument as to why Mary has to put down the paintbrush and start to type…

… what? That’s the other thing. This expert wants Processing. That one is all for Max. Is Max coding? There’s Python and Objective C and snapping blocks together Scratch style. Sometimes I hear that such and such is only scripting which isn’t coding and well that just won’t do!


Look, when I was a teen I bought one of the very first home computers (the Trash 80) and sat down and learned how to code. I exhibited my nasty machine code hacking of a C64 in public way back in the early 80’s and have tried very hard to keep up with developments since. So I’m not swayed by platitudes like ‘coding is just like sketching and artists need to sketch ideas’. Excuse me, it’s nothing like sketching and anyone who says that should write their own paint software from scratch as punishment (I did that once, it sucked).

I am grateful for any considered opinion from people who have actually coded. Please no philosophers. Why is coding something that art/design students should learn?

Also: http://workfunc.com/differences-between-programmers-and-coders/