7 Bits of Bite Size Bullshit for 2014

1. “Un”.

Prefixing “Un” is a growth industry in 2013 and set for peak nausea in 2014. Music suffered this affectation in the 80’s with “Anti music”, which engendered “Unsound” which got a nice tour schedule, presumably on the basis of what wasn’t on offer. Now that the scribblers have encountered sampling technology we’ve got ‘uncreative writing’, a petulant response to plagiarism, ‘so I’ll plagiarise everything! Naah naah!’, displaying about as much merit as the Christmas carols played on dog barks we got in the early days of sampling. If you ask a scribbler about the worth of uncreativity, they inevitably carry on about plunderphonics and hip hop albums from 20 years ago. Guys, we wore that out a decade ago and it’s time for glitch poems, do please keep up.


Copyright. Do not re-use.

What it really means: I need to keep a cop out from what I am doing in case it gets criticised.

2. “Thinking with”.

Everybody is thinking with. They’re thinking with painting, thinking with sound, thinking with sacking workers. It’s the most pompous possible way of saying that you completed a work process, usually a very traditional one, and then reflected on what happened. That’s like a first year university exercise and it’s shameful to hear senior people patting themselves all over for doing something so bloody obvious. Given the only alternative to “thinking with” is a lobotomy, I guess they earn a pass.

What it really means: I had to ply my trade, and am embarrassed that somebody might think I was just a tradesman.

3. Robots.

Everybody do the robot. Take any old ‘new media’ proposal, replace the word ‘computer’ with ‘robot’, get grant. I already said this many times, all that has changed is that the university wanna-be’s – the corporations that call their workplace a ‘campus’ – are getting heavy with the robot as well. My suspicion is that all the people who worked on AI and robotics in the 1960’s have retired and the youngsters have dusted off their blissful ignorance and are going to run this dream one more time, with feeling. I can’t tell you that AI is always going to fail, but I can tell you I’d rather bet on a horse. For human/robot relationships please see Disneyland. I’m serious, they worked it out decades ago.


What it really means: Computers are associated with dorks, I don’t want people to think I’m a dork so I’ll talk about robots.


Some god please punish the person that came up with ‘STEM’ – the useful studies of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics*, also known as ‘the humanities are useless garbage that should go die somewhere’. It’s like C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures rolled into a simple slogan STOP THE ARTS for maximum affront and argument. The Arts continue their degrading attempt to hang with the cool kids via idiotic me-too scientism – the ‘social sciences’ and ‘art metrics’. One particular act of desperation is trying to align with some hard science, any hard science, to rub off some of that sweet funding – and this has come to be known as ‘STE-A-M’.

Why does Science need the Arts? Particularly as the Arts have thrown away every distinction and advantage they once had to offer. Yes, they could once make beautiful illustrations of the data that science creates, except of course we don’t teach how to make beautiful illustration any more, merely the idea of getting some support staff to do it. The Sciences can do that just as well, thanks very much.

What it really means: I do too have a real job! I’m an ideas man!

* The only jobs in STEM are weapons. So a slow clap for all that.


5. Coding.

I can hear programmers already gnashing their teeth. Programming, coding, is fucking hard work. So when somebody waltzes in and describes scripting or filling in an event questionnaire as ‘coding’, go right ahead and school them. No, clicking together Little Bits kits is not coding. It’s good to know that you can re-arrange elements to personalise your consumption, but only if you realise that you are still a consumer re-arranging the symbols that the actual coder has provided. Choosing from an a la carte menu, you are not the chef. Either gain the skills and be the chef, or give respect to the person that did the actual coding – yet again the craftsman that the artist fails to respect.

What it really means: I don’t want to be seen as a consumer, and so I’ll claim that I’m a collaborator instead.

6. ‘Curation’.

Here’s a non-word that fires off my spell checker. Once upon a time you would be an artist, but then everyone was an artist. So then you would be a band, or an art collective, but then everyone was that. So you would be a label or a gallery, but you know what. So now everyone is a curator and that’s the best of all. A curator is anyone that likes some stuff, and organises that stuff somewhere. In the 80’s you would make a mix tape for your girlfriend, but the 21st century converts that to ‘curating a series of audio recordings in an emotionally significance sequence on the most appropriate analogue format to evoke the relevant time period for the collected works’. Sounds like a full job! Already people are curating curators.

What it really means: I may not be able to paint, but I can fill a room with paintings. I am better than artists.

7. Clouds. Still happening.

Where a year or so ago you had the suspicion that your private files were going to be used for spam and surveyed by the NSA, this year you actually know that’s the case. You might remember that you were assured that wasn’t so, and frankly if you don’t feel like a farm animal you need to wise up. This is more about the continuing utopian rhetoric of ‘the cloud’ as a universal spice for any possible teaching or collaboration no matter how ineffectual or meaningless. The unopened textbook is not improved by the unwatched YouTube lecture and time spent in turd polishing is better spent on working on the content. The worst possible case is when information is edited down to fit in cloud delivery. They used to do that to women’s feet to hobble them. Don’t call that a breakthrough.

What it really means: Same Great Taste Now In New BITE SIZE Foil Pack!

So what the *&*@#&$@)*$& is sound art?


Maybe I’m getting old, but that seems a little harsh. I think there’s actually something else afoot. Let me try to get there.

Any statement that talks about art is problematic, and having the word ‘sound’ in there is only a small part of the deal. The question ‘what is art?’ is a well known idea pit. Like the famous money pit, you can keep on throwing ideas into it and never touch the bottom. Some people refuse to answer the question on that basis, but I am protected by being a ‘dumb-fuck musician’, and like the small child, can endlessly fail to see the clothes.


If the bed had been made up, would it have sold for less? That’s a pretty profound art thought right there.

Duchamp is a guide and he points out that an unseen painting is not yet art. When it is displayed the audience provides the other side of an alchemical process, where two ingredients form a greater impression than the components. The gallery is nothing without the painting and vice versa, the two combine to create the art. And the roles of artist and curator are entwined, to the extent of antagonism from each recognising the forced collaboration.

If you accept a ready made by Duchamp as art, then why not the Tracy Emin bed? I personally don’t accept the bed – here’s where I part with Duchamp by saying that the inscrutable is required. Not all the energy comes from addition, some of it comes from what is hidden – even from the artist themselves. I call that ‘the birds’, which are the pricks and urges that compel creation and made poor Henry Darger an artist long before his books were discovered by the culture industry. Duchamp was compelled by things he did not know and says so, which makes me think he talks about ‘art’ in a different meaning to his own creativity. All the evidence I have is that Emin executed a single idea according to plan. For me Emin is a designer that provided a site and culture specific public exhibit.

None of this is categorical. Marclay’s The Clock is also obviously a single idea according to plan, but becomes inscrutable by the sheer excess of process – the unreasonable amount of execution. Marclay has (among other achievements) taken process up to the more human level of obsessiveness, and the result is therefore more interesting than the cold schema would suggest.

(This is the worry with the ‘production thesis’ or any attempt to measure and force metrics on creativity. But that’s another problem.)

‘Sound art’ is no better or worse than any ‘X art’ really. From what I am hearing the ‘sound’ is such a minor part of it that the distaste of musicians is overwrought. There may not be any sound involved and in general music is still alien to the visual arts. When I asked about one particular work, the artist conceded that it could be a ‘video’ piece in that there was a signal, some noise that disrupted the signal and an interesting response from the people affected by the disruption. But he pointed out that ‘video’ still is a visual art and that’s the problem.

I asked what then is the point of sound art, and he said that it was about thinking with sound. That is, so much thinking with visual art has only got so far – vision is limited in where it can go, and there are experiences and ideas and inspirations that could come from thinking outside of images. I can’t fault the idea of expanding the tedious old ‘ways of seeing’ to become ‘ways of seeing and listening’, and I think we can all agree that this brings something more. In the negotiations for space and recognition there are going to be compromises, but the movement as a whole is worth the support.

Thinking with …

However this last Friday I was accidentally at a book launch and heard from a panel of art historians about an exhibition in the Venice Biennial in which an older exhibition was completely recreated, up to building copies of the walls of the old gallery space in the new. I wasn’t entirely clear whether this was a good or a bad thing as the panellists insisted on talking International Art English.

But it struck me how certain they were that this was an earth shattering idea – that a curator could now put on a show which reiterated the work of an earlier curator. While they bickered about who was the most important person involved old or new, at no stage did they touch on the most obvious failing of the whole idea – that the original exhibition had the artists come and work with the space. The copy just took the works out of whatever museum they had entered and placed them back in roughly the same spot. Artists didn’t matter except as a name check list. It was what Stockhausen would call a postcard of the original performance and God know why the authenticity of the bloody radiators was worth so much discussion in comparison.


Authentic Bern radiators, something that requires a fair bit of Thinking With Curation.

Anyway, several times throughout the talks one or more would talk about thinking with curation with such nonchalance that it must be a commonplace in their own ivory tower. This is more worrying than ‘sound art’ – a deeper, more encompassing point of view where any practice that doesn’t run fast enough will be absorbed into ‘thinking with…’.

Immediately it’s our duty to find as many examples as we can. Thinking with spray cans. Thinking with pasta. Thinking with Twitter. Thinking with not thinking too much.

Five reasons why I’m not an ‘artist’.

1. When I worked in advertising I was surprised to meet people who didn’t do anything. They are called ‘art directors’. People like myself that perform the actual tasks are called ‘operators’ and there is a strong class distinction which leads ‘art directors’ to cross their arms while speaking near any object that they may accidentally use*. I was employed to move text on a page for an irate person standing a few feet away from the means to do it. Apparently their pureness of thought would be sullied by contact with a mechanism.

It was shameful to then work at a university where I would speak as an ‘academic’ and have a ‘support’ staff member come in and touch the equipment I was speaking about. This partly comes from film production, where the auteur tells a camera operator what to do. The day that Alex Davies was sent in to touch the equipment for me I called bullshit on the whole idea. I touched the equipment. I will not accept this division between worker and foreman.

I can use a video camera, I have practised its handling over many hours and learned the muscle skill of it. I position the tripod, sand bag it, frame the shot. I set the shutter and the aperture. I raise lights and aim them. I replace bulbs. I write code, slowly and poorly and am even worse at soldering – but I do it. I make digital composites in Photoshop and After Effects. I build games and animate 3D objects. I replace daughter boards. I justify text on an A4 spread. I cut vinyl, print, sew.

When I taught ‘digital media’ I assured my students that they would some day not have to put up with ‘art directors’. I’ve since lost that hope. The gatekeepers have been torn down but artium magister now stands ready to keep the techniplebs under foot.

This post was prompted by something I read about field recording. Yes, I hold a microphone. I choose the appropriate kind; shot gun, crossed pairs. I set the levels on the recorder. I set edit points. I cut tape. I adjust clip amplitudes. I apply filters and set fades at the edges. Does someone have a problem with any of this? Because I don’t care. I have a problem with people who rely on ‘operators’ and ‘assistants’, who are ‘ideas people’, who ‘direct’ others, who evidence a distaste for production, who have tried to turn their ignorance into some kind of superiority. Like eating in restaurants somehow makes them a chef.

2. The first time I made an ‘artist talk’ at a significant event was a Sydney Biennale. Up on stage was a gaggle of ‘media artists’, who like me had a sculptural sound or video work currently on display. When asked to explain the work I said that if I had to use words, it had failed to do its job, and that the audience should go and see it if they needed. That was the first time I encountered a deeply angry ‘artist’ who spent the rest of the panel punishing me for sacrilege. It’s not been the last, but these days I laugh at them.

In every definition of art I’ve read it comes down to context. The ‘artist’ creates a work ‘in a studio context’, which then goes into the marketplace ‘in a gallery context’ for an audience who engage with the work ‘in an arts context’. This explains how somebody’s dirty old bed and their trash gets shown in the Tate Gallery; it’s in context. This is a fantastic sleight of hand which suggests there’s a hidden aspect to everything that is visible which evades scrutiny. A kind of dark matter holding art together.

Even if you don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, just see that an exchange between two parties takes place. There is communication. When I communicate I think it best to use the appropriate means to do so, which shouldn’t then require subtitles. I insist that the thing itself is what matters, and I deny the idea that there’s a separate rather mystical layer to the whole business – a mysticism that often gets turned into International Art English. I have great respect for writing and words. But I don’t think that they are always necessary.


3. Opening night comes and everybody does their entrances and dances like an 19th century costume ball, followed by days of empty rooms and bored gallery staff. It’s such an ineffective means of connecting with a wider audience that the sham is obvious – the audience is the least important aspect of it. It’s about the congregation, their bonds and alignments. Every career involves some politics; being ‘an artist’ is no exception and requires constant stroking of the powerful and important. All of which distracts from the work (and probably why so many artists employ operators).

Recently I was speaking about visual music at a gallery. Halfway through the talk there was a flurry of suits and the audience fluttered around in an agony of politeness. The incoming federal arts minister was making an inspection and much bowing and scraping was in order. I didn’t care, did not pause or give the suit man an inch. It was my talk, and fuck the politics.

Worse in my eyes is that real friendships are masked by the arranged ones. I’ve met some good people who are also ‘significant artists’ and so we could only communicate via approved dance steps of interviews, panels, audiences. As I get older I forget to follow protocol and do things like punch ‘significant artist’ arms – it seems to shock but I think the actual person is grateful for being reminded that human contact is still possible.

4. I’ve said it too many times: the ideal of an artistic career is inertia. Innovate for a while. Find a practice, a style, a scheme that earns attention. Repeat it endlessly, never daring to step outside your persona because the system will need to bind you to an iconic representation of yourself. Do you reproduce famous paintings as slow motion videos? Or use a skateboard as your macguffin? Better stick to that. Keep on making action painting, or ‘industrial’ tape cut up until you die – which is your prime function, sealing off the quantity of your saleable work.

Artists that constrain themselves are recognised more quickly, they are funded, they are more acceptable to publications because they are easier to digest. They are the cheddar cheese of creativity, and when I am I told that ‘all the best work is happening over here’, I know the place to look is anywhere but there. Innovation is part of a continuing vitality, and confusedly being alive is more important than being neatly dead. We should never ever pre-organise ourselves into categories that fit nicely in museums, journals and repositories. That’s like pinning yourself into a display case.

5. The quality of much ‘celebrated art’ is debatable and fails to inspire any true love or respect. Given that the audience is not required, the thing itself needs endless explanation, the auteur has no skills and innovation is abandoned as soon as it gets in the way it’s amazing that there is any good work at all. It’s made by people that don’t buy into all this bullshit. That’s what I want to be.

What will we call ourselves? The Kraftwerk guys were onto something when they called themselves ‘music workers’. But I have another idea. In advertising the term ‘creative’ is a mixed signal, it seems to be a positive, but can be a polite substitute for ‘operator’. I’ve often heard somebody say, ‘we’ll get our creatives onto that’. It means ‘all slaves to the oars’. If so, perhaps we can claim ‘creative’ or ‘operator’ back. It can be our own swearword.

* ‘Class’ seems a heavy handed term until we recall that some societies such as ancient Greece and pre WW1 England defined the upper class by their inactivity.

Modern Education

As any teacher knows, the so-called ‘breaks’ that dot the educational year are there to pack with urgent reviews, meetings and ‘professional development’. The only chance to get people all in a room at the one time and thus an exhausting and sometimes infuriating race to complete a forest of competing agendas. This last week was a ‘break from teaching’ which left me with a piercing headache as if belted in the forehead with a claw hammer.

Australia is going through a ‘modernisation’ of the education system. As with all things ‘modern’ it must be made measurable, homogenised, ‘open’ and entirely filtered of flashes of brilliance. It is the best of ideas, it is the worst of ideas.


I agree that every student deserves to be measured by the same rubric, that a distinction is a distinction no matter who does the marking. I think it’s fair that you be able to look up what the criteria are, and not be mislead. In principle it’s a fine idea which is to be expected as most fine ideas work in principle. The details are not as well behaved.

A high distinction in mathematics means that you have solved all the puzzles on the paper. That’s to be respected. A high distinction in art means … what? We were provided with a table of definitions which were sensible, no dispute there, just that everyone in the room struggled with their ghosts – the student that said very little but painted dreams, the low effort big talker that ended up in feature films, the smart one that never graduated – you know – people, individuals – that you struggled to place on any grid. The convener was firm. No. No intuition, no bargaining between opinions. You can write the grid, but there is a grid.

I looked at what a ‘fail’ means. In Australia, below 50 is a fail and it’s a pain to be only able to mark within the region between 50 and 85, with most students horrified to ever go less than credits. The grid elaborated that 50 percent, it expanded on all the ways you could fill that abyss – like Dante’s Inferno in Excel. I thought the vast majority of students would end up in there. And then there would be the inevitable investigation, firings and adjustment to bump everyone over the threshold. The headache started.

How do we assess? We assess on what we think they should become. Everything is tailored to fitting the criteria. The current jargon is about ‘Global Citizens’, which I can’t help think is ‘we are only impressed by people who leave’. I imagine some Gilgamesh in a suit striding through airports, shaking hands and hiring 1000 workers to mass produce jewelled skulls.

Really we’re back into the whole game of worker’s uniforms and idealised architecture that the post-modernists had to crush underfoot years ago. Instead of endless regimented housing and clothing we have regimented identities and aspirations: having to join Facebook gave me a chance to see what so many people choose as their home – an identikit worker’s cottage that you can accessorise with a few family photographs. They will live in these cottages and dream of being a CEO or at least a celebrity on YouTube. Whatever force was thwarted in the late 20th century bided its time and climbed in another window.

I parked my home here somewhere

There’s a pile of paperwork in front of me, to be absorbed into my thinking so I can produce measurable and accurately boxed ‘artists’. The headache is intense.

Bradbury rang up on the Friday. We talked shit for a long while as per usual, part of which was trying to figure out what ‘school’ ever got us started on our ways. It just seemed so obvious at the time and both of us still create as ‘the birds’ require. For my part I was stupid and ignorant enough to be impressed by everything and angry enough that I wanted to better it all. The notion that this grid will produce a nation of artists seems a vanity. Better this – to throw out ninety percent of them and beat the remainders into the scourges of society. Of course there’s no money in that, is there.

The temptation is to do what they ask, but ferociously, without mercy. Apply the rubric, mark like a machine. They will be horrified to see their monster unleashed, and will all the sooner come to see the folly in it all.

Saloon and Sales

This is interesting: http://www.salon.com/2012/06/20/steal_this_album_what_happens_if_no_one_pays_for_music/singleton/

Mostly because it’s being debated with a little more intelligence than the usual ‘all musicians are lazy and rich therefore FYGM’. Salon is a funny website. Sometimes you feel so damn relieved to be reading above the usual YouTube moron level. But sometimes the USA Progressive rhetoric is clumsy and shallow. I love the old socialist banter that went with the 70’s post punk bands, but I’m well aware that it didn’t get far past the first record contract. It seems that many of the Salon writers have yet to see it in practice and still have high abstract hopes. Bless them for wanting good for all, that’s a rare thing.

Back to paid music: Curiously the switch from CD to DRM-free download has gone well for me. Sevcom shop has almost reached the point where BandCamp will take a lesser cut, and this on material that has been out and about for years. But the audience are generally sticking with what they know.

It’s good to have statistics, actually it’s disillusioning – both negative and positive meanings of that combined. Biggest seller is City Slab Horror. Biggest download is Return To Barbara Island, although it had already done over 1,000 downloads from MediaFire in the old store. Free stuff will always win. But it emboldens me to make a another new thing and give it away. I have about 9000 free downloads banked up.

In the last two months looks like I’ve had a lot of new customers show up. Again, City Slab Horror, Bigot … one thing is that not everyone buys the entire Adenoids set. True, most of the tracks are in the first package. I just thought they’d be completists.

Now, where do they come from? About half direct dial BandCamp, which shows the virtue of this site. A fifth went to sevcom.com first; would be better if I was more active there. A tenth came from FaceBook; I have no presence there. ALMOST NO SALES COME FROM YOUTUBE. Having people post my music on YouTube does not assist me in any statistically valid way. So fuck that argument. Let’s have the image…

Love it.

BandCamp allows me to download everyone’s email addresses as a spreadsheet. If I was a good marketer I’d use that to push info at people, but I think I am a better friend to people by not doing that kind of thing. At some point I’ll just send them all a present.

What about iTunes? Well I don’t get too deep into those statistics but it’s basically about a thousand bucks of Dead Eyes Opened every time I get a payment. Yay… zzzzzzzzzz. iTunes is like when you buy a greasy kebab on the way home from the pub… being Dead Eyes.

This week I have to pop down to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. to talk hosting of [H.H]. I don’t think they’ll notice the hit but sensible men want to check bandwidth. I guess if you had a couple of hundred people bashing away at it on opening night and they all tried the same tape recorder it could be nasty, but shit, it’s the ABC.

Not much development on Cavalcade so far. Looks like we don’t have the Mandala systems we thought we did. Anyone got an old Amiga Live card lying around?

For Capra, I’m trying to 3D render a night time city flyover. All those little bright windows are causing the worst Moire pattern, wasted days on that.

As for Opmitter, don’t ask. I just switched over from Jitter to Derivative TouchDesigner. The desperate move of a drowning man!

Ralph Balson – paint musician.

When I was working on The Shape Of A Note I was assisted by the Penrith Regional Gallery in trying to find works that could be described as musical. Obviously it’s easiest to do that in the era when painters themselves used music as a guide – Kandinsky and Mondrian are the obvious references but the students around the Penrith region weren’t going to see these in person. But, said the Gallery, perhaps you could use Ralph Balson?

Ralph Balson? Damn! Here was a painter that (and OK painting isn’t my big thing) I knew nothing about and yet it was immediately obvious that this was exactly the mind I was seeking. It’s a bridge over to the theosophists and their colour music, the video synthesists of the late 20th Century, maybe even The New Aesthetic if I’m really lucky.

Here’s someone that lived in the same place as I did and overlapped with the people I learned from. He died 2 years after I was born otherwise I’d be around to his place with a case of VB and a lot of questions.

Socially, Balson was shy and reticent. Between 1949 and 1959 he taught part time at East Sydney Technical College. Students respected this near-sighted, suburban painter, with his tradesman’s clothes, who made no display of ego. – Aus Dict. of Biography

(East Sydney Tech College is now the National Art School, it’s where I did the Barbara Island show, which I hope Balson would have liked.) I’m not sure what I’d ask him. Probably, “Oh adopted Wise Master can you see what’s burning a hole in my head trying to figure out what this MUSIC thing is?” “Oh ascendant house painter, why am I concerned with shit that was last important in 1915?” The answer would vary on the amount of VB.

Maybe you’re looking at this stuff and thinking you saw a rug at the local shopping centre that looks a bit like this. It’s true that Balson and his crew inspired more design than fine arts. That’s OK, film is still an artform despite BATTLESHIP. Also it must be said that he moved on to other more complicated work that I am still coming to terms with, and I may be a clifford. For reasons of research I am tweaked on this constructed art at the moment and probably the little things are overly big in my mind. Still, it’s a part of the painterly arts that needs connection to those that are trending at the moment.

I am glad to hear he had a friend. I don’t know why I am less religiously transformed by Grace Crowley’s work – I like it but for some reason Balson is doing some trick with my brain. Perhaps she is less ‘musical’.

At home with Ralph and Grace

She certainly deserved more respect. “It was not until the 1950s, when Crowley was in her sixties, that a public gallery exhibited her abstract works.” And you complain.

Roy de Maistre is worth a mention, but then he never really dedicated himself to the ideal the way this pair did. In quickly and out the door fast. I’ll stick with Ralph.

The Joan. Part 2.

So I’ve been working on the Joan gig since January but I have to admit not really getting into the groove until the last few weeks. There’s always some other thing that needed attention, and there still is, but I’m sufficiently shit-scared to concentrate on getting this thing tamed before it gets too late. The idea of a concert, in a concert hall just messes with my tiny mind. Witness:

– Can’t just play a ‘set’, with ‘tracks’ – I guess you COULD but that’s not the rules of the game here, you have to figure out an emotional flow that takes the whole duration. I have only ever written stuff that intends to be a ‘song’ and so this is puzzling.

– Do NOT want it to end up like the Low Symphony. That is an entirely gruesome bloaterfish of a thing and a clear warning about the perils involved.

– I guess that the more conservative members of the community aren’t going to come but still I would like to make something they WOULD enjoy if they did

– which kind of throws out any ‘beat’, well not rhythm that’s OK, but just not ‘beat’. This is not a bad thing, because everybody has to try throw away the security blanket at some point in their life.

– I just wish it wasn’t right now, when I have to learn how to curate an art exhibition as well. Anyway.

Part of the problem comes from creating music without a score. Most of the things I’ve done over the years were documented by the recording. For example Pour Chiens Moyens was created in FL Studio, but only as a sequence that powered various random things, of which I only have the faintest idea how they worked. And so the tracks have to be reverse engineered…

Chiens first practice version

Oh I mean I know how they worked in theory, but not the tiny tweaks that happened at the point they were recorded. Often I destroyed the mechanism to prevent exact replicas of that singular event – that sounds odd but I wanted there to be a unique piece. Congratulations, big success.

I think segued in there will be: Chiens, Walrus Guitars, Ken Burns Effect, Ghosts of Lunches (the video for this has turned out great), December 13, Nigella, probably Gates from Aerodrom, Starts with K, I dunno, still fussing over some others, like things from Barbara Island, but how without a beat?

Anyway it’s coming together, Ableton Live is looking like a good choice. Much as I love Fruity, it has a spasm when loading big slabs of audio and just isn’t reliable enough. Might need two copies of Live to avoid pauses and gaps. I’ve tested MIDI time code running between the music PC and a Mac Laptop running VDMX, don’t quite know how that’s going to work for a whole concert yet. The video will have to respond to the music (and so all key frames) and has to be 720p and no delays and God help me…

Can an Artwork have (a) Personality?

(taken from my Sensible Blog)

Can an artwork have (a) personality? Such a simple question offers such terrible hidden dangers.

There are at least three. Firstly, the definition of ‘artwork’ is very difficult, based upon the definition of art, perhaps fine art. Slightly less problematic is ‘personality’. Attached to that is a third danger; the distinction ‘have personality’ as against ‘have a personality’.

It is fair to warn that some of this has never been satisfactorily solved, and is unlikely to be solved here, above operational definitions. Let’s start as simply as possible and introduce complexity when it cannot be avoided.

The literal answer is no, artwork cannot have a personality. For the Oxford English Dictionary defines personality as the ‘quality, character, or fact of being a person as distinct from a thing’. Whatever an artwork is, it is a thing. The history of the term makes it clear that a person is a conscious, thinking being.

However ‘have personality’ is different to ‘have a personality’. A thing cannot have a personality – there is no faculty for it. But it could be that when we define artwork we can see a place where the personality of the maker or viewer could be stored and recalled. It’s a similar point to this: where is the music on a CD? Until the bits are converted into sound via a laser and heard there is only the potential to reproduce music. The artist encodes music as bits. The listener plays the record, hears music. In between we have an artwork. My argument will be that this is true of all artworks and I will need to make the case that all are transcriptions of some kind.

We first need to examine figurative meaning. When I describe a storm as angry or a garden as charming, my listener should know that I do not literally mean the clouds are filled with a human emotion, or that the garden is attempting be alluring. Figurative language is effective shorthand for one person to communicate an idea to another, based upon our common ability to personalize things and ascribe motivations to objects. The idea is not shared systematically but rather as an impression that could be measured differently by each person.

Yet figurative language is used very often and evidently works quite well. Particularly in describing artworks; it is acceptable to talk of a ‘sad film with a happy ending’ without having to systematically go through the script, the acting, cinematography and so on, linking each to the person involved. You may even read that a film ‘could not make up its mind’ or ‘lacked identity’ and not assume that the celluloid was sentient.

Studies by Piaget have found that children in a ‘pre-operational stage’ will ascribe personality to objects up the age where they can be taught otherwise. Even then there remains a temptation to blame something for being in the wrong place or maliciously rolling under furniture. Socks are particularly good at this.

In some cultures the personality of objects has been maintained as natural spirits that animate all things. For example astrology personifies the stars and planets, which are supposed to influence human behavior. We still describe people as ‘jovial’ or ‘mercurial’ and say that mental illness is ‘lunacy’. Many faiths involve a Creator whose handiwork is evidenced in the universe. In this case there is personality expressed in all things as a coherent whole. (The transcription is problematic – bad things are evidence of ‘mysterious ways’).

The attack on animism in western philosophy begins with Thales deterministically predicting an eclipse in 585BC. Even so he found the best explanation for magnetism was that it was directed by a soul. While over time the scientific view has gained the upper hand the mysteries of quantum physics have had a similar effect on Deepak Chopra, Fritjof Capra et al.

Figurative meaning is at the heart of all art, which communicates efficiently via impressions and shared psychology. This is a crux of my argument, that psychology is necessary to understanding the presentation of artworks.

There are many conflicting opinions on the definition of art. Fortunately we don’t have to determine a definition for all art, only that an artwork is something capable of holding the personality of the artist and interacting with that of the viewer.

Rather redundantly, OED defines art as, “Skill; its display and application.” The Cambridge does better with, “the making of objects, images, music, etc. that are beautiful or that express feelings”, although surely they allow both. The phrase ‘express feelings’ is the point that needs to be expanded. Both definitions are limited in that they only deal with the act of creation without mentioning the need for perception. Most sophisticated theories of art require some transaction between artist and audience.

Marcel Duchamp sums it up nicely;

All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualification and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. This becomes even more obvious when posterity gives a final verdict and sometimes rehabilitates forgotten artists.


Duchamp is quite certain that the creator is a medium and does not possess the meaning that the work will take on once seen. The meaning comes from ‘the labyrinth beyond time and space’, which I would more humbly interpret as the depths of personal psychology.

Wollheim examines numerous definitions of art and finds fault with most. He holds two criteria as sufficient when no artistic tradition exists; ‘natural expression’ by the artist, ‘a secretion of an inner state’ met by ‘correspondence’ in the viewer, how it ‘seems to reiterate something in us’ (p47). Where there is a tradition, when we act according to that context we are creating art.

Richard Wollheim, Art and its objects, p.1, 2nd edn, 1980, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521297060

For my purposes the ‘inner state’ and ‘something in us’ he describes I would take as psychological formations or complexes. From what I understand of Wollheim as a pshychoanalytical writer I don’t think he would have disagreed. When we act in the context of existing work I would describe that as part of the transcription process, the use of symbols shared in a culture is involved in the encoding.

I think Duchamp is more succinct. “… the artist may shout from all the rooftops that he is a genius: he will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Artist History.”

At a simple level the artwork must hold personality because it is formed by someone, and seen by another. Whether the artwork is made or identified or appropriated a mind has been involved in forming it. Attempts to remove personality from the work, for example John Cage’s use of chance, only leads to that being made part of the work. And until the work is communicated it is like the bits of a CD – potential.

What form does the transcribed personality take in artwork? That brings the concept of a personality codec, and that’s a whole new essay.

Night of The Living Dead

Chucked a huge sickie and no one cared. Lay on the floor coughing up blood tuberculously and not even a Get Well Card. The missus just suggested I fetch the groceries on the way back from the hospital. I even tried dragging my gagging carcass up and down the corridors of Kunst Kamp but that just slowed me down enough that I got mugged in the wet photography wing by the shadier members of 1st Year. What kind of a world is this where manipulative seeking of secondary gains by old men is no longer respected?!

It’s a place where bands like Scattered Order and The Dead Travel Fast play live gigs, that’s what it is. Sunday night, two bands that haven’t made a peep in decades decided to reform and perform. There is a story about the BBC television service shutting down over the Second World War. They had a Mickey Mouse cartoon playing which stopped in mid mouse. When the war was over and broadcast resumed the cartoon restarted from the exact spot at which it had left off. It was just like that.


(Almost as spooky as last weekend with my brother driving my parents around their home suburb with me in the back seat playing the theremin loud out the car windows. Cranking it up. Our mum told us to shut it, but not before the upper north shore of Sydney witnessed an outbreak of geriatric hooligans pumping spooky theremin music.)

Where was I? Oh yes. So when the Dead Travel Fast came on, it was like they had a intermission that lasted 25 years and then did the second half of the set. Probably that’s why the audience looked like they’d spent 25 years drinking at the bar. And it’s as if I resumed the exact same thoughts as I had last time I saw them… ‘I dunno it’s a bit too jazzy for me’. Back then I didn’t know half the music history I do now, but for all of that the years had not changed my tastes. Tastes really do lock in at 16.

Really interesting use of technology the whole night – it had moved onward, but grudgingly. One of the Dead would take a CD out of a pouch and insert it into a player before each track. Why wouldn’t you just burn all the songs to one CD? Maybe that would be GOING TOO FAR. We’re not one of them there computer bands.

When you have that many fogies in the building the need to pee was overwhelming. People’s bladders just ain’t what they used to be. Patrick G from the Systematics was egging me to go piss in the street but I just felt that would more pathos than punk. God, imagine what it would be like at a Fleetwood Mac gig or something. The Bladder Tour 09.

Scattered Order was Mitchell and Michael T for this gig. I think the era they were doing was the Prat Culture LP, so must have had Michael Prod’s drumming on tape. God bless, Mitchell was still playing bits off old detective films four times at semi random over the top of things but back in the old days he’d do it off a cassette and keep rewinding it. This night he had a super contemporary CASIO sampler. Mind you there was still a cassette recorder being rewound somewhere in the wall of noise.

Wall of noise makes it sound bad, it wasn’t at all, it was very manicured noise. Very solid. At one point Mitchell claimed it was a Hawkwind tribute night and that was apparently because I was a fan. Actually yes, Hawkwind is a good comparison, and the various space rock bands up to Chrome. Michael T is not a lead guitarist in the Helios Creed stamp but was making some very fine noise with an ebow guitar and two(!) laptops.

So that was just fine by me.

But what now. Last time, Scattered Order slowly moved into the centre, we all did. How far will this post punk reflux take us? We’re now replaying 1981. Will we move all the way up to 1985? I mean the Models played live with The Reels last year. Thank God I was never as young, thin and pretty as the Models, the before/after would be too much. That’s the thing about videos, you can always remake them. Speaking of which I had best go do that.

p2206605dtOh BTW, finally saw the film In the Realms of the Unreal about the outsider artist Henry Darger. Knew it was going to be great but actually cried over that sad magical bastard. I don’t know why it strikes such a chord but bless Henry Darger, one of the only real artists.

Spare me the fluffing

Now I’m cross again. Look, people, people… honestly… I know there’s traditions that go with music appreciation. We recognise these and put up with them because it’s part of the sub culture. So in dance music every artist that manages to get the slightest recognition is always a ‘genius’. Their ‘phat beats’ are ‘soulful’ and sometimes ‘wicked’ (although that one’s getting a bit long in the tooth) and their presentation is always – come on you know how this works – ‘mind blowing’. DJ Underpants’ mind blowing genius.

And in listening to classical music there’s the respectful silence with the hand on chin, bobbing the head ever so slightly, you may raise an eyebrow if you dare, but do not clap in between movements or you’ll get a dollop of scorn on your cummerbund. A recent edition of The New Yorker pointed out that at the time this music was made, people talked over it and ate their dinner just like they do at rock gigs. Artificial post dated respect for the dead mixed with attention whoring.

So what’s driving me nuts is how the New Academy – the ‘little plonking noises out of four speakers’, the ‘MAXmsp makes another bottom burp’, the Japanese ‘throw my fork at a guitar across the room’ brigade – come on, you know the sort – have taken to writing press releases (sending out spam) that attempt to own every virtue of music since Gronk banged two rocks together – it’s not merely pretentious, it’s vainglorious circle jerking fiddlefaddle of the 7th ascendant level.

I get sent these press releases all the time, and have a spam filter that watches for mentions of ‘musics’ plural, any ‘tone structures’, ‘noise’ and ‘Japanese’ in proximity, ‘merzbow’, ‘jazz’, ‘PD patches’, ‘granu*’ – you get the drift. But they still get through by sheer volume. Here’s one I got just a while ago:

From Japan – Famous Jazz Noise Hybrid Musics legend YamaWhama Obama will perform his entire 10 CD set of flinging forks across the room at a guitar while mumbling some shit about Buddhism. Completely unknown in his own land, he now lives on a couch in New York and knows somebody who knows Lou Reed’s chauffeur.
Legendary transsexual poet, film-maker, interior designer and MAXmsp flouncer Hans Knees Whoopsidasi presents her new video made up of random selections from YouTube along with the coastline of Holland translated into a granular patch.
Australian producer Ya Fuck of Fuckya Records will repeatedly bang his head against a pole until it bleeds. His Pole Dance album is due out next month on Neverheardofit Records in Berlin.”

“We also proudly present our new exhibit at Tragic Hipster Gallery – The Only Good Music From The Last Decade. Artists such as Opiate Stumblebum, Exotic But Bad DJ, Professor Phil Somebody, Shocking Rude Name!!, the French Chick I wish I was banging, Generic Japanese Noise Artist 34, West Coast Guy With Grey Beard and lots of Analogue Gear, The Wanker Improvisation Experience, Krautrock reflux etc. etc. may be heard in the proper gallery context where silence & respectful listening distance is enforced and visual arts traditions are appropriated (because we really wish we were painters).”

Look, pride goeth before the fall and all that but one thing you don’t do is send an invite to a pissed off old musician to some exhibition of ‘the only music worth a shit’ and list a very shallow sample. ‘Hi there fool, the kind of music you make is not what we consider good! Come to the show!’ Actually honey, no, the music you are touting is the abyss.

Please, do not presume that lack of audience assures quality. Please do not consider complicated to be complex. Well made popular music (singular) requires as much practice, skill and talent as unpopular Musics (plural). But more than anything, please don’t confuse your taste for the 90’s underground as being some kind of balanced appraisal of what the current decade is about.

Now you did it, I used bold italics. Damn.