If you see something, say something. This is the message of a nationwide campaign by Homeland Security to encourage citizens to report suspicious activity to authority figures. But it can also be seen as a call to action, to be conscious of what we see in the world and to share it with others.
I’d like to start a citizen’s photoessay platform to share what we see. If you see something, say something.
Here is something that I was seeing today, the toy section at KMart by Astor Place.
Get the flash player here: http://www.adobe.com/flashplayer
This weekend I hosted a sleepover hackathon at my apartment as hurricane Irene swept over New York City.
Scott, Bryan, and I participated in the Node.js Knockout, a 48-hour global competition to produce something cool with Node.js. Node.js is an up-and-coming web server which is particularly good at handling real-time interactivity. For example it’s very easy to make a web-based chat room or multiplayer game using Node.js.
Inspired by Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, we decided to make a collaborative environment for exploring the collective unconscious. We spent a few days before the competition and Friday night discussing how best to do this in a way that we could accomplish in 48 hours. We settled on a collaboratively edited web of images.
On Friday night we play-tested using Google Docs to make sure the concept would work.
Worried that we’d lose power by Sunday morning, we worked extra hard all day Saturday. This pushed us to finish a working prototype by Saturday night.
But with Irene causing us little disruption, we were able to play-test and further polish the site all day Sunday. We were pushing features right up until the deadline at 8pm EST but it wasn’t as much of a last-minute scramble as these hackathons usually are.
Psyche is a web of serendipitously inter-related images reflecting participants’ whims. Participants collaboratively explore the collective unconscious, adding images and drawing relations, creating symbolic and aesthetic clusters.
In some older cultures, artists create sculptures by carving them out of bones. Except the artist is not seen as the creator in our modern sense. Rather, the final form is already in the bone and the artist just carves away the excess to reveal that form.
People don’t blame the artist if the sculpture doesn’t turn out well. Instead they say things like, “Sure have been some strange bones lately.”
Gold Noise is the sound of one million pop songs all playing at once.
Here are some samples of Gold Noise. They’ve been generated by a Ruby script that randomly chooses mp3s from my music folder and blends them together.
Gold Noise builds on a tradition of naming different types of audio noise after colors. Noise in audio is often defined as a random signal — that is, the antithesis of signal. However the source of the randomness that generates the noise gives the noise different “colors”. For example, white noise can be generated by a series of random, uncorrelated samples (essentially a series of random numbers); it sounds like TV static. Brown noise is generated by a signal on a random walk, that is, a signal that is changed by a random offset at each sample; it sounds like a waterfall.
Gold Noise is generated by a random sampling from the cultural landscape of Pop Music. Pop Music is the collection of sounds that are shaped by the cultural zeitgeist as well as commercial forces to be, in some sense, the most desirable sounds to human ears at a given time in history. The sound of Gold Noise subconsciously explores these forces that shape Pop Music.
Within the cultural oeuvre, Gold Noise builds on the institutional critique of Pop Music by groups such as The KLF. In 1988 — after releasing the novelty pop song “Doctorin’ the Tardis” which reached number 1 in the UK Singles Chart — The KLF wrote a manual on how to “write” a hit pop song. The manual lists Golden Rules, mostly concerning how to lift elements from other hit songs to create a new one. Pop Music as Gold Noise itself.
Further back, Gold Noise builds on the work of the Dadaists and later the Situationists. These groups, through physical and conceptual collage, explored the collective subconscious of human societies. As in Gold Noise, random sampling was a key strategy for this exploration.
For my Sound and The City final project, I will incarnate Gold Noise into several physical and virtual spaces.
Gold Noise Radio
A physical, self-contained radio consisting of speakers and some number of dials which can be separately tuned to FM radio frequencies. When turned on, the radio plays all of the tuned-into radio stations at once. The radio’s enclosure will be painted gold.
Gold Noise Transmission
A radio station in New York City will be enlisted to broadcast 3 minutes and 20 seconds of live Gold Noise. 3 minutes and 20 seconds is the length of a perfect pop song according to The KLF manual. The broadcast will consist of all of the other radio stations in New York City playing at once, live.
Using the internet streams of radio stations, radio Gold Noise will be sampled from several large cities all over the world. These samples will be released for comparison on goldnoise.org.
Personal Gold Noise
The above Ruby script will be packaged into a downloadable application which will create personal Gold Noise from the mp3s in a user’s music folder.
I’ve only had one week’s exposure to Contact Improvisation but already I feel that this is how humans were made to move.
I first saw this dance at Priceless last weekend. It was past midnight, having just turned July 4. I was wandering around the festival and decided to check out the chill stage. This stage was covered with a cloth shade structure, kind of like a futuristic circus tent. There was only one entrance which was crowded with people standing, so I had to push my way through.
Despite being outdoors — the night sky visible through the holes between the cloth structure — the chill stage was covered in carpeting and this carpet was strewn with large throw pillows. Within the perimeter were people sitting and lying down on these pillows, most with eyes-closed, listening to the ambient music the DJ was spinning.
But in front of the DJ was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. Five or six people were moving at about 4x slow motion, writhing, caressing and falling over each other. A multi-limbed, multi-headed, multi-torsoed human mass oozing at 4x slow motion at the center of an audience entranced by psychedelic ambient music.
In my current state, I couldn’t tell whether this was a performance or something that just spontaneously started happening. It was actually so intense that I had to leave.
The next night I hung around the chill stage in a more sober condition and was able to observe how these dancers initiated their dance and the protocols they used to communicate with each other.
I found out that the dance was called Contact Improvisation. And yesterday morning I took my first class here in New York City.
Here are some reasons why I believe that this will be the dance of the future (at least for me):
Intention not form. The form, the shape you put your body in, is not important. The art happens at the point of contact; very subtle pressure changes allow partners to communicate how the point of contact should evolve, whether it be pulled, pushed, slid, or pivoted. But only the participants experience this, everybody else just sees the form which follows from the intention.
Absolute expression. Although there is a vocabulary for common movements, there is no such thing as a wrong move. Other dances require learning fundamentals before one’s own style can be developed, but in Contact Improvisation you’re already developing your personal style on first contact. The personal styles of each partner flower in complexity as they interact. Every dance tells a unique story.
Intimate. All communication between partners is through touch. The dance can be done completely with eyes closed. There is a group that teaches Contact Improvisation to the blind.
Shared control. Like Capoeira, Contact Improvisation is explicitly an action-reaction, feedback-led dance. There is no leader and follower like many partner dances. Instead the subtle energy fluctuations at the point of contact lead the dancers, like the chaotic forces at an unstable equilibrium.
Physics-defying. Here’s the quick principle of a dance like the moonwalk: Michael Jackson goes up the toes of one foot, puts all of his weight on that foot, then slides the other foot (which is flat on the ground) backwards. The illusion in convincing because the audience sub-consciously thinks that MJ’s weight is on the foot that is flat on the ground, so when this foot is slid back it makes him appear weightless/frictionless. Contact Improvisation creates an entirely new dimension of possibilities for movements like this, because weight can be distributed to your partner.
Modular. Any number of “partners” can simultaneously participate in the dance, all linked through touch, the exchange of partners as effortless as the dance itself.
If you’re in NYC, I highly recommend Kayoko’s class. She gradually introduces the concepts of the dance in a comfortable way, has the class go through exercises which help you learn to communicate your intention, and makes very constructive suggestions on ways you can go deeper into the dance.
I’d love to watch the entire novel like this! There’s something so blatantly absurd about a medium entirely inappropriate for its content. (For something similarly wonderful, check out this read-aloud version of the US Tax Code.)
Interestingly, the Overton window is a political theory concept that is becoming a theme on this blog. Its premise is that the scale from absurd to self-evident is relative to the current mood of the collective consciousness. The “Overton window” is the range of political positions that are currently considered acceptable, or at least acceptable enough that people won’t laugh at you.
The political technique that emerges from this consideration is to inject opinions into public discourse which are more extreme than the position you favor. These extreme positions expand the Overton window. Now your favored position seems quite moderate.
This is, of course, exactly the strategy used by Glenn Beck.
The reason this strategy works is that most people gauge the range of others’ opinions and then choose an opinion in the middle of this. It’s like the story of two kids fighting over cake: Sam says he should get all of it, Paul says they should split it half and half, so the adult decides to compromise and gives Sam three-quarters.
Another strategy to expand the Overton window is to push hard in the other direction.
A while ago Matt Garcia and I wanted to launch a guerilla public policy campaign: Don’t Ban Smoking, California. Here’s Matt’s script for a TV spot:
Close up. Statue of Thomas Jefferson with a single tear rolling down cheek.
Voice Over (menacing):
In 2009, smoking tobacco inside restaurants and bars became illegal in Virginia, the heartland of tobacco country.
Recently, you may have seen ads that suggest smoking should be banned entirely in the state of California.
Smoking is a choice. Don’t let private interest groups bully the government into dictating your choice.
Don’t let Thomas Jefferson shed a tear for you, California.
Cut to: Man in California wilderness smoking. Panning Landscape shot.
Cut to: Jail cell slamming repeatedly from 4 different angles.
Cut to: Man in cell with face against bars.
Cut to: Thomas Jefferson’s face where man’s was, still crying.
Stay free California. Retain personal choice.
Now Matt swears that he’s actually seen ads and other propaganda to ban all tobacco smoking entirely in California. Any corroborators?
My interest in this campaign was to make people think that there are actually people mobilized against the (non-existent?) Ban Smoking movement. This would in turn strengthen the Ban Smoking movement, perhaps to the point where they would even succeed. I don’t really care about this policy but I think it would be interesting to see.
Of course, any time your plan involves people’s reactions and counter-reactions you’re in for unexpected consequences. Really the best you can hope to do is stir things up and make people scratch their heads.
Incidentally, it seems we’ve been beaten to the punch on our smoking campaign by the like-minded Billboard Liberation Front.
When I first saw these anti-drug ads I thought they were a parody.
The anti-drug campaign in the US is grounded on loose “facts” and this PSA just points that out!
But when it comes to influencing public opinion, it’s enough to:
Show a debate around a topic.
Show one side winning through body language.
This technique is much more effective than supporting a position with “rational” arguments.
These high fructose corn syrup ads follow a similar formula.
The ads are carried by the expressions of the actors playing the losing side. These smart alecs think they know what they’re talking about but then are surprised and humbled by the unwavering resolve of the winning side.
It’s amazing to me how easily the human mind can be influenced. So much of what we consider true is based on what others consider true. And we grant the authority to decide truth based on signals of authority, such as body language. My favorite moments in Don DeLillo’s White Noise are the absurd situations that this leads us to.
One final propaganda ad, I recently saw this trailer on Hulu. Honda is running ads to change the public perception of robots. They’re not the bad guys!