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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Image By Hugh McCabe (2017)

In this post I consider the Introduction and first chapter of Lev Manovich’s influential 2001 book, The Language Of New Media 1. Manovich’s book is a comprehensive and wide-ranging attempt to provide what he calls a “theory of the present”: an analysis of new media as it emerges in the late 20th Century. Future posts will look at subsequent chapters of the book.

The Language Of New Media covers a lot of ground over the course of its six chapters but perhaps the most concise insight into where Manovich is coming from can be gleaned by means of an autobiographical anecdote he relates at the very start. Manovich studied computer science in Moscow in the mid-70s and he recalls how neither himself nor any of his classmates had access to computers in order to test the programs that they were learning to write. Everything was done on paper, as opposed to inputted into a machine, and the experienced professors would evaluate the work of students by mentally executing the hand-written programs that were submitted to them.

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Image by Hugh McCabe (2018)

What’s new about new media? Or in this case, what was new about new media way back in 1999 when Butler and Grusin’s Remediation 1 was first published? The book was one of the first full-length attempts to define and contextualise this emerging field, coming a year or two before Manovich’s influential Language Of New Media 2, and several years before the whole concept of new media came to be seen as not quite so new at all. Bolter and Grusin’s book anticipates this by challenging the notion that new media represents some sort of epistemic shift or radical break from established practices. They take aim at the techno-fantasists who are permanently plugged into VR headsets and feverishly declare the birth of new digital realities where the troubles of the past can be left behind. In fact, much of Remediation is concerned with how various forms of digital media (virtual reality, computer graphics, the World Wide Web etc.) are inspired by, have their roots in, or simply mimic, earlier forms. By stripping away what is not new about new media we can perhaps zero in on what is.

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PaulSmythEvanParker01

This photograph is of Evan Parker and Paul G. Smyth playing upstairs in the National Concert Hall in Dublin last month. This was part of an ongoing series of improvised duo concerts that Paul has organised in conjunction with Note Productions, and features a range of leading figures from the improv world. Evan Parker is, of course, something of a legend in that scene, and over the years has also played on records by people like Scott Walker and Robert Wyatt to boot. The gig was really great – far more coherent and accessible than I expected it to be. Fully improvised music can be somewhat hit and miss for me. I sometimes find it invigorating, as if I am up there with the players on that weird tight-rope trying to collectively negotiate a path from one point to another. The in-the-moment nature of the experience can be exhilarating and exciting and when that happens it seems like all music should be like this. At other times though, it completely loses me, and I find myself longing for a tune or a song or something else I can latch on to, and wondering what I am doing actually listening to this stuff. (more…)

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Photograph by Paul Shanahan

Photograph by Paul Shanahan

Now it seems obvious. The clue was in the name all along. But none of us who were present at any of the Wormholes performances of the 1990s really grasped the full scope of their conceptual project. We assumed that their ramshackle semi-improvised live actions were of their time and of their time only. We assumed that when they disappeared in 1999 we might not see them again. We assumed that their work would probably live on only through memory, folklore, and sporadic documentation. We assumed also that the event announced for December 12 2014, to mark the end of the Joinery, was a mere reenactment, a restaging of an iconic Wormholes performance, albeit one staged by the original performers.

The usual questions stirred in our minds about the validity of such practices. Does performance only exist in the present? If so, is it possible to recreate a present that is now long past? Can experiences and meaning be transported through time? How will the new context affect the reception of the work on the part of the audience? What new light will be shed on the Wormholes’ practice by this spatial and temporal dislocation?

But when they pick up their instruments and launch into the opening chords of ‘Marshmellow’, all of these questions are suddenly made redundant. The Wormholes did not go away for fifteen years at all, and we have not been waiting for them to come back. They have always been already here, waiting for us. This wasn’t a reenactment of the past. This was the past. This is the future. How they found the tunnel through spacetime now seems irrelevant. What’s important is that from the start, they knew it was there. Now we know too. Or perhaps we always did.

This text was written at the invitation of the Paper Visual Art journal and was published as one of a number of PVA tickets that were created to mark the end of the Joinery art and performance space in December 2013. PVA tickets are short reviews and pieces of creative writing that are printed and distributed around art galleries and other venues around Dublin. This is number 10 in the series. Thanks to Niamh Dunphy for inviting me to write one and for going with my suggestion of writing about a band as opposed to an art exhibition. Thanks to Paul Shanahan for the photograph.

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Lee Ranaldo

This is Lee Ranaldo playing a recent solo acoustic gig in Dublin. Sonic Youth are on hiatus at the moment and consequently there doesn’t seem to be much hope of any new records any time soon. The upside of this though is that all of the members are not only pursuing interesting solo projects but also touring them in venues that are much smaller and more intimate than the ones they would be playing in if the whole band were in tow. Lee Ranaldo’s show was in the Bello Bar, which fits maybe 100 people – a far cry from the last time I saw Sonic Youth, which was at an ATP event in the UK a few years back, with an audience of a couple of thousand. (more…)

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GoatForPete

Pop, punk, prog and psych: these are what Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices refers to as the ‘four P’s’. For Pollard, they constitute the key ingredients of this thing we call rock. You can include one or two of these ingredients and still produce something really good, but if you want to be great, you have to master all four. As the driving force behind the greatest band of the modern era, this is a man who knows a thing or two about music, and we should therefore take note of what he says. What Pollard’s taxonomy suggests is that psychedelia is not some sort of temporary aberration in the trajectory; not just the folly of drugged-out hippies in Haight-Ashbury. Instead it’s a core element of the DNA of the music itself, and it’s therefore just as relevant right now as it was when the original wave of psychonauts set the controls for the heart of the sun way back in the late 1960s. If you’ve never tuned-in, turned-on and dropped-out, then you’re not just missing out on the joys of one particular sub-genre of rock music, you’re missing out on pretty much the whole damn thing. Your outlook is fundamentally flawed. You probably think ALT-J are a good band.

The photo at the top is of the Swedish band Goat. The text is the first part of a review I wrote for thumped.com of the 2014 edition of the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. You can read the full thing here.

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Wall1This is a text I wrote for the Pact Of Disengagement event that took place at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios back in May, which Teresa Gillespie and Ben Woodard kindly invited me to be part of. The idea was to explore the question of the nature of the relationship between art and philosophy, or as Teresa and Ben put it, their ‘mutual abuses’. I was one of a panel of speakers (Paul Ennis, Francis Halsall, Matthew Slack, Edia Connole, Jonathan Mayhew, Micheal O’Rourke, Rob Murphy, Lily Cahill and Tina Kinsella), each of whom had five minutes to articulate some thoughts on the subject. This text was written to be ‘read out’, rather than ‘read’, so you could always read it aloud to get the full effect

I am going to talk about this idea of abuse – the notion that more often than not art and philosophy are engaged in a form of mutual abuse that is not particularly constructive. Abuse of philosophy by artists. Abuse of art by philosophers. I’m going to suggest though that maybe abuse isn’t always bad and that we might take, not an uncritical view of it, but at least a view that is open to the possibilities that such abuse might present. I’m going to largely confine myself to artists abusing philosophy rather than the other way around. (more…)

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