The Interactive Multimedia That Was (Where I’m At, Part 2)


The re-emergence of new media — as an art form and an industry, via whatever name is being floated around at the moment (Transmedia, Creative Coding, so on) seems to be upon us. While I’m increasingly excited about this, I also remember the rather bizarre Silicon-Valley-Meets-Blockbuster-Filmmaking sorts of Big Ideas that were afoot back in the mid-to-late 1990s. I checked out around the time Apple reps started singing the praises of Disney (ironically enough), and shortly thereafter, wound up doing writing and performance art for several years. Prior to that, my scrappy-activist-since-my-preteens self was quite serious about making a go of it, along the lines of Voyager; while the suits and marketing types typically cast blank smiles full of super-white teeth (or just scoffed outright) at the idea of doing socially conscious media, it was a thing. Until the zero-billion-dollar-industry-that-could decided to cash in on the zero part of that formula and die a quick death thereafter, I was determined that it become my thing as well.

Now, though? I’m hopeful, to be honest. Hollywood is widely viewed as the way NOT to go, and overall, there’s a healthier degree of skepticism about the more egregious forms of monopolistic capitalism….sort of. Still, the possibilities surrounding doing cross-discipline work are better now than ever, and the tools continue to get cheaper overall. Further, the media-as-liberation sentiments that drove many of us back in the day are still quite active (obviously), if not expanding on them in ways both significant and unanticipated. Not to mention that the practice of multidisciplinary work is frequently assumed as part of internet-based content creation, at least in part; the idea of naming these sorts of practices beyond “I make things on/for the internet” is somewhat past-rooted in and of itself. So, we’ll see.

Where I’m at, late 2014 edition


Note: I wrote this mostly for my own head, as well as those close to me and/or involved in my ongoing projects. Enjoy.

Happy Thanksgiving/Thanks-For-Nothing/Buy-Nothing-Ferguson-Day eve. It’s that dreadful-as-in-dread-filled time of the year again, but I’m coping, close to happy, even.

Save for Twitter, my budding firebrand-as-public-persona self has been on hiatus for a while now. The last time I was on tour was spring of 2010. (Note the stylish use of scarf, and the ample side-eye at life in general.) At the end of the tour, I realized after talking it over with my tour mates that I needed to up my music producing skills. I had things in my head, my hands, my heart, and while I could make all those things real, they weren’t quite cooked. This, while the global economy was in triage, no less.

Further, on a day-to-day level, I was beginning to realize the very cheap apartment I scored was coming with a price to the tune of gentrifying neighbors (who somehow couldn’t understand why running their car near my front door to the point of near-asphyxiation was a bad idea) and deleterious fuckery overall. So I moved. All well, all good. A slow process, but I was putting together the pieces.

Then in 2012? My mom died.

Somehow, I managed to transmute the expected year-of-flaming-incoherent-grief into something useful, beyond the required process that grief itself entails. I found a school to learn music technology at, without moving to NYC or LA and shelling out ten grand for a certificate whose main utility is teaching things I was teaching myself + industry connections. Which as always, means “maybe, industry connections” which means being the usual oblong peg in the obtuse hole I always am, so, erm, fuck it. I’ll just balance self-learning, public college learning, and being a grieving emotional train wreck the way I do, thank you very much. I completed the bulk of the core curriculum work in my program (enough to get myself an AA degree if I needed it, which I don’t at this point in my life, thankfully). I got a new place, focused on the work, slowly worked my way through the process, and settled in.

Which brings things to the present. Contemporary music production makes sense now, and in keeping, I remastered some tracks I did in 2013, and re-released them for free. I’m still in a toxic (and much more expensive) apartment counties away from my old neighborhood, but I can at least regulate the toxicity – the creeping black stuff is just in the drain, see? it’s no longer bubbling up at random in the kitchen sink, clean it out, and we’re good – and writing is coming along nicely. So, what’s next?

I need to figure out if grad school (again) is an option. I got my MFA in writing back in 2005, and everything that’s available seems like a major-yet-temporary step backwards into undergraduate work (English, Performance Studies, Music Composition), or a somewhat far afield step forwards (same + Music Improvisation + very expensive private MFA programs). It does feel like there’s some sort of there there though, so I’m persisting in shopping around. Graduate work in Music Technology is a possibility, but I’m working to stay focused on creative and theoretical work, more than slogging through production-level work yet again. The better I get at all of this, the more uncomfortable multitasking through someone else’s ideas on multiple deadlines becomes. #nerdproblems Also, Technocultural Studies is starting to emerge as a discipline, and things going well, may work its way into graduate programs. So, work-in-progress.

Creatively, I’m closing in on what the proper balance between music, writing and performance is for me. Songwriting has been getting the short shrift for a while now, but is slowly coming into focus. Page-based poetry appears to be working towards prose, although it remains to be seen how much of that translates into writing novels and short stories (again), or how much of it is part of writing free verse in the 21st century. As a musician, I seem to have a decent balance going, although I’m working my way through understanding how much my work is around being a producer, how much it’s around being a composer, and if those sorts of distinctions are even relevant to what I do anymore.

There’s also my ongoing complicated relationship with technology. I worked as a tech writer for years, and burned out on that. Looked into interactive multimedia, then the entire industry collapsed in on itself. Walked on tech overall after the dot-com bust, performed, lived, shared, got by. Was making headway with becoming a tech editor, then the economy tanked — again. Eventually managed to get a gig doing ePub technical production, which I hated, mostly because of the deadline pressures and the Mad Men-like culture around some corners of the publishing industry. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the industry and myself aren’t a fit — and yet, the desire to design things with code keeps coming up. I think where I’m at with tech is that I’m a creative sort of nerd – give me a problem that’s artistic in nature, and what were mind-numbing, soul-deadening problems around programming and development suddenly become balanced and workable. Unfortunately, creative coding is barely even an industry at present, but that is changing. Slow, patient progress on this front, but progress nonetheless.

Last but not least, there’s activism. Throughout most of the last decade, I juggled (and frequently combined) performance work, writing and street activism in a number of ways. As non-profits moved into that sphere, doing that work started to become less of a fit, in the same ways that working with the ACLU wasn’t a fit. I’m not a mainstream, polite resistance sort of girl; the only reason I was able to persist in the corporate tech world for as long as I did is that I made myself indispensable, or at the very least, the most profitable hire on the list. (I can’t honestly say I’m proud of this, but I did what I could, and after a lot of angst, got out.) If I’m ever going to do that sort of thing again, my place is in the streets. No more collective houses though, they damp my vibe.

All in all, it’s still a time of transition, but it appears to be coming to a collective point of resolution. Here’s to 2015, and whatever it may bring. Onward.

Decolonizing Coding


Disclosure: My interests in this area are not just in multilingual, multi-dialectic linguistic approaches, they also are tied to the need for the effective utilization of programming languages as creative tools. I think the desire for artists to want to control the underlying means whereby they make digital-based art is natural and healthy – unfortunately, the existing modalities for this sort of exploration is linked to learning how to “think like a developer”, or settling for languages that have limited scope and usability in real-world contexts. To no small degree, JavaScript alleviates at least some of this problem, but the underlying nature of programming in general still persists. It’s as if a budding musician says “I want to learn to play the Bassoon,” and their instructor replies. “Good, so it shall be – but first, let me tell you about auto mechanics.” Much of my life’s work (for better or worse) has included bypassing or alleviating this problem, especially in relation to making music (and to some degree, video and design work) with computers. As a mixed-race artist, I welcome the possibility of collaboration towards more creative, increasingly decolonized, and highly engaged control of both the ends, and means, of production in this regard.

Why aren’t there more non-English programming languages? By this, I am referring to languages that reflect the semantics of different cultures, not just implementation of a computer language’s syntax in different languages. While internationalization of keywords is both relevant and important to ongoing efforts to decolonize development, what I am referring to is related, yet separate. The approach I’m proposing is based on hybridizing of languages, rather than implementation of other hegemonic language bases. The reasons for this are several, including potentially harder to hack code (which could also carry with it the cost of being harder to decipher overall), forms of code that semantically map to different modalities of thinking, as well as non-hegemonic semantics that encourage creativity in the development process in heretofore under-explored fashions. If the internet is a set of free-floating nations, with their own languages, customs and rules – there needs to be languages – and dialects of languages — that reflect this.

One guide of how this could take shape semantically is JavaScript. JavaScript doesn’t read like your typical programming language, because it’s not. In JS, almost everything is an object. Further, JS is not a high-level power tools workshop sort of language, like C or even Java (well, sort of) – it’s a quirky scripting language written under pressure, that turned out to be able to do almost anything.

The reason this is relevant to multi-lingual, multi-dialect code is that JS mirrors many of the potentialities of forms of coding that move past English for their underlying semantic structure. While JS is English-based, it’s also a peculiar dialect within the range of computer languages out there – as noted above, this has turned out to be a much greater asset than liability, and further, the need to address an ever-widening range of problems has led to hundreds of libraries, which form a range of dialects. I view it as one possible inspiration among several that happens to have a very robust history, especially in its still-active post-DHTML era.

s/o to @codemesh for lighting a fire about this.

Demonizing El Sistema


(Source) Read the comments to get more background, much of which reflects my sentiments. (I know saying “my thoughts are in the comments” is rarely a good place to start anything, but in this case, it’s valid and relevant.)

It’s widely known that conductors, as well as classical music pedagogues in general, have their fair share of stern-if-not-cruel taskmasters. I have experienced teachers lecture, berate, yell, throw fits, curse students out, and in one particularly salient case, had a conductor close the key lid of a piano while I was playing through a fake book with a friend, before rehearsal. (“We don’t play that kind of music here.”) It’s never been a shining example of egalitarian learning, and most players, if not virtually all players, know this.

Overall, laying this at the feet of El Sistema is highly suspect. If you’re going to criticize these sorts of practices, criticize the nature of the system itself — but doing that would require examining not only the sometimes-if-not-frequently strict practices in this regard overall, but the economic and authoritarian nature of classical music in general. Not to mention the professional station (and possible book-promoting motivations) of the author himself, which carries with it its own forms of at least potential ironies.

I also wonder about the politics involved here, but the author’s comments are framed so heavily around playing whack-a-mole with a scattering of sources in near-ad-hominem fashion, I can’t really get a read on it, past a possible subtext. The author appears to be a scholar around musics in Cuba, and the sociocultural aspects therein, for what it’s worth.