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.

Music and the body (outline)


practice and discipline

– rooted in colonialist practices (kings, courts, patrons)
– embodied imperialism via creative pedagogy and some types of training (the stern teacher)
– instruments as autoamputational machines + mechanisms of control

the disappearing piano

– tied to emergence of post-industrialism
– piano as signifier as wealth (in other words, furniture, not instrument)
– digital pianos
– sampling as threat to the instrument, which may disappear it altogether
– otoh, the piano as stored in the body via practice remains, although unclear for how long
– synthesizers
– controllers (including mini controllers)
– as space/resources become more scarce, and music becomes more tied to the body, the piano becomes smaller, more virtual

synthesizers, real and virtual
– democratizing, neoliberalizing or both?
— understanding of tone, but lack of understanding of programmability
– as containers/carriers of consumerism
– as both pro- and anti-labor devices

further reading

– benjamin (The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility)
– adorno (negative dialectics, dialectics of enlightenment)
– deleuze and music
– mcluhan (autoamputation)

open to non-white guy suggestions for further reading

rage and the dark


i struggle with hope.

not a lack of it, but an abiding
rage underneath all of my eyes.

never call me at-risk anything.
healing isn’t shaped as a book.

what I’ve been working on,
for years now, is having
a balance between both,

the rawness that comes from
being brutally fucked with.

even at this place, on the edge
of a bridge staring at thick water,

hope gets repackaged as marketing,
as marketing itself. this is not
what i’m talking about here.

some people use genuine hope
as an alternative to despair.

that is not what i am
talking about, either.

h/t: @librarianshipwreck

why i don’t trust politics (even when it means not trusting myself)


the left overall in the USA is completely busted-yet-still-functioning, almost without exception.

people (organizers/planners in particular) keep doing the exact same things over and over again, even when they’re broken, or detrimental.

there’s just enough of a positive sentiment around outcomes overall that people think “it’s working”.

it’s not, it just feels like it, sometimes.

a functional definition of “working” has to include getting past where we’ve been for years, if not decades, in a positive – and advancing – direction.

as it stands, we’re stuck with the same approaches, with ever-lessening progress.

to make things worse, things are busted in a variety of ways, and people’s levels of access and power vary, both institutionally and individually.

so we argue, constantly and call it praxis or transformation or whatever.

it’s not, it’s just more of the same.

all of which is made worse by most people not just being flat-out-right or flat-out-wrong, just mostly right, give or take, about what they know best.

or even worse, cape on behalf of oppressed people, with no idea of direction, goals or even if said caping is making things better or worse.

then we argue about the caping.

just as its been for decades, just faster and more intense.

i do have hope, just not when people keep on repeating themselves.

which everybody does, but not always in the same way.

mobilizing and organizing aren’t the same.

i think we’re stuck, in general, at not building the sorts of movements that could lead to at least understanding the differences between mobilizing and organizing.

h/t: @er0tikka, @lavlobster, black agenda report, and as always, my twitter timeline

The musical and technological dialectics of the body (draft)


More raw thoughts.

– why a keyboard? why not a keyboard? why this chair and not that one?
– why the piano? why not the piano? is the piano dying?
– are electronics killing us or saving us, as musicians, as sound designers? as people?
– is the piano being engulfed into electronics? this is simple: yes.
– but wait: is the synthesizer the new piano? not so fast. there’s little in the way of tradition – synthesizers are new, and not as in service to royal courts and the like as pianos and orchestras were in their respective early-to-mid years.
– further, many people are more ignorant of how synthesizers work than they’d sometimes care to admit. contrast this with the requisite knowledge of your average “serious” piano player – not just techniques that end up being stored in the body, but practices (frequently that were figuratively or literally in service to colonialism and to no small part, imperialism), techniques, and at least some knowledge of the mechanics of the piano itself, as a machine of metal, wood, felt and last but certainly not least in this pantheon of early consumption-as-destruction, ivory.
– this ignorance of synthesizers is not necessarily a bad thing, although the machines themselves are arguably every bit as destructive as pianos were, and are. (virtually all synthesizers are a type of contemporary machine, even analog synthesizers – and in the case of many digital and hybridized synthesizers, computers that are dedicated to a specific set of tasks.)
– past this, the relative ignorance of how synthesis works on the part of many players, as well as ignorance of the math that drives them, at least has the benefit of not tethering musicians to the machinations of programming, of dsp, of circuit design, of all the underlying traditions that have emerged from, and remain in service to, Empire in general, and all too often, the wars of said Empire in specific.
– however, ignorance is not bliss, nor is it liberation. using tools without understanding them provides its own set of dangers, frequently foisted on users of said technologies.
– in contrast, the people who make said tools are exploited, pure and simple. it’s not just “that’s a problem” as so many apologetic hand-wringers and “green tech” advocates are quick to assert, but it’s raw oppression every bit as much as cutting down forests to make condos, or extracting diamonds to sell marriage vows, and so on.
– don’t necessarily count yourself out of all this if you exclusively play electric or even acoustic instruments, either. i trust this speaks for itself.

Much respect to @codemesh for being part of my sorting all this out.

Why I’ve become suspect about artistic fame, liberal or otherwise


“Art is anything you can get away with.” ― Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

– there was a time not that long ago – as in, late 1980s to early-to-mid 2000s – when being a performer who had some sort of actual dialectic content was possible, including content that included so-called identity politics. that’s mostly been replaced by ever-shifting matrices of membership in a given oppressed group, combined with a very thick glass ceiling.
– the net effect of this is in service to capital, of both the commercial and non-profit varieties, inasmuch as there is a relevant difference between the two at all.
– if you’re not a stakeholder in a non-profit, a corporation, or both, you effectively don’t matter – unless you work for one or both. everything else is some version of dark matter, in arts and letters overall.
– all of which presumes being allowed into the club as it were to begin with, which is anything but a given.


– social media has liberated hundreds if not thousands to become active producers of politically charged content. while this has its benefits, it’s not automatically a panacea, either. the ever-increasing amounts of infighting (frequently over smaller and smaller differences in view, combined with actual mistakes inflated to a point of active, acrimonious contention for days or even weeks) is anything but healthy for individual and collective consciousness, including as part of liberation struggles.
– in specific: the constant risk of being fractured apart into ever-smaller groupings of sanctioned behavior, with what amounts to mobbing people (online or off), is of tremendous benefit to capitalism. not only because it keeps people dividing and fighting, but because the resulting confusion serves both as good cover, and an effective means for liberalism to have power-over, and all too often, power within as well.
– none of which is to say that the issues themselves are unworthy of attention (frequently, it’s quite the opposite). the process itself though frequently engages a palpable-if-not-combative mode of criticism that quickly becomes collectively destructive, in practice — even if contained within the realm of words, accusations and sometimes, reputation.


– remember #cancelcolbert? who won? who lost? who was demoralized? who was emboldened?
– when is being emboldened just another means of control? what if demoralization and emboldening wind up as similar if not identical moves on a chess board?
– what if demoralizing and emboldening in this context are both forms of liberalism? who benefits? who doesn’t?
– if we are all artists now, does this mean that we’re all taken advantage of?


– ultimately, whether or not i make art doesn’t matter. but it is what i do, it’s in my muscle memory (by which i mean, my entire muscle structure, not just hands-to-arms, the classic autoamputational (a la McLuhan) interface between the body and the loving machines we call instruments). resisting this means fighting against my body, which results in some sort of deep confusion of the self, which is debilitating if not emotionally/psychically paralyzing, and no amount of well-heeled post-fill-in-the-blank theories can erase that. not at least, without some sort of deeper cataclysm, and not necessarily one of actual merit, or even use. not all catharsis is good catharsis.
– to make matters worse, we left-minded creative labor types frequently get corralled into some sort of gatekept sub-category, where we are allowed even smaller amounts of access, frequently for smaller amounts of time, if we’re allowed access at all. i was able to hobble together a sort of sustainability – by which i mean, barely surviving, but somehow keeping afloat – for years.
– that all said, this sort of thing is clearly not indicative of reality for any number of people, and i am grateful for the experiences that were provided by even this sort of teetering-on-the-brink form of access to self-expression. but unless i will myself into some sort of capitulated, “celebrity left”-like status, as things stand in 2014, at least? this form of access is done, and has been for some time now. further, as my body slowly ages, my more-or-less-manageable physical limitations (allergies, small lungs, some sort of predisposition to infection) keep reminding me that they provide their own glass ceilings on top of the cultural and economic ones.


– so now what? well, my body still loves writing, making music and sometimes, video and design work as well. so much so that day jobs are out (tech ones especially, which imho has always been about leeching people out of and away from creativity, not towards it), and i’m aged out of the sorts of service work that may provide some sort of sustainability. i’m not about to starve, but i’m not able to move forward in any way that’s not a significant step backward politically, if such pathways even remain open. also, i’m not about to become an entrepreneurial anything. that’s at least as bad as celebrityism, if not far worse, including if not especially in the service sector.
– so what does this leave? for one thing, people talk about design as being effectively identical to “making art,” in the literal sense of “art” as a fine arts discipline, so given my particular skillsets, that might work. however, even without the obvious servitude to capital (again, both in for- and non-profit forms) that this entails, i’m not sure that the similarities to creative practice and creative results map here. is making a poster as part of an ad campaign truly the same as making a painting? were basquiat and warhol one in the same, due to proximity, not just in their persons, but in the work itself? i’m not buying it. by which i mean, i’m not about to steal back ideas that are that potentially toxic, even away from the corporations that defile them. fuck all of that as well. on the other hand, not that being some sort of art world darling has ever been on the table, but the art world is perniciously corrupt. so for the record: fuck that double.
– if the only way forward is a militant rejection of everything, including most creative and political practices, out of design, necessity or both – now what? doing nothing is an option, but that’s a net “at least i’m not making things worse.” (this may have more merit than it would seem at first, though.) ignoring the memories of muscle and brain is unworkable. traditional models of political engagement frequently require some sort of rejecting creativity (or at least, being in humbled service to it), while being anything but effective, even within whatever limited scope said politics cast for itself, let alone within transformative or revolutionary frameworks.
– so, once again – now what? i think i’ll leave it there, for now.

h/t to @neverw0rk for ideas around the limits of even radically-minded, self-checked artmaking, and @codemesh for brain food around art and the body. i’m determined to get things right here, hell or high water.

Art as Revolution


More things in draft form. Slept on this, and did a 1.1 pass on the “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” section.

– If all roads towards making art that isn’t inherently corporate are road-blocked by capital itself, then the terms and conditions for making this specific sort of art are essentially revolutionary.
– The struggle leading up to this goes back decades. As paid avenues for art-making went from having at least a few byways that allowed for work of substance to be created from the late 1950s to the early 1990s (for example, more militant forms of hip-hop – if not hip-hop period – as well as experimental works that challenged norms in politics, culture, consciousness or all of the above in a variety of mediums), to the present conditions that require a combination of self-promotion, entrepreneurship and non-threatening, palatable work, artists that were outside of the corporate-owned mainstream struggled with finding ways to finance their own work. The internet provided a means for a much wider range of people to at least have the potential to have sustainable careers, although not necessarily in ways that challenged the status quo or that even required a form of critical engagement. That potential is essentially gone, and is quickly being replaced by means that are completely corporate-controlled, and/or so driven by self-promotion and entrepreneurship to effectively act as an increasingly restrictive gatekeeping mechanism for anything that is more significant than the next pop song, conventional narrative or self-help book.
– “Why does self-promotion and entrepreneurship have to be a negative?” Even when the goal of such an endeavor is not to become part of corporate infrastructure in one fashion or another, it places people in a sort of self-censuring opinion vacuum that requires obedience for even the most paltry forms of freelance work. While there are some partial exceptions to this (such as some of the work that Buzzfeed publishes), they are so limited in number and constantly challenged by competing brands that are even more clickbait-driven than they are to make these exceptions limited in relevance, if not beside the point altogether.
– “But what about art that, while corporate-produced, challenges dominant hegemonies?” What about it? What appears to be a challenge to hegemonic power via paid byways, is in fact a de-toothed form of propaganda far too often, with the clear goal being freezing out anybody who resists. Presently, this takes the form of lauding a select few who, at best, come off like they’re storming the bastille (although always in some pre-packaged, controlled-message sort of way), while actually railroading audiences into safe, “Lean In”-like forms of everything-can-be-transformative-if-you-only-click-your-heels-and-try gibberish. The fact that this can include people who are part of marginalized groups at times is not necessarily a meaningful counter to this dynamic. If anything, it’s part of a self-contained immunity to criticism and analysis, made all the more effective by long-standing historical prejudices, including prejudices embodied — at times — by recipients of said laudations, as well as — at times — the people doing the criticizing. (In short: identity is important, but it’s a mistake to assume that it’s an inherent solution.) This complex form of side-lining and rejection wasn’t necessarily the case not that long ago – more challenging works that involved varying degrees of compensation/recognition were in play up until the early 1990s, as noted above – but it most certainly is now.
– It is becoming clear to me that those of us who have some sort of in-the-bones need to make art that wakes people up and challenges dominant norms in art, society overall or both, are not so much losing as being forced into conditions that require a significant amount of praxis just to get out of bed in the morning, let alone to actually keep producing work. I call this process “art as revolution” – not art in service to revolution, but as part of building grass-roots revolutionary movements in and of themselves.

Underground arts, respectability and resistance – notes and thoughts


More things in early stages, but getting on a roll with something here. Enjoy.

As I said a while back on Twitter:

“If there’s no $ in arts, nobody will make it”, more like “Only people with time and resources to make art, will.”

There’ll still be art around. Celebrity art. Famous person art. Well-off professional artist art. Independently wealthy art.

Otherwise, *crickets*, save for the occasional person who dares challenge the dominant hegemony, creatively, politically or both.

– Mainstream society acknowledges that you have to work hard to be an artist, but paradoxically thinks that art happens as if by magic, including the means by which people have successful careers. This is a smokescreen. Art is life, life is hard, making art is life, art is hard. This doesn’t have to be true, but it frequently is, especially if you’re an underground artist and/or person who is otherwise gate-kept away from respectability.

– The urban gentrification cycle typically gets underway when underground artists start being capitalized upon by mainstream taste-makers, including in some cases eventually becoming part of the capitalization cycle themselves, via opportunistic business enterprises, “get in first” real estate deals, and so on.

– This is typically followed by whoever doesn’t get harvested for potential future returns getting bulldozed over and sent off into the hinterlands, or to struggle against mounting challenges to remaining put, while the larger culture as a whole is driven out, then finally, most if not all of the city becoming unaffordable, save for the most well-paid workers on up.

– What may be shifting in terms of gentrification: a marked increase, if not simultaneous occurrence, of the above stages of gentrification, as well as fix-is-already-in promotional campaigns for “arts-friendly’ second-tier cities, who plan to use migrating artists as quick fodder in downtown development schemes.

– This city-and-corporate-led “pro-arts” agenda runs the risk of not only driving out present art-making residents out via a combination of gate-keeping and escalating living costs (including but not limited to rent), it also prevents people who co-habitated with or preceded underground artists – frequently communities of color and poor/working class people overall – from returning. Even leading up to periods of economic decline (which frequently include an influx of artists, due to the increase in more affordable housing), the potential of keeping people out when the gentrification cycle eventually reverses, and housing becomes affordable again – typically when middle-class and up whites leave the city, developers abandon future projects, and things start to decay – is real. In other words, the pro-arts agenda provides the convergence of moneyed, powerful interests that drive gentrification with an additional cultural and economic weapon against keeping undesirables out, if they so choose, by labeling them as “the bad sort of creatives” or otherwise less-than, while keeping the semblance of being pro-artist intact, to be utilized as needed. This utilization may include implementation during periods of decline, depending on the plans, interests and future needs of capital, in a local/global context.

– The solution to this is for communities to organize for the sorts of transformative conditions that allow people the practical and life-altering means to make all kinds of art, not for artists to be played by corporate arts entities that collude with downtown interests – while collectively resisting gentrification as soon as it starts to happen. The Right To The City is real. We are not your puppets!