When things break down, they are much more interesting than the gadgets that function, channel and regulate our lives. Broken things might poetically and with a Heideggerian hum say to reveal their essence. This is the other side of the apocalyptic – to be understood as “apo-kalyptein – an uncovering or disclosing of what had previously been hidden.” (Gere 2008: 13)
It is in this sense that we should talk of “downtime” not as an accidental misfortune, a temporary hiccup and denial of service of intentional nature or just infrastructural/hardware failure. Instead, it is part of how media, tech and things just are (in consumer cultures); that they break down, fail in their intended task, and refuse to switch on. Indeed downtime is the time of permanent breaking down, crisis and one is tempted to start unraveling a wider transversal notion of downtime from the microscale of technological circuits to macroscales of economy. But indeed, if it is a transversal notion it cuts across such traditional divisions of micro and macro and forces a different dimensionality. A molecular level of connections which forces the technological to be tightly articulated as part of political economy; an articulation of politics must take into account the technological conditioning of itself – the political action; the (media) technological sustains and operates the processes of subjectification; the social starts from the circuit.
An installation, Downtime (post-domestic fiction), I saw as part of Amber 2012 exhibition in Istanbul, November 2012, plays with the idea of broken down electronic and other gadgets, from scientific measurement units to an old telephone, television, kitchen utensils (a hand mixer) and an old Spectrum ZX computer. The practice relates to the recent years of circuit bending and hardware hacking, as well as critical design/(re)making, from Garnet Hertz to Benjamin Gaulon and glitchers Jon Satrom to Rosa Menkman, and it might be said to relate to zombie media too–repurposing discarded/dysfunctional gadgets.
For the group, “downtime refers to the period of time during which a system remains unavailable or fails to provide or perform its primary function.” The installation covers a wall with its recircuited works, reminescent of for instance ReFunct Media 2.0. Indeed, this is the interesting bit; it is not so much about the object, but the materiality of its dysfunctionality is articulated as a temporal relation; “the period during which…”. Even downtime unfolds as a duration.
I would argue that there is a twisted permanence, or at least a horizon, a duration, of such a downtime that is as significant as its functionality. “Through the active participation of the viewer, the objects are examined within a new context, in terms of how these are kept active and accessible by its reuse and manipulation”, the group writes. We of course need to investigate the wider sense and rationale of why things should be kept active, and the horizon of that. For me, the interesting bit is as said the temporal dimension, and the new materialist discourse and media technological theory needs to be able to tackle with this too. Whether it is about the temporality of the accident, or the break down, downtime — or then the microtemporality Wolfgang Ernst is after (see also Algorhythmics).
Indeed, the accident and downtime is not only an event that disrupts the running of temporality, but incorporates its own duration that we have to understand too. Downtime is a switch concept for notions of time – functional and dysfunctional, and as such tries to act as an anthropological operator for cultural techniques of temporality.
We are happy to announce the launch of #WSAgmm — or MA in Global Media Management! Thanks to the work by our developers Sean Cubitt and Paul Caplan, we got approval to run this starting from September 2012. At Winchester School of Art, of course.
Pretty exciting idea, to think global media but not only the corporate side — instead, developmental, NGO and open projects as constituting futures of global media – managed slightly differently than what the 20th century taught us.That gives us room to both tackle with critical approaches to media and develop those ideas through constant practical engagement with networks, organization and management.
For the best intro to the new course, here is Paul Caplan, the Pathway Leader for WSAgmm explaining:
On our webpage
Something warmly recommended – organized by my colleague and film scholar Tina Kendall with partners – and that has a nice media archaeological quality to it: revisiting the origins of cinematic cultures, through the late-Victorian and Edwardian cultures of performance. While this resonates with our current enthusiasm with performance, liveness and embodiment, it also is a wonderful time trip to early cinema contexts.
Friday 13 May, 7.00pm
Cambridge, UK – Anglia Ruskin University
Curated and hosted by Professor Vanessa Toulmin (the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield), join us for an evening of cine-variety and spectacular entertainments. Featuring early films with live piano accompaniment by Stephen Horne, vintage ephemera from the British Library’s Evanion collection, and performances by internationally renowned artists including Olivier award winning showwoman and artiste Marisa Carnesky, Swordswallower and eccentric comedienne Miss Behave, Hoola Hoop legend Marawa the Amazing, and fire eater Tim Cockerill appearing as The Great Inferno. Don’t miss this extravagant showcase of neo-variety acts and the late-Victorian and Edwardian performance cultures that inspire them!
Developed in collaboration with Anglia Ruskin University, The British Library, and the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield. Films preserved by the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-visual Conservation.
Tickets: £9.00 (£7.00 concessions, £3.00 Anglia Ruskin students)
“Sonic Alchemy” – an interview with Aleks Kolkowski on his media archaeologically tuned sonic art methods
London-based musician and composer Aleksander Kolkowski occupies himself with the sound of the obsolete. This means working both with techniques and technologies of sound recording from past times, as well as investigating the nature of sound cultures through creative clashes between the old and the new. He has a long and extensive career as musician and performer, and has recently in his performances engaged with such technologies as Stroh instruments, wind-up Gramophones, shellac discs and wax-cylinder Phonographs. Aleksander Kolkowski also ran workshops at the Science Museum as part of the Museum’s Oramics-project.
The interview (March 2011) w as conducted to elaborate Kolkowski’s artistic methods and interests, especially in relation to “media archaeology” as a creative form of crossbreeding and producing hybrids from old and new media innovations and artistic experiments. Juss i Parikka was affiliated with the Science Museum early this year as a short term research fellow, working on his new book on media archaeological theory and methods.
Jussi Parikka: Aleks, a big thank you for having the time to this interview. I am fascinated in how your work is very much embedded in old media – an inventive engagement with old recording technologies from wax-cylinders to gramophones and with instruments such as the Stroh violin. Why engage with old media? Can you tell a bit more about your “artistic methodology”?
Aleksander Kolkowski: Thank you for asking. I’m reminded of a quote by David Tudor, the New York avant-garde musician and John Cage’s muse, who in response to being asked about the then late ’80s electronic music scene said ” if you look at the background of the analog technology, there are marvellous things from two centuries ago that are worthy of being investigated.” For creative musicians, old recording technologies and related instruments are rich veins from which to draw from, but this has as much to do with current artistic practices and handling of modern technology as it has to do with an interest in the past.
In today’s culture, computers, turntables, electronic devises and smartphones can all be considered as ‘instruments’ for music-making, that’s to say they are being played with or manipulated, rather than passively emitting or processing sounds. Additionally, the noises produced by altered or malfunctioning media, be it hacked electronics, feedback, scratched records or skipping CDs, have been used as material by artists for sometime now. It’s in this same spirit of actively engaging and interfering with media technology and re-purposing it, rather than merely consuming it, that we can re-examine the media technology from the distant past and use it creatively. I’ll add that this has nothing to do with nostalgia, but with a belief that we can use these bygone technologies to offer an alternative perspective in our digital media-fixated society – to listen to the present through the pioneering audio technologies from well over a hundred years ago.
While there is a delight in playing with old machines and instruments, bringing them ‘back to life’ and engaging with the past through a mixture of research and practical experience, there is a feeling that this somehow challenges the very notion of their obsolescence. It has something to do with a reaction to consumerism and to the disposable nature of current media technology, its intangibility and limited shelf-life.
I began this work twelve years ago and I suppose it started as a personal response to the techno-fetishism that was prevalent in much of the experimental music-making at the time. Instead of electronic interfaces, I performed with wind-up gramophones, phonographs, and a mechanically amplified violin in unusual ways to make what sounded like contemporary electronic music, but using no electricity whatsoever. Since then I’ve been incorporating modern digital as well vintage analogue electronics in my work. Software programs have become important tools in my recent compositions and installation work where the historic and the modern are combined.
In a way, you work as a creative researcher, a historian, or an archaeologist, then?
Research played a part from the very beginning, investigating the origins of the Stroh violin is what really got me started on this journey. So histories to do with sound recording and its reproduction and early recordings became integrated in the fabric of the work I’ve produced at every level, from the concept stage, as narratives to provide structure right to the actual content itself, be it treating the first ever recordings of music as the basis for acoustic and electronic explorations or using the first morse code telegraph message to create rhythmic structures in a composition.
These creatively inspired explorations have actually led, in recent years, to more conventional, academic research (at Brunel University) into little known forms of mechanical amplification and an involvement with artefacts from museum collections in the UK and abroad.
You do not only tinker with old technologies but perform music with them live as well. How do people react to your work and instruments?
The reaction of audiences has had quite an important effect on my work. I found that people would marvel not only at the sight of these splendid old instruments and machines, but where captivated by the sound in interesting ways. Playing back a newly recorded wax cylinder on a phonograph to a modern audience is taken by many as a kind of sonic alchemy, and it requires a very different kind of listening than what we’ve all become used to. Rather than hearing a virtual copy, it’s closer to a memory of something. So it seemed possible to work with the relationship of sound and temporality by ‘ageing’ sounds using old technology, to be transported back in time, then forward to the present through the sound recording media of the past.
Do you think there is currently a wider artistic and sonic interest in going back to the pre-electronic age?
Probably not to the same extent as in literature, film or fashion, that’s to say the Steam Punk movement which has more to do with fantasy and science fiction. There are musicians releasing limited edition cylinder records, artists building machines, and composers utilising the pianola, but I’d mention the sound art of Paul DeMarinis to do with ‘orphaned technologies’ from the pre- and early electronic era as being the most significant example I can think of in this field. He is a true scientist of sound who has delved into seemingly obscure forms of communications technology and created some highly interesting and accessible works.
Certainly a lot has been published over the past few years concerning 19th century science, histories and theories of technology and communication, especially with regard to sound and the history of recording, which must be indicative of something, so yes, there is a wider interest, but then artists have always foraged the past. What’s special at this point in time, is the speed and severity at which digital media is replacing the analogue and which is conversely breathing new life into all forms older physical media, be it film, chemical photography, the cassette tape and even the wax cylinder.
I saw you recently (February 2011) do a workshop with the Science Museum together with Katy Price (Anglia Ruskin University). The workshop was part of a Science Museum Youth and Public Engagement to support their Oramics (Daphne Oram) project. Could you tell a bit more about this and the workshop where you recorded short pieces of creative fiction written by the students onto Edison cylinders and other old media?
In this case it was to show that the origins of Daphne Oram’s sound painting can be traced back to 19th century advances in capturing, visualising and reproducing sound through the phonoautograph and subsequently the phonograph and gramophone. We were also treating groove-based sound recording as a form of inscription, as sound-writing. It seemed fitting that the creative writing resulting from Katy’s sessions around the Oramics Machine and related artefacts in the Science Museum collection should be rendered onto physical storage media in this way. They could then be played back on the same cylinder phonographs and gramophones the participants had written about and even become objects that furnish an exhibition.
The fundamentals and science of sound recording are vividly demonstrated through mechanical devices, through objects you can touch and sound inscriptions you can see and hear played back via styli, vibrating diaphragms and horns. As well as showing how our forefathers experienced recorded music, it also offers us a different kind of listening experience as I’ve mentioned before. It helps us to examine our relationship to recorded sound, the antiquated sound-engraving processes add distance to the newly recorded voices, allowing us to reflect more profoundly on what we hear.
I am trying to find the irony in writing recently about computer forensics and thinking about the archive in the digital age — and then being the one whose hard drive gets in such a shape it does not boot, and all my analytical eye for computer forensics and media archaeology turns to hours of panicking.
After extensive, non-analytical and very affective panicking, lots of traveling around Berlin for cure and a new Mac, I was able to restore most of my files, with something lost still.
One cannot hence help thinking the words of Matt Kirschenbaum (thanks to Shintaro Miyazaki for reminding me of the quote):
“Thus the cold truth of modern data storage: given sufficient resources — that is, elite technological and financial backing — data can be recovered from media even under the most extraordinary conditions.”
Information is rarely lost, as it is, after all, material and physical. The spinning hard drive tells usually a lot more than our ways of accessing files tell us, and it is on this physical level that the ephemeral has a materiality – even if fleeting, and very time-dependent (both in terms of its durability as well as its operationality as dynamic, in movement).
At the moment, I am trying to blog most of my media archaeology related notes and images on Cartographies of Media Archaeology (the work blog for my in-progress Media Archaeology and Digital Culture-book that I am writing for Polity Press). However, could not resist putting this up here – a short story and image from Illustrated London News, 19 December 1846.
“London Street Music” features the street musician as a performing artist, giving a glimpse both to the 19th century worlds of entertainment and performance of street life, but also the pre-post-fordist emphasis on performance and affect. What writers such as Paolo Virno have identified as the mode of production in aesthetizised regimes of work: the virtuoso, the performing artist, was already his focus in A Grammar of Multitude. As Raunig puts Virno’s position in a summarizing fashion, while also pointing towards the problematic of relience on language by Virno:
“In post-Fordist capitalism, labor increasingly develops into a virtuosic performance that does not objectify itself into an end product; at the same time, this virtuosic form of labor demands a space that is structured like the public sphere.”
In the 1846 short article, the almost dangerous powers of the street musician are described in how they can capture the affect life of the listeners in public sphere: “How many suicides have been committed under his melancholy has not yet been clearly ascertained; but the effects of the orgue de Barbarie on the nervous system have been well known since Hogarth gave to the world his ‘Enraged Musician’.”
The worlds of technology (the new special street organ that differentiates this new brand of talent from “amateurs and artists”) and the worlds of music, the ability to bring operatic cultures of Rossinian and Bellinian spheres to the wider public, make up this special brand of economies of cultural industry of affect. Naturally this reminds that the contagious force of affect has a longer history – in terms of the affect theories in music (baroque and the early 18th century for instance) as well as in social theory that emerged in the late 19th century where it was discussed in terms of public space, contagion, imitation and crowds.
The next CoDE-talk:
Dr Anna Munster on biopolitics, death and digital aesthetics
at Anglia Ruskin, East Road, Cambridge
Organized by Cultures of the Digital Economy institute, in collaboration with the New Network Politics-project
October 14, Thursday, 16.00-17.30
Room: Helmore 112
‘Out of the biopolitical frypan and into the noopolitical fire: death and finitude as emerging trends in digital culture and aesthetics’
This paper tracks the emergence of a digital ethos that is cognisant of consequence, finitude and even death. On the one hand, sectors of the digital entertainment industry – specifically computer games developers – and new start-up industries are concerned with the question of how to m…anage ‘death’ digitally. On the other hand, death and suicide have become the impetus for creative expression. Bernard Stiegler’s analysis of technicity goes some way toward unfolding a political analysis of the relations between ‘life’ and ‘death’ in the recent and current aesthetics of digital code. Specifically, his more recent work is concerned with the over-reaching of biopower into what he terms ‘psychopower’ and with inventing a ‘noopolitics’ that can respond to this.
But I will also argue that his articulation of noopolitics fails to provide us with a way to conduct ourselves digitally in the light of the spread of technologies and cultures of cognitive capitalism. It does not take account of either the recuperative noopolitics of aesthetic practices in an economy of cognitive capitalism or the productive and differentiating potential of aesthetic practices of digital ‘coding’ that suggest lines of flight for contemporary technoculture. I focus upon the relation between recuperated and critical software practices and the constitution of provisional networked publics that transversally produce lines of flight toward a more transformative noopolitics for digital aesthetics.
Anna Munster is a writer, artist and educator. She is the author of Materializing New Media (Dartmouth College Press, 2006) and one of the founders of the online open-access journal The Fibreculture Journal. Her theoretical and artistic research covers the politics and aesthetics of networks and media technologies, biopolitics and information societies, embodied perception and neuroscience. She is currently working on a database for generating dynamic concepts about contemporary media (http://www.dynamicmedianetwork.org/), and a book on how networks experience. She is an associate professor, College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales, Sydney Australia.
>My perspective to Bruce Nauman television art piece (at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, September 2010) becoming a David Lynchian experience.
Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge
October 30, Saturday, 15.00-17.30
Tickets from the Picturehouse ticket counter
“In RIP: A Remix Manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.
The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Crea…tive Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.”
The screening is followed up by a panel discussion with
- Bill Thompson (technology writer and columnist for the BBC Online, as well as head of partnership development for Archive Development projects at the BBC)
- John Naughton (academic at Cambridge University, writer and columnist for the Observer),
- Becky Hogge (technology writer, columnist for the New Statesman and former executive director of the Open Rights Group),
- Jussi Parikka (media theorist and director of the CoDE-institute at Anglia Ruskin University)
- Geoff Gamlen (a founding member of the remix-music/video group Eclectic Method have been called upon by artists like Fatboy Slim & U2 and by film, video, and television companies such as New Line Cinema and Palm Pictures to create custom a/v remixes.)
The panelists address the themes raised by RIP: Remix Manifesto and a range of interesting and provocative approaches to cultural production in the digital age, copyright and its alternatives, and free culture.
>Following Steven Shaviro’s and others’ lead, here is a brief summary of my summer’s reading list. Of course, this is more about good intensions, but in any way, represents some of the stuff I need to be catching up with. A painful reminder of things that should have been read ages ago. So read this post as masochism of sorts.
Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway (Duke 2007)
- such a crucial thinker for neomaterialist cultural analysis, one cannot neglect this book that ties Bohr’s quantum physics with feminist theory. She comes up with such great, and useful concepts as “agential realism” which I believe give tools to both science studies as well as posthuman theory. To quote: “… matter as a dynamic and shifting entanglement of relations, rather than a property of things.” (35).
Joanna Zylinska, Bioethics in the Age of New Media (MIT 2009)
- two reasons: going to Sussex Biodigital Lives conference soon, and wanted to catch up what Zylinska is saying in her new book; then doing a review of it for Leonardo Reviews. Zylinska offers a deeply ontologically rooted ideas concerning bioethics, and extends its regime from only medicine and the biodigital to such practices as blogging and phenomena such as make-up shows. Biopolitics is a parallel theme to bioethics, claims the book. Interestingly, the book tries to come up with Levinas something new, although claiming sympathy to Deleuzian approaches. Indeed, it seems that she shares a lot in this sense with some of Eugene Thacker’s Biomedia-ideas.
Eugene Thacker, Biomedia (Minnesota, 2004)
- a book I should have read a long time ago, but now trying to scan it through in its entirety, again partly because of the Sussex event. I think Thacker’s idea of biomedia as “enabling certain types of data to be mobilized across different media” – i.e. as a concept of mediation that does not lose sight of the material basis of such encodings and decodings is great also for a wider reconsideration of the agenda of media studies (media studies as the potentially key discipline to understand various exchanges happening across scales from science and technology to visual culture and for example science fiction).
Axel Volmar (ed.), Zeitkritische Medien (Kadmos 2009)
- a book that sums up many of the interest in Berlin media studies concerning “time critical media.” It looks like an excellent book that argues for the centrality of time as both an epistemological perspective for media studies and as an ontologically organizing principle for modern technical media culture. This is the stuff what Wolfgang Ernst is always on about (and for a good reason), and where the macrotemporal durations inspected by media archaeology could find a new ground in microtemporal modulations of technical media.
Charles Stross, Accelerando
- His Atrocity Archives was a bit of a disappointment (except for the excellent afterwords), but this one, a gift and a recommendation from Michael Goddard, is much more promising after 150 pages. Much more about political economy of ultra-technological culture. And hey, it’s got lobsters uploaded to computer networks, what more could you expect? I just wish I had read the lobster bits before submitting my Insect Media book to the publisher.
Axel Bruns, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond (Peter Lang, 2008)
- well, this is just one of the books you need to read to keep up with relevant social media stuff. Probably the best summarizing book on social media topics, something I should have digested a while ago.
Erin Manning, Relationscapes (MIT 2009)
- as with Barad, this connects with my interests in neomaterialist modes of analysing culture and arts. I have read some chapters, but I will try to go through the remaining as well. It’s an important book, and hopefully provides such a tool box that helps to articulate themes of event, relationality and movement not only in terms of dancing bodies but also e.g. such non-human topics I am working on as media ecologies. Having said that, we are just finishing an article on contemporary dance, movement and biopolitics, and it touches closely Manning’s themes. The article is on Tero Saarinen’s magnificent collaboration with Marita Liulia: Hunt.
Sven Spieker, The Big Archive (MIT Press)
- actually, just finished reading this but wanted to include it here because I liked it so much. In the midst of finishing the book on Media Archaeology, this spurred new ideas and summed some thoughts I also had. It focuses on the appropriation of the archive and other bureaucratic modes of data management with artistic methodologies, placing a lot of emphasis on early 20th century avant-garde. To my taste, it is a really good book not only on the artistic projects but on the “archival principle” of modernity in general. It touches on some of the key questions of 19th century archive and its change during 20th century. Where it stops is the digital; would have been interesting to look at the notion of the archive/database in the digital networked era through e.g. net art pieces.
Then there are other stuff that I really hope I can glance through, such as Michelle Hennings Museums, Media and Cultural Theory (in connection to a funding bid we have submitted with Robin Boast). Also, bubbling under so to speak is a something I ordered, by Gherasim Luca, something I really look forward as my holiday treat, but more on that later….