Tapes and Tapes

The A List

The image above depicts the “A List”: tapes that are clearly labelled and known to have original music on them. There are 100 more on the “B List”, which are mislabelled but suspected to contain original works (e.g., they were recorded atop prior recordings on the blank tapes, but never properly re-labelled). There are yet 200 more tapes which are not labelled at all, and many of which might not even be mine.

For those just tuning in, this is the beginning of a massive personal digital archiving project I’m undertaking, and which I’m promising to blog about as much as I can. The oldest tape I’ve found so far is from 1987, but I’m certain there are older ones lurking in a box somewhere.

I’ve come up against a few boggles already, in deciding how to prioritize things. First, multiple media. I’ve got floppy disks with writing on them (yes, even the big “floppy” floppy disks – which contain early university papers and oodles of lyrics, poems, and fiction). I’ve got Hi-8 tapes with all manner of film school and ethnographic projects from my undergrad on them, including, probably some early music videos and short films I’ve made along the way. I’ve got VHS tapes of band performances (though I’m missing some very crucial ones of List Of Mrs Arson that I’m mourning the loss of). Then there’s old CDRs that need ripping, and then the tapes and tapes and tapes. I’m prioritizing tapes because they contain the most valued material (the music), and are the most fragile due to their age (20+ years).

Then there is the problem of how to blog this process. I don’t have much interest in putting everything up online, and doing so would be untenable. I need to build a narrative, which can obfuscate as much history as it can illuminate.

And this brings me to a consideration of the scope of the project, which augments my perplexion even further. Some projects I was only slightly involved in – do I include those and thereby prioritize the biographical dimensions of this endeavor? How will former collaborators respond to my requests to make everything public, noncommercial, attribution only, sharealike, copyleft? How will these considerations limit the project? And should I just ignore these concerns altogether and let the chips fall where they may?

And then there are the questions of destiny, of purpose. Why do this, besides my impulse to restore and save the historical record, however personal and idiosyncratic that history is? Who cares? And what if the music bores people to death?

Finally, there are practical concerns – the tedium of scanning homemade cover art, the hopes that I can locate everything, and that it’s all still salvageable (and PS – for those in the know and who do care, Yummibrain has indeed survived the full 19 years since it was recorded), and whether I have the stamina to carry it through, while exposing some very personal (and perhaps embarrassing) stories in my musical learning process since I was a child.

Lots at stake in such a thing. And I haven’t even mentioned the notion that some of it (hopefully) might get remixed by someone. Anyway, it’ll be a couple weeks before the uploading starts, as there’s much planning to do.

Mobile Media Use & Disuse – Research findings, plus musical odds and sods

Hey. I’m digging my head out from under a tense, transitional semester of research, teaching and baby-raising. I’m working directly in mobile media now, in a new job at Mobile Muse 3 (so expect more posts in this sorter space as we go). On that note, you can see a recent presentation of research findings gleaned from my ongoing mobile research for Nokia here (PDF, 3.7 Mb). A full paper on this research, authored by me and Richard Smith, is forthcoming.

On the music and audio front, I’m about to embark on an ambitious audio archiving project pending the purchase of a USB cassette deck. Not a found sound project, mind you, but more of a personal biographical project. I have a huge box of old tapes, set to expire any minute, that simply must be digitized. I’ve been recording things since I was 9 years old. No word yet on how much has survived, but in the new year I’ll have a good idea. This’ll also be my chance to debut the clicknoise podcast…

I will likely set this bio project to coincide with the release of the newest A Spectre Is Haunting Europe record, too, which will permit much dialectic between past, present, and futurism. This way I’ll have the dual pleasure of digging through the vaults whilst unleashing something that is completely fresh (in the past, ASIHE albums have always combined new and old seamlessly, and with Embers (the next LP), we definitely didn’t want to do that again.

AOIR Music and Sound Panel – Oct 18, 2007

This update is running quite late, but is still valuable, I think, in attempting to sustain the dialogue which was unfortunately given too short an interval at our panel on Music and Sound at the AOIR conference last week. As well, I particularly need to move among the “diaspora” of AOIR (As Nancy Baym phrased it) as, variously, splitting headaches and tons of work – both domestic and non- kept me from schmoozing to my fullest capacity. So much to do I couldn’t even attend presentations or panels that I really really needed to see (especially this one, this one and this one).

In the interest of, as I said, sustaining some dialogue about our panel, I’ll offer a brief summary from my notes, which are mainly comprised of questions that I didn’t get to ask. Where possible I’ll link to the various presenters’ webpages or blogs, and I’ll reiterate the link to my own slides with notes. Here goes:

Marj Kibby presented her paper on Myspace and bands. Having been part of a band on Myspace for several years, I came out of this talk with too many questions for one small panel. I believe her research is an excellent introduction to this sphere for the uninitiated, bringing a textual analysis directly to the live profiles of a number of her research subjects, but for a seasoned Myspace whore such as myself, there was nothing here I hadn’t already guessed. Still, my questions were numerous, as Marj’s work overlaps significantly with mine:

  • what of the myths of “overnight success” (Sandi Thom, Amy Winehouse, et al). how does the ‘gaming’ of these networks by conventional producers change the dynamics of fan-artist relations?
  • what happens when the “influences” and “genres” sections of profiles become oversaturated (as in cases where bands and fans alike list hundreds and hundreds of influences, or inappropriate genre categories)? doesn’t this degrade communication? what do fans make of this? and once certain modes of communicating identity are spent, to where does the communication of identity migrate?
  • how does one sample artists from the thousands on myspace for survey research? what strategies are there for (1) sorting through fakes, side projects, false starts, unofficial profiles, and other artifacts of the myspace ecosystem, and (2) ensuring the sample is representative of a particular slice of time in the life of the site?
  • aren’t the rules of fan/artist interaction mediated by the specificities of artists/genres/subcultures? is it the same to interact with Radiohead as with Tapes and Tapes as with SFIAS? can we make general claims about fandom based on a random sample of myspace bands?
  • how can we be assured of the value of the “long tail” value of the networks of Myspace, given the persistent power of mass chain buyers like WalMart in influencing trends in the music industry? and how can musicians monetize this in ways that subvert/get around the (parasitic or progressive?) intentions/profit of the parent corporations who provide the infrastructure of Myspace?
  • what does News Corp gain from fan/artist networks of Myspace? how are corporate goals consistent with or in contradiction with the goals of artists and fans who use the site for music discovery and sharing?

Next up, Andrew Ó Baoill presented his research into podcasting and community radio. I was intrigued by this talk, and I thought that he deserved more questions at the close of the panel. The engagement of these two worlds – community radio and the podcast community – has far reaching implications, especially for parts of the world where community radio is a primary source of news, information and entertainment for many. I’m curious about how this topic interlaces with mobile media and device adoption in developing countries, in situations where community radio is a vital communication resource, and where the adoption of mobile media outstrips that of tethered ICTs. But insufficient time prevented me from asking Andrew his thoughts on this.

Next, I presented my talk on technical micropolitics and independent music. I don’t have any questions for myself. This is just placeholder. I’m just following the timeline. O SNAP!

The last talk of the panel was by Klaus Bruhn Jensen and Rasmus Helles, tantalizingly entitled “Society Switching“. Their research into the phenomenology of sound is quite fascinating, although the talk itself seemed to be merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m particularly intrigued by the use of the concept of generativity (borrowed from linguistics) and structural-functionalism in developing their theoretical framework. I’d love to read any published work from this research (hint-hint, if you cats are reading this).

Question period followed, which included lively input from the erudite Tarleton Gillespie (who seemingly followed me all the way from 4S), panel moderator Mark Latonero and Hanson scholar Holly Kruse (whose panel I really wished to see but couldn’t due to a headache – hint hint, Holly, I want to see your paper!).

Please do chime in if you were a presenter or in attendance and didn’t get to sound off in the limited F2F session that we had. Otherwise, I’m busy trying to mentally connect all of this with Henry Jenkins’ ideas about the moral economy of Web 2.0…back in a minute or so…

FMC, A2IM force Clear Channel to pay royalties to independent musicians

There’s some great news in Future of Music Coalition’s latest newsletter about Clear Channel’s treatment of independent musicians. In just ten short days of campaigning (including blogging, negotiating with the radio giant directly, and filing a Request for a Declaratory Ruling at the FCC) the organization (with help from A2IM) forced the company to finally modify the wording of their court-mandated offering to indies so that royalties are paid when their music is played. Definitely a small victory in an increasingly concentrated music industry, and against one of its largest, most concentrated entities, too, I might add.

More background on the story at the FMC blog.

And if this liberation of the airwaves (digital or analog) stuff is your bag, then please pitch in however you can. Sign up for the FMC Newsletter, or help with their various campaigns to ensure a more democratic character for the music, internet and radio industries.

Cory Doctorow Leonardo Lecture at SFU

Cory Doctorow
The Faculty of Applied Sciences at SFU warmly welcomed Cory Doctorow to deliver our Leonardo Lecture for 2007 (entitled “The Totalitarian Urge: total information awareness and the cosmic billiards”).

It was a packed event, and a great speech (the same one he’s been delivering elsewhere of late). Ivaniv at Blogaholics has posted audio from the event.


Some of we grad students got a chance to chat with Cory earlier in the day. The man’s an encyclopedia, able to switch from discussing the feudal commons to discussing authoring collectives to marketing to activism in rapid succession. Although there was insufficient time to thoroughly articulate my critique of the application of open knowledge paradigms to artistic spheres (I will be continuing the dialogue over email, Cory), it was a great opportunity to converse in person with someone who’s been so entrenched in free culture activism as him. Kudos to Barry Shell, Richard Smith, and Brian Lewis (and whoever else I’ve maybe missed) for bringing this event here.

More photos from the day are on my Flickr page.

Give Me Last.fm And I Will Raise The World

I’m slogging through a deferred paper for a seminar last semester – ungh. But here’s a post to kill two birds with one stone – (1a) force my ideas into something concrete via publishing (and all its accompanying dangers) while (1b) breaking my 2007 blogging procrastination cherry. No way I was gonna let that blasted iPhone do it!

It’s a complicated, distracting entanglement of a research area I’ve chosen. Anyway, wild thought swings have finally led me to rest on the collision of a contemporary social construction of networked music (Théberge 2004) with Latour’s (1983) idea of the laboratory extended out into the world.

It’s an exciting project. Latour argues that in the process of extending the laboratory into the world, distinctions between micro and macro, inside and outside, and laboratory and world are blurred. This bears an uncanny resemblance to my idea of a networked and converged “music studio”, in which a broader network is implicated, including remixing, social networking, physical sites of music activity, and other agents of change.

That, and Apple might be breaking open the black box of their AAC format, seemingly smoothing over the jagged edges of the DRM wars to their own advantage, of course…

In-between Days

Well, in-between-projects, anyway. I’ve just finished a couple of projects off (grading, my contribs to a research report, a philosophy term paper) and I have a few more (another term paper, two journal articles) due between now and January 15, but today I can breathe long enough to cast a hasty post into the noise click ether. Here goes.

*takes deep breath*

This late winter/spring, after fitful debates within myself about the dilemma of wikification and authorship over the past four months, I will be subjecting both bands I’m in to collaborative initiatives. I’ve found a few ways to do this with which I’m comfortable.

In one case, we will be co-hosting a radio show some night in the next couple of months (we have to work out some logistics first, and find a few laptops to borrow) to do what we are dubbing a “call in/call out” album. Listeners will be able to call a SkypeIn number for the first half of the record/show, making live suggestions on the radio during the recording session, which will affect the music. During the second half, we will be calling out to people over Skype, asking them skill-testing questions about recent Top 40 hits that we’ve been playing, just like they do on crap radio stations that play the same set of 6 songs over and over again.

In another case, I’m asking the band’s LJ community cryptic questions that will determine the rules of the next LP the band is recording (in production Jan-Mar 2007). The first question asked people whether they agree or disagree (using a Likert scale, from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”) with an unstated statement. Essentially, they were asked whether they agree or disagree with anything, generally speaking. Responses to this question will determine the underlying “values” of the LP. Future questions (I plan to launch one per week, to an increasingly wide circle of auditors) will decide other characteristics of the album. By requesting things so obliquely, I believe that the spontaneous wisdom (the emotions, the ontology, the unconscious) of audiences will be deeply embedded in the music, moreso than with having audiences involved in the superficial aspects of the music (the samples, the sounds, the mix), a process that more often than not reproduces the crap it cuts up.

We could’ve gone the route of simply inviting remixes, or getting audience members to contribute their own samples or tracks, but that’s just so boring. Even Barenaked Ladies do that. And that’s so. not. art.

Podsense Speculation

Google appears to be gearing up for the release of a new podcasting product, uncoincidentally right on the heels of the Nov. 1 discontinuation of Audioblogger.

This would be insignificant, and barely worth me diverting my attention from reading Marcuse and trying to get articles done by their deadlines, except for all the speculation by others about an Adsense product for podcasts. Wait a sec – would that mean placing context/keyword sensitive audio ads inside podcasts?

The implications are pretty huge, if so. Jeff Molander at Seeking Alpha writes:

Will Google use its patented ability to take voice and turn it into a search query… and scale it? This would allow Google’s AdSense for Audio service to “listen” to podcast content and provide contextually matched text ads on a Web page. Yet what’s stopping them from placing audio ads at the front and/or tail of audio programs delivered via the Web? This is not a new idea (there are a handful of start-ups like Podbridge, Podtrac promising this or a variation of it) but Google has the proven ability to scale and Madison Avenue presence – just like Podshow does. Hence, I believe this move by Google is bad news for a variety of startups promising a ‘podcast – advertising’ match service.

Surely such a keyword/context aware audio adsense service for podcasts, if plausibly launched at all, would have at least as many (if not more) issues with speech recognition as would, well, speech recognition software, which has a built-in machine training curve that is impractical for the pace of the online advertising industry. Without speaker-centered training for ad campaigns on particular podcasts, ads could easily misfire on common homonyms or even rhyming words (“sex” and “text” come to mind as being particularly problematic). Not insurmountable problems, to be sure, but problems to solve, yes.

I predict that if we see anything this year from Google on this front it will be a much simpler, non-automated affair. Something less exciting, but more doable. Perhaps we’ll see something as simple as tags. Hoorah.

Anyway, back to Marcuse.

Podcasts, Mashups, and their Antecedents

…as curious tourists should we not be able to take our own snapshots through the crowd (“tiny reproductions of the Taj Mahal”) rather than be restricted to the official souvenir postcards and programmes? – John Oswald, 1985 [1]

I recently discovered the brilliant Whoboys, via a recommendation on the always engaging This is Radio Clash, which I discovered by randomly clicking around through people’s blogrolls a few months ago. Whoboys are a very on it group of mashup selectors (and they’re great mashers in their own right, too). There’s some highly listenable stuff in their show that they’ve turned me on to, including one artist (rx) who makes George Bush sing unlikely things by meticulously cutting and pasting words together from various speeches he’s made. Not that there’s anything novel about that idea (I’ve heard similar cutups of El Presidente since 2000), but certainly this is the most intricate, and most artful attempt to remix a political leader that I’ve heard.

Yang a dang dang indeed.

In the olden days* there was no such thing as a podcast, nor a blog. But there were artful audio pirates, who usually relied on low power radio stations for dissemination of their works. Forbidden works (such as those by John Oswald and Negativland), the two most well-known artists/groups who pioneered of this kind of work) could be more-or-less freely broadcast on college, community, and pirate radio stations. This freedom was assisted by the fact that most stations were sufficiently low power, localized, and limited in audience share to reside well below the radar of federal communications regulators in North America.

The hyper-bricolage works of Oswald and Negativland are now generally referred to as ‘plunderphonics’ (though Oswald was the one who coined the phrase, while Negativland tended to use the more activist-tinged “jammer” moniker, as prominently evinced in their “Jamcon” events, which involved flooding HAM radio networks with numerous eccentric signals as a gleeful demonstration of the concept of free unregulated speech). More information about these artists is synthesized here, including the precedent-setting copyright lawsuits both artists were involved in (as early as 1985, in Oswald’s case, long predating 2 Live Crew‘s infamous battle with Nashville-based publisher Acuff-Rose).

Uncontroversially, the technologies that enable podcasting (MP3, digital audio software, XML and the web) have opened the floodgates for thousands of selectors and remixers to ply their cottage mashups well below the radar of the FCC and the RIAA (and their Canadian counterparts, the CRTC and the CMRRA). But as was the case with the antecedents of mashups, publicity (and commercial viability) can attract litigation, and it is a commercial logic (the quest for deep pockets) that overwhelmingly drives decisions to sue or not to sue artists who copy the works of other artists, whether or not fair use provisions apply.

The question that emerges for me is whether or not the current technological assemblage will (1) sustain itself in a condition of a relatively large (and growing) number of small time podcasters who mash, but whose audiences are too small to be noticeable, and whose revenues are negligible (if not negative), or (2) evolve into a more intensely regulated space (see the current controversy over ISP-driven initiatives to carve up the Internet into a multi-tiered medium) where dissent and forbidden creativity could be marginalized or edged out more effectively. Or could there also be a (3), wherein audiences for remixed culture grow so large yet so broadly niched that litigation becomes a useless remedy in the protection of copyright?

Perhaps I’m prematurely guessing the consequences of a regulated Internet on the practice of mashups and podcasting, but my main point is that we (at least in the 30 odd years of my lifetime) have not always been this free to make our voices heard to such wide audiences, and that the freedom we’re experiencing now is not guaranteed to last. I’d be surprised to see mashups thrive as they do now in a medium in which spectrum (or bandwidth) is carefully distributed and accounted for – nay, auctioned.

*hey – at the time of this writing there’s no wikipedia entry for “olden days“…