New book on ‘Design Ethnography’

Picture by Sebastien Fasel, Emphase Sàrl.

Picture by Sebastien Fasel, Emphase Sàrl.

This is a new book I just released with my colleagues Lysianne Léchot-Hirt (HEAD–Genève) and Fabienne Kilchör / Sebastien Fasel ( It's the result of a research project we conducted in 2013-2014 on how designers repurposed ethnography to their own needs and perspective. We basically conducted a series of interviews and observation session with designers to describe the approaches we encountered.

dex2 dex3 dex4 dex5

Here's the book blurb:

"What do designers mean when they say they’re going to do “ethnography” and “field research”? What are the relationships between observing people and designing products or services? Is there such a thing as a “designerly” way of knowing people? This book is a report from a research project conducted at HEAD – Genève that addressed the role of people-knowing in interaction/media design. It describes the wide breadth of approaches used by designers to frame their work, get inspiration or speculate about plausible futures. This book presents practitioners’ tactics and illustrates them with several cases. Unlike many resources on user-centered design, it takes a broader approach to design by considering cases in which design is not only a problem-solving activity, but a tool to speculate about the near future, reformulate problems or propose a critical discourse on society. In doing so, this book helps designers, students and consultants to challenge their own perceptions and update their approaches."

The book is a collective effort, with texts from John Thackara, Julian Bleecker, Sara Ljungblad, Gilles Baudet, Anab Jain and Jon Ardern, James Auger, Virginia Cruz and Nicolas Gaudron, Liam Young, Fabian Hemmert, Steve Portigal, Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić, Anne-Catherine Sutermeister and Jean-Pierre Greff. 

It can be purchased online here at

Stephen Willats and photographic documentation


Few weeks ago, Joel recommended me the work of Stephen Willats, and more specifically this book called "Between Buildings and People". I found it this week in my mailbox  (I've bought a second-hand copy that the owner may have read in his bathtub, hence the concave look on the pics).

Based on a series of interviews, observations and photographic documentation, Willats examines the relationship between people and the built environment. His purpose was to investigate the influence of modernist architecture on people and how it's expressed materially. Although this goal is a tad deterministic for my taste, I find the result fascinating and inspiring. The most interesting bit IMO lays in the ways Willats present the material he produced. See for instance the use of pictures along with interviews, or the diagrams he draw on photographic depictions of the environment:

willats2 willats3

"Living with practical realities" (1978) is another example of Willat's work that I enjoyed as well:

"Living with Practical Realities was made with an elderly woman who lived on her own in a tower block in Hayes, West London. The work centres on the isolation of the elderly symbolised, physically and socially, by the tower block. This is one of the early works in which Willats used the actual content of audio recordings and his photographic documentations that had been made with the co-operation of the woman, directly within the work"

Living with Practical Realities (Panel One)

Living with Practical Realities (Panel One)

Why do I blog this? I'm currently working on a follow-up to the Curious Rituals project. My goal is to investigate people's relationship and use of smartphones (with a focus on gestures). Willat's work is highly inspiring both as a research protocol and as a way to present research results in ethnographic research. The descriptive potential of this work is really interesting. Perhaps it's because of his artist background that I find this more advanced than what I usually see in visual sociology – it might appear non-academic from this POV as Willats do not necessarily follow all the "rules" but it's certainly stimulating.

For instance, I find the image diagrams clearly relevant and insightful. I haven't read the whole book so I'm not sure about the underlying methodology here, but it's compelling. It reminds me another example of design analysis that I find interesting: the use of photomontage and overlay annotation described by Dan Hill for a workshop he did back in 2009:

"last week I tried a technique with them that I've often used myself. Writing on photographs of an average street scene, we asked students to imagine all the data that could be derived from the scene via sensors (in the broadest sense of the word), and then go on to sketch interventions or hacks into those scenes, drawn from such data sources."

While Willat's approach is descriptive, Hill's proposal is projective (it's a design workshop) but both revolves around the idea of annotating images; which I find inspiring an relevant to my own research.

“ethical things”: crowdsourcing and networked objects


"Ethical Things" by Matthieu Cherubini and Simone Rebaudengo is a fascinating exploration of autonomous systems and "smart" objects:

"The 'Ethical Things' project looks at how an object, facing everyday ethical dilemmas, can keep a dose of humanity in its final decision while staying flexible enough to accommodate various ethical beliefs.In order to achieve that, our "ethical fan" connects to a crowd-sourcing website every time it faces an ethical dilemma. It posts the dilemma it's facing and awaits the help of one of the "workers", or mechanical turks, who will tell the fan how to behave. Thus, it assures that the decision executed by the system is the fruit of real human moral reasoning. Moreover, the fan is designed to let the user set various traits (such as religion, degree, sex, and age) as criterion to choose the worker who should respond to the dilemma, in order to assure that a part of the user's culture and belief system is in line with the worker, or ethical agent.(Should it be a middle-aged Muslim male with a PhD or a young Atheist female?)"


Why do I blog this? This is a curious investigation mundane and insignificant objects of our everyday lives. It's a good example of a human/non-human collaboration flux based on the articulation of networked objects and crowdsourcing.

Supercargo: an interview with Peter Moorsgard

In the last weeks of December, I blogged about this fascinating project called "Supercargo: a parable of desire". In this tumblr collecting intriguing examples of current cargo cults, Peter Moorsgard provides us with an exhaustive display of  what he calls "Supercargo". He defines it as "ritual appropriation + subversive mimickry". I'm definitely mesmerized by these examples, which I find both curious and revealing; which is why I started chatting with Peter. This is the resulting interview:

Nicolas Nova: Can you tell us more about your supercargo tumblr? What's the logic behind it and how did you become interested in this?

Peter Moorsgard: I think it was about 2005 in south-tirol when i read about cargo cults on a trivial persuit card. i was studying digital arts at that time and got extremely bored with technology. Media arts and digital culture seemed too much about technological progress at that time. everybody was just celebrating technology itself, but technology is never just a cool tool. its pure ideology. the artistic approaches on the other hand were extremely lame. do you know ars electronica festival? it became more and more of a toy expo. i was intrigued by the cargo cults because they celebrated and mocked technology, culture, imperialsim at the same time. i thought, well maybe theres a strategy! when i was crippled by a major depression and panic attacs in 2013 i started the Supercargo Blog. i found myself completely unable to work, but could still surf tumblr, repost stuff etc .. posting became a daily ritual for me and it still is. i just try to put together sets of images with found material, maybe some day i will be able to work again.

“These are LAVR-glasses (Lower Austrian Virtual Reality) I built together with local youngsters. after the image of 90ies VR promises, we buitt these for Supercargo (the movie), which is about the founding myth of the artistic cargo cult in Austria.”

NN: There seems to be a growing interest in this kind of projects, this sort of logic. I'm thinking about this Futur Archaïque exhibit in Belgium I mentioned, but also other art/design projects related to it. Why do you feel this is happening now?

PM: I think something like this is in the air, and its getting bigger. why, i dont know .. maybe its an archaic revival in connection with digital media. Terence McKenna described that conclusively decades ago, and i think he is still right. as advanced these technologies are, they set us back into a mystic perception, a general attraction to archaic forms. we just have to adapt to immense data income every day, logic has to be set aside simply to cope with a hypernervous global culture. it all becomes archaic and mythological. it is just a necessary strategy. another more mundane explanation would be, that people are just getting fed up with the slick, sterile utopia apple is trying to sell us.

these are cargo phones i found on tumblr, a kind of stone age communication, or maybe rebuilt from collective memory after the pulsar-apocalypse.

NN: Do you see this relate to this "post-digital" art scene that we see popping up these days? A need to go beyond the digital?

PM: Yes the postdigital aspect was always very important in my work. i started making postinternet stuff before it even had a name. i tried to see art and technology from the viewpoint of the simple consumer. basically because i myself had no skills at all, no programming skills, no crafting skills etc .. and i find everybody can relate to that everything else is not subversive/emancipatory in my eyes. in my view we´re more and more trying to work like machines, like computers. but how would a simple human do that, not trying to imitate a machine? the postdigital has many forms, and with "supercargo" i took my simplistic position. use only poor materials, embrace capitalist mythology, make a second hand utopia. its a free party from now on!

NN: Lots of these projects are fascinating because they interrogate us about the nature/culture debate. From your perspective, as an astute observer of such projects, what do they tell us about our relationship to technology?

PM: Culture, art and technology are basically utopia factories. you can relate and research (maybe subvert) that in form of simple products. messianic devices, artwork masterpieces, they are part of a larger system. they all have their histories, rules, all these invisible forces manifest in products. the way i see it, we are living in a time governed by cybernetics alone. it was allways in the interest of cybernetics to describe organisms and technology alike. to make a supersystem for processes be it biological or cultural. that is frightening in the end. anyway, maybe through cybernetic thinking we can realise that technology isn't artificial at all. we are just a material processing species, like bees producing honeycombs. i find it interesting to look at the material world again, as we are absorbed in informational worlds. Mcluhan said that every new medium absorbs the old media as its content, therefore making it visible AGAIN. Look at todays TV Shows, they became an artform after the internet absorbed TV. Now the World itelf is upon total simulation. The physical world is becoming visible for the first time i think, and material world will be a cult- a fetish.

these are so called “Dre Beets”. i couldnt figure out who built them, but they are kind of the asian brother of the cargo cult: Shanzhai

NN: It's interesting to see Cargo Cults as the new sort of belief, beyond the Western/non-Western distinction, a sort of general perspective on things with a strange relationship to consumerism and material culture, what's your take on this?

PM: As written in the Supercargo Manifesto: Surprisingly the local performers of the Cargo Cults succeeded: By remaking western technology with bamboo, they attracted actual planes full of tourists and anthropologists. People got interested in the exotic parades using western imagery. The John Frum Movement (“John from Merica”) suddenly had an audience, soon bringing actual stuff (cargo) to the island. The cargo shaman once said: You build your plane too and wait in faith. the waiting is the hardest part. According to some shamans the planes awaited will also bring weapons to throw off colonialist oppressors. The cargo cults are strange mockups of imperialism, at the same time keeping old traditions. But is the cult for real or just performance? It does not matter, no difference, it is about the act. The Tale of the Cargo ringing true on so many levels. The cult of the cargo is our world exactly: We perform meaningless routines we call work,in hope for future cargo. With a technology that could navigate us to the moon, we write LMAO. The western world itself is a giant cult of imitating things that somehow work: dressing in suits, using buzzword-vocabulary, mimicking old forms of art. who knows why.. The longing for godlike goodies on the horizon, the usage of things we don´t understand: a big parable of desire. The waiting, the waiting is the hardest part!

NN: thanks for your answers and good luck with the project, keep us posed.

“Supercargo: a parable of desire”

Found at (author unknown)

Found at (author unknown)

"Supercargo: a parable of desire" by Peter Moosgaard looks like one of the most interesting tumblr I've seen in months. It's a set of pictures that highlight the evolution of material culture. I haven't seen in any textual description about it but I can't help inferring the meaning of these things. It actually feel very close to  the Gothic High-Tech/Favela Chic dialectic described by Bruce Sterling (in this speech), the sort of visual equivalent to vapourwave built on the debris of the plastic/computing culture of the last 20 years... the equivalent to the cargo cult that occurred few decades ago in Melanesia as the paradigmatic metaphor of our material everyday.

supercargo2 supercargo3 supercargo4

Why do I blog this? Collecting examples of curious projects that show the evolution of material culture is a good way to think about new typologies. These ones are particularly intriguing.

8-bit reggae book playlist

For those who asked, here's the list of the tracks I've included in the 8-bit reggae book. Definitely not exhaustive but a good list of tunes that inspired me. Of course there's not just chip music as the book started with the evolution of reggae.

Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up"
Nintempo riddim: "heathen dub"
Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1"

The Jolly Boys: "Touch Me Tomato"
The Skatalites: "Scandal ska"
Higgs & Wilson: "Manny Oh"
Desmond Dekker: "'007' (Shanty Town)"
The Wailers: "Simmer Down"
Prince Buster: "Judge Dread"
Folkes Brothers: "Oh! Carolina"
Toots and the Maytals "Do the Reggay"
The Paragons: "On The Beach"
Lee Perry: "People Funny Boy"
Lee Perry "Clint Eastwood"
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Prince Jammy: "Conspiracy on Neptune (Destroys the Invaders)"
The Clash: The Guns of Brixton""
Blackbeard: Electrocharge"
Papa Levi: "Mi God Mi King"
Smiley Culture: "Cockney Translation"
Dub Syndicate: Ravi Shankar
Scientist: "meets the Space Invaders"
Wayne Smith: "Under Me Sleng Teng"
Shabba Ranks: "Get Up Stand Up and Rock"

8-bit reggae
Balloon Fight
Wrecking Crew
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 001"
Mortimer Twang: "Move Move Dub 000"
The Secret Of Monkey Island
Henry Homesweet: "Out-House #11"
Dubmood: Pressure Drop" (Atari-Ska L’Atakk)
Puppa Jim: "I am a robot"
Quarta 330: "Sunset Dub"
Helgeland 8-bit Squad: "Psybeam Riddim"
Jahtari X Uprooted Sunshine: "Level Up!"
The J. Arthur Keenes Band: Expelling Bee"
Burro Banton: Badder dan dem"
Black Chow feat. Pupajim: "Signs
Goto80: "Steel Egg"
Raquel Meyers and Goto80: "2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 001 Echidna, moder till alla monster"
Goto80: "bababy dubub" Extraboy: "Flintskall dub"
wellwellsound: Super Marley World
LEGO Sounds "Dubologist Encephalogram" Sunset Dub: "Circuit Bent Snes # 1" 2SLEEP1 ❚❚❚❚❚❚❚ 005. EXEDUB Squincyjones: "Nintendub" ??? "Burgerville in 3D" Snoop Lion: "Here comes the King"

Cats, toxoplasmosis and internet memes

A great talk by Kevin Slavin at Eyeo 2013 Ignite, that I transcribed as a background research effort for a book project on internet memes:

“[Image of a bird flock flying around altogether] This is kind of the freebirds of birds. This is like an image anybody can use in a presentation. I used it to talk about this thing that is super profound, it was used earlier today by Mary Franck, to talk about this thing that is fundamentally profound, which is what happens when you start to understand what happens when all these things start to operate in an emergent way and something appear that you couldn’t possibly imagine. You can sort of see this at every scale, i used it to talk about the stock markets, some people used it to talk about the internet, or birds and bugs, but also us, you know, like cells and neurons, genes and chromosomes, that’s basically all we are.

There’s maybe a hundred trillion pieces of genetic information that somehow assemble and put you here on the stage for a couple of minutes, and somehow there is a magic to that that’s not perfectly understood but the part that put the buzz on your head is that only 10% of that genetic information is actually human, and that the rest, like the bacteria inside your mouth, 90% of what’s inside you isn’t really you, it’s a bunch of independent agents that are sort of doing their own thing, they’re not human in any way we understand it, and not all of them are on your side.

So, this is Toxoplasma Gondii [Picture of a bacteria]. If each one of you looks to left or the right of you, one of you  brought this here tonight, so it’s about 33% of the global population has this moving through him, and give something called Toxoplasmosis, can’t see it, can’t feel it, can’t hear it but this is what it does: it changes your behavior, it gives you ADHD, it gives you OCD, causes schizophrenia, suicide, enhances the likelihood of you taking a risk and you are more likely to crash your car. It’s real, 1/3 of you, it affects tennis players, olympic runners, hangs out with nobility, affects sea otter with some weird favoritisme… and this is where it gets weird, is Louis Wain, this poor guy, Toxoplasmosis very seriously, led to schizophrenia, Louis Wain gets it. His wife get very very sick, independently, and they adopt a feral cat, and in the process of caring for his wife, he falls in love for the cat a little bit. There’s a couple of things that we know, we know he got Toxoplasmosis very badly and we know that he started drawing cats. And then we know this other things, which is that then through Toxoplasmosis, he developed schizophrenia, he was institutionalised for basically most of this life, and never stopped drawing cats, compulsively, obsessively over and over again. And as they go, it’s like they look a little bit more and more like the virus itself maybe, it’s like a creepy idea. And how do you get there? It gets there through the cat, through the cat shit which somehow is transmitted to his mouth and up into his brain. This is basically how this little virus moves through the world. But how did the cat get it? Well, the answer is surprising. Probably, a mouse, which is weird because mice and cats are not really supposed to hang out together really. Maybe in a fucking cartoon you can imagine such a thing but in reality, this is not really what mice are supposed to do [Picture of Tom and Jerry]. They’re supposed to smell cat piss and be like.. well I’ll go over here because there’s obviously danger over here… unless the mouse has Toxoplasmosis, in which case all of that gets rewired in the brain and it says “hey there’s a cat over there, let’s hang out”.

So, basically, hangs out leads to very predictable results, which are: the cat ends up eating the mouse, which is how the Toxoplasmosis enters another cat, moves, and is then adopted by some poor bastard who transmit it. The question is: what happens when it hits a human? It’s that they have to get more humans to love more cats. And they start drawing cats. And the damage that this guy does is nothing. The damage down there is… this is what’s happening now [videos of cats running around]. This is where is gets serious, this is like cumulatively billions views, this is serious serious shit. This is get global affairs and by the way Walker Art Center fuck you! The Internet Cat Video Festival what are you doing? This is like a virus curator with federal art funds to deal with now, and you look at this [video of a cat on a Roomba vacuum robot] and you see a virus curator, and this is a virus that has somehow hijacked a cat, and also hijacked a robot. And you know what? No good can come of this. Because it’s not just in this machine, it’s deep deep on the networks [Image of a Nyan Cat], you look at this and you see a vector for a transmission, you see a virus being transmitted on into eternity into the future. And every cat video and cat meme, they’re cute and they’re funny but there’s also something happening in there. Everytime you hit share, and everytime you hit like, think about what little piece of you, really likes it, and why.”

Why do I blog this?  Because it's a fascinating-and-entertaining description of a common phenomenon these days.

“The complex relationship of sub-systems and their larger wholes.”

Currently at the Media design seminar here at the Geneva School of Art and Design, we discussed this interesting way to explain the notion of modularity. Called, "the parable of the two watchmakers", It's from Herbert Simon and it nicely explains the relationship of simple and complex systems (organic and social):

"There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who made very fine watches. The phones in their workshops rang frequently and new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered while Tempus became poorer and poorer. In the end, Tempus lost his shop. What was the reason behind this? The watches consisted of about 1000 parts each. The watches that Tempus made were designed such that, when he had to put down a partly assembled watch, it immediately fell into pieces and had to be reassembled from the basic elements. Hora had designed his watches so that he could put together sub-assemblies of about ten components each, and each sub-assembly could be put down without falling apart. Ten of these subassemblies could be put together to make a larger sub-assembly, and ten of the larger sub-assemblies constituted the whole watch."

Why do I blog this? This looks like a good way to introduce the notion of modularity, using an analogy which is understandable (as opposed to the use of fractals by other authors).

8-bit reggae: an interview with @goto80

Photo by Ferdinand Dervieux.

Photo by Ferdinand Dervieux.

The writing of the 8-bit reggae book relied on a variety of sources: books, LPs, cassette tapes, soundcloud tracks, FB groups, meeting with artists and producers, etc. Among them I had a fruitful exchange with Anders 'Goto80' Carlsson (see also his weblog), who is a chipmusician and demoscener since 1992. Goto80 actually made a special track for the book, which is great:

And here's the interview also featured in the book; it basically explains a lot of this sub-genre:

NN: We talked about reggae/dub and chip music for this case study, that's obviously the basis for producing this track. Beyond that starting point, how did you compose it?

Goto80: I realized that I had never made my own version of Stalag[1] so I loaded defMON[2] on the Commodore 64, made the bassline, and took it from there. During the past years I've been making quite "associative" arrangements, where the song never ends as it starts. I realized while composing this that the technique fits really well with dub. As long as you keep the bassline you have a lot of freedom to add bizarre sounds and melodies.

What make the song sound like dub is essentially bass line, tempo and ornamentations like echoes. When it's accompanied by hi-hats and off-beat chords (arpeggios) you get the reggae vibe too. I did this one in major, to get that easy kind of vibe, with simple and slightly fragmented melodies that echo out in space. A good example of that is also my "Papaya Dub" from the Papaya 7" from 2001

I consider dub not so much as an aesthetic as a way of working. I like to "put hens on the mixer" as Lee Perry did. But instead of putting hens on the C64, I program it manually. I become the hen, because in dub there should be things that stick out, make no sense and explode your expectations. Sometimes you make lucky mistakes that give that feeling, sometimes you have to make an effort to get it in there. It's always a challenge to not resort to the usual digital glitches or the platforms' typical tricks, and instead tap into the reggae world. This is tricky, since chip tools are so strongly connected to traditional Western conceptions of rhythm, tonality and arrangement.

NN: What makes reggae and dub relevant (or original) for chip music?

Goto80: When making dub/reggae with chiptools there are some things that are extra tricky. Three examples:

  • Rhythmically there is usually a kind of swing that runs throughout a dub/reggae song. Individual percussive elements can also be triggered slightly off-beat to emphasize it, or make it more groovy. It can be very very tricky to program something which sounds like something that can come very natural when playing the instrument live.
  • Instrumentation-wise, it can be tricky to get percussive instruments to sound good. The C64 can produce very complex sounds, but due to the bugs, it can be complicated to make them sound snappy.
  • Finally, ornamentation is hard. Especially with music that is supposed to sound like it's being played live. To get the pitch bends, vibrato and slides to sound like an instrument being played by a human. Also, simulating echoes and reverb can be quite a challenge. There are various ways to do it, but it essentially means programming the echoes by hand. While this seems like limitation and a waste of time, there is something very positive about it too. It means that you can control the echo and change it over time. When you use normal dub technology you have very limited control of the echo once you've started it. But in defMON I can change the notes of an echo and turn it into a new melody, for example.

One thing that makes the C64 suitable for dub, is that the hardware is a bit unpredictable. You get different pops and clicks each time you play a song due to the so called ADSR-bug. It's possible to fix it in software, but I often choose to keep it raw. This, in my opinion, relates to dub production with lo-fi and slightly out-of-control machines. If you allow yourself to put external effects on the C64, you can get a very rich sound (see my 2SLEEP1 release).

Something else that unites dub & chipmusic is that both have a very strong focus on the tools or the process. Chipmusic can be pretty much anything made with an 8-bit platform (according to some), and you can make a dub version of pretty much any song (according to some). There is something robust at the base of chip & dub, with a strong connection to technology, which makes these genres a bit more stable than for example R&B or House which today sounds extremely different from what they once did.

NN : Can you elaborate on the importance of glitches/bugs in this track/your work? Is that something that forces you to change the approach in composing reggae/dub tracks when using chip tech?

Goto80: For me personally, dub is supposed to be a bit messy and mistakey. I like that. I'm sure they had many tricks to create that intentionally, except for just making stoned human mistakes and so on. So for me the unpredictable character of the SID-chip reinforces this. This is something I use for all my music, not only dub-stuff, but I feel that it's important in chip dub. It adds dynamic to rhythms, timbres and even harmonies and melodies.

Take for example “Bababy dubub”, this was composed in a modern setting (Renoise for PC) with samples of C64-sounds. Underneath all the reverb and delay, the sounds are very clean. Static. The same all the time. So you get less feedback from the machine, so to say. So my Renoise dub is softer than my C64-dub. I released some non-chip stuff (made in Renoise) as Extraboy, like “Kix Sunday Favourite” and “Flintskall dub which also illustrates my point, I think.

Unpredictable features can be extremely inspirational. It alters your original ideas, makes you come up with new ideas... In extreme cases it can change the song completely, but that's normally caused by a combination of soft- and hardware. The odd breaks in the middle of the song is an example of this. It was a surprise for me, and I decided to keep it. It's much more fun to let the machine come up with those things than to create it by hand.

But uh, to answer your question: you are free to choose if you want to force the SID to be cleaner than it normally is (which is possible with enough work) or if you want to stay with the dirty ways, and perhaps even amplify it. But I'd say that the biggest difference in using chip tools - compared to dub tools - is the limited polyphony and the lack of effects.

NN : What's the difference between "programming by hand" and the way musicians or producers made reggae/dub without chip-technologies?

Goto80: I don't know the details of how dub producers work. But I guess with chip-tech you have to program every instrument and compose all the patterns yourself. I suppose dub producers often worked with recordings of other people's music, or at least with pre-made sounds and live-played compositions. For them it was possible – perhaps essential – to make the version live, in real-time. Whereas chipstuff is composed asynchronously because most chip software is pretty crappy for live composing, improvisation and manipulation (defMON and LSDj being good exceptions). I think that's important to keep in mind.

Having said all this, I think the lack of reggae/dub in the chipworld is as much if not mostly caused by culture rather than technology. If you look at the kind of sounds and compositions and tools that exist today, they prove that this could basically have been done in 1985 too. But home computers were simply not used like this back then. But that's not because of "technology".

C64 could have replaced drum machines, bass machines, monophonic synthesizers, etc. With Amiga you could've replaced everything, since it had decent sampling abilities. But it wasn't. Not just in reggae/dub but in general.

[1] The Stalag version riddim is a popular reggae rhythm, written and performed as "Stallag 17" (named after the 1953 war film) by Ansell Collins, and released by Winston Riley's Techniques record label in 1973.

[2] C64 SID tracker made by Frantic

Thanks again Goto80!

“Thomassons” = architecture relics


This is one of the books I brought by back from Tokyo last week. I don't read Japanese but I noticed that it might be intriguing. Flipping through this tiny booklet, I noticed the use of curious pictures. The architectural structures in Black and White, presented alongside a main essay seemed a bit weird. The only text I could parse – aside from numbers – was the name of the author (Genpei Akasegawa). A little later, with the help of a search engine and the good work of bloggers and podcasters, I managed to get a better sense of the content of this piece.

These images indeed represent what one might call architectural relic or vestigial urban remnants: these structures which have evolved over time to serve no purpose. See for yourself:

thomasson2 thomasson3

According to Roman from 99%, these relics "caught the attention of an artist in Japan named Akasegawa Genpei" back in 1972:

"Akasegawa started noticing similar urban leftovers, and treasured them as artistic byproducts of the city. He photographed all the things he could find that were both vestigial and maintained. He began publishing his findings in a magazine column, accompanied by musings about each object. People began to send Akasegawa pictures of similar architectural leftovers that they found, and in his column, Akasegawa would judge all submissions on two criteria: 1. Were they truly, completely useless? 2. Were they regularly maintained? In 1985 Akasegawa published a book of these collected photographs and writings, in which he coined a term for these kinds of urban leftovers. He called them, 'Thomassons.'

The term comes from Gary Thomasson, an American baseball player who was traded to the Yomiuri Giants, a team in Tokyo, Japan. Thomasson was paid exorbitant amount of money for a two year contract. But in this new country, on this new team, the great slugger Gary Thomasson lost his game. He actually set the all-time strikeout record in Japan in 1981, and was benched for much of his contract. For Akasegawa, Gary Thomasson was “useless” and also 'maintained.'"


Why do I blog this? Thomassons are part of the things I'm interested in when wandering around a city. It's quite extraordinary IMHO to find this concept via a book in a Japanese bookshop without any propre understanding of the local language; but I guess the images were evocative enough to make me buy the booklet. Also, it seems there is an English version of the book. It's called Hyperart Thomasson (published by Kaya Press).

I now should go in my Flickr stream and tag the Thomassons I spotted before knowing about this term.

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