“Supercargo: a parable of desire”

Found at supercargo.tumblr.com (author unknown)

Found at supercargo.tumblr.com (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 http://csdb.dk/release/?id=120965

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.

Ursula Le Guin on Science-Fiction

Ursula K. Le Guin accepts the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014. A quote I find stunning:

"we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom, poets and visionaries, the realists of a larger reality."

Why do I blog this? It's moving this great author on stage stating this purpose so eloquently. The role of Science-Fiction as stated here is a direction i'm interested in; and a common issue at the Laboratory. Plus, the other bits about book writing and the market are important as well.

‘Curious Rituals’ at Future Fiction (Z33)

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Future Fiction is an exhibit currently held at Z33 (Hasselt, Belgium). Focused on "world-building", it explores "how contemporary artists, designers and architects relate to future thinking and imaging". The projects presented there highlight how they can uncover, map, criticize or question the parameters that shape our future. The list of participants is quite impressive: Neïl Beloufa (FR), Nelly Ben Hayoun (FR), Blueprints for the Unknown (UK), Bureau Europa (NL) / Lara Schrijver (NL), Dept. Architectuur UHasselt (B), Theo Deutinger (AT), Dunne & Raby (UK), FoAM (BE), El Ultimo Grito (ES), Arne Hendriks (NL) / Monnik (NL), Shane Hope (US), Speedism (B/DE), Near Future Laboratory (CH/SP/US), Hans Op de Beeck (B), Pantopicon (B), The Extrapolation Factory (DE/US), Atelier Van Lieshout (NL), Chris Woebken (DE), The Xijing Men (JP/CN/KR), Liam Young (AU).

As described in their mini-catalogue (pdf):

"Z33 wishes to draw attention to what future thinking and imaging can be. Not pretending to know what our future will be, nor which inventive solutions will solve our present-day problems, we rather aim to explore a set of different visions/fictions that artists, designers and architects put forward using different methods and tools for future thinking and visualizing. [...] the fictions are of course not completely out of touch, nor are they pure fantasies. The visions explore and/or extrapolate certain societal, economic, political, cultural or scientific evolutions. Based on these extrapolations, artists, designers and architects create."

Karen Verschooren who curated the exhibit contacted us at the Near Future Laboratory last year in order to show Curious Rituals; which is featured there with a video of the design fiction project we did back in 2012 with students from the Media Design Program at Art Center in Pasadena (Nancy Kwon, Katie Myiake and Walton Chiu). 

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

photo (c) Kristof Vrancken / Z33 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Thanks Karen and Z33 to present our work in such good company!

The Institute of Culturetronics : “modular domestic electronics”


I finally found some time last week-end to read the material produced by/for the Institute of Culturetronics. Proposed by Henrik Nieratschker, it's defined as "a framework for an ongoing number of projects and design activities that look at the intersections of local culture and modern technologies, discussing issues of technological development and adaptation as well as the local problematics and opportunities that come with them." The first phase of this observation-based design project is based on a field trip in South Africa.

Why do I blog this? What I find intriguing here is the diversity of material produced for the projects. I take the posters, video, booklet and  artifacts as a series of artefacts that encapsulate the design researcher's findings about DIY electronics. It's very interesting from an ethnographic perspective, as a way to illustrate and describe field observations.


The presentation starts from a description of visites sites, along with a series of pictures. It then moves to a section with "personal observations" that reflects – subjectively – on some topics (repair culture, informal economies, etc.) using textual vignettes. Then, this material is turned into prototypes of "modular domestic electronics":

"The electronic products in this proposal exist as modules operated by communities. These modules are owned by the individuals in the community and some members are also involved in the development of new modules that tare then introduced to the community. All the modules are borrowed from individual to individual within the community, so everyone can take advantage of the total sum of possible applications. The system embraces experimentation to widen the total applications and functionalities as far as possible. On the software side the modules are programmable via sound that can easily be cut and rearranged by using a tape recorder and can also be transmitted via radio. This makes it easy to copy and introduce new programs to the community."

Objects from Japan

Spent last week in Tokyo for a workshop. A good opportunity to wander around and run across objects that I found typically from there. A short list, it's definitely a selection, can't be exhaustive.


My favorite, it's pervasive and fascinating. A plastic weight with an handle used to stabilize different things here and there in the City.


Most of the people I've seen used this model of umbrella. They sometimes leaves it in different places.


Umbrellas a pervasive but hats are important too. This one's in a university office, just in case an earthquake appears.


Towels need to be warmed, don't they?


I'm not entirely sure about it but it feels like it's meant to protect the brand new metro ticket you buy at the counter. Lovely design.


The conspicuous vending machines and their touch/SUICA-enabled interface.


This category deserves a whole blogpost/book/encyclopedia. Ah, game controllers.


The frog-like bins are intriguing too.

Why do I blog this? Material culture is fascinating to observe. The design of all these objects is interesting and highlight the way mundane activities are conducted. Such artefacts reflect needs and correspond to expectations or situations... and can act as potential stimuli in workshop/research to show alternative to how things are done/made elsewhere.