Creative Coding

About two weeks ago, the very interesting artist, Sophie Hoyle approached me to code a video cutter and graphics display using theta brain waves. This was for a performance at the new Science Gallery in conjunction with their exhibit on anxiety.

I’ve done a biometric video cutting app for Sophie before, so I said ok, despite the quick turnaround. This fast time frame was not their fault. The first brain wave reader they ordered was stopped by UK Customs and returned to the sender. So they then ordered a more consumer-focused brainwave reader and hired me once it arrived.


The Emotiv is a very Kickstarter, very Silicon Valley brain wave headset. It comes with an iPhone app or Android app which asks for an enormous and completely unnecessary amount of personal data, which is sent back to the company in the US, where they can mine it in various ways completely unrelated to product functionality. People buy this thing to use it while meditating, to monitor whether they are getting the right brain wave shapes. Some might argue that this is, perhaps, a misunderstanding of the goals and practices of meditation, but those people have not spent enough time in corporate offices in San Jose.

When it launched on kickstarter, there was a community SDK supporting all the various operating systems, including Linux. This was since dropped in favour of an API for windows and a separate one for Mac only. It requires an API key to get access to the some the data. You can rent the API key from them for a modest fee that makes sense if you think you’re going to sell a lot of apps. The art and educational markets are kind of neglected. Nevertheless, some intrepid soul worked backwards to decode the data and built a python library to access it.

Python is really great to write, but the Python 2/3 divide has always confused me. Plus it’s very easy to accidentally get ten different versions of the same library on one’s computer. It took me an embarrassingly long time to get my python libraries under control.

XKCD’s system and mine are alarmingly similar

Then I found that the reverse-engineered library was relying on a different version of the HID library. I started trying to work that out and ran into a wall. I started to try to update the emotiv library itself, but that way lies danger, so I quickly gave up and switched to a Mac I’d borrowed from my uni, so I could use the official API.

The Mac has a relatively new OS, but is 9 years old, so I had to download an old version of XCode. This is how I learned that old versions of XCode look like they’re available from Apple, but once you spend hours downloading them, something weird is going on with key authentication and they won’t unzip. I borrowed a laptop from Sophie and couldn’t get XCode on to it either.

There was always an option of doing things not-quite live where we could record a visualisation of the brainwave data, cut a video to that data and have live music based on the prepared video, so the music would react live to the brainwaves, but nothing else would. It’s sub-optimal, but time was running really short. I couldn’t get the emotive to pair successfully with either computer because it only works with extremely recent operating systems.

(The commercial world of software and operating systems is a hell-scape where people with more money than you try to prevent you from being able to use expensive things which you’ve already purchased. I cannot believe what people put up with. Come to linux. We want you to be able to actually use your stuff!)

I gave the device back to Sophie with intense apologies, saying I’d had no luck and they’d be better off doing their own recording and cutting the video to it, because there was nothing I could do. It was about 3 days before the performance. this was not good. I felt terrible. They were in a panic. Things were bad.

They found a computer with a new operating system and also could not get the device to work. They gave it to the sponsoring organisation who had purchased it and it didn’t work for them either. It was a £500, over engineered, under functional, insufficiently tested, piece of kick starter shit.

The Emotiv gets 0 stars out of every star in the galaxy.


About 2 days before the performance, they told me they still the bitalino from the last project of theirs that I worked on and would that work? I said it would, so, with less than 48 hours to go, I went and picked up the device.

Alas, I did not write down how to get it to pair from previously, so I spent a lot of time just trying to connect to it. Then I had to figure out how to draw a graph. The Gallery, meanwhile was freaking out. All I had was a white screen with a scrolling graph made up of extremely fake data that didn’t even look convincing. They wanted me to come in and show what I had. Nothing was working. I showed up an hour late and everything looked like shit.

Then, while I was there, I figured out how to get the bloody thing to connect. “That’s real data!” I shouted, pointing at the projection, jumping up and down. There were 24 hours left and I had 1.5 hours of teaching to do the next morning.

I went home and wrote a quick bandpass filter with OSC callback in SuperCollider. The Processing program would start a SuperCollider synth and reset an input value whenever it read data from the device. The synth would write that to a control bus. A separate synth read from the control bus and did a band pass filter on it. Theta waves are about 4 Hz, so hopefully this is good enough. I did an RMS of the filter output to figure out how much theta was going on. Then sclang sent OSC messages back to processing telling it the state of the amplitudes of the bank of bandpass filters.

In case the bitalino crapped out (spoiler: it didn’t), I wrote an emergency brown noise generator and used it for the analysis. Both looked great.

The I went to work on the video switching. It was working brilliantly, but at the size of a postage stamp. I got it to full screen and it stopped working. It was time for the tech check.

I went to the gallery, still unsure what was going on with the video switching. I finally discovered that Processing won’t grab images form the video file when Jack is running. SuperCollider relies on Jack to run it’s server even if, as in this case, it’s not producing any output audio.

I quickly set out to write a bandpass filter. I got a biquad programmed and got the right settings for it when I realised I didn’t know how to make brown noise to compensate for possible data dropout. I decided to declare a code freeze, rely on the SuperCollider and miss out on the video cutting and use a prepared video.

I started working out a protocol to ensure I could always get a good bluetooth connection, which worked.

All of the now-working thing is on github, with some better documentation.

The Sound Check & Performance

Sound Check

The Sound Check went brilliantly, but they played for the full duration until just before the show was to start. I was worried about having time to reset the Bluetooth, but it was ok and I didn’t need to reset everything. Then Sophie went to the loo whilst still wearing the bitalino. The connection dropped.

The crowd was at the door. I rebooted everything and it connected, but the screens got reversed in processing, so it opened the waves in the wrong window. I rebooted again and it was wrong again! I dragged the window around to be full screen on the projector, but it was blank. However, if I put Gnome into that mode where all the windows are made small so you can look at them and fine the one you want, then you could see the graph. So the whole thing ran in that mode. The rendering was impacted, but the idea got across.


The sponsoring organisation and the gallery were both very happy. It was the most attended performance to date since they got the space. The audience seemed happy and I overheard some positive comment.

I hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night for well over a week as a desperately tried to get this thing to work, so I was quite grumpy afterwards. I went home and slept for like 11 hours. I feel like a new man.

Lessons Learned

I didn’t know the Emotiv wasn’t properly supported because I didn’t properly read the support documents before accepting the gig. If I’d done adequate research before accepting, I would have known that I couldn’t deliver the original plan. Also, I should have noticed that their software store of third party apps has no content. That was a massive warning sign that I missed.

I didn’t know the actual Emotiv they got was broken because I always assume every problem is a software problem on my computer. This is often correct, but not always. It should have been a bigger red flag when it wouldn’t work with my android (which also often had software issues). I should have tested it with an iphone immediately straight after it failed to work with my android. I could have known within a few hours that it was fucked, but I carried on trying to figure out python issues.

Ideally, I’d like to get involved in future projects at an earlier stage – like around the time that equipment is being debated and purchased. I understand exactly why curators and artists don’t hire code monkeys until after they’ve got the parts, but knowing more about the plans earlier on could have lead to the purchase of a different item or just using the bitalino from the start.


I’ve been working for several months on a soft robotics project, on which I’m making very slow progress. The goal is to create a soft robotic octopod (or hexapod) – basically an octopus with inflatable tentacles that can walk around.

I’ve been working on the tentacle design thus far. They’re to be trefoil tentacles. Here’s a video of the tentacles which gave me the idea:

My tentacles are hopefully going to be much longer and won’t look like that, probably. I’ve gone though several design revisions. Most of the early versions were hand-built in clay.


Still-life Tentacles

I started by making something that looked like an actual tentacle. The idea was that I would make a cast of it in vinamold. I made clay models of spines, also cast in vinamold, that I was going to use to make wax spines. The spines would be dangled down inside the mould of the outer tentacle and silicon poured around them. Then, they’d be melted back out. The voids they left behind could be pressurised with air to make the tentacle move.

First Tentacle Design

The problems with this design became quickly apparent, but the most major was the asymmetry of the exterior shape was going to make it difficult to calculate the angle of the tentacle. If all sides are equal, the pressure of the interior spaces correlates directly with the angle, but having varying thicknesses around the outside makes that much harder to compute.

Tentacle air pockets

Symmetric in Vinamold

The next version uses a single model for all three sides of the tentacle. The curved part faces the outside, and the flat parts are joined in the middle to make a triangular tube down the centre of the tentacle.

I made the spine out of wood (not pictured) and then sculpted around it with clay to create the outer skin layer. I cast both parts in vinamold.

(Failed) Clay Tentacle

The previous version had a vertical mould, but this one was horizontal. I suspended the wax spines in the mould by casting them around a thick wire, which I embedded into the mould for the outer skin.

Floating wax

However, the wax floated in the silicon and the horizontal pour caused lamination (peel-y, layers of silicon rather than a uniform solid). When I melted the wax out, the tentacle was not air tight. It was much thicker on the rounded side than the flat side.

Failed Tentacle

Vacuum Moulded

I realised I could repair the troubled tentacle by casting just a flat side for the inside layer and gluing it and the outside layer together. The best way to do this would be to do the outside layer and the inside layers separately. I also wanted the layers to be thinner overall.

Once again, I made a model in clay, but this time was very careful to keep only a tin layer around the spine. I made a vacuum mould of the spine and then added a thin skin to that spine and took a second vacuum mould. With some help from the workshop staff, I built a holder for the pair of them, with a little funnel in the top.

Vacuum Plastic Mould

I could make a vertical pour of the silicon, which would be much more likely to hold. However, the plastics didn’t align perfectly around the edges and when I did a test pour with a cornstarch solution roughly as thick as the liquid silicon, it leaked out.

3d Printed prototype

Almost every write up of soft robotics I’ve found uses 3d printing rather than hand sculpting. I decided to switch to this more conventional approach. Using OpenScad, I wrote a little program to create a parametric mould for a tentacle.

I have terrible luck with the 3d printer owned by Kent’s School of Music and Fine Arts and the first print glitched.

Failed Print

This was intended to be a short, self-contained third of a tentacle. The flat part on the left is the inside edge. The middle box is shows the outer edge. The part on the right provides the hollow sections for the void.

In addition to the print glitching, Cura silently resized it to fit into the printer, which would have made the walls too narrow. To prevent future glitches and to keep things at the correct size, I’m now printing every component separately.

Printing at Home

Almost all of the work up to this point was done in the worskshop of Kent’s School of Music and Fine Arts. I received extensive help and support from George Morris and Georgia Wright.

As the workshop was closing for Easter and I had bad luck with prints, a few people suggested I get my own printer. I got an Ultimaker 3, but was too impatient to do a self-contained, short full tentacle again.

To make a longer tentacle, it would need to be broken into sections. The first section is the length closest to the robot’s body. One end had no input or output of air. The other end has an output. The middle section has an input at one end and an output at the other. (This section can be repeated to create a much longer tentacle.) The end section has an input but no output.

I started with the first section. The end closest to the robot is at the top of this photo and then end that joins up with the subsequent section is at the bottom.

Tentacle mould

My first print did not fit together correctly, so I’ve changed the program and am trying again. The most recent version is the one pictured.

This is taking longer than I anticipated. However, over the course of things, I’ve learned to sculpt, to make rubber moulds, and to do vacuum moulding as well as other workshop-related skills.

I’m hoping to get an inflatable tentacle within the next few weeks.

A note about notes

Musical notation, as you may have learned in school, is a lot like a mathematical function. That is, one of those math equations that you can graph. For every x, there is exactly one y. Which means that the graph is a line that may meander up or down, but it will never loop back on itself, nor split in two, nor do anything more interesting other than getting more and more to the right as x goes up

Similarly, unless there is a repeat sign, you read notes strictly left to right. There is no symbol for linked 8th notes (aka: quavers) that play in any order aside from left to right.

And, indeed, letters of words plot a similar route. But when drawing musical lines, like the UPIC system, people sometimes want to double back. This impulse is also evident, at least occasionally, in non-musicians.

Wallenda by Penalva at the Irish Museum of Modern Art is a study in naive notation developed by a visual artist. This is an example of a closed and particular form of graphic notation, invented to communicate a monophonic line extracted from the orchestral score of Rite of Spring. Its meaning is specific and fixed.

The artist has divided the movements into sections, each of which has a single page of notation. The third movement is 153 pages. The notation is sometimes mnemonic and sometimes drawn lines. It appears to be read right to left, top to bottom. many of the images resemble piano roll notation as used by some MIDI programs. Some of the lines curve up and down, presumably tracing a melodic line. This has a strong implication of a left to right directionality. However many panels, starting with 69 in the first movement as the first such example, have loops in them.

Loop pages include 69, 94 in the first set. 16, 74, 107, 110, 111, 113 in the second set and 23, 57, 92, 93, 117, 119 in the third.

While I can only speculate as to the meanings of these gestures, some of the very tight loops do seem as if they may be intended to suggest vibrato. Some of the larger loops appear more mysterious, given their violation of the directionality implied.

Page 44 in set 2 does not loop but does have a gesture that is not a function in a mathematical sense. Instead, it goes down and then backwards. It’s meaning is intriguingly mysterious.

I would guess that the reason that people tend to want loops (despite making up a system that does not support them), has a lot to do with gestalt psychology. The relationship between it and musical notation is very beautifully illustrated, in this analysis of Cardew.

Alas, no pictures are allowed in the museum, so this post is without illustrations of Penalva’s score, but I did do some possibly ambiguous notation of my own in myPaint. In what order would you play those notes?

What is Noise Music Anyway?

The question I am most frequently asked about my commissions is, ‘What is noise music?’ An excellent question!
Noise music is incredibly diverse, from the lush drones of Éliane Radigue, to the aggressive edge of Elizabeth Veldon, to the quiet whispers of Maggi Payne, to the subversive raucous of Cosey Fanni Tutti to the glitchy digitalism of Shelly Knotts. There is also, of course, a specific context and history of the genre, starting with Russolo’s Futurist manifesto, The Art of Noise, up through early industrial and bands like Throbbing Gristle and then Japanese noise from people like Merzbow. But even though this is important, let’s talk about what sonically unifies these many different sounds of noise music, rather than the cultural bit.

Different kinds of music have different elements that are their primary focus. For example, Bach chorales are largely about harmony. Christmas carols are about melody. And a lot of current pop music is primarily about rhythm. Noise music is about timbre. That means the quality, or texture, of the sound. There can, of course, be all of these other elements in noise music, but a noise composer is very often trying to create a collage of sounds that are interesting based on texture.

Unlike other musical elements, there isn’t really a specialist vocabulary for timbre. Sounds might be described as ‘rough’ or ‘smooth’ or ‘glitchy’. Practitioners talk about this roughly the same way as listeners do. While noise music isn’t exactly new – the Art of Noises was published in 1913 – it’s still very much an area being explored, not fully codified in the way that other musics might be.

In fact, you can make noise music yourself! Although noise has not historically been given much consideration, any new parent can tell you that babies love noise. Humans are attracted to this kind of music from their youngest moments. We all are born with an attraction to these kinds of sounds. So you can experiment yourself at noise making and try recording some sounds that you think are nice. Your might use the microphone on your phone, your camera or your laptop (or a regular mic if you have one). Try dragging your mic along different surfaces, to record the sound of the physical texture. How does your sofa sound vs a wall? How do different kinds of bricks sound? Or try putting your mic next to something that makes interesting quiet sounds.
Pause for a moment and listen to the place you are at. What do you hear? Maybe your laptop fan? A refrigerator? A kettle? A copy machine? Passing cars? If you put the mic very close to the source of these sounds, sometimes the recordings can reveal hidden depth. Maybe your office copy machine has a quiet rhythmic clicking as it copies.
Now that you have all these recordings, you can try to arrange them. Audacity is a free program that might be useful for this. Or maybe you want to listen to them as they are. Play your collages or recordings for a friend. Now you’re a noise composer!
If you have a bunch of recordings you like and want to commission me, I can use them as source material. Commissioned music makes a great gift for babies or for Valentines Day! Order yours today!

Glitching sounds

Today, I went to the Loud Tate event. My friend Antonio Roberts was presenting some work. Also, there were workshops on glitch and modular synthesis.
Antonio’s piece was a projection of ever changing glitch, which my mobile phone camera failed to adequately capture. It was being shown on the underside of an arch in a round stairwell. Tate Britain is really full of art, so it must be hard to accomodate one day installations.

The synthesisers were set up in the middle of a gallery. Three guys with cool modular systems were buried in their wires, twisting knobs and making beats. I’m not totally sure how educational it was, but I did get to look over their shoulders. Modules have changed a lot since I got my MOTM system in 1998-2000. There are a lot of cool new ideas and, I suspect, new ways of labelling the old ideas, which make it slightly confusing for a fogey like myself. I commented to somebody that synthesisers had changed a lot in the last 14 years and, anyway, it turns out this event was actually meant for people under 25.
I suspect that at least one of the guys with the synths was playing with the analog modular group that I had tried to take my dad to see, the night that he developed his heart problems. I kind of wanted to ask if they were the same guys, but I thought the conversation might get awkward…
I do have one new module that I’ve yet to fully explore, and I’m pondering adding a few others to get caught up with these modern times. I’m looking forward to using my new module in a commission. It models orbital dynamics of planets in some way. I’m hoping it can be made to undulate, which is a customer request I’ve just gotten.
The visual glitchers were also having a meeting, so I went there to see Antonio. Unfortunately, I missed their presentations, but I did catch Antonio giving a quick tutorial in graphic glitching. He saved an image as a bitmap and then opened it in Audacity as a u-law file. He added some phasing and echo effects and then re-saved it as a bmp. It did interesting things to the image. What I want to experiment with is going the other way. This would likely entail:

  1. Convert an audio file to ulaw format.
  2. Save that file as a .bmp
  3. Open the .bmp in an image editor, such as GIMP
  4. Apply effects to the image, such as reversing it, colour correction, try drawing – I need to play around on this step to see what would happen
  5. Open the bmp in audacity. If it sounds good, convert it back to a WAV or AIFF.

I’m going to try this out when I get a moment. Right now all my commissions are all analogue, so this would be a good experiment for a digital commission, when one of those arrives. I will report back on how it worked in practice.
Tomorrow is an ‘informal meet and greet’ in London for analogue synth users. I’m going to bring my new module – and a screw driver. The mounting rails on it are super fiddly and I cannot get the thing to screw in without cross-threading it. It’s become too frustrating, so I put it aside and hopefully somebody with a steadier hand and more patience can help out.
Your commissions are fun to research and fun to make. They make great gifts. Order now and delivery is guaranteed in time for Christmas or Hanukkah. Act now to get the sale price of just £5 for one piece – there are only two left at that price point!

Do you love noise music? Do you have fashion? Drop me an email if you’d like your image to be in forthcoming posts about noise and fashion

Review: Digital Revolution

I went to see the Digital Revolution exhibition at the Barbican yesterday. It was much better than I expected. This exhibition includes part of Google’s DevArt initiative. That framework is unusual for arts projects funding because it requires the use of Google APIs and thus is problematic in terms of controlling artists. Also, things I’ve read have implied it to be a sort of anti-historical move, as if Google invented the idea of doing arts with a computer
The exhibition, therefore, provides a solid historical grounding in the history of computer creativity. Many historical digital arts projects are displayed. Some of them running on emulation, but many running on the original machines they were designed for. Thus I learned about an art movement called the Algorists, who’s ideas live on in the Algorave movement. Much of art works were interactive, thus giving visitors a chance to interact with old hardware and software platforms as much as the artwork. For example, there was a piece of web art that was running on an early version of Netscape Navigator, on a period machine.
This is where the exhibition lost focus. Unsatisfied with showing a record of historical projects on historical machines, they went further to amass a collection of old digital stuff, more suited to the Science Museum. So next to an iPad showing Conway’s Game of life, there was a completely unrelated early computer. Across from the Algorist was a Linn Drum in a glass case, with some headphones playing a song by the Human League that used this drum machine (which created some cacophony, discussed below).
The historical computers included working versions of several home game computers, so kids could get their first taste of Super Mario Brothers on 8 bit. Near that was a NeXT cube running the web browser written for it. This part of the exhibit was apparently calculated to make me feel old. Just to reinforce that, I will now complain about the loudness.
The room itself had a lot of projection displays and loud sounds that seemed to lack context. They were seemingly played through the entire room and would turn out to be linked to one of the displays in the middle. A short excerpt from some display somewhere and then on to the next loud thing. So the projections might show Super Mario or something else and then a blast of the Human League, all in an effect full of sound and fury, but with very fuzzy signification.
Other parts were blatantly corporate. The huge installation explaining how they did the animation and lighting for the film Gravity was interesting, but, again, perhaps better suited to the Science Museum.
The new artworks did tend to be quite good and were, thankfully, mostly not in the room of old computers and flashing lights. One piece was birds made up of upcycled mobile phones, with bird heads on the phone’s colour displays. There was an (even louder) pop music video experience which used the hollow face illusion on a projector screen, which was stunning when experienced for short periods. (Alas, that I did not take notes on titles and artists and this information appears not to be on their website.)
Next along was an installation using Kinect, which was strikingly well constructed. Users had to assume the arms over head kinect pose. However, rather than being an annoying pre-requisite to further interaction, the piece used the starting position of an essential element of verticality which began with the hands. In the final bit of it, hands upwards dramatically opened to wings upwards.
All of the new art in the first section was interesting and a lot of it was fun (Shelly Knotts burst our laughing at one point) and some of it, such as the kinect piece were inspired.
There are also interactive installations in the free parts of the building, for example a video game that tracks where you’re looking to control which way the player’s actions were executing. A kinect-using robotic petting zoo was enigmatic. The robots were definitely interacting, but with what? The small display screens up top suggested that the robot’s gaze was not looking where you might expect (or that the kinects were aimed poorly, but let’s be generous).
The second part of the exhibition was a cage full of modern computers running indie games. I didn’t have time to hang around in a cage trying out a lot of games. Many modern games are really complex and beautiful and take hours to figure out what the potentials of the environment really are, so I’m not sure about this format, but I have a feeling a similar format is used at industry events.
The third and final part was interactive laser beams in a fog-machine-filled room deep in the basement. After I got over making quiet jokes about sharks with laserbeams (which took longer than it should in an adult), the piece was fun and the interactivity well-designed.
Standard tickets are £12.50, which seems steep, especially considering the amount of corporate branding all over the signs and website. If Google is going to pay for art that’s designed to promote themselves, then they should actually pay for it. Steep ticket prices also do nothing to ameliorate the digital divide, nor do displays encouraging people to download apps to their smartphones. I’ve programmed (as in curated) smartphone based art in the past, at the Network Music Festival and I’m not against it in general, it just seemed off in this context. To be fair, in pieces that were driven by apps, the Barbican had installed tablets running the app, so us smartphoneless riffraff could still use the piece. However, in a time of austerity, I feel public institutions such as the Barbican should be making an effort to encourage open access, especially for something that is intended to be the next major cultural/export product from the UK. The exhibition is clearly intended to promote this and recruit people into the field, so I feel the high price is an impediment to the (obviously, blatantly) commercial goals of the project.
Is it worth the price? I don’t know, but it’s a lot easier to get to than ZKM in Kalrsruhe or the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris.

Naked Image

When I was last at the Tate Modern, I saw some video by Francesca Woodman from the 1970’s. She had a piece where she had stretched butcher paper in front of the large window of her loft. Light was shining through the window and through the paper. She stood naked behind the paper, so that her silhouette was visible and drew on the paper from behind. Then she tore the paper in a kind of provocative way, revealing increasing sexualized parts of her own body, until finally she stepped through it, tearing it all away and walking off frame.
I’ve been thinking about this piece a lot. I was first drawn to it because of the attractiveness of the artist, but the viewer is being asked to consider several things. By drawing on the paper, I think she was trying to create an idea of it as a canvas. We have a cultural idea that artists express themselves in a pure, cerebral form through their art. The canvas becomes almost an extension of self – but specifically, a very dualist kind of self. The canvas is not about the body, but about the mind.
Hélène Cixous argues that all binary oppositions eventually come back to gender. So when we put mind and body into opposition, immediately, we assign one of them to male. And, indeed, historically (and currently, alas) men are mind and women are body. These oppositions are also an implicit comparison, so the mind is more noble and pure than the body. The (male) artist is thus a triumph of masculinity. He expresses the true, the valuable and the pure of himself through his canvas. But if this is implicitly masculine, then women have greatly reduced access. They’re not artists, they’re women artists and that’s something different. Their body is thus always made visible, not just because it’s a site of difference, but because women are presumed to entirely be of and about the body.
By allowing light to filter around her naked body and through the canvas, Woodman makes this explicit in her work. The strip-tease aspect of her tearing makes a connection to sex and femininity even more explicit and invites a feminist analysis. Her drawings are torn to bits to reveal her body / herself, which / who then leaves. She breaks down the mind/body dichotomy, and, in so doing, her work is placed in the male gaze, which is not a site of empowerment. But she remains in control. There is no operator behind the camera. She controls what we see and when we see it, as much as she can, since the paper tears in unpredictable ways. By working within the male gaze, she makes it visible to the viewer.
I was also drawn to the aesthetics of the piece. It’s shot in her home. The attachment of the paper is ad hoc. The video is actually a series of takes. She tried this multiple times and put several of them on the finished tape. I like the experimental nature of it. I like that it’s about process. I think the aspect of it being in her home, which is an intimate setting (I mean that the way that small chamber music venues are described as intimate). She lets us into her life in a small way to make a statement about herself, her art and art in general.
I also admire her courage. There’s no metaphor for being naked on camera because it is the metaphor. She is actually uncovered, but never uncomfortable. It’s amazing.
So as I begin to think about making little films, I keep thinking of hers. I also think of her relationship to her body and the camera. I’ve spent most of my life striving to remain covered, living in my head. I don’t think I have the “wrong body,” but I think my identity was at odds with aspects of my body – not even in a way that I’ve been fully aware of. Which is to say, being naked on camera is not something I would ever have considered in a million years. No. No. No. What are you kidding? It’s another door that was closed – right next to all the doors that disallow crossdressing. These doors are starting to open for me. (Note that they should never have been closed in the first place.)
I’m working on a video of me giving myself a shot. It is uncovering. I thought of her video for courage to continue. My nakedness, though, is metaphorical. Do I want to put out there a picture of me in my bed room? Hesitating? Pausing? Failing?
Why do I want to do it? I have no idea. I try to get things out of my head sometimes and if you that with art, then how you do it is by putting it in other people’s heads. What does it feel like to have your identity hinge on an injection when you have a fear of needles? Well, here’s one answer.
I’m considering doing a piece with a bunch of still photos, slowly fading from one to another. In them I would be in the same location, in the same pose. I would start wearing a suit, hat and jacket and in each picture, remove one item until I was wearing nothing. (Why do I want to do it? I have no idea.)
I pass when I’m clothed. People see me as a man, which is what I want. But I’ve only done hormones and only for a few months. My body is ambiguous. Not even as ambiguous as I would like. It would be a stripping away of identity and of self. (Why do I want to do it? I have no idea.)
What is sex? What is gender? They’re both culturally constructed. My very body is queer now. I call all of these oppositions into question just by existing. My queer self is inscribed on my person, on my physical being.
I don’t want to be a shock value, though. I don’t want to be daytime TV. I don’t want to be a women’s glossy mag. I don’t want to be a bad joke. I want to be a person, clothed or unclothed. Woodman was dealing with the same sort of issues in her work, about how her image is transmitted and received. She can’t control what the perceiver thinks. Somebody like me could come up to it and think , “ooh, hot woman.” But if that person engages the work, they walk away with more than that. She does with pacing, timing, repetition of the same scenario. She’s got some advantage over me in that we, as a culture, acknowledge that cisgender women’s bodies exist.
So, I don’t know if it’s a good idea. I’m looking for thoughts.

Pre-jet lagged

I never sleep well the night before flying and I seem to enjoy procrastinating, so now it’s 5:00 am and I’m not packed and every dish in the house is dirty. And, I forgot about garbage day. And, while putting the (potted) xmas tree outside, I flung mud all over my bathroom (by which I mean bathing room). The upside here is that I’m all pre-adjusted to CA time, except if I don’t sleep on the plane, I’ll be a major mess tomorrow.

Let’s see . . . I went to Amsterdam a while ago to see some sort of art opening. There’s a German guy who runs a really, really tiny night shop out of just a shop window display. It’s one of those life-as-art projects, where it’s art because it’s just a bit odd, and the artist embodies it. He was having a small showing of another artist in the shop. The other artist does nothing but pictures of sausages. He handed out tiny real sausages to everyone present. I read the program notes and they were truly insane and mentioned something called the “wurst club.” It’s a real club. I joined it and got a membership certificate which is actually a watercolor painting of a bunch of sausages. I’m the 6th vegetarian to join.
The next weekend, I went to Amsterdam again to go to STEIM’s open weekend. They had a bunch of interactive toy instruments out for folks to play with. They were cool. then some STEIM folks improvised. I went and got my haircut. I really like my hair cutter (Cuts and Curls) because they never argue with me or try to talk me out of things. I say, “make it short and square” and the guy just nods and does it. He talked me into buying some product. I haven’t gotten the hang of using it yet. I look like some sort of cross between an overly-enthusiatic-for-the-wax teen boy or the covermodel for the Amsterdam Gay Guide.
On Monday, I went again to Amsterdam to go to something called “Upgrade.” There were two guys speaking about degradable art and then a couple of guys played sounds and fed them to a video projector via a video aD converter. Destruction of stuff, like data or old photos is fine, I mean, if folks don’t want it anymore, it has to go someplace. But shredding old slides isn’t really getting rid of them. It’s just breaking them up so nobody can use them. In once sense they’re destroyed, but in another they’re not. Somebody with way too much time could probably reconstruct them. What’s more, the amount of space they take up has not diminished. They have not transformed, only been broken into pieces. Degradable art is not biodegradable art. Contrary to audience suggestion, shredding computers is not a good idea. Our leftover technological scraps from forgotten tools and memories are toxic. They might be broken into bits, but those bits will stay around forever, unusable.
Maybe I should go pack or do the dishes or something. I wish my laundry were dry. I’ve been adding labels to my oldest posts and eventually hope to tag everything I’ve ever written here. It seems to be screwing up the feed on lj. Sorry.
Oh yeah, I’ll be in CA starting tomorrow until Jan 4th.


So I met somebody the other day who said she liked Yanni, and I realized that I’d never actually heard anything by him, despite his being a staple of pledge-drive season public television in the bay area. I asked Tom and he said, “Yanni’s great! I actually really like him.” But tom used these same words of praise on Britney Spears, so I thought I should investigate this for myself.

The offical Yanni website only offers 33 and 36 second previews of his work, so I can only talk about his introductions, of which I just downloaded a few. And listened to them while Xena stared at me with a confused and disapproving expression, the dog version of “wtf?” It sounds like an instrumental version of Celine Dion, but performed on Casio Tones.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Casio tones. And I don’t know what year’s music I was listening to. Perhaps it was recorded in the heyday of Casio tones. anyway, someplace, I have one, I think. I’m fond of it. It’s a midi controller and the accordian sound is really nifty when passed through an overdriven low pass filter. Actually, it’s Christi‘s casio tone, so perhaps I will never see it again, since i’m not sure where it has gotten itself off to.
I feel like there may be a strong asthetic connection between Yanni, Thomas Kinkade and Chicken Soup for the Soul. It feels like it is strongly rooted in the middle class, perhaps distinctly American (except that Yanni is Greek and Celine Dion is Canadian). It’s something born in the last decade? Perhaps earlier? The middle class is the backbone of our society. the silent majority who tromps off to work every day, pays taxes (most taxes? the rich aren’t paying anymore) and sees little benefit except in public education. Without the middle class, the US would decend into chaos and open class warfare, or at least chaos, since open class warfare is already being waged in many places. The middle class, locked into debt, is locked into non-radicalism. they have the most to lose and the most fear of losing it. the cultural values that they embrace define us a society, as they are consumers, so the rich pander to them while ignoring the poor.
Therefore, the middle class asthetic is safe. the middle class is up to it’s eyeballs in student debt, credit card debt and morgage debt, they can’t afford to rock the boat. the asthetic is comforting. while existing a few paychecks or one serious illness away from bankruptcy, the need for comfort is strong. And it allows them dreams of togtherness, unity and a social safety net. While isolated in the suburbs, with no real community around them, who wouldn’t desire to look at pictures of cohesive village social structures?
Or maybe I’m readin too much into this
I have a CD with an interview with a Dadaist on it and he’s talking about how the thing to do seemed to be to attack the bourgeois, as apparently they were unaware that it had been done to death. then they did some investigation and found out that they were all bourgeois.
“Science says we are the servants of nature: everything is in order, make love and bash your brains in. Carry on, my children, humanity, kind bourgeois and journalist virgins . . . ” (
I want to write a manifesto for an art movement. analyzing capitalist systems and Yanni is optional

don’t quit your day job

Indeed. It doesn’t matter if you’re so cool that somebody in holland wants to do a festival of your stuff (which is happening for Ellen Fullman. she’s in Europe right now talking about it.), you can’t quit your day job. So I’ve spent some time thinking of how to fix this problem. after all, an internationally recognized composer/performer should be past the career point where she has to make sacrifices for art. Those sacrfices should be paying off by now.

there is not enough money allocated for New Music in the USA.

Why not? Modern art museums are popular and enjoy civic support. But comparable music centers, like the opera, while they also get community support, don’t tend to perform new works very often. There are no civic music organizations that exist to showcase 20th and 21st century music. what organizations do exist, like Other Minds aren’t an institutional part of the region and rely very largely on private donations (although they do get NEA grants). Since they’re not “faith-based,” nor an offical piece of San Francisco or the region, this is unlikely to change. therefore, capitalism is to blame.
When the proletariat rise up, then artists will be able to persue their art. a person will be a stone mason in the morning, a poet in the afternoon, a composer in the evening and a garmet worker the next day! but in the mean time…
the Other Minds festival is really cool. (christi will be arranging one of the pieces in the festival! Really! It’s so cool!) But the Other Minds festival is expensive. so is the opera, which does get a chunk of public money. Classical music is therefore an elitist, burgeouis fetish!
Nope. Operas lose money. Every opera always loses money. When Phillip Glass did einstein on the Beach, he sold out every performance, got rave reviews, and tried t keep ticket prices affordable. IIRC, he ended up being over $100K in debt. Other Minds also loses money. They bleed red ink every year. Ticket sales and public moneys don’t come close to matching production costs. Which leads one to wonder why Metalica and The Three Tenors can fill up stadiums and be profitable. Firstly, there are a lot fewer people needed to make The Three Tenors happen than it takes to put ona whole opera. Less costume design. Less stage design. Also, they do it in a stadium, which has very poor acoustical properties (sounds terrible), but holds a whole lot of people who pay $25 and up to get in. Those ticket prices aren’t affordable either. Maybe The Three Tenors are a burgeouis fetish! (I think I will refer to them as such from this moment forward). Also, they are not only willing to compromise their art by playing in a stadium, they actually have the draw to fill it up. Metalica is in basically the same situation. Meanwhile, Other Minds won’t be able to completely fill the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre every night that they’re there. Also, because it’s only a single event, rather than a touring group, the travel costs are higher on a per-show sort of basis. One of the guys is coming from Down Under. If he were playing ten shows in an Other Minds tour, his travel expenses could be possibly recouped as the Other Minds tour bus crossed the West coast. But instead, one conert is suppossed to pay for everything.
So why do the Three Tenors and Metalica fill stadiums? why is their audience so much larger? It’s name recognition and especially radio play. Metallica gets played on the radio because listeners know their music, like it, want to hear more of it, and will listen to an ad for soda pop while waiting for the songs to come on. new Music doesn’t get radio play. Because listeners don’t know it. Because it doesn’t get radio play.


It may be more complicated than that. In the Bay Area, some college music stations play Noise and some “high art” New Music. Also, until ten or fifteen years ago, KPFA played quite a bit of New Music. so in some radio markets, listeners can and do listen to noise and New Music. Two of the best stations for this, KALX (UC Berkeley) and KFJC (Foothill Community College) often win awards for being the most popular eclectic stations in the area. Since they often give Noise prominent time slots, it seems likely that playing it contributes to their popularity. So if it’s popular, it follows that people would be willing to listen to soda pop ads in between songs, which means it would be commercially viable for profit-driven stations to play it. but they don’t. why not?

Homogeny is not a term for “lesbian,” but homogyny would be.

there are no commercial, eclectic stations in the Bay Area. This is one of the top ten radio markets in the USA. Very few stations are locally owned, if any are. they are owned by Disney, Clear Channel, etc. Gigantic corporations own our airwaves. There used to be rules about how many stations in a market could be owned by one company. Clinton got rid of those. As stations like Live-105 got purchased by corporate giants, their local programming decreased and their coverage of smaller acts also decreased. Now, their playlist is set by folks who may not live here and is the same playlist used by many other stations across the country. the DJs may not live here. things are centralized. The radio stations are paid thousands of dollars by record companies when they pick up a Major-label song and start playing it (this commission is funnelled through folks called “indies” so as to skirt payola laws. But clear channel owns the indies now too, so they get to keep all the money, sicne the indies used to keep half the cash. anyway, it’s payola and if it’s legal, it’s on the barest of technicalities.). It’s cheaper to do things centrally and you get to pocket all of that major label money. this creates obstacles for Noise Mucisians and folks into New Music. Very few New Music composers are out on major labels. Also, while noise plays well out in the Bay Area, it might not play so well in other parts of the country and it might not be able to sustain an audience if it plays on a station all day, every day. an eclectic format weakens brand identity. A rock station is a rock station is a rock station. Consistency of product means no surprises for consumers and it’s easier for corps to advertise.
there are “high art” classical stations, but they don’t play new music either. they play nothing newer than the Romanic period. the local classical station, KDFC (rumored to be Mormon-owned) advertises that it’s relaxing. then they play ads for Lexus. They’re better than many classical stations in the country, because they play minor-key movements. Many classical stations play only happy, major key movements, so you never hear more than one movement of a work when you listen. Christian groups call this “light classical” and highly endorse it as free from the influence of Satan.

Pablum for the Masses

Almost every commercial station plays music that’s soothing or relaxing. Ok, maybe Metallica isn’t exactly soothing, but it’s certainly not challenging. And KDFC practically brags that their music could put you to sleep! Why is commercial music auditory soma? There’s two possible answers that I can think of.

Work Ethic

Americans work more house than anyother country on Earth. We’ve outpaced the stereo-typically work-a-holic Japanese. (I like the term “work-a-holic.” It’s rediculous. Like people acually want to work insanely long hours or two jobs and it’s not just so they can get by. hahahaha! It’s by choise! right! anyway). People work super-long hours, possibly two jobs and they have to commute to these jobs. sice public transit system might inhibit the sales of SUVs, the few areas that have decent public transit often underfund it, so most folks have to commute by car. The news they listen to while they spend maybe two hours a day coming and going from their ten to twelve hours of employment (possibly with unpaid overtime, for “exempt” non-union workers), tells them that terrorists are going to blow up the bridge they’re on (while stuck in traffic) and the traffic reports suggest that maybe they should have just stayed at work an extra couple of hours rather than go out in this mess. Injury accidents have killed 15 workers and, well, you get the point. then they need to find food, try to spend time with their families, do chores, clean the house, run errands, etc. At the end of a day like that, do you want to listen to new and challenging music? Or the three tenors?

the Children are our Future

Teenagers still have some free time, though. I keep reading that they have more homework than ever and more scheduled events than ever before, but I’d like to hold out some hope that they still have time to listen to music. MTV still exists, so they must. Also, it seems to me that a lot of folks form musical tastes that will last a lifetime when they’re young. If you like the Beattles when you’re 15, chances seem to be that you’ll like them for the rest of your life. so all we have to do is get teenagers listening to Noise, New Music and Contemporary Classical.
It’s a curious thing, though. When I was young and impressionable, advertisements used to tell me that Classical Music was totally uncool. Unhip. I always thought this was an aside as advertisers vainly tried to figure out how to appeal to us young-uns. And this is probably true to a certain extent. If millions of teenagers decided they loved Micheal Nyman and Phillip Glass, the corporate media would bend over backwards to give it to them. The composers would be approached to hawk tennis-shoes and soda pop. and if they were too principled to do it, some now-quite-as-edgy ripoff band would be happy to do it.
Most music is put together by record executives. once in a while, something new emerges from College radio, like Nirvana did, but I think most songs are from established acts. and may of these acts were assembled b industry insiders who know what’s popular and how to put together a sure-thing. So as soon as something new comes out, folks are copying it. and those folks sound a bit more mainstream and formulaic. And eventually a formula is developed and a producer can quickly put togther an album by following the formula. this isn’t challenging, but it’s a garunteed way to make a buck.

More sinister plans?

It’s possible that the giant corporations that control the media don’t want kids to think challenging thoughts. I mean, our crazy work schedules and lame corporate art doesn’t prevent people from going to Modern Art Museums. The MOMAs are popular. People clearly have an interest in seeing new things. If they want to see new things, it’s entirely possible that they want to hear new things too. Classical music, even classical music that’s 300 years old is complicated. Old music is still challenging if you’ve never been exposed to it before. Advertisers, in their quest to sell breakfast cerial, tell kids to stay away from challenging music. It’s possible that they don’t want kids to expect music to be challenging. Maybe kids that were used to inspired performances of complicated music would lose their patience from corporate schlock-rock and preformulated pop songs. Maybe they would expect more from music. Maybe their tastes would change even more unpredictably. Maybe they would start thinking more about media.
you can argue that it’s elitist to say that classical music requires more thinking than other forms. So substitute new jazz for new classical. It’s still more thought-provoking than Britney Spears and more visceral and more inspired (when performed well). In any case, classical and new jazz are more complicated than pop tunes. Just like chess is more complicated than connect-4. And chess builds brain-power and critical thinking, and you don’t see advertisements for chess sets either. Also, coincidentally, they’s not enough money for schools or school art programs and corporations aren’t exactly upset about that. but they seem to have definite opinions about whther blowing up Iraq is a good idea.

Critical thinking might make you think critically and critical thinkers aren’t as good at being canon fodder

Cutting money from education is an investment in the future. the future of prisons. Seriously, folks in college classes study about social planning and they learn that when you cut money from education, you know that you will have to spend more money on prisons later on. Look at California. the modern prison-boom started 20 years after Regan. and prisons are profitable. You get money for construction. You can get cheap prison labor. The prisoners are captive audince, so you can charge them more than $3/minute to use pay phones (which phone companies do in California prisons). There’s corporate profits all the way around!
Would chess and new Music keep kids from eventually going to jail? Um. I have no idea. but you wouldn’t want to establish a pattern would you.

We must overthrow the capitalist system!

In the ols days, the government paid for tthe arts. In these old days, the government were feudal lords. the patronage system finaced the composition of New Music. Sicne the patrons were the government, this was a government function. when Alan Smith proposed switchng to a capitalist syetm to do everything, he specifically said that the arts should be exempted from this change because the arts were valuable and might not survive if viewed as just another commodity. This bit of advice apparently didn’t make it into the USA edition of The Wealth of Nations or we chose to ignore it. either way, governments are suppossed to support art and ours isn’t.
In the thirties, we had the WPA and tons of art was created. Those days are gone. the NEA gets smaller every year because conservatives hate art. Why? Maybe because art isn’t conservative by nature. Laura bush cancelled her little poetry thing becuase she suddenly discovered that most good poets are pacafists. (Does being good at persuits like poetry, art and music make you more likely to be leftist? it seems to. why?) Art is challenging! art asks questions! Art makes people think. Conservatives, or rather, reactionaries, don’t appeal to people’s higher natures. they appeal to gut emotions and unthinking, simplistic responces to complex problems. Well, this is true of all politicians. So we can see where our arts funding went. (Remember too, that corporations, including those that own radio stations and record companies have a tendency towards conservativism.)

Private Patronage

Ever since somebody decided that taxes were a tool of Satan and could only be levied to pay for bombs, private charities ahev assumed responcibility for many public works. Before you know it, your city will be hosting a telethon to pave the roads. In the mean time, we rely on private donors to aid those in pverty and to fund the arts. both of these things are the responcibility of the government by rights. but our government has switched over to supporting corporations only. and corporations are basically feudal and anti-democratic. therefore, the haeds of corporations are functioning as our feudal government. you can see this is true by looking at the white house right now. Anyway, it means those guys should be acting personally as patrons and keeping artists and composers in their employ. And really, since we’ve decided to run our government through private donations, the middle class should be giving money to arts foundations. and they are, but it’s not enough. Too much money is being diverted to build bombs.

Low budjet Patronage

Want to comission me to write a song for you? I’ll work for pretty cheap. You’re only turnging 50 once, so why not celbrate witha song written especially for the occasion? Your marraige is the begining of a new life for you. It deserves a new song to accompany it. Comissioning music can be surprisingly affordable. come to our website and you can browse through composers in a variety of price ranges and styles. then, we’ll help you find performers in your area. What better way to show off your equisite taste than by commissioning a piece of new music.
This is one solution. the down side is that we wouldn’t be lapdogs to the rich, we would be lapdogs to the upper-middle class. It seems worse somehow, but maybe that’s classism on my part.
I don’t have a better solution aside from socialist revolution. some smart arts advocacy group is putting up billboards that say “Art” Ask for More” and “Art: Are you getting your fair share?” This seems like a good idea, but I don’t know how it can compete with the likes of Clear Channel. And since the billboards are often owned by Clear Channel, well, it’s putting money in the enemy’s pocket.

Three Paths to Art

In the end, I was only able to figure out three methods for musicians to be able to quit their day jobs.

  • Inherit Money It worked for Thomas Buckner and me! Maybe it can work for you!
  • Leave the country Most first-world countries have money for art. Maybe you can get some.

I forgot number three! ack. I should have made notes before wiriting this!
This is not as important as poverty or agressive, imperialist warfare, but it’s still important. and these issues may be linked. something must be done about this.