Monday, November 22, 2010


What are complex things made out of? They are made out of simple things. By combining, layering, cutting and pasting multiple simplicity, you get complexity. Just as such, this three-minutes complexity is made out of simple beats people came up with on the spot using simple found objects around them. It’s a simple method: carry around a metronome set at 60 bpm subdivided, and ask a random person,“ please create any rhythms you’d like using whatever you want for about 30 seconds.” And there is just one rule: “STAY ON THE BEAT.”
Now, can you hear complexity?

Inspiration? Well I know this idea of creating music using garbage has been out there for a while. For example, a world famous musical theater, Stomp, uses the idea of using garbage and other found objects to create complicated musical performance on stage.

Besides such well-known art like Stomp, there has been many attempts world-wide to recycle the ugly garbage to create something phenomenal, something real- MUSIC.

trash can music

a child with found object instruments

This 3-minute music video, GARBEAT, is created collaboratively by a number of students who were randomly asked to create rhythms on the spot in 120 bpm, using found objects of their choice. Each individual's simple rhythms were cut, combined, layered, repeated in order to create a complicated music. 

Now again.

Can you hear the music?  

Friday, November 12, 2010

It's Not Straight

Gilles Deleuze

Felix Guattari

 Below is a short passage taken from A Thousand Plateaus by philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. It describes the idea of Rhizome.

A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle,
between things, interbeing,
rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb "to
be" but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, "and
intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the... and ...
and..."This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the
verb "to be."
When I first read this article, I found myself tilting my head and saying "huh?" I could not wrap my mind around the concept of rhizome, and I could not understand why the two authors kept bringing different examples to describe the idea of rhizome and why it is so important. After reading it a couple more times, I started to see the point that they are trying to get at. Anything that is more than mere straight line, anything that is interconnected and is intertwined, anything that is non-hierarchical is "rhizome." Anything... like the progress of New Media. In the New Media from Borges to HTML, Lev Manovich talks about the evolution of New Media; what it is, how they came about, etc. The term New Media seems to get tossed around a lot, especially in this digital world today. However, do people really know what it means when they use the term? I bet when people are asked to define it, people will find it a lot harder than they've expected. Is "New Media" one of those words, those concepts, you think you know, or you vaguely know, but cannot be described in one concise sentence? 

Lev Manovich
In his article, Manovich, was able to posit 8 propositions of New Media: (1) NM as not cyberculture, (2) NM as computer technology as distribution platform, (3) NM as digital data controlled by software, (4) NM as mix of existing cultural convention and software convention, (5) NM as aesthetics of the emergence of modern technology and communication device, (6) NM as means to solve algorithm faster than previously, (7) NM as an Avant-Garde and a meta media, and (8) NM as similar concept to post WWII art and computing. However, as one can see, he never gave a concise explanation as to what it is. Instead, he gave us this list and gave situational explanation and a comparison that presents vague idea of what it might be. Is such explanation good enough to describe what New Media is?

I think yes, according to Deleuze and Guattari. New Media is, in fact, a perfect example of a "rhizome." New Media is highly complex. It feeds on each other, affect each other, and branch off of one another, just as the 8 proposition describes. Thus, New Media gets more complicated and highly advanced as it grows. It does not have a beginning nor an end, it is in the middle, and it is alliance. It sure is not a straight line.
This young man quite confidently defines what "New Media" is. Is he doing a good job? Does he cover all 8 proposition Manovich proposed? Does he successfully refers New Media as "Rhizome" in his own words?

Monday, November 8, 2010

John Cage


I've seen some of my classmates being challenged by the fact that they could not find enough resources for their artists for this project; The Medium is the Messsage Research Report. I was challenged by something quite opposite... too many references on John Cage!

John Cage
Having been an American composer, philosopher, poet, music theorist, artist, printmaker, and an amateur mushroom collector, John Cage hads so much to share to the world. Even within his artistic careers and accomplishment, I found so many genres of works by him, that I had to choose specifics in order to keep it to the 8 minutes limit. 
What I found really fascinating about John Cage's works are the Zen Buddhism influence in his works and his approach. He was introduced to Zen in early 50's, and his personality as well as perspective towards his own works and approach changed drastically. I am not a Buddhist but I have a great interest in Buddhism since living in a community near Tietans for about 6 years in the past. The core belief of Buddhism claims that nothing has intent, and nothing has soul. Just like that, John Cage applies this idea to his works.

Another intriguing characteristics about John Cage that drew my attention were the fact that he is both a musician (a composer) and an artist. I am neither a musician nor an artist looking into future careers related to those fields. However, I do enjoy both (in fact, I am minoring in both music and art), and I especially love it when the two are blended together. This, blending, is exactly what John Cage did in many of his works. 

The 4'3'' is an interesting one. Cage composed an entire symphony for orchestra called 4 minutes 33 seconds (4'3") that last for that duration. There are 3 movements in the piece, like many symphony pieces. What is different? It's silence. In the clip below, you will find a concert in memory of John Cage where the orchestra performed 4'33". The musicians are on stage in their black. The audience fills the seats. The conductor stands on the podium. So what's the difference? It's the silence. First movement: tacit. Second movement: tacit. Third movement: tacit. The first movements has an awkward tension, where the audience tries to hold their breadth to avoid making the tiniest noise. Then people become a little more relaxed in the second movement, with occasional coughs. And then the last movement, people are fidgeting, coughing, sneezing... It is truly interesting. Who would have thought that? Here, Cage is trying to point out the aesthetics of noise. There is no intention. Nothing is fixed. His works always are created along the way because the progression (in his opinion) is what is important. Not the product. 

That is just one of the manyfamous works by John Cage. Other works include prepared piano, of which, only a short portion will be shown during the presentation, but it is worth watching. It's amazing how John Cage managed to look at something, something already beautiful and fixed like melodious sound, to take that and bend it and transform it into something completely different. To many ears, especially those trained in the fixed Western tonal music, it may sound bizarre. But we must look beyond what is norm, because he is an Avant-garde artist!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Medium is the Message ...or the Massage

Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher, an English literature professor, and a communication theorist is known for his work on media theory. He is especially famous for his idea that "the Medium is the Message," which later translated into a published book called "The Medium is the Massage." What McLuhan means by media being the message is that, the message is "the change of scale or pace or pattern" introduced to human affairs by new inventions. Furthermore, he claims that the "content" of the media is always another media, making it almost impossible to make a clear cut separation on what is medium, what is message and what is content.We often focus on the concept that one thing follows another, a clear formula called; cause-and-effect. However, McLuhan thinks that "nothing follows from nothing, except change."

The Medium is the Massage

In a review on The Medium is the Message called, What is the Meaning of The Medium is the Message?Mark Federman analyzes "a McLuhan message [as] always tell[ing] us to look beyond the obvious and seek the non-obvious changes or effects that are enabled, enhanced, accelerated or extended by the new thing." More often than not, we tend to focus on the medium rather than the message. For example, McLuhan claims that any medium tend to impose assumption on the not cautious person, who only looks at the obvious. If one is aware enough and shake off such assumptions on the medium, then she/he is able to truly understand what the message is. This is how Alexis De Tocqueville was able to understand the grammar of typogrpahy, because he went beyond the obvious and detached himself from the stereotypical values and assumptions on what typogrpahy is.  

One other idea of McLuhan that really drew my attention is the concept of technology as an extension of human body. I never thought about technology as being an extension of my body, but when I pondered upon this thought, I felt that it defines technology so well. Technology enables one to work beyond human capability. For example, cell phone is an extension of human voice- it allows one voice to be heard miles away. Bullet train is an extension of our legs- it enables one to move from one place to the other so quickly. So technology is an integral part of our lives, and they are the message itself, as they are the extension of our body parts that enable us to do the tasks that, without it, are impossible to do.
Technology is an extension of our body
The video below shows a short clip from "McLuhan-The Medium is the Message" by (c) Canadian Heritage Minute, that describes how McLuhan came up with the idea that the medium is the message and the content is the audience during his lecture.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Hello Technology

For the project, Technology & Society, I attempted to depict the aspect of how technology has changed our lives drastically, using three different one-minute videos.

First of all, our perception on time flow has changed due to technological advancement.
Texting Away

The above video, "Texting Away" is a one-minute, non-cut video taken at the residence hall at Lawrence University. This student portrays the common behavior seen among many people in this technologically advanced society today. While they text to communicate with others, their sense of time flow seem much faster. Is it at all possible for them to live a day without a cell phone? Could they possibly imagine a life without a little technological device that keeps them entertained and connected with others? By increasing and decreasing the speed of the motions in different actions (e.g., 600% of the original speed for each time he texts, while 50 % of the original speed during other activities like drinking water), the deceptive sense of time flow is exaggerated.

The second video, "Wait... Rewind." is an attempt to capture the ambiguity of where the lines are drawn between nature, beings and technology.
Wait... Rewind.

Using a variety of footage from YouTube, I tried to depict similar motions seen between two out of three supposedly very different things  (for example, similar motion seen between crowded people at the intersection in downtown Tokyo vs. ants). My interpretation is that, to an extent, we are moving in a similar fashion because of technological advancement; almost systematic, almost as perfect as the nature... The pause in the middle of the video is there for one to think about what this all means, and to rewind and rethink about this matter.

Lastly, the video that mixes both found footage and created material, "MOSHI MOSHI? ~hello?~" once again pose the question of what it means to have a communication device and what the invention of telephone did to the society in terms of the sense of time flow.

MOSHI MOSHI? ~hello?~

Just like how the invention of TV did a wonder to people in this world, cell phones did the same. At first, everyone exclaimed, "Wow! Woah!" and clapped, like a dream come true! It was something you own only if you were wealthy. Then, more and more came out and soon enough, everyone had their own cell phones in their hands. The speed in which this society moves today is quite amazing, and how technology plays a huge role in this fast-moving society is inevitable. We tend to forget the beauty of the natural world and its calm time flow. 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Like Chickens

Lawrence Unviersity's curator and gallery director, Frank Lewis, lectured on Wisconsin Labor: A Contemporary Portrait on Friday October 29th 2010. As an exhibition opening, he explained the background information on photography works that captures laborers, and how the view on such subject matters changed over the course of time. I was particularly intrigued by the concept of capturing a person (or people) in labor as an identity vs. capturing a person (or people) in labor as a machine.  In other words, photographers from different periods have had different concepts on human labors, and they have tried to depict what labor means to human beings. What they had in common was that they saw aesthetics in human labors and they intended to tranform what is human sweat and effort into an art called photograph.

File:Lewis Hine Power house mechanic working on steam pump.jpg
Lewis Hine
Power house mechanic working on steam pump, USA1920  
The picture above is a famous photograph taken by Lewis Hine. His works often captured the juxtaposition of mechanics and human beings, and he was strong on his opinions on the blending of the two. As seen in this photography, the curvature of the man's spine traces the shape of a perfect circular curve of the large machine behind him. This gives the illusion that the man in labor is, in fact, a part of this gigantic machinary. He was also very big on documenting the issues of child labor, where he would go to factories where children were abused and taken advantage of with adult privilages. Children working in such settings in his time were, indeed, treated like an object. Loss of identity as a human being was very apparent, as seen throughout his works.
August SanderPastry Cook, Germany, 1928
8 x 10" Silver Print
Posthumous Print
Printed 1996
On the other hand, August Sander's phtography collections focused more on occupation as a self identity. He was a photographer in Germany pre and during World War II. He would go around Germany (more so before the war) to take what defines as Germany by capturing everyday lives (what they do as a job, etc.) of the citizens there. His works were not merely a depiction of a "career" per se, but tells a lot about that person in the portrait's existence, making the photographs personal and specific.

Quai de Javel (Ragpickers)
Henri Cartier-Bresson
Quai de Javel (Ragpickers), Paris, 1932
Printed on 11 x 14 inch

Works by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Quai de Javel (Rag Pickers), reminded me of the caste system in India. Like Sander's works, it depicts these men's identity in terms of their placement in the society, but at the same time, the lack of identity of the each individuals in the photo makes it touch the concept of them being a mere workers a whole. In India, people are born with their class and occupation due to their last name that is carried throughout the family from the past.  Though the concept of caste system is slowly vanishing throughout the world, photographs like this makes it apparent that it has always been a big part of the societies in many countries on a global scale.

Edward Burtynsky
Manufacturing #17,
Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, 2005

Finally, the phogoraph above by Edward Burtynsky shows the workers in chicken manufacturing factory in China. With technology advancement, it is inevidable that people in factories are as machine-like as the technologies they use to do the labors. Everyone wearing the same pink clothes, doing the same gestures over and over again... They are no more human-like than the identical chickens being manufactured at the factory. Where did these workers' identity as a human being go?

The below clips is a short snippet of a classic comedy called I Love Lucy, where labor in a factory like the one shown in Burtynsky's photo is made fun of.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Generation to Generation: Technology and Society

I remember my mother telling me about her childhood.
She grew up in a small fisherman village in the west of Japan.
In her small neighborhood, there was one family, the wealthiest family, who owned a TV.
Every time monotoned "Tom and Jerry" came on, all the children in the neighborhood would rush to this family's house to watch this wonderful entertainment on a screen of a magical box.

Below clip is a short fragment from a Japanese Movie, "Always: Sunset on 3rd Street" (Always 3丁目の夕日) by director Takashi Yamazaki (←This link goes to an interview with this director. The interviewer asks about his view on "technology" as it seems to appear a lot in his movies... very relavent, so read if you'd like!) Why did I put this? It's because this fragment shows how people reacted to TV when it first arrived to homes in Japan in the 50's. I would imagine the scenes of my mother's story being very similar to the scene shown in this clip.

The Versions of Cause and Effect in Technology and Society discussed in Raymond Williams' article, The Technology and the Society, lists varieties of explanations people have when they discuss about how technology (TV) altered our world... whether TV was an acccidental invention, whether it was intended to disrupt, modify, or enhance social communications, etc. He emphasizes that we must not only focus on the technology in focus as the "cause" of the effect on the world, but also to talk about what "led to" the TV. Although this article was written in the 70s, what he wrote about technology as not just cause of change in the society, but also the societal chagne itself is very much applicable today, in the 21st Century. Yes, TV was a big deal in the 50s.  Maybe thsoe who invented did predict each household to have TV eventually, but I doubt they predicted the TV to be so prevalent, for each household to have multiple TVs, for the cars to embed TV, for the cellphoens to embed TV... At least in Japan, most families cannot live without a TV. They wake up in the morning and turn it on right away. Weather forecast, morning news, reality shows, dramas, movies... Everything is up to date, and everyone must be informed to be able to get on the social flow.  It's this progression of technological advancement that we must consider when we talk about the co-existance of technology and society and how they influence each other.

The clips above make one realize that it was such a joy and celebration for the world to achieve a high-technology called television. Now it's a social norm. People take advantage of it.

And how does this technological advancement affect the art world? Many things are so readily available and made possible thanks to technology. From the past weeks, we have discussed about the internet progression and web 2.0 being (in my opinion) a major plus to the art world as it allows the artists to promote and exchange their artworks with the world. Other than internet aspect, we may also discuss art that uses many technology such as CG and other digital effects as opposed to found materials and simple methods. 

Anthony Goicolea
from the book,
"Anthony Goicolea"
 As we have discussed in class, while watching "Amphibians" by Anthony Goicolea, where cameras are placed and the sound effects used are all very important aspects of creating the mood and the storyline in a film. He also tend to have the theme of proliferation in his art works, that he would edit his photographs (often self-portrait) to convey his messages. He took advantage of technology, and experimented with its ability.

William Wegman and his dog
On the other hand, artist like William Wegman went the other way by experimenting with simple objects found around him. He would take, for example, a used can of deodorant, or toilet plunger and TV screen, or crooked wire (and his finger...!) to create series of short video clips... which were all so abstract and exteremely humorous. People can go all direction when considering art. I don't think people can claim one is better than the other, nor could they say one way is the only way and not the other. It really all depends on how the artist utilize what he/she decided to use, and how effectively he/she can use it to create good art. One thing that can be said, is, merely relying on the technology, and only doing so, is probably not the best way to go about.