Saturday, January 25, 2014

this was tomorrow #15


Aaron at Airport Through the Trees on Ryan Trecartin:

"Trecartin's work plays like the fever dream of some as-yet-unnamed part of the subconscious, the part of the id that only consists of the desires implanted in our brain by television and the internet. Call it the "med", short for both mediated and medicated. Scenes and sentences fly by driven in all directions by the logic of the quickly-scanned text, the portion of a paragraph read before a hyperlink directs us to the next page, the next half-read sentence. And the language is of advertising, is of a mind desperate to be understood by Facebook instead of the other way around."

Inspired by this videowork 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

this was tomorrow #14

  "vintage Nasa photographs, 1964-1983 -An exhibition detailing the achievements of Nasa – covering the golden age of space exploration –  featuring over 100 rare photographs" - The Guardian on the For All Mankind exhibition at Breese Little gallery,  London, 22nd January – 22nd February 2014

This is tomorrow, again?

So asserts the For All Mankind catalogue: 

"The achievements of NASA and the Apollo programme languished in the popular imagination from the end of the 1970s until the early 2000s, neglected in the wake of previous euphoria. The exploration of Mars, space tourism, the commercial satellite market and China’s recent rover landing on the Moon are clear signals that space exploration is once again at the very forefront of public and, increasingly, private agendas. The exploration of space has likewise renewed its grip on the popular consciousness. Motion pictures such as Moon (2009), Gravity (2013) and Interstellar (due for release 2014) are fresh examples of the narrative possibilities of space in the Hollywood science fiction tradition."

Definitely does seem to be an uptick of cultural interest in outer space, for no apparent reason. 

However, the actual "space exploration, it's ON again" stuff that's been happening recently.... Okay, it's cool that it's going on on at all, after such a long hiatus...  China's Moon rover  indicates serious intent to restart the space race, even if it is mostly impelled by the urge to flex geopolitical muscle (make space a Chinese place). (India too has grand plans, for similar reasons).

But if you think about it, all China has done is repeat something that was achieved 43 years ago. Not even repeat it, because NASA got a bunch of human beings on the lunar surface - a much huger endeavour than getting an inanimate entity, a titchy robo-vehicle, up there. So far at least, the People's Republic has reinvented the wheel, and on a miniature scale.

Branson's Virgin flights into the bit of space just above the atmosphere - again, it's hardly vacations on the Moon, is it?

                       lift-off of the final Apollo mission to the Moon in 1972, the one with the Eugene Cirnan monologue                                        that Daft Punk used on "Contact"

Full catalogue for For All Mankind viewable here (some 287 pix!)

 Related essay here by  Henry Little, For All Mankind: A Brief Cultural History of the Moon (originally published by The White Review, September 2013)



Tuesday, January 21, 2014

new desires

Aaron at Airport Through the Trees visits the new Rough Trade megastore in Brooklyn, modeled on the record-store-as-hub of Rough Trade East in Brick Lane (i.e. a place where you can go to not just buy recordings, but shop for gig tickets, magazines, books, merchandise, but also go to attend events, etc, but also just hang out at the cafe). He concludes that "alternative culture is over" and that we should bid it a resigned adieu:

"It'll be hard to jettison. I don't know if I could ever do it myself, and I'm sure it will be harder for those of you who have experienced the Velvet Underground or Joy Division or Sonic Youth or My Bloody Valentine as something more than a $30 180g repress prominently displayed in a heavily-curated section of a record store whose function seems to be a living museum of what was once deemed oppositional."

He calls for the analysis of "the actual ideology of "post-ideology", to enumerate the characteristics of the bland tastefulness that makes a store like this possible, where all of the competing and formerly vital beliefs as to what music is and should be are all housed together, with no contradictions apparent..."
And concludes: "Only new desires will save us, and they aren't to be found in the music that composes, or is made by people versed in, the archive of old desires."

Of course, that kinda  begs the question, what's to stop the new desires getting recruited into post-ideology/whatever-you-want-to-call it... 

Still, I agree about the 180g vinyl represses*. It's even worse when you find them in a Whole Foods or similar sort of not-where-you-would-go-looking-for-music-normally type places (boutiquey furniture or clothes or nicknack type places). Music subsumed as element of lifestyle, rather than music-as-something-you-live-for-or-through. 
* especially as they're almost always sourced in digital, making the analogue-fetishism purely empty-gestural

Stop press: Aaron's follow up post:

"Maybe I was being a bit dramatic in declaring alternative culture dead, but here's why I feel this way: almost everyone I know who feels that there is/was something at stake in their love of music and art, in their desire to live differently, in their attempt to create some better version of human existence, well, they are suffering, and so am I. It's really hard to live without something to believe in, without feeling that there could be something to be accomplished...  It's out of sympathy that I am declaring this culture dead. I am trying to find a way in which we can all be absolved of our fealties to various pasts which inspired us only to lead us nowhere, which inspired us with visions of possibilities that have seemingly been snatched from even our imaginations. Maybe by giving up on this past, we can begin to imagine a future for ourselves again."

this was tomorrow #13

Sunday, January 19, 2014

this is tomorrow (or could be...)

At the Los Angeles Times, Christopher Hawthorne on Spike Jonze's Her as a "refreshingly original take on a future L.A.":

"Thanks to the digital revolution of the last two decades, it has become remarkably easy for filmmakers...  to dip into a bottomless back catalog and borrow or remix work from the past....
There have still been movies imagining life 50 or 100 years from now, of course, during this period of wide-ranging cultural nostalgia. But they've tended to portray violent dystopias or post-apocalyptic wastelands....And increasingly they have been pushed aside in the cultural conversation by films and TV series — "Computer Chess," "The Way Way Back," "Downtown Abbey", "Mad Men," "Inside Llewyn Davis" — that either re-create an entire historic era with detailed ease or seem to exist in a nimble time machine, mixing elements of past and present the way a Spotify user can jump from Lorde to KRS-One and back again.

"'Her' bucks the retro moment by jumping enthusiastically, and blindly, into a future that is neither utopian nor dystopian but — like our own era, and like every era —somewhere in the slippery in-between. The film is set in the Los Angeles of two or three decades from now; the year is never specified. The city has dense clusters of tall towers and a mass-transit system to rival London's. Cars seem to have been banished.... The sidewalks and the rail stations are crowded with people. It's as if a benevolent Robert Moses,  a planning dictator with a green agenda, had taken over the political realm in Los Angeles."

Hawthorne explains how this was technically achieved (Jonze and his crew "digitally plumped" the existing LA skyline,  did the futuristic-ization equivalent of collagen injections by weaving in scenes shot in Shanghai's Pudong district, etc), and then widens his lens to the culture as a whole:

"The reason the culture has become creatively stuck, endlessly reusing our own recent past, is not only that it has become so easy for artists and consumers to call up old material. It is also because we are in the midst of a dramatic and profound digital upheaval that is remaking our personal and professional lives... It has been easier to turn our backs and find either comfort and inspiration in the newly accessible past. This retro turn hardly kills creativity; it has produced some energetic and important work, a lot of which seems to fully inhabit and animate past styles rather than simply ape them. This is particularly true of records and novels by artists in their 20s and early 30s, digital natives who effortlessly give fresh energy to discarded or antique genres."

(His musical example here is Haim's Days Are Gone, which is bang on the money, and reminds me that I've meaning to finish a blog post on the "Are-Haim-retro-or-are-they-not?" question that people keep revisiting).

"In architecture, too, the ease of looking backward has made looking forward tougher or simply more rare. Younger architects are relying on historic pastiche to a degree not seen since the heyday of postmodernism in the 1980s."

One of his architectural examples, the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles  -- formerly the 1927 United Artists tower, now with "interiors remade by the Los Angeles design firm Commune as a loving tribute to 1920s architecture, with nods to Rudolph Schindler, Frank Lloyd Wright and the Viennese modernist Adolf Loos"-- is also bang on the money. So much so that at some months ago point I was going to write a blog post about going into its foyer (to get my haircut at the branch of  retro-barber Rudy's that lurks there) immediately after going to finally check out the famous foyer of the nearby Bonaventure Hostel. Contrasting the Ace's cute 'n' cosy retro-modernist whimsy  with the still disorientating and dislocating postmodern spatiality of the Bonaventure as written about by Fredric Jameson in that big fat book of his

(One of the things I love about LA is the way the city is a retroscape that promiscuously mixes different moments of modernism from across the last century -  1920s once-tall now-small skycrapers, midcentury, post-and-beam single-storey houses, the stark, bracingly antitraditional looking churches and synagogues as seen in the penultimate scene of The Graduate, flyovers in the spaghetti junction style only made prettier by the un-Birmingham-like sunlight, more recent examples of glass-and-steel corporate neo-modernism, as well as butt-ugly malls and many other examples of vulgar or degraded modernism. Along with the buildings, you get the sedimented and clashing residues of their attendant typographies and signage too.  This effect of accumulated residues of  once-new-now-old, the layering of different eras, goes on in all cities, of course. But in L.A., where there's hardly anything pre-1900 and even less sentimentality about tearing down buildings than elsewhere, there's a greater density of competing modernisms unleavened and unmitiaged by all the old crap that persists in London, Paris or New York.)

"where's my jetpack?!?" pt 457 (text not pix side bar to 'This Was Tomorrow' series)

 Isaac Asimov's 1964 imagining of life 50 years hence, aka "Visit to the World's Fair of 2014"
"One thought that occurs to me is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use. Ceilings and walls will glow softly, and in a variety of colors that will change at the touch of a push button.

"Windows need be no more than an archaic touch, and even when present will be polarized to block out the harsh sunlight. The degree of opacity of the glass may even be made to alter automatically in accordance with the intensity of the light falling upon it.

"There is an underground house at the fair which is a sign of the future. if its windows are not polarized, they can nevertheless alter the "scenery" by changes in lighting. Suburban houses underground, with easily controlled temperature, free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common. At the New York World's Fair of 2014, General Motors' "Futurama" may well display vistas of underground cities complete with light- forced vegetable gardens. The surface, G.M. will argue, will be given over to large-scale agriculture, grazing and parklands, with less space wasted on actual human occupancy.

"Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs. Kitchen units will be devised that will prepare "automeals," heating water and converting it to coffee; toasting bread; frying, poaching or scrambling eggs, grilling bacon, and so on. Breakfasts will be "ordered" the night before to be ready by a specified hour the next morning. Complete lunches and dinners, with the food semiprepared, will be stored in the freezer until ready for processing. I suspect, though, that even in 2014 it will still be advisable to have a small corner in the kitchen unit where the more individual meals can be prepared by hand, especially when company is coming....

"The appliances of 2014 will have no electric cords, of course, for they will be powered by long- lived batteries running on radioisotopes. The isotopes will not be expensive for they will be by- products of the fission-power plants which, by 2014, will be supplying well over half the power needs of humanity. But once the isotype batteries are used up they will be disposed of only through authorized agents of the manufacturer.

"And experimental fusion-power plant or two will already exist in 2014....  Large solar-power stations will also be in operation in a number of desert and semi-desert areas -- Arizona, the Negev, Kazakhstan. In the more crowded, but cloudy and smoggy areas, solar power will be less practical. An exhibit at the 2014 fair will show models of power stations in space, collecting sunlight by means of huge parabolic focusing devices and radiating the energy thus collected down to earth.

"The world of 50 years hence will have shrunk further. At the 1964 fair, the G.M. exhibit depicts, among other things, "road-building factories" in the tropics and, closer to home, crowded highways along which long buses move on special central lanes. There is every likelihood that highways at least in the more advanced sections of the world*will have passed their peak in 2014; there will be increasing emphasis on transportation that makes the least possible contact with the surface. There will be aircraft, of course, but even ground travel will increasingly take to the air*a foot or two off the ground. Visitors to the 1964 fair can travel there in an "aquafoil," which lifts itself on four stilts and skims over the water with a minimum of friction. This is surely a stop-gap. By 2014 the four stilts will have been replaced by four jets of compressed air so that the vehicle will make no contact with either liquid or solid surfaces.

"Jets of compressed air will also lift land vehicles off the highways, which, among other things, will minimize paving problems. Smooth earth or level lawns will do as well as pavements. Bridges will also be of less importance, since cars will be capable of crossing water on their jets, though local ordinances will discourage the practice.....

"For short-range travel, moving sidewalks (with benches on either side, standing room in the center) will be making their appearance in downtown sections. They will be raised above the traffic. Traffic will continue (on several levels in some places) only because all parking will be off-street and because at least 80 per cent of truck deliveries will be to certain fixed centers at the city's rim. Compressed air tubes will carry goods and materials over local stretches, and the switching devices that will place specific shipments in specific destinations will be one of the city's marvels.
Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone.

"The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica (shown in chill splendor as part of the '64 General Motors exhibit).

"For that matter, you will be able to reach someone at the moon colonies.... Any number of simultaneous conversations between earth and moon can be handled by modulated laser beams, which are easy to manipulate in space. On earth, however, laser beams will have to be led through plastic pipes, to avoid material and atmospheric interference. Engineers will still be playing with that problem in 2014.

"Conversations with the moon will be a trifle uncomfortable, but the way, in that 2.5 seconds must elapse between statement and answer (it takes light that long to make the round trip). Similar conversations with Mars will experience a 3.5-minute delay even when Mars is at its closest. However, by 2014, only unmanned ships will have landed on Mars, though a manned expedition will be in the works and in the 2014 Futurama will show a model of an elaborate Martian colony.

"As for television, wall screens will have replaced the ordinary set; but transparent cubes will be making their appearance in which three-dimensional viewing will be possible. In fact, one popular exhibit at the 2014 World's Fair will be such a 3-D TV, built life-size, in which ballet performances will be seen. The cube will slowly revolve for viewing from all angles....

"Population pressure will force increasing penetration of desert and polar areas. Most surprising and, in some ways, heartening, 2014 will see a good beginning made in the colonization of the continental shelves. Underwater housing will have its attractions to those who like water sports, and will undoubtedly encourage the more efficient exploitation of ocean resources, both food and mineral. General Motors shows, in its 1964 exhibit, the model of an underwater hotel of what might be called mouth-watering luxury. The 2014 World's Fair will have exhibits showing cities in the deep sea with bathyscaphe liners carrying men and supplies across and into the abyss.

"Ordinary agriculture will keep up with great difficulty and there will be "farms" turning to the more efficient micro-organisms. Processed yeast and algae products will be available in a variety of flavors. The 2014 fair will feature an Algae Bar at which "mock-turkey" and "pseudosteak" will be served. It won't be bad at all (if you can dig up those premium prices), but there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation....

"The situation will have been made the more serious by the advances of automation. The world of A.D. 2014 will have few routine jobs that cannot be done better by some machine than by any human being. Mankind will therefore have become largely a race of machine tenders. Schools will have to be oriented in this direction. Part of the General Electric exhibit today consists of a school of the future in which such present realities as closed-circuit TV and programmed tapes aid the teaching process. It is not only the techniques of teaching that will advance, however, but also the subject matter that will change. All the high-school students will be taught the fundamentals of computer technology will become proficient in binary arithmetic and will be trained to perfection in the use of the computer languages that will have developed out of those like the contemporary "Fortran" (from "formula translation").

"Even so, mankind will suffer badly from the disease of boredom, a disease spreading more widely each year and growing in intensity. This will have serious mental, emotional and sociological consequences, and I dare say that psychiatry will be far and away the most important medical specialty in 2014. The lucky few who can be involved in creative work of any sort will be the true elite of mankind, for they alone will do more than serve a machine.

"Indeed, the most somber speculation I can make about A.D. 2014 is that in a society of enforced leisure, the most glorious single word in the vocabulary will have become work!"

this was tomorrow, #12


from the Wire:

"Ghent University in Belgium has run an electronic and electroacoustic studio for the last 50 years....

In 1963, the BRT (Belgian Radio and Television) set up a studio for electronic music in cooperation with the State University of Ghent, with the intention of operating it as both a creative studio, and a research institution. The first director was Flemish composer Louis De Meester, and one of the first instruments developed was a sine wave generator by Hubert Vuylsteke. His assistant, an engineer called Walter Landrieu, (who built one of the first sequencers in Europe) also invented an instrument that used electronic tubes to generate eight octaves derived from a single base frequency.
470 compositions were realised at IPEM between 1963–1987. It is still operational, housed in the University building Technicum, in the same place it was founded."

 more info about the IPEM: Institute For Psychoacoustics And Electronic Music: 50 years of Electronic And Electroacoustic Music At The Ghent University  anthology can be found here

Thursday, January 9, 2014

this was tomorrow #6