Thursday, December 23, 2021

retrotalk2021 #6- heritage techno

The arrival of  heritage techno Guardian's Jake Tapper reports on the consortium of Berlin techno DJs and promoters who are lobbying the German government to request Unesco to grant ICH ("intangible cultural heritage") status to the city's club scene, currently languishing from lockdown 

Detroiter turned Berliner Alan Oldham says "Unesco protection would go a long way towards maintaining that old spirit. Legacy venues like Tresor and Berghain for example would be protected as cultural landmarks."

Explains Tapper, "....rRecognising techno would open up access to government subsidies and other funding sources, and clubs would gain extra protection under town planning laws."

Oldham again: "“Unesco protection would help a lot towards establishing techno and club culture as a legitimate social force with historical value and worthy of government support, not just hedonistic, disposable club music and drugs. Eventually, my hometown Detroit could maybe also benefit.”

The New Orleans-isation of once disreputable (and fertile), now touristic (and developmentally-arrested ) music-towns - well, exactly 20 years ago, I imagined this happening to the NY house scene... 

Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Electronic Music is finally set to open in Frankfurt - in spring next year

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

retrotalk2021 #5 - presentism

 In the NYT  Lindsay Zoladz says 2021 was a year when we couldn't stop looking back and wields the concept "presentism" to describe a tendency to project the concerns of now onto the past and to judge it by today's advanced standards

"The allure of presentism is causing people to romanticize contemporary perspectives at the expense of an excessively vilified past. It’s uncomfortable to dwell in gray areas, to admit imperfections, to acknowledge blind spots — better to have a 100-minute documentary or four-part podcast to allow us to tidily “reconsider” something that we got wrong the first time around, so we never have to think too hard about it again."

Seems to be a different use of the concept "presentism" than in Douglas Rushkoff's 2014 book Present Shock: When Everything Happens NOW -  well at least as far as I can tell / recall, given that I started but never got far with it (victim of a presentist inability to concentrate? well, I did then and have since started and finished other books...). 

From the book's website, a breakdown of the major contentions: 

Narrative collapse – the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self – at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds – home and battlefield – simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives – freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.

Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.

Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists – prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information. 

Monday, December 20, 2021

retrotalk2021 #4 digital nostalgia

Kyle Chayka in The New Yorker from a weeks ago, exploring "Pokémon and the First Wave of Digital Nostalgia" and the poignant pangs triggered by the rudimentary graphics of early Nintendo. 

"The visuals of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, from 1985, consisted of a 256-by-240 grid of tiny squares of color. There were fifty-four hues altogether; each character was limited to three colors at a time...    a time before hyperrealistic 3-D graphics and screen overexposure, the desaturated pixels were innocently entrancing, an immersive other world."

Chayka notes that the 20-year-cycle is bang on cue for "the first wave of nostalgia for early digital life, a longing for our first digital worlds, onscreen spaces in which we could act, create, and communicate." 

"For many people, the earlier era of the Internet represents a time when they still had power over their digital lives, before they became dependent upon the repetitive templates, inhuman scale, and turbocharged content feeds offered by the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok.... The revival of pixel art may be a quest for the kind of variety and texture that massive social-media networks have gradually banished, a harkening back to a messier, more human moment in our digital lives."

Other symptoms of early 2000s-stalgia

"A clone of the Web site for MySpace, the early-aughts social-networking service, recently drew three hundred thousand subscribers. 

"Some of the most popular recent independent video games, such as the farming role-playing game Stardew Valley and the adventure game Celeste, are entirely pixel art... 

"With all of the gazing backward, the new digital era, which is often labelled Web3, may end up looking a bit like the older, pre-Facebook Internet."

Chayka references an essay by Robin Sloan called "Notes on Web3,” which argues that the retrodigital buzz is about "rediscovering a sense of online ownership and creativity that has been gone since the era of blogs and browser games."

Also interviewed, an artist called Maria Vorobjova whose work includes "Wood Wide Web,” 
a simulated video game of a biological office space, presented in glitching, imprecise polygon models with pixelated, supersaturated textures. The graphics are intentionally messy. Vorobjova, who recalls playing games on her father’s desktop computer as a young girl, uses the rendering software Blender and then films walk-throughs of her creations in low-resolution 320-by-265 pixels, mimicking the capacity of the original 1994 PlayStation. Upsizing the videos for modern platforms only exaggerates the graininess. The work is an attempt to evoke what the Internet used to be, Vorobjova said: “A continuous rabbit hole, leading to unpredictable, mystical destinations.” When she adds small details to the worlds she builds, she added, “I’m trying to make that old aesthetic new again.”

There's stuff on the aesthetics of NFTs and a Madeleine moment of the author's - "Succumbing to my own digital nostalgia, I recently bought the newly rebooted Pokémon Brilliant Diamond for the Nintendo Switch console... It has been a comfort to immerse myself in a digital environment that doesn’t update or change every minute, as social media does, with its thousands of blips of new content. I thought that it might be boring, too slow or simplistic, but playing Pokémon is easily more satisfying than an hour spent checking Twitter. My decisions have actual consequences, at least within the game; instead of shouting into the public void, I am performing for myself alone." 

Saturday, December 18, 2021

retrotalk2021 #3 - pop will (rep)eat itself

Alexis Petridis in the Graun wonders why pop has got so predictable...  

Starting with Adele's endless misery-go-round, ABBA-in-aspic, the sheer(an) bloody comfiness of ginger Ed's latest, Lana Del Rey's copiousness, and yet another yearly glut of Drake, AP wonders whether "perhaps what people want from pop music" - nowadays - "is reassurance and comfort rather than startling novelty"

"There was a time when artists who wilfully repeated themselves were the subject of mockery – think of all the jokes aimed Status Quo’s way in the late 70s and 80s, and the snarky comparisons to Status Quo lobbed at Oasis once Britpop’s shine wore off...  In 2021, however, it frequently felt as if the best way to maintain one’s place at the pinnacle of pop was by doing exactly what audiences expected them to."

He offers various candidates for an explanation - comfort in a time of turbulence, the longing for authenticity / relatability, or simply allowing ourselves to be steered by streamers to things like things we already like, in the confusing welter of newstuff and microgenres and hybrids...  

In the comments, Mark Fisher comes up a bunch of times (and Retromania gets a mention)

retrotalk2021 #2 - a cross-culture innovation drought?

From a few week ago, an Atlantic piece on an innovation drought in American culture, titled "America Is Running on Fumes". Derek Thompson focuses on the shortfall in three specific areas 


"Throughout the 20th century, Hollywood produced a healthy number of entirely new stories. The top movies of 1998—including Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, and There’s Something About Mary—were almost all based on original screenplays. But since then, the U.S. box office has been steadily overrun by numbers and superheroes: Iron Man 2, Jurassic Park 3, Toy Story 4, etc. Of the 10 top-grossing movies of 2019, nine were sequels or live-action remakes of animated Disney movies, with the one exception, Joker, being a gritty prequel of another superhero franchise....  Americans used to go to movie theaters to watch new characters in new stories. Now they go to movie theaters to re-submerge themselves in familiar story lines."




“New ideas no longer fuel economic growth the way they once did,” the economists Jay Bhattacharya and Mikko Packalen wrote [in the 2020 paper Stagnation and Scientific Incentives]. In the past few decades, citations have become a key metric for evaluating scientific research, which has pushed scientists to write papers that they think will be popular with other scientists. This causes many of them to cluster around a small set of popular subjects rather than take a gamble that might open a new field of study. 

"In science, as in cinema, incrementalism is edging out exploration."

“Everywhere we look we find that ideas are getting harder to find,” a group of researchers from Stanford University and MIT concluded in a 2020 paper. Specifically, they concluded that research productivity has declined sharply in a number of industries, including software, agriculture, and medicine. 

".... Setting aside a spike during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. business formation has been declining since the 1970s. 

".... Until about a century ago, the U.S. was building top-flight colleges and universities at a dazzling clip. But the U.S. hasn't built a new elite university in many decades.... 

"f you believe in the virtue of novelty, these are disturbing trends. Today’s scientists are less likely to publish truly new ideas, businesses are struggling to break into the market with new ideas....  we are less likely than previous generations to build institutions that advance new ideas.

“What about all the cool new stuff?” you might ask. What about the recent breakthroughs in mRNA technology? What about CRISPR, and AI, and solar energy, and battery technology, and electric vehicles, and (sure) crypto, and (yes!) smartphones? These are sensational accomplishments—or, in many cases, the promises of future accomplishments—punctuating a long era of broad technological stagnation. Productivity growth and average income growth have declined significantly from their mid-20th-century levels.

"New ideas simply don’t fuel growth the way they once did. 

".... This is not the first time that somebody has accused America’s invention engine of running on fumes in the 21st century. (Not even the idea that America is running out of ideas is a new idea.)

"In 2020, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen published the instant-classic essay “It’s Time to Build,” which urged more innovation and entrepreneurship in public health, housing, education, and transportation. “The problem is inertia,” he wrote. “We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things.” The same year, Ross Douthat published The Decadent Society, which levied similar criticisms of languishing U.S. creativity. These works are partly descendants of Tyler Cowen’s books The Great Stagnation, which diagnosed a slowdown in America’s innovative mojo, and The Complacent Class, which observed that Americans are self-segregating into comfortable echo chambers rather than taking risks and challenging themselves."

Why is it happening, Thompson asks? 

"I don’t think there is an overarching reason for our novelty stagnation. But let me offer three theories that might collectively explain a good chunk of this complex phenomenon.

"1. The big marketplace of attention

Almost every smart cultural producer eventually learns the same lesson: Audiences don’t really like brand-new things. They prefer “familiar surprises”—sneakily novel twists on well-known fare....

"2. The creep of gerontocracy..."

"Across [politics]. business, science, and finance, power is similarly concentrated among the elderly...." 

3. The rise of “vetocracy”

"What if it’s not American creativity that’s suffering, but rather that modern institutions have found new successful ways to thwart and constrict creativity, so that new ideas are equally likely to be born, but less likely to grow?

"... They’ve become, in political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s term, “vetocracies,” in which too many actors have veto rights over what gets built. That’s true in the federal government. It’s true in state and local governments. It’s even true in the private sector.

"Last year, fewer bills were passed than in any year on record. 

"Vetocracy blocks new construction too, especially through endless environmental and safety-impact analyses that stop new projects before they can begin."

The author concedes that "the best objection to everything that I’ve written so far is that there exists a world where young people tend to be in control, where regulatory burdens aren’t blocking megaprojects, and where new ideas are generally cherished and even, perhaps, fetishized. It’s the internet—or, more specific, the software industry. If you are working on AI, or crypto, or virtual reality, you probably aren’t starved for new ideas. You very well may be drowning in them...."

So all the change is happening in this immaterial realm.. 

"... Patents today are more concentrated in a single industry, the software industry, than at any other time on record. We’ve funneled treasure and talent into the world of bits, as the world of flesh and steel has decayed around it....

"What I want is for the physical world to rediscover the virtue of experimentation. I want more new companies and entrepreneurs, which means I want more immigrants. I want more megaprojects in infrastructure and more moon-shot bets in energy and transportation....  finally, I’d like Hollywood to rediscover a passion for cinematic blockbusters that don’t have numbers in the title."

My own less informed thoughts on this deficit of big thinking and aiming high from a piece in Salon from 2007... 

retrotalk2021 #1 - time-reversal pop

here's an ingenious time-runs-in-reverse way of celebrating a derivative and backward-looking contemporary artist that you're nonetheless highly partial to, from Robert Barry, author of  The Music of the Future

"Think of all your favourite songs by Scritti Politti, Grace Jones, Mylène Farmer, Adele Bertei, Wham!. Now imagine that none of the people who wrote those songs really wrote those songs. Imagine they all ripped them off – the melodies, the rhythms, the sound, the feel, the lot. Imagine it was all stolen from some other artist, some obscure studio-bound hermit without the looks and the money and the record label pull. Imagine some baroque conspiracy to have the music of that original artist suppressed. Every copy of their work deleted and pulped. Just one third gen copy remaining, buried in a ditch for decades, then finally dug up, a little warped, a little grimy. Do you ever hear a record and feel like it's been made just for you?"

He's talking about an outfit called Mirage, in the Quietus Best Albums of 2021 roundup (although it's actually a sample from his longer review for tQ in April)

It reminds me a bit of Playgroup's 2002 album, showing that retro cycles are themselves going in circles now... 

I rather like I must admit - have a listen 

That trick - where the earlier, actual influence / source, can be made to sound like they're the one that's derivative of a chronologically later group - it doesn't happen often but when it does, it's eerie

Modernist Churches


an amuse-bouche for the pictorial contents of this...