Stream of Thoughts
Friday, 11 November 2022
The images of the Yarra river here from a couple of months ago would at a previous time warrant comment almost immediately by my reckoning. But I’m lazy and I subsequently did not upload the images and comment on them in a timely manner. One excuse I can rustle up relatively promptly is that this situation persisted, and in fact, got worse.
As we now understand La Niña has returned, for the third time! Exactly how intense it will be this summer is, of course, unknown but the rain cycles seem to be continuing for now.
The height of the river and its surging volume and subsequent churn were impressive. Then reality kicks in as one becomes aware of the amount of garbage being thrown up on the banks and in the vegetation. All sadly, worrying. How will it be cleaned up? Eventually, when the water subsides to around its regular level, and one wonders if it will this summer, the basic clean-up will be greater than usual. The extent of the flooding has been sustained and unprecedented in my experience. Historically it has been higher but perhaps not flooding for such a long period of time. Of course, the definition of flooding is relative to a normal level and the encroachment on spaces frequented by people, namely the paths.
At the Main City trail below Turner St. Looking North (upstream)
and looking South (downstream)
The Deep Rock area was completely underwater. The picnic table top is just visible in this image.
A day or so later the picnic table had traveled downstream, over Dights Falls, and shortly after on the river bend it became lodged high above the small flood wall with the indigenous artwork.
Monday, 19th October 2022
This was some time ago, perhaps a month, but it is one of those river objects that are just breathtaking. There’s been a lot of rain lately, more to come, and things have just got weird. The water flow here causes objects to hold position, and if foam starts to form, it gets shaped by the flow forces.
Sunday, 18th September 2022
Ben Davis – Art in the After-Culture1
Preliminary Thoughts (Part 1)
Somewhere in the cosmos, in a very timely manner, word got to me about this book. It was a reference somewhere, in something I was reading, I can’t remember. Perhaps it was something that was said in that text but the title resonated with me immediately. So I ordered it.
It is risky doing this. I was also prompted to buy “Industry: Bang on a Can and New Music in the Marketplace” by William Robin, and I just couldn’t get through it. The reason, among others, was history. I arrived at Princeton in 1989 and was gradually introduced to Bang on a Can through the fact that Julia Wolfe and I commenced grad studies that year. While our musical foci were very different, the book seemed from the start foreign to me when I thought that it wouldn’t be. So it’s personal, and I admit the issue lies with my expectations, not so much the content. A lot of time has passed, the world has changed, and so have I. But I digress.
Davis’ book from the first few pages seemed to me to offer an explanation or direction of interpretation about what has been going on in the first decades of the 21st Century that I felt to be clear and pertinent. I knew I was failing to see forces at work that were changing a landscape that I thought I knew. Being creative in that time, and through the previous decade, had made me cognisant of various issues around production, reception, innovation, and relevance. Of course, being in Australia made it all the more acute when viewing creative activity internationally.
The simple answer and one that was easily digested at the time was that it was ‘art’ and therefore was naturally going to remain external to mainstream culture. That was true up to a point but the audience was changing, as time passed the work being produced changed, and I felt compelled to change with it. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t studied the idea of “reinvention”. To study Stravinsky is to study that pragmatism. Typically the artist in everyone wants to consider or longs to consider individual cases and artists. We always come back to the person as an artist.
Davis’ text makes it clear from the outset that he’s talking of complex forces and influences that straddle recent generations of art but seem to have become umbrellaed in the context of Capitalism and institutions. This is how we ‘consume’ art these days. What has happened here has completely shifted the ground upon which historical views of art have been predicated. In chapter 1, “Connoisseurship and Critique” one is confronted with the collapse of aesthetics but also made aware that what we understand, and what we accept about aesthetics is relatively new. His matrix on page 25 is most illuminating in terms of the relation between Art/Industry and Connoisseur/Consumer. Those distinctions largely no longer matter.
The text concerns the visual art world but it strikes me as interesting that Music has probably also gone through such a transformation for almost exactly the same reasons, that is, the same socio-economic forces. Although at the time of writing this I’ve not finished the book, what I have read feels insightful and inspirational; a valuable text toward an understanding of the contemporary art world. More thoughts later.
1 Ben Davis, 2022. Art in the After-Culture: Capitalist Crisis and Cultural Strategy. Haymarket Books, Chicago.
Wednesday, 10th August 2022
Historical Traces in the Exposure of Totalitarianism
I have been prompted again to think about a Points of Departure entry initiated by a return to reading China Heritage (chinaheritage.net) and the article, We Need to Talk About Totalitarism, again. Over the past few months, through readings on contemporary politics and international relations, I have become increasingly concerned about the direction the world is taking. In the midst of the Covid pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the increasingly disturbing rhetoric emerging from China, I find I’m sensitive to threads on Fascism, Authoritarianism, and the trend toward Totalitarian ideology. The China Heritage article began to suggest departures into the lives of writers and journalists through the early to mid-twentieth century. It seems to me that the fundamental tenants of democracy are being eroded through attacks from positions of power; exploiting the spread of disruptive views, and fundamentally erroneous information. No fact seems safe, and no scientific proof is strong enough to withstand the onslaught of corrosive questioning that often finds its power in the exploitation of flaws in general governance and corporate malfeasance. The disruption of the status quo through the exposure of instances of failure is the object here. The voices here are distracting the reader from the real point and that is to seed and fertilize discontent for the world around them. There is no intent here to improve anything; to change some egregious situation through conversation, the point is to simply provide a foundation for general and vague dissatisfaction and prime a fuse for the detonation of our society as we know it. Certainly much has gone wrong in the past two years that cries out to be addressed; so many failures of the system are fuel for rebellion and change, and governments, elected by the people struggle to resolve these situations in a timely and convincing manner. It is becoming too obvious that some of these situations are near intractable.
It is here that those who seek to impose far more control and restrictive social contexts find keen listeners. While historical parallels with Germany and Italy in the early 1930s are less easy to draw, and even less so with the period in Russia leading up to 1917, or China later in the establishment of the PRC in 1949; a general sense today of erosion of the socio-political stability of Western Democracy, masked by frenetic consumerism and the idea of endless production, is becoming hard to ignore.
However, this sentiment is largely established through reading various media sources where the concentration of information and analysis is always skewed towards a central theme even though this may be essentially appropriate. No one wants to live under an oppressive regime for example. Still, this reading may induce a view intensified in sentiment, disproportionate to a lived reality. The world is not imminently falling into either a ‘1984’ state or total anarchy, even though that might be the impression.
Sunday, 9th January 2022
Old Odroids and WordPress
I have two old Odroids still running Arch Linux in a headless form. The XU-4 is 32-bit and the C2 is 64-bit. I managed to get Apache and WordPress running on the C2 and thought I might try and get it working on the XU-4, which I did. However, I ran into some issues where media files were disappearing and WP was generally looking broken.
After a while, and a bit of tinkering, I started to look more closely for any error states and it became apparent that the problems were permission and owner based, and also due to limits set within WP and PHP config files. Such as Media Library file limits, etc.
With these addressed, WP now seems more stable. I’m only modifying my site on the C2 now as it is tedious to mirror it on both machines.
I ultimately plan to export this local site configured with Gutenburg and the Markup theme back to my original site. I’m a little trepidatious about this process because if it goes wrong, it will take a while to fix up the mess it is likely to be in.
Friday, 29th October 2021
Chris Mann and The American Society for Cybernetics Conference in 1984
I was chatting to someone about packaging in relation to Art objects when I recalled Chris Mann’s work “da-dum”. I think it was sometime in 1989 that Chris gave me a “copy” of this work. Probably prior to my departure for Princeton.
The box edge reads:
“Response to Marianne Brun’s Workshop calling for a Socially Beneficial Information Processor at the 1984 meeting of the American Society for Cybernetics”.
Below, from the site, https://asc-cybernetics.org/asc-history/
The Gordon Research Conferences on Cybernetics
“In the early 1980s as a result of the efforts of Leo Steg, the Gordon Research Conferences Committee voted to approve a conference on cybernetics. The first conference was held in New Hampton, New Hampshire in 1984, the second was held in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire in 1986, and a third was held in Oxnard, California in 1988.”
What is curious about Chris’ work here is that the object makes what is already hard to read (comprehend) harder, in terms of a commitment of preparation to reading. This was not a work that I ever heard Chris perform (read in public). I have other documents of works that I did hear him perform. In particular, a work that was performed at a venue in Alphabet City (New York) in late 1989. It was given out printed on broadsheet paper and the recipient had to fold it up to form a little booklet about A5 size.
Wednesday, 20th October 2021
Wall Light Repaired
On Saturday, 9th October, I received a voltage converter from Slovenia that I ordered to replace what I thought was a broken one in one of the outside wall lights. I researched a catalog and found what I thought was the closest, in dimensions, to what was there already. In fact, it was nearly identical and so was relatively easy to replace. One notable difference was that the input voltage connectors with labels, “L” and “N” which on the original, weren’t. I checked the other light, which has always worked, and it was wired the opposite way to the one I was replacing. So it is possible that the faulty light was incorrectly wired since it wasn’t labeled at all. The other view is that it doesn’t matter. It might have just been exposed to water at some point.
A Little Site Server
Wednesday, 20th October 2021
It may not be obvious with this image that I managed to finally get my old Odroid-C2 to run Apache and WordPress. An earlier attempt had stalled on running the MySQL DB (MariaDB) because the kernel had some timer issues. As I don’t run a monitor on this system (it is headless) I was able to set a condition that enabled MySQL to run. I hadn’t found that report on the web before. So I’ve updated my live site to this theme but can’t edit it there through Gutenberg for some reason. I have to use Cornerstone to preserve a lot of the original formatting. Oh, well. UPDATE. I now have Apache and WordPress running on my old Odroid-XU4, a 32-bit machine. What fun!
Sunday, 8th August 2021
Lock Down No. 6
The Lock Downs are becoming a blur now. Now likely to continue intermittently through the rest of the year or until the vaccine rate is significantly high enough to open the city up again. In the CBD, it’s looking very sad and derelict. No doubt it will bounce back eventually.
On the bright side, my walk along the river this morning revealed two interesting, if not exciting things. First, a new river foam sculpture in that spot where the water flows back upriver. It always seems to produce interesting foamy objects but not all the time.
However, of great excitement to everyone walking beside the river this morning was the appearance of a seal! It came up to Dwights Falls where a few Kyacks were floating around, then headed back downstream with a fish! The whole trip up from Turner St to Dwights Falls didn’t last very long and I was very lucky to be there to see it. I was actually late in getting out this morning too.
Sunday, 25th July 2021
Lock Down No. 5
Now in the 5th Lock Down, winter seems even colder. Perhaps not extreme, as other parts of the world right now, but still miserable. This morning on my usual walk along the Yarra, it was about 5C, and on the playing fields at Yarra Bend Rd the moon floated over the City. When the sun goes down over the City like that, it will be hot. Nice perhaps, but months away.
Sunday, 20th June 2021
More River Anomalies
During the 4th lockdown in Melbourne, the weather turned wild. The wind was fierce and there was a lot of rain. For those living in the outer suburbs towards and on the mountains, the storm was particularly damaging with many trees down and causing power outages for more than 150 thousand houses. Due to the unprecedented amount of damage caused by rain, wind, and falling trees even at this time, there are still homes without power, that is, more than two weeks later. There are also many homes that have been damaged and thus rendered unliveable.
Locally, around here the river flooded its bank which was to be expected. What was surprising was how that flooding remained for days due to the water coming down the Yarra from the catchment areas. Flash flooding here has been worse but usually subsides quickly over a 24-hour period. This was different, it remained much longer. The flooding did mean that when on the weekend people were out and about along the river, the flooding required them to detour around. So there seemed to be people everywhere. This was an interesting and unusual occurrence. Now the opposite has happened. The flooding has passed and the street has been blocked off for drainage works. So no one can get through from the end of the street down to the river.
However, the river keeps generating curious relations, which I usually document for no other reason than they happened. It is probably only due to the current dynamics of the river at this point that these two discs of foam came to be produced but their size and form suggest that the conditions have been around for a while.
Sunday, 25th April 2021
An Accidental Perspective
It won’t be long before this particular viewing position–for those brave enough to venture up there–will be gone. In fact, it may no longer be accessible that old way. However, a similar and much safer elevation will be available in the future for those who buy apartments on the site. But for now, it remains as it has been for decades an iconic location dominated by that advertising sign and timepiece.
So, whenever these photos were taken–possibly 2018/19?–such a magisterial and quietly elevated view of Melbourne will in one form or another (an apartment tower) become visible again. As it is, there is something definitively sentimental in the mood as seen through that hazy, steely cool atmosphere that shrouds the diverse geometry of the city. As featured earlier on this page, great views of the city can be had from a few vantage points but this one is unique for one simple reason. It has the Yarra as ‘hero’ and rarely does Melbourne’s great river get featured so prominently against the city skyline. As the ancient artery now transformed, it flows silently through Melbourne’s heart. And with that highly poetic, glistening meander, that last gentle wiggle the serpentine waterway executes so graciously, it will end rather unceremoniously in the Bay. In the foreground, however, emerging from the Punt rd/Citylink clutter, it becomes regaled in a serene urbane grandeur in preparation to becoming a formidable boundary between the South Bank/CBD precincts. The rest of the city looks on.
Sunday, 7th February 2021
“I want out”— Emancipation in Musical Plurality
Consider as a paradox the notion of “escape” in the diversity of music today. Whether it really is some kind of conundrum might depend on the shape of the discourse, what’s included, what’s excluded, and how individuals view the big picture. And it is big. Indeed, it spans at least the past hundred years but the critical moment is now. But what does “escape” here mean?
We are at a time when the production and diversity of music are not only greater than ever before in history but accessible in a form that effectively neutralizes a music’s cultural context and origin. No examples will be given here, it is simply self-evident to any individual willing to reflect on it. The cultural specificity here certainly doesn’t exclude anyone with access to the Internet and time to listen but it also helps to be aware of how you are listening.
So there’s a lot of music out there. When that Music is divided into genre, culture, and time, many lineages are formed that do not overlap and may well never do so in the future.
Pondering the idea of commonality, it is convenient to start with the idea that we are all human and on one planet. From this point, the state of commonality breaks down as the diversity of humanity at an increasingly focused level of detail becomes exponentially complex and nuanced. To such a bewildering extent, in fact, as to consume vast amounts of time in analysis. Instead, we look for convergences that we can quickly appreciate.
“One day in New York they dined at the Côte Basque with Elliot and Helen Carter. A man came up to their table, discreetly asked the composer for his autograph, then quietly returned to his own table. Stravinsky had not recognized him, though they had met before. It was Frank Sinatra.” (Walsh. 2006. p.521.)
Music is Music? To get to the import of this text, one ideally must read through Stephen Walsh’s first volume on Igor Stravinsky and then 521 pages of the second volume to arrive at this observation. Of this apparent creative dichotomy one is tempted to say, “Only in America”, but it is only in America where the reportage of such incidents gets coverage. That is, it is an important part of the culture that this be expressed in simple terms. It is part of the rich tapestry of a pluralistic dream.
And it is all around us. February 2021 editions of the New Yorker Magazine and the New York Review of Books contained articles on two different yet contemporary musical identities; Dusty Springfield and Charles Rosen (both of whom are dead and the latter and older, died later). Why would someone be interested in both musical identities? Because it is a central prerogative of “our” time. But putting aside extended reasoning on that, for almost the past 50 years there has been few if any restrictions on anyone who wanted to follow with interest the careers and output of both artists. Not to mention an ocean of other artists.
In Simon Callow’s New York Review of Books essay, Charles Rosen is quoted as saying,
“Romanticism is not a style but a project. The Romantics abandoned the idea of the center in art: they brought out the value of what had been considered marginal. They overturned the hierarchy of the genres…. Schubert’s Winterreise or Schumann’s Dichterliebe are just as much masterpieces as the St. Matthew Passion.”
At that historical moment in the “Romantic” period of music, a fragmentation of perspectives, of attribution of greatness was finding confirmation and over the coming century that would carry through and across evolving, at least, Western culture. Today, it could be argued that there has been the emancipation of all cultures from their musical traditions, largely driven and sustained by the power of the middle class and their embrace of “pop” music.
Acknowledging the Didion documentary, “The Center Will Not Hold”, let’s take this further. Part of the musical appreciation zeitgeist today likely includes an active interest is searching out little-known musical genres, artists, and their contexts purely for the purpose of defining oneself as open and responsive to the vast landscape of musical cultural practice. As the ability to create sound has expanded through evolving technology, and the changing delivery mechanisms on the Internet, what quickly appears to be missing is a cultural context, a valid context, in which the sound is produced. There are too many “Labs” and not enough real-world scenarios producing great, memorable sound experiences. It is notable that there is a constant need to redress this either through recordings of the world or constructions of mythical landscapes like the KLF’s “Chill Out” album of 1990. One can easily appreciate a sound experience where one is walking in a city with sounds of that city streaming to their headphones. Those sounds could be from someone walking simultaneously with the listener but across the street. So it would be listening to a different sonic perspective. But this is the music of possibilities, not explicitly or intentionally some kind of music of happiness.
So–All Music, Everywhere–is still itself a cultural experience being lived through. We really don’t know the consequences for musical appreciation through a more or less uniform delivery system independent of time and place and activated on the whim of an individual. If there are any consequences, is it fair that they are evaluated against that of the past? Putting the question of Music aside for a moment and getting back to the idea of “freedom”, what we can determine, indeed briefly think we experience is a custom “freedom” fabricated through the ability to give our lives a continuous soundtrack of our choosing.
To put the Walsh quote in context, the Wikipedia entry for La Côte Basque which closed in 2004, recalls the restaurant by quoting The New York Times which called it a “former high-society temple of French cuisine at 60 West 55th St.”. It was no ordinary diner.
Stephen Walsh. 2006. Stravinsky. The Second Exile. France and America 1934-1971. Jonathan Cape. London.
Amanda Petrusich. 2021. “Old Soul. Revisiting the Sounds of Dusty Springfield”. The New Yorker. February 7, 2021. pp.72-73.
Simon Callow. 2021. “A Taste for the Difficult”. The New York Review of Books. February 11, 2021. Volume LXVIII. Number 2.
Tuesday, 5th January 2021
Into the New Year
Countless words, stories, and exhortations over that singular global event of 2020 have flowed ceaselessly through media channels to the point where any follower–any concerned conscious person–let alone a direct participant in the drama is starting to reach for the “mute” control; the “pause” icon to stabilize the psychic turmoil. Pointless really as it all continues to reverberate in the echo chamber of the mind as amplified feedback.
A year ago today, who would have thought it could happen? The paranoid or hardcore realists would be unfazed, of course. Something like that was going to happen and it was always a question of when. This commentary is useless though. It would be better to know what was going to happen and when so one could plan for it or not. Failing that the easiest and probably sanest option is to simply accept it.
So what of this coming year? Can we feel optimistic? Can we revel in recovery? The joy of getting up when you are down. Well, clearly this is all a collective view to get the big picture with sporadic low-res detail. Each of us, unfortunately, will continue to struggle with those personal, intimate even, issues that cling to us for unspecified periods of time and then drop away unexpectedly, almost without notice or fanfare. Amid all of that, one needs to step away momentarily and get a view of one’s core being.
One simple joy I experience every day is a walk along the river. The objective is to notice things and reflect on them. Sometimes they are in the form of an expectation, like are the Tawny Frogmouths in the old peppercorn tree? Other times things are seen that are fleeting or the result of some recent activity. Like the way the water dances in the rapids at a certain low water level or debris that gets trapped in strange places. The river transports a huge amount of detritus from suburbia, and that gets caught in unusual circumstances.
Or there are creatures. Snakes (Tiger here) and lizards (Dragon in this case) appear when one least expects them. Sometimes they just sit there, other times they wriggle away.
The river has become a kind of oracle, the walk a kind of meditation on what will come. Nothing is explicit as is the way of all oracles. It is simply a matter of noticing. It’s actually a kind of self-awareness. By looking at the world around me and sensing the dynamics of the flowing water, I become one with it and am primitively prepared for the day. It is wakefulness, a tuning in exercise because nothing is really prepared for. There’s no diary entry, itinerary, or even an imperative for action. Just a brisk gust of the intangible to brace for the day.
Friday, 21st August 2020
Melbourne in August
I took a walk today across the Yarra river at the Johnston st bridge and up Studley Park Rd to the City lookout spot which is on the Yarra Boulevard off lane. I hadn’t walked there before which is strange as it commands one of the great views of Melbourne. The view is fleetingly observable driving toward Abbotsford along Studley Park Rd. The view reminds me somewhat of the New York westside skyline one sees from a New Jersey Transit train before entering the tunnel under the Hudson.
The City rises so majestically in the distance and to me is a landscape of my own history. This skyline, of course, will continue to change as it has been for the past 45 years, about as long as I’ve been conscious of it. [Edit] What I should have added here on reflection was that it is a view of a “ghost” city that in the coming months would become even more ethereal. [14/01/20201]
The tall “smoke” stack on the left is actually part of the Carlton and United Brewery complex in Abbotsford. When the wind blows in the right direction during the barley roasting, the smell is very distinct.
In the foreground is the Abbotsford Children’s Farm and the sprawling Convert Arts Precinct off to the right.
The building behind the windmill is the Sophia Mundi School.
The Yarra, out of sight, is directly below in the foreground.
On my way back I took the shot of the Yarra with the tall “Boiler House” apartment tower which is part of the Riviere complex where I live. What divides this picture from the others is Studley Park Rd.
To walk along the Yarra at this point is to marvel at how natural and almost untouched this landscape appears only 3k from the CBD. Historically, the river was a boundary between the inner working-class suburbs and the outer upper-middle-class suburbs of Kew, Hawthorne, etc. How times have changed and changed again.
Thursday, 13th August 2020
As everyone knows, this year has been particularly challenging. That’s putting it mildly. It has, however caused many people to re-evaluate their situation.
In light of this, and perhaps more importantly my view of my creative motivations has led me to a resolution to leave the Studio.
It’s not been an easy decision, in the end, the pragmatics of what I’m doing there, cemented that course of action. I’ve just gotta go, and unfortunately, I’m not the only one going.
It will take a few months to move out and moving stuff is what I’m particularly dreading because I don’t know where a lot of it will go other than a recycling depot. That’s a bit hard to take really.
The space itself has never been more user-friendly and when the warmer weather comes will be more enjoyable to be in.
I’ll comment on this departure in more detail in due course.
Friday, 3rd July 2020
I recently sold my 1995 Be Box (see pictures from the 21st March below) and it now has a new home and a new (old, “Matrox Millennium”) graphics card. 32 bit up from 16. Woo Hoo!
Really glad it went to someone who appreciates it.
Sunday, 7th June 2020
The River and Bayes’ Theorem
The river (Yarra, Melbourne) has a habit of showing me things that are somewhat hard to believe and I generally ignore them after marveling at their existence. Early this year I picked up a yellow child’s billiard ball from its edge with the number 65 (see “Five Months In” image below) printed on it. Seeing the yellow ball was a completely random act, even before I noticed the number.
Now there is this. A plastic bottle filled to nearly full, perfectly vertical and wedged on a log. Note the temporal element here.
The temptation is to say that the bottle was deliberately placed there. That would, however, be a very dangerous act, and for what reason? True, there doesn’t need to be one. People do strange things.
If this is a completely natural occurrence then the probability of it happening like this is very low, one might think. Here we have to work with the Hypothesis given the Evidence.
So things happen and this half of the year has been a time for them. What next?
As of 13 June 2020, it’s still there and I’m leaning more towards someone having put it there.
Now July 3rd and still there.
Gone by July 17.
Friday, 22nd May 2020
I wrote yesterday that I believed I would hear no more about the matter but, of course, I was wrong, well in part. As with most of life’s sagas, there is a resonance that can be followed up. This I did on the spur of the moment and discovered more that took my feelings one way and later the other.
To my regret, I missed something written to me weeks earlier and last night I found it. Checking on a whim, I was shocked to read it. The effect was to amplify an emotional state that was just forming, like a cosmic dust cloud becoming a galaxy. However, it remains far from stable and as usual, there are more questions than answers. The truth is a matter of perspective and impossible to know in totality.
Information too is a strange commodity. What I read last night had a profound emotional impact but was followed up today with more information that again changed the tone of my feelings. Understanding what happens across years of people’s lives can’t be achieved in a few sentences. But in a few words, a new view of things can be initiated.
Anyway, apart from not really resolving anything, if anything ever could, it did seem to change the reason for a particular outcome that to some people might be worth pondering. I believe now that for one person, the decision was correct and hopefully, they will flourish due to it. For the other person, the consequences sadly were the complete opposite and prematurely terminal.
It is one of those situations, where I reflect on how little I actually know, and when it comes to people, what we think we know can be a delusion that simply masks our ignorance. Of course, even asking questions does not guarantee the right answers.
On the back of an envelope of a letter I received in August of 2013, there was a quote from McCullers. It is worth reflecting on McCullers life here:
I won’t include the quote but in a way, it is pertinent to this current thread as was the whole letter to the future direction leading to this text. It is a pity I was never able to reflect on the letter in detail and discuss it with anyone, as the author’s position was certainly confirmed 3 years later under different circumstances.
So if someone ever reads this they might be inclined to ask, what is this about? Maybe by then, I’ll have more answers but I doubt it.
Thursday, 21 May 2020
Past Moments in Continuity: A Time for Reflection
The past came rushing back the other day, leaping over a void of silent years to report on a sad recent event. This triggered memories and questions, more questions in fact the longer I reflected on it, but also confirmed that the decision I made those many years ago was in essence the correct one or perhaps more philosophically, the appropriate one at the time. To be more accurate, however, that decision was predetermined for me by someone else 4 months earlier. Even then it was difficult to accept but right. It didn’t feel like it then and for a period afterward, but I slowly filed the emotional bundle away and got on with my life. OK, so I hope you get it that this is going to be a very abstract entry.
The trouble with that experience was that it was filled with optimism at a time when I was sorely in need of it. It was, however very short on credible reality and I finally opted for the pragmatic direction that proved, in part, to be manageable and to a degree, progressive for that time in my life. In some ways, it was also the path of least resistance. I had unwittingly applied Occam’s Razor to an emotional issue.
Still, I was left with memories that hinted at what might have been. For a period of time, I could imagine a different life, a new life, a better life, somewhere else. Rather than going back, it would be a kind of personal Renaissance, complete with a supportive entourage. There was however no detail to any of this and a lot of inescapable caveats floating around. It seemed easy to overlook the caveats (some of which were imposed upon me and rightly so) and look to a new future. It was all too sketchy, too nebulous, and one-sided. It was my dream, not really shared by anyone else.
It came as a surprise to me that in a way, I had possibly, inadvertently, handed a situation to others, and in the past few days, I had gleaned a bit of how that had all gone, and of course, it was Icarian. Up and then crashing down. Happy times eventually turn in the opposite direction. Paths diverging.
This may seem hubristic but I sidestepped a moment, relatively quickly really, and that particular life direction was taken up by someone else. That moment, it should be noted was preconfigured some months earlier and not by me. Anyway, sort of like deciding not to take a flight, or catch a particular train on the spur of the moment. I just caught another one that was slightly different in outcome. This might seem harsh, or particularly insensitive but it certainly isn’t “schadenfreude” as I feel way to melancholy for that. The experience just seems like a personally poignant example of a particular life-changing decision made that was emotionally charged. The direction that I foregone by me was taken up by others and that is what this is all about.
While this recent event I heard about was happening (about a month earlier), and I should say I actually only know the sparsest details about all of this even now, I was reading Walter Kaufmann’s translation of Nietzsche’s “The Birth of Tragedy”. Kaufmann died unexpectedly at his home in Princeton in 1980 (9 years before I got there) aged only 59. In reviewing Kaufmann’s philosophical outlook and life at that time, I had no way of realising that I would need to return to thinking about that so soon. It helps, a little now, as I work through the emotions that I feel about my life those years ago.
One thing I know for sure now is that I didn’t really know those involved at the time, and over the years since, I know them less. That’s just the way silence is. What I do know is that it was an experience that didn’t seem to have closure then and now I’m just curious as to what happened in those intervening years. Closure seems irrelevant, even indulgent. But of course, it is none of my business and while the Internet has revealed some information that I have to interpret, detailed first-hand accounts have not been forthcoming. And probably never will be.
Those involved directly in this saga will have to endure the consequences of a fateful moment years ago that I had some agency in. Of course, I am not responsible for the actions of other people but I did create an opportunity and it was embraced. I can only surmise that for at least the first two years everything was rosy. Perhaps, those memories will triumph eventually, over the others of that time.
As I will likely never hear of this matter again, I wish the future well to those remaining.
Saturday, 16 May 2020
Five Months In
I wrote here in late December 2019 that I hoped the coming year would be more productive. Well, was I at the wrong end of the hope spectrum with that sentiment?
The first 6 months of 2020 have been, for virtually everyone on the planet, beyond belief. The world has been so shaken and unsettled that it is currently hard to imagine what life will be like in 6 months time let alone a year. I’ll stop here because there have already been billions of words written on this and I’ve really nothing to add generally.
The question remains though, what’s the future? Actually, that is for me. I don’t know. How do I return to “productive”? I guess I don’t or as productive as I was late last year. I think it is the wrong question. The question really is, how do I live from now?
Around February this year, I was walking along the path beside the Yarra. It had been raining heavily and the banks were littered with the usual trash that floats down the river. At a certain point, my attention was drawn to a yellow round object that sat on top of a pile of debris. For some reason or other, I decided to look at it more closely so reached down and picked it up. I was initially disappointed as I thought it might have been more substantial than it was but as I rotated it around in my hand, I realised that the number on the toy ball was propitious or at least coincidental. Numbers rarely, if ever strike me that way but finding this object with the number so brazenly printed on it struck me as very weird.
So as the world was just beginning to sense a totally unnerving future, I at least was humble enough to think that it was only a number with a positive or negative significance to me. It still is. This year, however, will live long in the memory of everyone on this earth.
Saturday, 21 March 2020
3 Time Machines
There are things that you keep and things you don’t. Why you keep things is often not a matter of logic or laziness but emotion and history. I’m extrapolating for sure, but of interest here are 3 such objects (images below), actually “machines” that I have managed to hang onto for more than a quarter of a century. They are all audio related, two explicitly, one indirectly but also the most powerful in terms of audio potential. They all work fully and are in remarkably good condition.
I call them “time machines” even though the time travel is retrograde only, well perhaps they, in their stillness, kind of say something about my future, a place yet traveled, who knows. They have now become historical vehicles describing, in a way, my state of mind 25 years ago and how that had changed from a decade earlier in the 1980s. That’s another story for another time I think.
The order of presentation here is not significant as I can’t remember which I acquired first, etc., and I have placed no priority on them, although, perhaps there is for me personally. Some I achieved more with than the others, some meant, at the time more to me than they did a little later or even now. So considering them is simply to reflect on a variable experience.
So they are from the 1990s and represent my fading enthusiasm towards the promise of computer/digital music, at least, here in Melbourne. They were all acquired in Melbourne, one from a retail store the others online. At the time, ironically, I was living in the still but fading “hipster” suburb of Fitzroy where my Studio space currently is. In the last 25 years that suburb, and the neighboring Collingwood, have changed almost beyond recognition. Again, ironically the suburb is full of digital creatives…like the rest of the planet.
And the hardware is:
- Yamaha 03D Digital Mixer with the ADAT extension module
- QUASIMIDI Rave-o-lution 309 Synth/Drum machine with all extension modules
- BeBox Computer. Dual 133MHz PowerPC 603e processors and extensive I/O
Now, at this time, these machines have to go. Ideally, to a good home. I can’t justify keeping them anymore and probably will never seriously use them other than to check they are working. That doesn’t seem right but I suppose that is why they are still around. The BeBox OS (BeOS) is rev-locked. It can’t be officially updated any further as the current version is the last of that era. Although compiling later versions of the OS for that hardware might be possible.
Yamaha 03D Digital Mixer (1995)
I bought it with Steve Law (Zen Paradox) who also bought one from Allens Music when the store was on the Southside of Bourke St (It has been on Bourke St a few times I think) around 1995/6. Steve wore his mixer out through extensive use; gigs and studio work. Mine simply rested. Well, I did learn a bit about mixers and I even reverse engineered the MIDI output commands to drive the mixer from a computer through SuperCollider. There was interesting potential there but the MIDI commands were long and complicated because just about everything on the mixer could be controlled through MIDI.
QUASIMIDI Rave-o-lution 309
The “Rave-o-lution 309”, a TR-808 or perhaps more closely, a TR-909 copy, came with advanced synth technology and was a curious purchase for me. It looked interesting, flexible, and extensible. I bought it, for some crazy reason, about the time I bought a “Sherman Filter Bank” and that device was legendary. I sold the “Filter Bank” in a second but couldn’t as easily sell the 309. Anyway, the 309 still works after 25 years! And still looks OK. I changed some of the knobs because they overall weren’t that interesting or functional but apart from the extension upgrade, it is original.
BeBox Computer (1995)
The BeBox was my purchasing homage to the NeXT machine. I had a NeXT “pizza box” bought in the US in 1991 but it was old and slow, and NeXT no longer made hardware, so when Be came along I went for it. BeOS, like NeXTStep was a great OS and promised to be a great media machine. The history of Be is interesting and like CP/M it failed to get the future it probably deserved. NeXT/OSX won out with Apple.
This machine is interesting because it still has the original software on it and in particular, an audio app by DAK (David A. Karla). The App is called Rack704 and was basically his version of a drum/synth machine. I remember that we did gigs on Brunswick St (Punters Club and Binary Bar). Of course, David bought a BeBox too, so that is how the software developed. It still runs on my BeBox today.
While tinkering with the BeBox in the late 1990s, getting a CD writer to work, etc., I transitioned to Linux where I stayed until academia required me to use Macs (OS9!) in 2002 and I have been an Apple user ever since.
There is one other device: a portable DAT machine (Onkyo?) which has not been included in this list and also dates back to around 1994. It is small, a so-called ¾ DAT system and it still works I think. As I have a few DAT tapes I would like to perhaps access one day and it’s not that big, I guess I can still hang onto it.
I have hung onto this stuff for so long without doing anything fun with it that clearly now it is time to pass it on, as in part with it. Psychologically, it’s probably the right time too. So I’m comfortable with that.
Tuesday, 14 January 2020
There was a strange red sunset last night which did not bode well for the next day. And it turned out to be a long time since the air quality over Melbourne was this bad. It has been classified as hazardous and will probably last all day. Hopefully, tomorrow it will clear.
Sunday, 29 December 2019
In the few remaining days before the new year and the start of the last year of the decade, I’ve been reflecting on what has been a frustrating past 6 months. Apart from some health issues of a rather minor though inconveniencing sort, the period has been curiously misaligned, to put it one way. I generally brush these things aside and just get on with it but reflecting on the whole period, it has been particularly debilitating from a fundamental living perspective. There’s no point in going into detail but the end of the year, I hope, marks the end of such unproductive events. So, as I put together my “Flatpacked Distractions” cutout of Pellegrini’s Bar (The Famous cafe on Bourke St that every true Melbournian knows intimately and with profound sadness) I started to reflect on how great it is, or rather privileged it is to live in Melbourne at this time. And, it is not easy to live here either, as most influential and recognized cities in the world, Melbourne has grown very fast since I returned from the U.S. in late 1993. That has been both good and bad, of course. So I think my two images of the City from Abbotsford, kind of put it in context.
Monday, 18 Nov 2019
Carillon project installed in the Canberra Centre. I really enjoyed the experience and the opportunity to work on a project in Canberra again.
Thanks to Charles Martin and Ben Swift for contacting me about the project and Terry McGee and Suzanne Hannema for making the experience so much fun.
Tuesday, 12 Nov 2019
First week back in the Studio. New Studio, new ideas…hopefully.
It’s quiet. No one else is in and it has been a chance to tweak the situation and sort the clutter out.
Too much stuff! And it is a worry. But also there is more open space.
Weather has been variable but not the cold of Winter anymore. And perhaps hayfever time is coming to an end?
I suspect Summer will be hot.
October 29, 2019
University House, Canberra.
As I sit here in the “Boffins” garden at University House, the ANU Canberra, I’m feeling a positive wave of nostalgia. It is a gloriously warm day, so typical of days in Canberra and it is simply hard to be negative about this return visit. In fact, it has been a good outcome and a memorable experience. I’m here through the National Capital Authority (NCA) and have been working on a project temporarily located in the School of Music. This project has now been completed and everyone is happy with the result.
It has been my great pleasure to work with:
Terry McGee (email@example.com)
Charles Martin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Suzanne Hannema (National Capital Authority)
Many thanks to Dr. Ben Swift and Dr. Charles Martin for bringing this project to my attention.
I’ll return to Melbourne tomorrow but for now, the ability to reminisce is a great joy and luxury. I will return to Canberra for various family reasons in the future but my life at ANU seems such a matter of history that I’m so enjoying the reverie. Canberra has changed so much since I left.
In late December 2002, I sat here after a day of job interviews chatting with colleagues and others while waiting to fly back to Melbourne. 4 days later I was offered a job at the ANU and subsequently spent 12 years here which were anything but dull.
It has been a great visit and probably the last under such circumstances but who knows.
A Return to Canberra Project
I have connections with Canberra that go beyond my work experiences there (1973 and 2002-2013). Family connections and more personally, a history. It’s a complex history scattered across a few decades, the usual sort really but mine for better or worse. It’s not anchored and continuous like my Melbourne history but fragmented. Perhaps incomplete.
So, when the Carillon project came up, it was a wonderful opportunity to return to Canberra with a purpose that aligned with my expertise. Sorta.
A couple of weeks ago I was in Canberra for a briefing on the project and my overall impression from the beginning was very positive but melancholy. I left a rainy gloomy Melbourne to arrive in a wonderful sunlight city that seemed sparklingly new. I spent most of my time immersed in the project details but did manage to wander around a little and anticipated doing more of that on my return at the end of October 2019. The Canberra project has also required me to return to the Studio and work. I spent a week there which was rare for my time in the past 2 years and really enjoyed the time and focus. I initially cleaned and tidied up, getting ideas for further stuff organisation and space management. Then I settled into constructing the hardware for the project.
As of writing this, I’m stuck on a software issue but not really that worried. I’ve experienced such conditions before and there is always a workaround or solution. Time is a problem but these days that’s normal. At home, it has been more than 2 months since leaking into the apartment from the outside terrace was discovered to be very serious. That’s fixed but now getting the new carpet laid has taken ages. Hopefully, this coming week will see life return to normal after a couple of months of disruption.
September 23, 2019
It’s a time of change here. Actually, more rejuvenation as there are two spaces that are changing around me. Home is chaos while waiting for the new carpet. A consequence of water damage from a leaking terrace. Fixing the leaks took a month and now the wait is on for new carpet in two rooms. This though is a first-world problem, as the disruption is the crisis, not money.
The second change is the studio which is undergoing wall renovations to increase the overall size and internal configuration, for a variety of reasons. This is positive mostly and probably should have happened 5 years ago. Now it seems faintly cosmetic but the new experience will hopefully inspire new projects and use of the space. See photos.
If there were a theme to this Winter, it would be “change”. Not that change is unusual or undesirable but that this time it seems so concentrated and overwhelming. It’s too much. When it clusters like this, and I’m not adding in the other “changes” here, the feeling is fundamentally unsettling.
I’m sure it will quieten down. In the meantime, the core elements remain the same; work, studio and Melbourne. I mention Melbourne because I cannot get over the changes to the City I grew up in. The contrast here is the people. Some many that the dynamics of the CBD are simply staggering compared to 30 years ago. Well, actually 20 years ago. And with the pressure on infrastructure, everyone is talking about how and why this has happened in such a short period of time. If you have a comfortable middle-class life it is an exciting time. If you don’t rise to those fundamentals, then you are in trouble and it ain’t going to get better. There are so many homeless people around the city now as constant reminders of the changing economic landscape.
Melbourne remains a great city though. You just need the right lifestyle.
May 5, 2019
It seems to be that time of year when things start to happen. CSI New York is taking off with a launch on May 24th. Work in India continues and there have been meetings with Ithra Dubai about a project there. And life at Foy’s continues with work resuming on the tracking project. Fun times.
I’ve been working with the MAIX GO Development system and getting into micro-python. Interesting ‘bare metal’ hardware that nods towards AI with facial recognition, hardware encryption, WiFi, a battery, touch screen, etc. All in the palm of one’s hand. Amazingly inexpensive for the technology.
Here’s a bizarre thought. Imagine Australia, for its landmass, had relatively the same population as the UK. That is, assuming Australia was as fertile and productive as the UK and internal travel was not an issue. A rough estimate would have Australia with a population of 2.11 billion people. Of course, this is a ridiculous correlation because it just cannot and never will.
Currently, the population growth of Australia is a hot topic and probably it is for most countries around the world. Australian cities seem increasingly crowded and of course, the infrastructure hasn’t really kept up. This is experienced definitively in the logistics of city commuting. When reflecting back 40 years commuting wasn’t so great either but it was less congested with people at those peak times. The population of the world though has been going up for centuries. What were we to expect then? Cities will simply have more people, and in fact, they are far more cosmopolitan which is exciting for some and worrying for others. Of course, in Australia, this diversity was thanks to Whitlam, Grasby, and the “multiculturalism” agenda of the 1970s. Overall, it is what makes (the cities of) Australia a great place to live.
Australia though, for the most part, is an empty place. An inhospitably vast landscape for non-ingenious people. People though, to other people are infinitely interesting. So emptiness has a kind of philosophical dimension where we become prone to introspection and the coastal regions are where we shape the world we want to live in.
Talking about people and places, I’ve been watching “Bald and Bankrupt” on YouTube. Mr Bald’s (not his real name) travels around Eastern Europe and India have prompted positive responses from his thousands of subscribers because his approach and spontaneous banter is essentially that of the “Every person” with a commendable mix of humility and humour. His path is not the path of the privileged or elite, on the contrary, he gets down to where “real” people, those who struggle or exist in tough environments, live. Is watching this a kind of vicarious penitence for us privileged YouTubers? Maybe, but it is interesting, and clearly many people connect with that kind of travel experience rather than the luxury resort kind.
As an Englishman with a global perspective, he sort of follows on in the tradition of the great English travel writers like Aurial Stein, Wilfred Thesiger, Robert Byron, Freya Stark, Eric Newby, Colin Thubron, and Bruce Chatwin to name a few of the better-known ones. But Mr Bald uses video and YouTube. He glides through a diverse range of environments either walking, by motorbike, or other forms of local transport, chit-chatting with us and the people around him in ways that are almost banal yet sprinkled with gems of observational insight. His is the adventure mode probably closest to Byron’s and Newby’s. “We’re gonna do this.” “Let’s do it.” “Let’s just go there.” There’s often no profoundly meaningful rationale to traveling anywhere except to talk about it when there. Interesting things will happen or we won’t see them on YouTube. But what is interesting? It turns out that it can often be almost nothing because the video says a lot.
The “Travel Vlogger” idea is not entirely new but his interpretation is compelling. He has confidence and a modicum of gravitas, and it works. Others have done it, in particular Harald Baldr, not to mention the many who slink around Asia in a far more questionable manner.
Mr Bald is different. He exposes himself to situations that few would really like to be in if traveling as a tourist. He also speaks Russian and Hindustani to a degree that allows him to engage with local people in those regions at a grassroots level. In this, he rises above `base’ tourism.
It all makes for interesting viewing in a strange way. At times nothing really happens. His commentary is enthusiastic if peppered with incomplete or inaccurate or naive information. His chatter infuses the viewing experience with a certain charm and humanity. I imagine if one had to listen to it all the time in real life, the novelty would quickly wear off. The question will be whether he can maintain his style and even begin to downplay it somewhat rather than getting overly carried away with his growing subscriber base. A good example here is the evolution of videos by Anthony Bourdain. In the later part of “Parts Unknown” he seems to let people around him speak more, I thought. I could imagine him getting weary of the style after so many videos, in so many places.
If his intention was to become a youtube “celebrity” then he’s on the way, if not there now. But I doubt that anyone would do what he does with that aspiration only. He does it because he likes doing it and he has a natural talent that distinguishes him from the rabble of Travel Vloggers out there.
Worth a look.
March 12, 2019
It’s March, in fact near mid-March and it is clearly evident I’ve been procrastinating with entries here. Has nothing happened? Well, of course not. Lots of things happen. Perhaps it is just a question of where to begin and in truth, I don’t like writing about myself. OK, that’s a conceit but it’s true up to a point about not writing something boring or at least not interesting about myself or something else I’m interested in.
Reluctantly in a somewhat negative vein, I’m on a hiatus with (creative) work in the Studio. That bothers me. In fact, I much prefer reading and doing some programming to actually building things as that seems to have become harder or at least more challenging when I only get there 2 days a week. That’s right, I now head into the City 3 times a week and find work there challenging and diverse enough.
In fact, working at Foy’s presents different perspectives on things outside my normal sphere of interest and also raises opportunities for, at least reflection on situations that I wouldn’t normally engage with. The question is how will these evolve? This is not a question that is of immediate critical urgency but floats a certain curiosity about living/working in the contemporary world. I’m not sure I’m conversant or indeed motivated enough to tackle that at the moment.
Went to the “Remembering Chris Mann” event at Wesley Anne last week (7th March and many thanks to Caroline Connors for her work on that) and found it a sobering experience. We have grown older and the whole momentum surrounding “experimentalism” as we knew and practiced it has faded it would seem. I don’t practice it explicitly nor feel compelled to anymore but I think I understand my feelings about it better in retrospect and my historical contribution with some clarity now. While what we did will largely be forgotten or incompletely understood (and that includes those of a “transactional” disposition), I know it had a value at that moment, perhaps even longer at least to those who produced it. In fact, on further reflection, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being “experimental”, so I was somewhat hasty in my earlier comments. I’ll think about it some more. Anyway, it was wonderful to hear Chris’ voice again in public, doing what he did best; reciting his own texts. I wonder if there will ever be a comprehensive archive of his works.
Oh, and been watching youtube vids of Christopher Hitchens talking about his book on religion. A remarkably informed and skilled raconteur. Amazing to think he has gone now too.
December 9, 2018
Everything is the same as I wrote here last time with the expected exceptions (one would hope) of new project directions and activities. Foy’s (CSI) work has shifted to Internet security and privacy experiments, I’m still working on the Creative Algorithm text and progressively becoming more creative. A new project direction with Andrew has arisen (along with the other one which is still in progress) and recent contact with an old friend James has brought the prospect of a new audio project. So the year draws to a close with some interesting prospects for the future. The recent deaths of two people I regard as important in the context of my world both surprised and saddened me. My perception of Melbourne is largely nostalgic. As the city undergoes massive expansion and change, very little of what was a formative place for me, seems to remain. I often wonder if I should have returned to Melbourne at all and simply been brave enough to journey somewhere else for a new start. I’m completely ambivalent on that point. In fact, doing both would be ideal in hindsight but how would I have done that? Would that still be possible? I think if there was a will, it would be. Oh, and with an adequate supply of that other essential stuff.
Still hanging out at Foy’s continuing to work on the indoor tracking system but at the moment drone swarm programming. The Studio project is still a work in progress but more or less working. The case needs redesigning and the battery system needs integration but apart from that, it needs a purpose. Oh, started writing about Algorithmic composition. Not sure where that is going but I was surprised that I found something to say about it after all these years.
Working at Foy’s Arcade for CSI (get-csi.com) which is interesting, educational, and fun.
Also, started working on another project with Andrew Sorensen. This is going to be different and I think pertinent to today’s connected world! Images will be updated frequently.