↬ Twenty-one – 04

I finally got round to making a little video on navigating the Partch 43-tone scale, at least as far as my process of figuring it out has progressed – the post is now up on my site. And with that I’ve also updated my overlay for the Sensel Morph with some corrections and additions to help with navigating all those tones. The hexagons with a thin black outline are those on which a perfect fifth can’t be built, and the two ‘alternative’ notes of the scale are indicated with a dotted outline. I hope that the video makes it all clear.

In trying to get to grips with the structure of the scale I decided to move on from Wikipedia and consult the source: Harry Partch’s Genesis of a New Music which is fortunately to be found at the Internet Archive. It can only be read online with a lending time restricted to an hour, but since it doesn’t seem to be in high demand, simply re-lending it once the hour is up hasn’t been a problem.

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Seventy days have passed since I, on the spur of the moment, in a Copenhagen that was very much a more locked down than it is now, began a little photo project. The main idea was to get out of the apartment and take a photograph each day of the week, somewhere other than the local supermarkets or taking or fetching my daughter from kindergarten. Something that would force me to get out from behind my screens and re-connect with the physical world around me, half-deserted as it was.

The project has been effective in achieving that, but has also brought a great deal more to the party. The task of sifting through the the perhaps 20 photos of the day, settling on one or two, and flipping back and forth between them before making the final choice, has ended up filling more than initially anticipated. The curious process of finding which picture it is that speaks to me most (my self-imposed rule being that there should only be a single photo for each day): A kind of dialogue with the image.

My general approach has been to do as little manipulation as possible, but there are those small adjustments that help the picture speak more clearly. Sometimes fussing for ridiculous amounts of time on exactly how to crop the photo, or fiddling with the lighting until it settles in some kind of way. Perspective corrections are probably the thing that I’ve obsessed with the most, at the same time wishing that cameras didn’t so easily push the images one makes with them, into that one-eyed views that they do. Wishing for the sense of space that can be captured in a drawing. Wishing that the camera didn’t have the tendency to push objects further away than one perceives them. The perspective aspects are however only exacerbated by my insistence on framing and alignment. I can only wish for the looseness of 菅谷昌弘 @kizmiwan that would help avoiding so much awareness the borders.

It’s been interesting how taking these photos, and training the muscle that recognises what could make a good photograph as one moves though the city, often activates memories of other pictures. René Burri’s photograph of “Men on a Rooftop” in Sao Paolo as I look across to the rooftop across from our apartment on a misty morning, for example. And with that Teju Coles essay about his recreation of that photograph. Or thinking of Monet while photographing spring blossoms in a nearby park. After taking the photograph I did some searching for what the specific image could be that I was vaguely remembering – it turns out that it was a painting in the collection of the Johannesburg Art Gallery – so that’s where I’d seen it! Many years ago. So I’ve been enjoying how taking and posting these photographs has been activating other layers of my mind. Or getting me to get to know the local area better – such as only now having noticed that a building that I’ve walked past on a regular basis for the last seven years, has a stained glass window. And then a dive into local history archives in an attempt to find out more about it. Or, with the help of Jamie Hodge, uncovering the environmental revenge fantasies of SPYO’s GRETA THUNBERG lettering layered on top of a local mural.

A short while after I’d started my project, Craig Mod announced a new newsletter in which he, as he often does, teases something delightful out of everyday technology. The idea with Huh is to share twenty images over the course of twenty weeks, with the catch that the newsletter itself only includes the ‘alt text’ – that (for most of us) hidden portion of images on the web intended for visually impaired users. A description of the image for those that can’t see it. The idea flows on from an interview (in podcast form, over 2 episodes) that Craig did with the writer Sam Anderson, who enthuses on the value of how ‘simply’ describing what you see can profoundly alter what it is that you see. Or as Craig Mod observes:

It felt almost brail or something that’s being added to the print, to the guidebook, but the more I read, the more realize that a really accurate description of a thing that you’re looking at is so valuable, and it starts to reveal all of these other layers and richness of cultural action or strange signaling that you would miss otherwise if you’re just looking at the image.

So with Craig’s newsletter you only get the alt text, and then a link takes you to the picture on his website, where, though the wonders of javascript, you can zoom in and take a detailed look around.

I love the idea (and its implementation), and started adding my own alt text descriptions to the pictures I’ve been posting on my website. There’s something fun about writing a text that’s strictly speaking public, but at the same time somewhat hidden. With some I’ve managed a basic description, with others notes of my thoughts around taking the picture – as, for example, with the Sao Paolo or Monet pictures mentioned above. If you’re familiar with using the web inspector in your browser you can take a peek. Perhaps I can do something with them at some point, fill in the gaps on those where I didn’t manage to write much (or anything at all). In any case there’s a freedom in writing a text that’s not for immediate public scrutiny. It feels nice that they’re there, and at the same time I’m happy that the photos are presented without a caption or text. The image without distractions, at least to start off with.

Craig Mod has also written the preface to a book along similar lines to my lockdown project that recently came to my attention. Noticing is what it‘s called, and I guess that’s essentially what these projects are about. A project in which a professional photographer took a photograph each day for 123 days and has collected and published them all in a nicely bound book. I didn’t have any specific number in mind when I started, but I think I’ll go to 100 and call it a day.

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Some NFT follow-up: a wonderfully clear video explanation (via ATP) of how blockchains and cryptocurrencies work . It’s by 3Blue1Brown, whom I’d previously come across in a music context with an equally brilliant explanation of the Fourier Transform.

And following that, a trip back to the start with a video of the presentation of the very first NFT by the duo that came up with and implemented the concept as part of the Seven on Seven conference – which paired artists with technologists in teams of two, challenging them to develop something of their choosing over the course of a single day. Anil Dash was one half of that duo – and recently had an article on the subject published in The Atlantic: “When we invented non-fungible tokens, we were trying to protect artists. But tech-world opportunism has struck again.” He has a follow up post to the Atlantic piece, telling the story of the reactions to him telling that story, and filling in some background on the cultural environment in which it first emerged, on his own site.

Something that could have been clearer in last month’s newsletter, was the scarcity aspect of NFT’s in contrast to the duplication native to digital mediums that Everest Pipkin wrote about. Jack Rusher has a nice article explaining how in a way similar to signed editions of fine art photographs;

NFTs do not create “artificial scarcity”, but are rather a response to the “artificial abundance” of the Internet. The work remains free to the world while only the artist’s signature remains scarce.”

Or as Robin Sloan explains:

Again, I’ll remind you — this is so so crucial — when you buy CryptoPunk #2890, you are NOT buying an image of a little blue dude, as depicted above. Rather, you’re buying an entry in a ledger that associates your identity — yours alone — with CryptoPunk #2890, an image of a little blue dude. That’s it. That’s the deal.

Some however have been going the whole way, encoding the entire work instead of only a token: Synth Poems stored completely on-chain. Cool.

While one thing is the not-so-cool impact of blockchains on the environment that I looked at last month, here’s a roundup on what it’s actually costing the artists themselves.

Those concerns aside, I’ve had some interesting conversations with Cristian Vogel who remains enthusiastic about the value NFT’s could have for artists. How the opportunities opened by decentralized economies could enable ways for artists to elevate themselves out of poverty. In his view the crypto energy issues will be solved in the future and would enable the possibility of choosing cleaner options in daily life – in fact that the attention around these technologies will provoke greener solutions. His main point is that it’s crucial that we reimagine the exchange and flow of money, especially when it comes to the music and the arts in the age of streaming. And that we can certainly agree on. Here’s a recent interview with him in Kaput magazine. And another at Sound of Life.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve made what feels like a ‘discovery’ in terms of music, but that’s exactly what Giuseppe Ielasi’s Five Wooden Frames album has brought me. I came across his work via an article by Thomas Venker (who interviewed Cristian for Kaput) in the first issue of Chart magazine. The magazine itself is beautifully put together, and it’s always a delight to come across independent publications such as this, and always a marvel that they exist at all with all the craft and care that goes into them. That same attention to detail is present in Ielasi’s work. It’s no wonder that he’s in demand as a mastering engineer – loops of wonderfully clear sound indistinguishably meandering in and out of each other. Dense and full of space at the same time, Five Wooden Frames has helped me achieve a welcome state of mental focus in the many working hours that it has accompanied.

All the best
Rudiger

P.S. Chart’s third (and final?) issue is around the topic of money with a fun article on Dieter Meier: The Favourite Capitalist. Now there’s a character that goes back to my youth, all the way back to Bostich on a cassette and an article with Dieter talking about the “excess of the asphalt of Montmartre” in an issue of NME in the early eighties.