Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Forgot to show this...

Here's a mash-up I worked on over the weekend, combining the two things I love most in the world: the Al Pacino/Robert de Niro classic crime thriller "Heat," and Disney's "DuckTales." It took so long to get their stupid beaks to match up to the dialogue...

I got nothing

I like posting late because I get pointed to all these great websites.

In response to Allan's post, defining terms is difficult and as Sam said, there is no clear line for differences. Throwing in my own two cents: many artists (some would say all artists) sample, rip off, or mashup other people’s work. Bitter Sweet Symphony was considered too similar to a Rolling Stones song, Linkin Park and Jay-Z collaborated on their work, and then you have people like Vanilla Ice who blatantly rip off others. What’s the difference between someone like Vanilla Ice and someone like Danger Mouse? Each is using material that is not his own but weaving it an artist way that is his own. It’s a slippery slope that our courts are having difficulty defining and we as a society don’t know how to react to. I mean I hate it when bands remix stuff or sample other people’s work. But at the same time, I have a guilty pleasure in NIN’s mash-up with Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters.” What is striking is how NIN’s “The Ghost that Feeds” is much better than the original. So I’m a hypocrite.

As for video mash-ups, or film collages of sorts, I think they serve their purpose as light-hearted satire between two different genres (hopefully) and the defiance of expectations can be sometimes clever. As “high art” or the “wave of the future” I have my doubts. But then again, as someone who tries to be an artist, I find that I detest the artificial in general. By “artificial” I guess I mean something that is not your own, which is taken from someone else. The photoshop things are terrible to me but at the same time all satire owes a great deal to its originator. So again, I’m at an impasse.

I’m curious to see what the class has to say about this. How do we define intellectual property and the rights of the artist? Is a mash-up or mix-up or a collage ever better than the original and therefore deserving of our praise? Is anything actually original?

Oral History and New Media

We're going to tackle Oral History next. Be sure to read the handout called "Making It Through Hard Times." This chronicles some of the WPA Interviews of the 1930's. Then, take a spin around the web to these sites.

Story Corps is an NPR project. All audio files. To my mind, this is new media at its very best. Do read about the project, and listen to five or six interviews. They're only about 3-4 minutes each.

Our friend Stephen Elliott has written an series of interviews called An Oral History of Me.
Basically, he interviews his friends about how they remember him as a teenager. Give some of them a read.

A Day in the Life of a Bike Courier is a terrific article about the San Francisco hills, streets, and bike lanes. This is one of my favorite articles on the web.

This is a defunct blog, but it was by a public defender, overwhelmed by her caseload. It's a smart look inside a stressful career.

From the McSweeney's archives. Interviews with people who have interesting or unusual jobs,

So, we've got audio files, personal narratives, second person oral histories, blogs, and short interviews. There are lots of other ways to feature Oral History on the web. Your assignment for next week:

1. Complete the readings.
2. Post three Oral History sites that you find interesting on the What's New Media Wiki. Include a short description and links for each.
3. Write your own Oral History. This can be about yourself, someone you know, or a total stranger. The key: use elements of new media to tell this story. Use links, audio or video files, flash, photographs, or whatever you deem fit. Post this on a site of your own making (Google pages or our class wiki if you like), and then link to it with your name in the next post.

We're looking forward to next class.

-- Tom and Adam


I think Allan makes a good point -- mash-up as we've implicitly defined it is too broad a term to say much about the piece it describes. The qualities of the specific media being "mashed" tend to have more of an impact on the finished product than the fact that a "mashing" has occurred. By thinking of the "Yoshimi" album as a mash and looking at it in that context, we miss the basic fact that the album is music and should be looked at from a musical framework.

When we think of the music as music and the fake movie trailers as fake movie trailers, it's not as troublesome that the two media have about nothing in common. As a medium, music is about as unironic as they come. There's parody, I guess, and you could make someone laugh by looping a boy band over some rap beats, but that's not usually how it turns out. (although check out a personal favorite for an exception, and this one's pretty funny, it's a montage of a frustrated dude playing Halo) On the contrary, the music mashes are usually seamless, innovative, and pretty nice to listen to.

I think this has a lot to do with who's making the media. It's a lot easier to make your own soundtrack to a movie trailer than it is to mix a seamless track. I think Adam makes a really astute point when he says mashups are a way of subverting the one-way channel of the media, but I don't think that's what's going on with the music tracks. These guys are professional DJ's making professional quality products. They might be a bit different, but they're still a part of the one-way channel of music. The tonality and sonic quality of the tracks is so high because these tracks are meant to be enjoyed on an artistic level, not an ironic one.

Music lends itself to this mashup thing in a different way than images because manipulating songs is way harder than photoshop, and because the ear is a lot less forgiving than the eye. I'm not going to mind a poor photoshop job that makes a good joke, but there's no way I'm going to listen to more than a few seconds of a song with audio issues. Even with GarageBand and all that, intertwining tracks is out of reach for millions of people who use YouTube... and I have lost track of my point.

All I'm saying is the term's misleading because different mashed media can have a whole lot more differences than similarities.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Mashups: Where the Web Meets the Web Meets the Web

There's been a lot of talk (or should I say "a lot of blog") about mashups in the sense of Musical Mashups, Video Mashups, Visuals/Pictoral Mashups, but little to no blog about Web Mashups, or mashups that utilize two or more separate URLs or sources to create either a new object entirely, or a commentary on the old sources. Some of these "web application hybrids," I find, are incredibly useful. Take The Hype Machine, for example. It is a mashup of all the "best" music blogs right at your fingertips. It holds them in a database and updates its site as the respective blogs update their sites. You can look at the Most Popular Blogs, the Recently Updated Blogs, or you can just type in an artist/song you like and look at the blogs that mention that person/song, starting you on a potentially never-ending trajectory into a music abyss.
On a more general note, ProgrammableWeb is the site where I found The Hype Machine and it is itself a mashup database of all the mashups and blogs, funneling countless like-APIs into over a thousand mashups into this one site. It is the patriarch of a multitude of mashup progeny. Another of ProgrammableWeb's displayed mashups is called Vidmeter, or a compilation of the top 100 viral videos, taken from AtomFilms, YouTube, GoogleVideo, MySpace, etc. FINALLY! I way to save time when I'm, uh, wasting time.
ProgrammableWeb also has links to sites like OpenKapow or to it's own How-To section to teach you how to make mashups. Now, I know very very little about APIs, HTML code or anything of that nature, but I'm sure someone with a little know-how could easily make their own mashup using two or more APIs and come up with something very useful and convenient. And, for those of you Mac users, a lot of these mashups sound like ways to compress a lot of info into a little space, something like a Dashboard Widget.
So I don't want to be the guy who shows up late and complains about everything. I don't want to be the Andy Rooney of the collaborative blog world. But once again, gentlemen, we need to define our terms. What is a mash-up? Is it the forced combination of two once-independent works or concepts, a union that is aware of the cultural resonances of both preexisting pieces as well as the intrinsic qualities they possessed on the day they were finished? That's what I'm thinking. I'm going to go with that.

So was the peanut butter and banana sandwich a mashup in its early days? I think we don't think about food as a medium as much as we should, because you can't bittorrent ceviche or eat the exact same chicken pot pie that someone 2,000 miles a way does. But that's a shame. Instead we turn to celebrity chefs. It's weird how many people like Alton Brown without ever eating his food or even cooking according to his instructions. Image, I guess.

Anyway. I have a sincere and enduring bias towards comedy over drama, or more accurately, the humorous over the serious. So I don't like the musical pastiches; they kind of bum me out. In the case of Wonderwall/B of Broken D's, the songs have the same chord progression, largely because Billie Joe Armstrong ripped off Noel Gallagher, a giant of modern songwriting. In the case of the Verve/Jay-Z mash, the blending is facilitated by the fact that Jay-Z's rapping is unmelodic. That's not an insult, it's just that rapping doesn't commit to a key signature the same way a Gregorian chant does. Because of this, you can throw rap over a lot of different chords and melodies, so long as the beats are somewhat agreeable. This makes the mashup versatile but also cheapens it a bit, I think.

It's weird that "Bitter Sweet Symphony" is the subject of a mashup. Steve Craddock, singer of the Verve and writer of that song, didn't receive a dime for his labors. This wwas because the strings hook is a sample of a 1965 Rolling Stones song. Craddock thought he had worked out the legal details in getting permission The courts thought he used too much of the song, and so he didn't get any money. So I guess he'd be OK with his song being used in a mash-up, but maybe a little bitter and greedy, too.

The first music I ever listened to was Weird Al Yankovic, and my priorities haven't changed. I get a large charge out of comic mashups. But I think that less is more in this medium. The comic premise of a mashup is not very deep. "What if you crossed Ally McBeal and McDonald's?" That's better explored in an image or poster than a video that gets more torturous with every minute. This is something we run into a lot at the humor magazine. When the premise of your piece is a pun on names (we ran "Traitor Joe's" this fall for example), writing the body of the piece is like the home run trot. I guess it's fun for you, but is it really necessary?

I Love the Madness

I'm a huge fan of mashups, so I was really excited to see that there were so many sites that did this kind of thing. I saw that someone already blogged about Danger Mouse, who I have to say is very talented at this sort of thing. The Linkin Park/ Jay-Z mix is also an amazing collaboration. I was listening to their CD in my car the other day and I'm just repeatedly in awe of how well these two band fit together. The flow of the lyrics of one artist to the beat of the other is scary because of how well it works. It almost feels sometimes like they were subconsciously tapped into each other's music flows. I often feel that writing does the same thing a lot of the time. Sometimes I'll read a story and go "wow, this is how I was feeling when I wrote one of my stories". Maybe I'm just hoping for a "bigger than us" connection, but there are some pretty crazy coincidences.

I was looking through YouTube, because that seems to be the only thing that anyone ever does anymore, and I found some really cool mashups. There is this kid named Lasse Gjertsen who makes these videos mashups that are really unique. He doesn't know how to play any of the instruments he features but just hits different beats and keys and videos tapes it all. He uses the original footage and edits all his videos together to make some pretty cool and complicated music (for what it is). I really think this is something to be impressed with. He's a bit of a wierdo, but it's really fun and worth checking out. Here is another one he does that is just with noises he makes from his mouth.

I haven't found a lot of really bad mixes, some music here and there that just didn't fit to me personally. But I'd have to say that some of people that make the "Scary Movie" spin offs can overdo it. I liked most of their stuff but "Date Movie" was more stupid than funny, and I feel that they may have just been a little lazy when it came time to make that one. You still have to try to make things funny, not everything falls into place. I gotta give them credit though, the trailer did look pretty good.

Overall I love mashups, mostly for the reason I stated earlier. I think we should always have connections with fellow writers and artists. The mixture will keep the pool of possibility open for a long time.

Alternative Mash-Ups

I love all these great posting by our class, and it's leaving me a narrow lane to add to the discussion. That said, I've found some interesting, humorous, and oddball mash-ups that we'll take a look at in class. They include...

Exquisite Corpse was a series of creations by surrealists in the 1920's. The idea is that a number of people add random images or text to a canvas or paper, creating a collage of randomness. The Web and Photoshop have made "corpse-building" easier, and one of the many sites is anexquisitecorpse.net.

Longmire re-imagined some Romance Book Covers, and then his readers sent in theirs too.

How about a mash-up of human faces? German researchers combined human face photographs to create an "attractive" and "unattractive" scale. More at Beauty Check.

The Little Golden Book about God is mashed-up with an invading alien species called Zogg. The outcome? The Cuddly Menace.

This oddball Flickr site called "Korean Creativity." I like what this artist has done with everyday food items and a little photoshop action.

Dance, Dance, Revolution is a popular arcade video game. You try to keep up (dancing) with the computer. If you keep up, you get points, when mess up, you lose points. A new mash-up is Dance, Dance, Immolation. When you do well, the computer shoots big propane blasts up into the air. When you do poorly, it shoots you in the face with flamethrowers. Yes, as in you, and your actual face. And yes, flamethrowers, like the kind that are on fire.

What do you get when you mix our New Media Blog with attacking space aliens? You get our blog shot to hell, that's what.

This was popular a couple years back. Tom Cruise Kills Oprah, ala The Emperor from Star Wars.

Mash-ups: Sketching with Video

I'm with Rebecca - I really dig mash-ups. One of my favorite albums of all time is "The Grey Album" by Danger Mouse - the cross-cultural/generational/musical mash-up of The Beatles' "White Album" and Jay-Z's "The Black Album." Though calling it a "mash-up" seems somewhat unfair - the way Danger Mouse sews snatches of John Lennon instrumental seamlessly with Jay-Z flowing is pure sonic bliss. However, "The Grey Album" is sort of a rarity - most musical mash-ups, I find, get old after the first couple of listens, sounding more synthetic. There is something ageless about original music; there is something ephemeral about most mash-ups.

Actually, I think it's telling that Danger Mouse has gone on to do such great work with Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkely, creating original music. The whole mash-up subculture strikes me as a sort of breeding ground for future artists: you work on a trailer mash-up to finesse your editing technique, you work on a music mash-up to try to get noticed for making beats, not specifically as ends in themselves. Really, most mash-ups are just artfully designed jokes - kind of like William Shakespeare writing a dirty limerick for his actor buddies. Can a mash-up ever make you cry?

That being said, I really dig the much-discussed "Boulevard of Broken Songs" - in part because Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Wonderwall are two of my favorite songs (... sorry Lauren), but also because they fit together so well. Unlike most post-Grey Album mash-ups, which seem based on the basic question of "What two completely dissimilar music genres can I slam together," "Broken Songs" brings together two songs into one glorious whole - it's hard to listen to either original song the same way.

Conversely, movie mash-ups - even funny ones like "Brokeback to the Future" - usually just serve to reinforce how much I liked the original movie before modern technology gave editing power to adolescent numbskulls. One guy edited together an entire Robocop/Terminator fight sequence. On one hand, I admire the skillful nature of the editing; but the Film Studies major in me is screaming, "You idiot! You've turned a pair of great action movies - one about a cyborg Christ figure, and one about Reagan-era bureaucracy, both full of sardonic humor and just a bit of genuine humanity - and made them into a pair of action figures for you to play with!"

It's something similar to what I've been feeling this week messing around with a few different mash-up trailers. At first, I was ecstatic about this assignment - running through my DVD collection, finding horrible Trailer Voices and uproarious possibilities ("Harry Potter and the Clockwork Orange," etc). But after awhile, it all felt a bit empty - even when I matched up the dialogue to the mouth movement, I still knew the original line. Maybe music is more malleable, or maybe I'm just too much of a film elitist.

As a corollary, I recommend watching the trailer for last summer's Miami Vice. This is the genuine studio trailer, for a remake of a TV show, which prominently features a studio-sponsored mash-up by Jay-Z and Linkin Park. This means that absolutely nothing you see or hear is really "original," per se, but for some reason, I really dig the trailer - just the right amount of action-movie decadence, fast cars, sex, guns, speedboats, drug deals, you name it. Even though I've since seen and been disappointed by the movie, the preview still works for me. I'm not quite sure why. The movie was made by Michael Mann, one of the greatest working American directors (he also made "The Insider" and "Collateral"), and it's interesting to see a genuine artist basically working on a full-scale, $150 million mash-up - combining the "Miami Vice" brand with a rugged aesthetic completely at odds with the original's pastels - and all the more interesting because the movie is such a bloated mess.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Too much of a good thing

is what comes to mind. Worth1000 appears, in fact, to BE 1000, more or less. These are essentially novelties, but when you scroll down 43 of them in a row guess what's lost?

But people enjoy making them, and apparently the joke doesn't get old in some quarters. That sounds patronizing, I know, when in fact I for years was the proud owner of a poster of an obscure ad that a friend on the fringe of the advertising industry gave me. It was a print ad for a tomato sauce offered in both "regular" (image of the Mona Lisa) and "chunky" (image of a chunky Mona Lisa). It was essentially the same kick as all these re-cast Renaissance classics, but I didn't know anyone else had it hanging on their wall and that made me feel like I had something special. Maybe in the not-very-becoming way of relishing a new band because you found it before everyone else has. But maybe also because it is, in fact, newish and clever.

Like Malcolm McLaren, the craven carrot-top behind the Sex Pistols, laying a syncopated groover under the death aria of Madame Butterfly in 1984. http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/songs/0,,461449,00.html
Probably not intended as a mashup, and on the online excerpt the voiceover sounds vaguely ridiculous. But at the time...at the time there wasn't anything else like it yet. Now, as we're all noting in these posts, there's plenty enough.

I'm not sure I see all this as ramming it back at The Man, though. Unless clipping apart magazines to make a collage amounted to burrowing under Madison Avenue to hasten its collapse. Or talking back to the TV.

The import, to me, is simply that everyone gets to put it out there. When I wrote a tv column for a daily newspaper I got the satisfaction of an annual mash-up column, one imagining hybrids of existing shows (St. Elfwear: 24 hour Smurf fashion channel). It was a gas to put together, and now everyone gets to do it. And yet...

And yet I don't think anything I've ever found on the net gave me the sense of delight, of happened-upon genius that I remember getting after picking up and leafing through certain 'zines. Remember 'zines? Might they have been to blogs as daguerrotypes were to silver emulsion photography?

Literary criticism without the literary!

First of all, I have to say: I love mashups. I find them absolutely hilarious. I can be entertained for hours scrolling through the Mate a Movie gallery on Worth1000, giggling at the mental images from the mashed-up films, without worrying about whatever deeper implications for the future of the creative enterprise they may hold. That being said, though, I've heard several people saying that they think the mashup is generally only used for comedic purposes - and while I love the comedy, people are using the technique of mashing up hitherto unrelated videos or music for a lot more than humor.

One - genre, I guess - of mash-up that I haven't seen anyone mention here yet is what's known as vidding - essentially, making your own music video from clips of a movie or television show put to music. Some of these vids are definitely made just for the comedy, but many of them also aim to create a fairly serious commentary on the source material through the use of the mixed media of song and video clips. A friend of mine is a vidder, and she's a lot more eloquent about why she enjoys vids than I could ever be; fortunately, she graciously gave me permission to link to a blog post she wrote about it here, thus saving me from having to plagiarize her words. She also gave me permission to link to one of her vids as an example. (This particular vid happens to be set to Boulevard of Broken Songs, which several people were talking about before, making it a triple mash-up - and one thing she wanted me to mention was that she decided to use Boulevard of Broken Songs because of the way the songs related to each other when taken as a dialogue.)

Although the more serious vids aren't necessarily meaningful/interesting unless one knows the source well enough to recognize the footage, I still would call it a valid - if legally dubious - form of textual criticism when done well. To me, at least, that signifies that this mash-up media has a significance outside of pure humor.

Not that there's anything wrong with pure humor.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Mashups: Fame or Flop?

It seems to me that Girl Talk, the artist Jessica mentions in her blog below, and other mashup artists, are the reason publishing companies are so afraid of (and consequently critical of) mashups. According to Wired News, "the independent and not famous artists" who create mashups are able to easily make their music available to the rest of the world with the use of the Internet. Labels are worried that someone, sometime, somewhere down the road, will be incredibly successful in this realm of art and will make a lot of money. Unlikely. In my opinion, companies are wasting time and energy on concerns like this.

Mashups are all over the Internet, to a much greater extent than I realized before doing this assignment and playing around online, looking for, watching, and listening to a wide variety of mashups. One site in particular, Good Blimey, solidified my belief that a mashup "artist" will probably not strike it rich. Good Blimey's tunes page contains 7 volumes, each with hundreds of mashup songs, most of which are very disappointing. Take "The Real Slim Christina," for example, which is meant to be a mashup of Eminem's The Real Slim Shady and Christina Aguilera. However, the "ooohhh yeeeeaah" (not sure exactly how to spell that) dispersed throughout the song is clearly from Britney Spears' well-known Oops I Did It Again. It would be nice if the songs were at least labeled and publicized correctly! I was also surprised to notice that some artists are mashed much more frequently than others. The Beastie Boys, Missy Elliott, and The Beatles are a few examples.

Obviously the possibilities for mashups are endless, but I would imagine that sites such as Good Blimey have created enough possibilities, without much success, that record companies should feel a bit less anxious about this supposedly up-and-coming market. I must say that I do like the IDEA of mashups--especially if two songs that I really like are combined or when two songs that I didn't previously enjoy happen to sound better together--but I have yet to find songs that I think are particularly creative and memorable. (Although Unpretty Bop, a combination of TLC and Hanson, in Volume 5 of Good Blimey was kind of good.) I like the mashups that involve lyrics of the songs involved, not just lyrics of one and music of the other.

Finally, what amazes me most about this mashup phenomenon is that despite its lack of success in terms of a money-making industry thus far, it is still so incredibly popular among creators. I understand that audiences enjoy watching and listening to mashups because they are definitely interesting and provide a good distraction, but I don't quite understand why sites, such as Eyespot, that help people make mashups are popping up all over the place. Do we really need more?! Cuts helps users create and watch their own programs, while Boot Camp and Programmable Web explain provide detailed instructions on how to make a mashup.

Several questions have come to my head as I have viewed these endless sites. How valuable is it to have more of the same things on the Internet? Eventually the novelty will fade, and then what? How long is this craze going to last, and what is next?

Web+log=WEBLOG=>blog is a mashup!

Word to Lauren on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams/Wonderwall mashup. I am all too familiar with this atrocity--for some mysterious reason my favorite radio station, live 105, decided it had repeat listenability and played it all last summer, as if it were an actual song. I would always groan loudly whenever the opening chords came on, hoping maybe someone at the radio station would hear me and terminate the mashup's career. It seemed to me that just because somebody was able to find two songs that meshed together well enough to be played simultaneously was not a good enough reason to listen to them.

Clearly, I was not seduced by the allure of the mashup at first. But where this song fails, I think the artist Girl Talk seriously succeeds. Girl Talk is a guy named Gregg Gillis who specializes in mashups, but really unique ones: he uses pieces of at least 12 different songs in each track. In the song "Smash Your Head," which the above link takes you to, he samples 15 songs, artists ranging from Elton John to Beyonce to Public Enemy. And most of his tracks still manage to be really cohesive and fun to listen to (and dance to!) He's even going to be at the huge Coachella music festival this year, performing live with his laptop. I think his music brings the genre of mashup to a different level. While most mashups function by virtue of being recognizable and reminiscient of their originials, his songs slice up the originals to create something totally different. He's not just superimposing two songs on each other; he uses bits and pieces of certain songs to add depth and variety to his mashups, like including just one little riff from Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Going Down" to accent parts of "Smash Your Head." When someone composes an original melody, he or she is really just working with permutations--the order of the tones. There are seven notes, plus their sharps and flats, and that's it. It's the order of the notes that makes a melody interesting. Girl Talk's mashups are so layered and complex that it's kind of as if he's using other songs as his keyboard, and working with perfecting the permutations. He's not just trying to find stuff that fits together easily; he's making original stuff, but with a different palette of colors. At least, that's my opinion.

I watched all of the top ten mash up movie trailers, and I have to say it's hard to compare those to song mashups because I don't think they're really mashups in the same sense. All of the clips in each one come from the actual movie, they're just cut and pasted differently. There aren't two or more originals spliced to make them seem like one. In Must Love Jaws, there are no clips from Must Love Dogs. Only from Jaws. Just the title is a mashup. In Ten Things I Hate About Commandments, there are no clips from Ten Things I Hate About You. There's teen movie music, but no spliced visuals. The Seinfeld clip used visuals from news reports and Michaels Richards' f-ed up comedy routine. That's pretty close to being a mashup, although it is the same man in the two different shows, so it's easier to make them seem like one. I'm sure there are some true mashup movie trailers on youtube, if anyone has suggestions.

Damn it, I should have done a blog post solely composed of pieces of other peoples' blogs. Oh well, too late now.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Just a Mashup of Ideas

Unfortunately I feel most musical mashups fall under Lauren's category of not worth the effort of listening to completion. I don't think this means musical mashups as a genre is a failure -- just that's it's hard to do a really good one. Taking two (or more) tracks and make something not just 'okay' but better than each of the originals? That's, well, difficult. Gems can be found. I know someone who considers this mashup of Bittersweet Symphony and Brush that Dirt of your Shoulders one of his favorite songs. The best one I've found so far is Q-unit. Seriously though, this fusion of Queen and G-Unit is good. No, really, try 'Old Fashioned Outta Control Loverboy.'

Movie mashups are fun. I looked around on YouTube and found a bunch of interesting ones including sequels to Titanic, Pirates of the Caribbean and others. It's partly fan-fulfillment but these videos are fascinating to look at regardless. I even found myself thinking I'd watch some of these in theatres. I sat around late at night one night last week with some friends and watched a couple of these along with a bunch of miscellaneous youtube videos. Unlike their musical components, we enjoyed these just as much as their non-mashup components. Sure we loved the liam show's 'love letters' or the occasional snl skit but it appeared the mashups had equal footing.

In contrast, I don't know what a good photoshop is equal to. The idea of a photoshop is so uniquely based on the idea of mashups that I can't think of a non-mashup equivalent. I guess I've seen pages that just post funny pictures but with nowhere near the frequency of places like worth1000, fark, or somethingawful. They really cater to our sense of immediacy because we get tons of them without any particular need to let our attention rest on one. While I was writing this I was going to go off on some tangent about how there isn't really an application outside of these contests for photoshops but I remember this really creepy site I saw on somethingawful a couple of months ago. "Natural Beauties Contest" is site where people pay to have pictures photoshopped for pagents or personal use. Look at some of the retouches if you want to know what I’m talking about. Some of the changes appear to mashup real photos with doll like qualities. Strange to say the least. Maybe this is just a whole new level of airbrushing that is gradually becoming more and more acceptable in society?

I think I meant to talk about the external viability of mashups now that the technology to create them is becoming increasingly widespread. Or maybe compare the originals to mashup but my ideas, like my post just kinda blurred into one rant. I feel like the old man on the porch yelling at kids while trying to figure out why everyone likes these new-fangled gadgets.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This post is so long that it's kind of like two posts mashed up into each other

(Click for bigger image.)

I remember the first time I ever heard a mashup. It was a mixture of Green Day's "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" and Oasis's "Wonderwall." My friend Amy and I talked about it for days. We thought it was the greatest thing ever. It took two overrated, unoriginal songs and crunched them into one, showing just how overrated and unoriginal they really were. These songs were so similar that they could be merged into one song without even changing the chord progression. A DJ (probably Party Ben) created a purely derivative song, and in doing so, mocked the derivative quality of modern popular music. Genius, Amy and I thought. Genius.

Unfortunately I think we may have read a little too much into it.

These days I hear mashups all the damn time, and they don't strike me as brilliant parodies anymore. When I hear a creative one, I think, "Hmm, that's kinda cool," and that's about it. In fact, I don't know if I can really even apply the adjective "creative" to them, because mashups aren't really creations so much as combinations. I'm rarely interested enough to finish a whole mashup song. Also, if you don't know the original songs that are being used, it's impossible to appreciate the mashup. Otherwise, it sort of just sounds like hip-hop that samples older songs, which I also think is pretty much lamesauce (remember Vanilla Ice arguing that "Ice Ice Baby" was different from Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure" because it had a single additional note in the half-count before the bass riff started? UGGGHHH).

So yeah, I'm not the biggest fan of mashups. I was particularly unimpressed by "Question" by the Kleptones. It somehow took Queen, the Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and The Big Lebowski, and made them boring. How can you make those three tremendous things boring? That requires talent. There wasn't even the novelty factor of thinking, "Hey, this guitar riff from this one song seems to coincide with this drum beat from this other song!" It didn't even require good DJ skills. It was just speech over music. Although...maybe it picked up and got interesting after the halfway mark. I don't know; I didn't make it that far.

Okay, so I'm calming down a little, and I would like to say that even though I don't really see the point of mashup songs, I do enjoy those doctored movie trailers, and the Art Ads were very funny. Brokeback to the Future has been on my bookmark list for a long time. The trailers seem to be able to go beyond the novelty factor to the level of pop-culture mockery more successfully than the songs, probably because they force you to re-imagine the movie more fully than mashups force you to reimagine their songs of origin. And although I think that the Art Ads (as well as the Rock 'n' Ren, Sport Ren, and Modern Ren galleries on the same Worth 1000 site) are created mostly for the novelty factor, when taken together they do make a statement about pop culture.

But, so, well, I don't really know how I feel about this medium. Its main goal is novelty and at its best, it's satirical. I like satire as much as the next cynical misanthrope of a college student, but maybe to be really worthwhile, a medium needs to be more than satirical every now and again. Mashups are fun, but I don't really think they're going to change the world.

But maybe everyone else feels differently, and I am some sort of dissenting freak, which is kinda what happened with the Electronic Literature stuff last week. Dismissing things is easy; I'd like to be persuaded.

Mashup Reading, Listening & Viewing

The projects presented tonight were wonderful, with a nice range from thoughtful, funny to serious. Well done. When thinking about mashups, think about post-colonial theory: empires imposed their cultures upon subjugated peoples, whose own likes, dislikes, desires and narratives were pushed aside. When those peoples wanted to respond, if they wanted to be heard, they had to speak the language of the empire and use the forms of the empire to critique, criticize, mock and admire. Thus you have Avishai Margalit writing sonnets, Wole Soyinka writing five-act plays and Chinua Achebe writing novels. Today, in America, big-budget Hollywood is an empire. So too is much of corporate culture, the recording industry, New York publishing and politics.

Think of mashups as a way of speaking back through a normally one-way channel, and yes, the language is movie trailers, ads, propoganda and telemarketing. Know however, that much of the art we love comes through these same channels, which means that homage and horror alike will be articulated in the same way.

Start with the Kleptones and Bootie. Don't miss John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy." Get used to hearing Dolly Parton remixed with Metallica as you read Horton Hears a Heart and view the mashpics at Worth 1000 like Art Ads. Check out cartography mash at Google Maps Mania and here's Giant's top ten Mashed Movie Trailers, though there are thousands of similar reedits on Youtube.

Let's blog this week about making wine from the grapes of appropriation, and do link to examples of success and failure.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What Is All This New Media Anyhow.

It’s probably time to talk about what is media and what is writing—I assume everyone can agree on the “new” part. These things are interesting, but are they media? I don’t think it’s adequate to define “website” as a medium any more than it is to define “paper” that way. Not to be precociously cantankerous, but I always thought a medium was an agreed upon form (and forum, I guess) for expression and discourse. I think the “agreed upon” aspect is the most critical; I view a medium as a contract between speaker an audience. It’s a wonderful thing, as it allows us to take a lot of parameters for granted. This frees up our brain’s processing power for greater degrees of complexity, abstraction or imagination. Now of course there’s merit and genius in the bending and blending of once-discrete media, but when it’s done well, it’s done in such a way as to provide security with its dissonance. Both sets of rules apply, I guess.

I’m not sying there isn’t value in these pieces, I just don’t know if they’re all media. It just seems to me that a new medium isn’t a medium until it’s, well, a little bit old.

That said, I’m confident that our grandchildren will express themselves exclusively in the form of I You We-style word spaces.

Last week I blogged about spreeder, which substituted time for space in our experience of the written word. I You We provides another dimension, providing a nearly infinite field of simple, transitive actions. “We” and “I” don’t have the magic of “you,” since they don’t work for the suggestive case, disrupting the directionlessness that “you” and even the concept of infinity suggest.

Let’s assume that with I You We, we have a new medium on our hands. What would another work in this medium look like? Would it have different words? Syntax? Structure? Colors? You need two points to draw a line, and the second point hasn’t arrived yet. A medium is a line for me. Otherwise, it’s just a lonesome “I” in an evenly spaced sea of action verbs and pronouns.

Some of these pieces reminded me of the following George Orwell quote:

“….modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug.”

I You We sort of has this problem for me. Given its aspirations towards infinity, it’s hard to find meaning and authorial choice in this work. Did the authors carefully select each verb? Do you think they had a long argument about whether to include “tessellate?” Or did they just hack away at the thick end of the English language curve, casting the big marketable commodities like “populate” and “stratify” as stars in his wordsky? I see a lot of the “gumming together” here. And even though we’re not dealing with long strings of words, the author’s carelessness and commoditization of these words kind of bugs me.

Hopefully, I’ll spend less time on myBall. I’m more comfortable with this piece as media, because it’s satirizing the pointless and cloying Flash indulgence that seems to accompany any website of primarily commercial intent. myBall is very subtle in this regard, but a bit more hamhanded with its verbal content t as it shoots ack-ack rounds at the helicopter parent culture. The sinister pulsing sound with higher beeps reminds me of Metroid, somehow. Maybe that’s also because of the glowing red ball.


The popular site I want to talk about is Achewood. I’m fairly confident that this site can be found at the meaty base of the tail, but it’s not exactly the Yahoo! Fantasy Football homepage. I think something like 3 million unique IP addresses a month pass through Achewood monthly. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a former menial employee of that site’s proprietor, Chris Onstad. This is the reason I have so many hipster-looking American Apparel T-shirts.

Achewood is a webcomic, published an average of four times a week at the URL you would expect to find it at. Its principle characters are two stuffed bears, a 5-year-old stuffed otter and a bevy of real cats. From time to time a robot will appear. Onstad maintains blogs for 13 (!) of the principal characters, thickening the stock created by the comic. Additionally, there is an Achewood cookbook, two mini-novellas, an ongoing old-school ‘zine and an advice column written in the voice. I personally like the blogs best, because Onstad is just out of his mind as a ventriloquist for his creations, from the Wodehouse-esque Mr. Bear to the chronically depressed Roast Beef to the serial killer Nice Pete.

Today’s strip is a teaser for an upcoming print-only ‘zine ostensibly published by one of the characters and sold through the website. So it’s not a good entry point. Rather, I will recommend a couple of strips here:

The Saddest Thing, Redux A good stand-alone strip.

Meeting Nice Pete This storyline introduces the character of Nice Pete, killer. I reccomend you proceed forward from this strip for some time. Read the alt text too.

Achewood is often compared to Peanuts for its blend of mirth and sadness, but I never found Peanuts that funny, whereas I think Achewood is the single best comedic work ever.

What’s also immensely cool about Achewood is that it’s Onstad’s full time job. He makes a living selling T-shirts and shot glasses to people who want to be associated with his characters. This was not a way a fellow could feed his family 10 years ago.

The lesser known site is Ian Spiro’s hardtoremember.org. Ian edited the same magazine where Onstad once hung his hat and where I now toil. Unlike me, Ian is a computer genius who has spurned employment with Microsoft and Google in order to become the freest lance programmer I’ve ever encountered.

Not a lot of people know about this page, and maybe I am damaging my weird relationship with him by sharing it. The homepage is a spare affair, with eight icons sitting on what appears to be an underperforming comb. Each of these represents one of his pet projects.

A brief summary of the content, which changes from time to time.:

A Google-Maps-style interface applied to the overworld of Final Fantasy II (The Japanese one)

A Google-Maps-style interface that tells you the precise locations of fast food franchises. I like this because it cuts so hard against the spontaneity of fast food and is arguably more pointless than the Final Fantasy map.

Interest Graphs. This used to be an interactive utility wherein you could create the sort of thing Ian displays here, plotting your interests against time, summing up your life for strangers in a cool and calculated way. For whatever reason, Ian disabled that. Which is a shame, because I think he can make a lot of money here. All of Web 2.0 thrives on the vanity of users wanting new ways to define themselves using the tools of others (“Which Redwall character are you? Take the quiz!”).

WeddingTowne.com. For this project, Ian wrote a script that harvested pages of the form bobbyandcarol.com or jonathanandtim.com or thorandbathshebah.com. Overwhelmingly, these were pages promoting the weddings and/or the firm but still fiery bonds between the two people who have to chose to immortalize their love by concatenating their names in a URL. These pages are then loaded into a frame within WeddingTowne, which is itself a HotOrNot style tool that allows the viewer to give a simple, binary thumbs up or thumbs down. Users can also view the top- and bottom-ranked pages. I think the earth-shattering implications of what Ian has done here are very obvious.

Some personal photography stuff. I won’t get into this too much, but there is one haunting entry entitled “larvae on trampoline.”

A dancing man.

Dlog. This is the medium for my 300-word work. Also, it is the real deal. I’ll talk more about it in class, but basically, it records writing as a process and not just a finished document. Essentially, you’re looking over the typist’s shoulder. It has a clever algorithm for compressing time but still leaving a very real sense of hesitation when it occurs. For a time/space/word junkie like myself, this opens a lot of possibilities. Working in these conditions also raises a lot of anxieties.

Also, it's pronounced dee-log. It doesn't want to be a blog no how.

Witty Text Heading

The NLO site contains a lot of what I'd like to consider kindergarten-like art. We as internet users and writers are still developing the motor skills, the very tools we need, to properly modify and depict the world around us. Right now, a lot of these projects show promise of future brilliance, but at other times I think the kid was eating glue.

As other people have discussed, Deviant was a frustrating experience. I thought the art work was creepy and the constant moving of the clickable icons was kinda creepy/annoying, but on the whole it wasn't really a story. Without text, it's hard for me to consider it a piece of literature, and without any sense of a linear path it's hard to be a story. That said, technically speaking "choose your own adventure" books tell many stories and insure a somewhat unique (or at least more personalized) tale. I think how the user selects the icons, in what order, what catches their eye, etc- can be a very important aspect of a story. What does it say that I clicked on the little moving guy in the window before the tree thing? I don't know. But I think a story can be told that incorporates those choices in a more rewarding fashion.

I also liked Red Riding Hood, but what does that say about us as a group that everyone clicked on the two obviously cartoony stories? Probably that we like cartoons. Anyway, it reminded me of an old radiohead video. I suppose music videos are as good a way as any to tell a story. I remember watching (with deep guilt mind you), some pop punk band's music video that basically depicted the story of a bank robbery. The lyrics had nothing to do with the song, but were fitting. The band became a soundtrack to this other story. Personally, I thought Garden State was just a long shins music video. Riding Hood was more interactive than a music video, of course, but they managed to get out the main messages of the project despite the various "paths" of the user. I thought it was a cool story, well settled but I wondered why it couldn't be linear. Video games get away with not being linear (Zelda, for example), because they make you assume the role of a character and are rewarded with more plot. Your actions directly affect the story. These projects, on the other hand, the user is unsure of what his/her actions will lead to. It becomes random.

For the two sites. Let's go to some oldies but goodies: http://www.yourethemannowdog.com/. Sean Connery from "Finding Forester" does his beautiful line over and over and over again. This site gets more hits than you'd think. Every college I've ever visited has seen this site. We all eat, sleep, and in between, watch this site. Brilliance.

On the lower end of the spectrum, Ninja Burger is a satire site online with some frequency, but it's lesser known fake rival is Samurai Burger. I just find jokes about eating puppies funny. But the following of Ninja Burger (you can buy t-shirts, etc) is really strange. It's a fake delivery place that became popular around the same time as realultimatepower.net, a parody ninja site. I think an entire book can be done on the success of realultimatepower alone. This fake site originally was very bare bones and not very user friendly. It still is not a very well put together website but the text is some of the weirdest and funniest stuff on the web. It went from obscurity to popularity quickly. It spawned on the internet spin off sites (Ninja Burger) that got more and more obscure (Samurai Burger, etc). How that match got lit I will never know, but it's now a part of internet culture.

Monday, January 22, 2007

My hands can't feel to grip

I began this exercise in hope and excitement ... days ago. That was before I discovered more tedium than I can tolerate, before I got lost in the webbiness of the Web with its endless links and dark meaningless corners, and before I had to completely rewrite this little rant because Blogger went dead 15 minutes ago for "maintenance" and I lost it all. How cute.

All those attractive little buttons in the "table" of contents of the Elec. Lit. site, I admit, made me want to dive in. I thought, Ah, maybe the great goddess Literature really can live out here in point-and-click land. And the message from Tom last week, about kicking ass as we get into the writing phase, was a good energizing way to launch. But after hours -- many hours -- of negotiating links and sites here and there, of endless reading of short little bits that seem to expand like foam caulking, the material left me mostly frustrated and scratching my head. And I'm reminded once more of what Norman Mailer said about a dozen years ago: "The Internet is the greatest waste of time since masturbation."

I don't want this to be long, and I don't want to repeat what others have said here. I was especially glad to read what Adam, Karl and Darren have written, because it can be depressing to think you're just another lonely, bitter Luddite (and really, why are Luddites disrespected anyway?). I may be a Luddite, but I'm not lonely and bitter. OK, I'm bitter but I'm not lonely.

I looked up a few of the stories, poems, dog-and-pony shows and 4th of July specials on the Elec Lit site, including most of those linked to by my fellow student bloggers (geez, Louise! Does this really make me a blogger?). In my references to the stories below, I originally had included hot links to the material. But as I said, Google's Blogger went down before I had a chance to send that hot little post to the permanent ether, and the links were lost (and I'm too lazy to re-install them). Don't worry, most of you have either seen these stories or may not care to anyway, or you know where to find them, assuming there are individuals who actually are reading this.

By the way, do people really like Google, a company that wants to take over the world? That cute little name of theirs is as comforting and reassuring as the name Big Brother.

The story I liked best is one with essentially no graphics, no media -- "Internet Text" by Alan Sondheim. The author has been writing stuff and putting it up on the Web for 12 years. It seems to me to be loosey goosey in its language and ideas, with lots of tossed-off material that is nevertheless interesting and fun to read. It's kind of maniacal, there's tons of it, but I've looked at only about 1 percent or less. No doubt I felt comfortable in what is a textual universe.

"Nio" has very cool graphics, "shockwave" media, it's called. Great potential. But the soundtrack? Apart from its musical appeal as a kind of scat singing, it left me flat. ... "Savoir-Faire" asked me to download an application. No, thanks. ... "Deviant ... Christian Shaw" was something I don't think I got at all. Don't ask me where I ended up, or even if I know what it's about. I clicked here and there and very boring things happened as a result.

"Dreamlife of Letters" by Brian Kim Stefans is good to look at but doesn't seem to have a lot going on cognitively. However, the "appropriated text" (by Rachel Blau DuPlessis) that formed the touchstone for Stevens -- which is not part of the Elec Lit site -- was very engaging for its implosion of words and sexuality and references to a million other things, none of it coherent but still enjoyable as wordplay (I have noticed a theme here; for me it's words, words, words). ... "On Lionel Kearns" -- lots of 1's and 0's, yes. I got the idea real quick. ... "Urbanalities" has cool sounds & graphics but quickly ran short of compelling interest.

Then there's "Soliloquy," the record of everything its author, Kenneth Goldsmith, uttered (as speech) during a week in his life about 10 years ago. Wow! Imagine recording your every word and then sitting down to transcribe the recordings by spending 8 hours of every day over an 8-week period --and doing this while in "residency" at a chateau in France, no less! I believe this settles it. Cyber culture has driven people mad, and they haven't got a clue. Well, I did find this gem of a line in Goldsmith's stream of the everyday mouth -- found it purely at random. It's something I'm vowing to use somewhere, somehow, some time -- "Just dropping the dog off no no no just dropping the dog off."

About the Long Tail sites ... and of what some of you said about some sites you like ...
... gotta be brief here before Google shuts me down. I know they're watching every letter I type. Probably going to wait until the next to last word and then kill this. You'll likely never see it. Shame. ...

I very much liked "Bird & Moon." Lovely. And "Toothpaste for Dinner." Strange, but my inclination is to suggest that Toothpaste for Dinner should be in print, in the "funnies," where it can be seen by thousands. ... Do I have it backwards or what? ...

The site I go to most often, my browser's Home Page -- this will tell you a lot about me -- is The New York Times. (It has to be up there near the front of the long tail.) Incidentally, I have the hard-news habit bad, but i'm breaking it ... slowly. I don't watch TV news any more and I'm reading more poetry and a little more fiction, hoping to snowball those into copious daily reading of both.

Here's a site that I like because it's a friend's, and she's different, is all I'll say. She left Alaska a month ago, driving out in the dead of winter, on her way to Alabama to take over a small (about 30-acre) farm she inherited. She's never farmed in her life, not really. In addition to a few veggies, she'll probably try to grow some weed, unless the 'Bama cops are too hard on her. She's on the poor side and needs money, so if anyone has spare change, let her know.

And I do say with all my heart, Down with dark obscure hipness.


Like a lot of other people, I was a bit bewildered by the ELO site. For a good number of the stories, I vacillated between self-castigation for my closed-mindedness (of course there's meaning in all those swirling letters, and you're arrogant enough to think that they might make more sense ordered one-by-one across the page?!) and outright closed-mindedness (what was this guy thinking?) In Les Lettres Dérangés, I am at a complete loss. I read and reread the directions. I can't seem to make any progress at all. If this is abstracted meaning, it's been abstracted one step too far for me. Apparently, the text does take on meaning if the reader exhibits "some luck and a lot of tenacity." I tried, I really tried. For me, this poem/story/whatever was all frustration with no payoff.

But as I read through the pieces, I found a few whose medium clearly contributed to and even enabled the meaning of the story. For me, The Cape is remarkable in the way it is able to evoke a particular mood -- of a cold, empty, disconnected part of the world that retains a gentle, playful absurdity. The piece's medium contributes to its overwhelming irony, as arcane diagrams and courier text dance via javascript on my LCD monitor. The text evokes a sense of distance between childhood Cape Cod and the time and place in which the text is being written, and the interaction between archaic and modern media I think reinforces these moods of otherness and distance. Mutually reinforcing form and meaning is always good, and this story showed me that possibility in new media writing.

Not that the other pieces don't play on the interaction between form and meaning -- on the contrary, I the more I look, the more I see this in other pieces. Maybe I like The Cape because there's it's so balanced -- the connections aren't laid out to me explicitly like in Faith, so I don't feel like I'm being preached to, and they're not altogether denied to me, like in Les Lettres. I guess it raises a pretty old question in a pretty new way -- how much work do readers have to do, and how much do they like to have done for them?

For the webspaces, here's one I found on Wikipedia: asciiconvert. The site lets you upload images and converts them to their most basic ASCII representation. ASCII art is from an era when computers didn't have enough memory to create game graphics in the modern sense, but it's still pretty cool today. It makes you acutely aware of the electronic nature of the medium -- it's as close as you'll get to exposing the raw bits that make up a computerized image.

On the other side of the Long Tail, I have to bring up Wikipedia because I hope we talk about it in class as much as possible. I won't write much about it here because I'm sure everyone's familiar with it, but I'm interested if anyone has any strong opinions in of the good for the world/bad for the world variety.

The Queen of Random

So upon visiting the ELO site I have to admit...I was a little lost at first. Everything was so bizarre to me. I suppose I'm a purist with writing, but I love the random...which is why I'm not sure of the reason I felt lost. The ideas were great, but most of them I thought were trying to hard to be original and I was a bit put off.

Along those lines I had trouble with Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw. This was a unique way of telling the story. The animation type I have seen before, and the story’s path is unclear a bit like the other things I have seen. It reminds me of “Salad Fingers” . The structure of the story is winding and confusing to follow and you find yourself doing things that make no sense and seem to have no purpose. I got lost in this story and I’m not sure what the ending is, but I couldn’t stop clicking around the page. I loved the pictures, but the story was way too scattered and tried too hard to use a “new form”. A feast for the eyes and a frustration for the brain

One of the only ones I thoroughly enjoyed in Volume 1 was Faith. I loved this interactive poem because it layers on so many meanings. The actual words fall into place, but there is much more to it. The colors, the sounds, the dropping letters and phrases all add to the unique genius of the poem. I thought it was beautiful, and even though it may have been a tad cliche, it was unique and I never lost interest. It took the suspense you seen in certain poetic forms and made it literal. The suspense was in the animation and supported by the multiple meanings that were dropped in on us. Fabulous is what I'm really trying to get at.

My inspiration for my personal story came from both of these pieces. I wanted it took be interactive but strange. I used text to speech as my personal tool. This may seem like another book recording or audio book, but i felt the awkward speech pattern, and robotic voice added meaning behind the words and the story I was trying to tell. I hope it works out. Who knows, it could only make sense to me.

After reading the Long Tail article many things came to mind. Popular sites were easy and I choose to point out Ebaum's World. It is a site full of random cartoons and videos, hilarious and painful (in the watching people hurt themselves in comic fashions sort of way). It carries the famous videos which is the End of the World video. It ecompasses stories that are standup comedy in a cartoon. The pictures and game are just as random and keep the large audience it draws in. I remember the site's popularity growing about 4 or more years ago. It's cool to watch underground sites go big.

On the other end of the tail i found something completely random, but also pretty hilarious and entertaining. A site about Sporks. The Spork Page is completely dedicated to the adoration of sporks. There is the history of the spork, spork poems, and way to talk with other about how amazing sporks are. I found the page by thinking about something small and I figured there would be a group of people who were obsessed with it. People are obsessed with Pi so why not sporks.

Overall, I think if writers can figure out the random way readers or viewers think, new media can really open up doors for pleasing randomness. At least that's the way I feel. Being catered to is never a bad thing.

Just an old stick in the mud

When I was a kid, my mother had a small psychiatric practice, so she got tons of free magazine subscriptions for her waiting room. I used to make collages by cutting pictures and words out of these magazines and pasting them to pieces of plywood. These collages didn’t have any composition or theme beyond a bunch of stuff I thought was cool. They were satisfying to make—part scavenger hunt, part puzzle, and I liked the way you could “read” all the words and pictures in different ways. But none of those collages survived my adolescence.

I get that collage-making feeling from a lot of the new media projects online. This new medium of the web has allowed us to conflate video, audio, image and text, and why wouldn’t people play around with such cool elements? But the truth is I’ve yet to see anything from this mashup that really speaks to me. There are great comics on the web and videos and stories and so on, but those are just stories and movies that have been placed on the web, not constructed for the web, as are the ELO projects. It seems to me that the web offers access, immediacy, instantaneousness, endless inventory and this ability to mix media. It just doesn’t seem that the artists know what kind of art will take advantage of these attributes yet.

The Daguerreotype, as we saw, was a medium that came into being fully formed, with artists who knew exactly what to do with it, and an audience that was hungry for it. It’s true that the Daguerreotype was very personal—there was one photographer, one subject, and one original. But the same phenomenon happened with radio, a mass medium that led to immediate music, comedy, drama and variety programming. People saw that medium and knew what to do with it—they began creating and people began listening; in 1933 Edwin Armstrong invented FM radio, and it was in half of American homes by 1934. The same could be said of cinema. Artists didn’t sit around a decade thinking about what to do with this new motion-picture camera thing. They started making feature-length movies right away, ones that mixed image, speech and soundtrack (even if preformed live in the early days.) It’s also interesting to consider the ways in which media fuse, like the movie score, the music video and the graphic novel.

And then there are communication devices that never become artistic mediums. As far as I can tell, no one ever composed a work of art for the telephone, a device that, like the internet, can connect every person on earth in an immediate and instantaneous way, using the human voice, the delivery system of theater, opera, song, and so on. (I know celphone soap-operas are all the rage in South Korea and Hong Kong, but those are really text messages.) What about the postal system? Or email? Why is there no email art? Is it possible to seriously speak to people in a captivating way via email? Would someone today write “Email from a Birmingham Jail”? The film short is an artistic category for the Academy Awards. Will people begin making art for Youtube, rather than just posting cool, interesting and crazy snippets? And the award for best 90 second movie goes to . . .

Do I sound like an old stick in the mud? Maybe. But then again, it might just take a while to figure out this new medium, which so far is a mashup of other, known media. I think of the printing press, brought online in the mid 15th century. We conceive of print media as a principle medium, one that has shaped us all culturally. But the movable-type press pretty much printed bibles for its first decade—not a new text, then classified in the “nonfiction” category. For fifty more years, most presses printed only classics. When we think of presses, we think of newspapers, magazines and what became the press’ true artform, the novel. But for a century, artists, knowing they had a fast, cheap mass outlet for writing, mostly wrote romances and character sketches. I know there were serious class, literacy and political/doctrinal issues, but the first candidate for the novel doesn’t happen for 150 years until Cervantes publishes Don Quixote, Part I in 1605, the same year the first newspaper was brought to press. The first magazine, the Spectator, doesn’t come out until 1711 (it was read, every day, by 60,000 people, a third of London.) By 1720, the novel has a firm footing as a very serious print artform. So it seems it took a couple centuries of relationship-building between artists, audience and the print technology to find the artforms that we turn to now for a literary experience.

Certainly it won’t take 300 years to figure out what new media writing holds in store. And I don’t think the web will leave us with the artistic equivalent of the telephone. But I have a feeling it will take some time. The writers of the ELO projects seem to be taking highly inventive and imaginative first steps.

Sorry for the long posting. A popular blog/portal page I use is Laughing Squid, sort of a San Francisco version BoingBoing that has the coolest arts events listings for the Bay Area. And maybe medium in the long tail is Metblogs, a blog that has a page for most major cities and asks a team of people to maintain a communal blog about their town. I read San Francisco and New Orleans, both ways to get great inside information about a city, even if you live in it!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Confessions of a text junkie

I'll admit it - I'm addicted to text. Looking through several of the new media stories, and choosig the ones that I felt worked best, was difficult for me for that reason; if I couldn't see the text to follow the story, I found it at least twice as hard to continue along with whatever the gimmick was and find the meat of the matter. Deviant, for example, seemed like it had an interesting story to it, but eventually I wanted to wander off to the next item instead of clicking my mouse on various trees and flowers and waiting for them to react. I wasn't gripped like I would have been, were the story told in a more traditional textual medium. Red Riding Hood, which ran on a similar point-and-click concept, worked better for me only because it was faster-paced, and slightly less interactive. My attention didn't have enough opportunity to wander.

I tended to explore the textual works more thoroughly, but there were, I think,, more and less practical ways to use the hypertext linking that seemed to be a staple of text-based new media stories. Twelve Blue I found fascinating for the way it used hypertext to play with language; it read more like a poem than a story, but it brought the words to life by using them to move from one poem-anecdote to another in a way that couldn't be done with plain test. More could have been done with the format, but I loved that it used the new technology to enhance language, rather than hide or replace it. my body - a Wunderkammer worked off a similar premise, but while the linked anecdotes were interesting and much easier to follow than the ones in Twelve Blue, the hypertext links between text pages seemed more forced to me - a gimmick rather than a working variation on language. One part of the story mentioned the idea of doing it using an actual physical sculpture to store the stories, and I think that might have worked better. Then again, maybe it would have felt gimmicky as well.

My deep conclusion: what wins me over in a new media story is a use for the new media, whatever it is, that feels necessary and natural rather than being put in solely because it's a neat new trick. Which is vague, and also a high standard, but I think is what's going to differentiate the forms of new media that get abandoned from the ones that stick around.

As for my near and far ends of the long, long blog tail: well, these will reveal my text addiction yet again. Television Without Pity is a site that hires writers to do long, exhaustive, mocking or humorous recaps of each episode of popular television shows. The quality of the recaps and intensity of the mockery varies, and often depends on what the writer thinks of the merits of the show, but they're almost always entertaining - when I'm bored I'll read the recaps for shows I've never even seen an episode of. (For someone who doesn't have a TV, this has the added benefit of allowing me to sound vaguely aware of what's going on in the media world.) And allll the way at the other end of the tail, there is Dracula1987, one of a group of sites which uses the blog format to post epistolary novels in blog form. Which is a really cool way, I think, to use new media to update old.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

And While I'm At It....

From the first half of the long tail: Hot Air: "the world's first full-service conservative Internet broadcast network!" I'm assuming "full-service" means the creators will personally come to fill up your car's gas tank with gallons of over-priced war oil.
Seriously, though, I do appreciate the idea of "ideological diversity in the video-blogging world,"
and I think their site is nicely laid out, or at least better than many of the other top blogs. Obviously, aesthetics are a theme with me.

From the second half: Overcompensating, which is a comic-blog about the exaggerated life of Jeffrey Rowland. I got really into this blog this summer because I think this guy is especially talented. At one point he somehow started talking about Snakes on a Plane in his blog (I think he also made shirts about it, which is another side project of his) and the producers of the movie got wind of it and invited him to the premiere where he met Samuel L. Jackson and everything. Regardless, I think the blog has a great cast of characters and...you guessed it...great graphics to boot.

"I'm the decider!"


At first, I didn't know in what order I should approach the pieces in Volume One so I just started clicking. Pretty soon I was bored and annoyed that nothing seemed to hold my interest long enough to compel me to dig through its often-poorly-conceived formatting or less-than-gripping story line or mediocre graphics. So I quickly stopped watching and revised my approach to ask:

1. what am I really looking for?
2. under what rhetoric would I actually deem something worthy of long perusal?

My conclusions are (naturally) incomplete and fallible, but they try to address our favorite problem of Access vs. Relevance. Far too much of the former and far too little of the latter. The internet seems to make everyone think he's the next poet laureate or the next dada painter.
I guess what I'm looking for when I explore these sites is the perfect combination of visual landscape, audio accompaniment and literary relevance that will move me. I think I (perhaps naïvely) want to feel some sort of satisfaction after I see or read a piece of "New Media Fiction" that seems to interlock its various components such that I feel compelled to see it again. Without sounding smarmy, this is the way I felt when I saw Group 3's series of parentheticals when we did the Spreeder exercise. I wanted to watch them flash on the screen again. I wanted to think about why they were so satisfying. But, truthfully, I'm hardly ever "moved" by the Internet. I don't go on the Internet to be "moved". That's why I read books. So that's the balance I'm trying to find with this new media stuff, but I'm not even sure if that's a noble or worthwhile pursuit. I did constantly think, though, in my quest for this beautiful movement of sorts, that as much as cool Flash graphics and interesting backbeats can pulse through some narrative, a bad poem or story is still a bad; a bad poem or story thinly veiled with complicated visuals and silly music is worse. And I know that it's not about whether I agree with what they're doing but what they're trying to do, but I think in many instances, the "trying" doesn't match what is feasibly absorbable by an Internet audience. Maybe it's too many things coming at once. Maybe it's not enough. It differs for each piece.
On that cynical note (and given my rhetoric I'm probably setting myself up to be brutally shot down because my choices are still purely subjective and someone could easily say: "But that's not good at ALL! That's the DUMBEST ONE!!" Ah well.), I would say my favorite was Urbanalities. I thought it was a unique and clever random-generation of words with well-done, simple visuals and a wonderful soundtrack that kept me interested even though I knew it was going to be 10 minutes from the get-go. (Usually I'm like: 10 MINUTES?? Are you out of you mind?? I don't have that kind of time to spend on the INTERNET!!) The beginning grabbed my attention right away with pulsing strings and comic-style randomly-generated words under a river and city scape. I was especially drawn to the part with the gunscope and the various "Possibly the Adjective Noun: Pronoun Verb Modifier" s. Then, after it finished, I clicked on Escha, which directed me to a site with some great music from the piece. Then I went back and clicked on Babel, which inadvertently directed me to Kate Pullinger's Inanimate Alice stuff, which I immediately liked and later found to be in ELO too.
All in all, I do applaud these pieces because they are at least attempting to bring more literature to a venue that seems otherwise poised to eradicate it (or, if not eradicate it, compress it to its most efficient form). However, I do not think an overwhelming majority of these pieces do it well. Yet. Hopefully they will.
Finally, and as we talked about, there's something to be said for having a niche. And there's something to be said about having a niche that works for you. But, even still, I didn't think Jim Andrews' Nio offered me much more than an idea of what "evocative synesthesia" could be and perhaps a cool new screensaver.

*Although I sound quite judgmental,there were quite a few other ones I did like including (but not limited to): Stir-Fry Texts, Strings, Oulipoems, The Jew's Daughter, and the Spatterlight ones (gawd, those can really suck you in for hours, eh?).

Got to like

"Faith" by Robert Kendall, using the new gadgetry to enhance the word. Text is the core, and the animation serves the core. If it's a bit corny at least the tendency is toward openness and inclusion rather than dark obscure hipness. You don't spend a lot of time waiting. You don't have to wonder where to put the cursor. It's a traditional transaction made a bit livelier by multimedia.

But "Girls' Day Out" has all that plus mystery, melodrama, the feel of genuine personal experience, plus elegy and spookiness. The technology both serves and reveals narrative, and I for one do like a story of all things. Certainly over doodling, which is what a good half of the collection feels like to me. (Doodling with a techno-noise soundtrack.) Kids, I know there's a generational thing at work here; anyone who didn't spend a few years gaming is probably less likely to enjoy rolling a cursor around a picture in search of that certain something. The re-imagined Red Riding Hood is fabulous, even so.

But a lot of these installations (because so many do feel like something you'd find yourself trapped in the dark with just around the sterile white wall of a museum) strike me as refrigerator magnet poetry without the tactile satisfaction. Frequently Asked Questions About Hypertext, indeed. An in-joke doubled over on itself, folding the academy and the technocracy into one tight little snark.

Top o' the Long Tail to you: Informed Comment, the blog of blogs for those who can't get enough of the bad news out of Iraq. http://www.juancole.com/

Tip o' the Tail: More blogs. This one I'm pretty sure is fake http://durrrrr.blogspot.com/

This one is by one of my old translators who lives in Baghdad. Naseer tends to the vainglorious but then he really was there (and still is). Used to run the 737 flight line forIraqi Airways. There was a great photo on his desk of him and Tariq Aziz: http://whowasthere.blogspot.com/

And it's really true that the net has created created space for freedoms in tightly regulated societies, like Iran. The hardliners have closed more than 100 newspapers there, and now they're jailing bloggers when they can find them. But they can't always find them. Here obscurity cuts both ways.

A very early one by a young journalist, with scads of links: http://www.hoder.com/weblog/

And another one by a groovy cleric named Abtahi. He was a vice president in the government of Mohammad Khatami, the reformer who promoted a dialogue among civilizations. A portly, quite oral fellow who actually eats the sweets that are laid out before a visitor in Iran, Abtahi is a great believer is serving youth, and got into the Net early. http://www.webneveshteha.com/en/weblog/?id=2146308455

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Power Rule; finding the the tail end

I had a bit of a tough time deciding what sites I could show that are popular yet, not everyone had seen, or unpopular but I frequented. Besides, who wants to hear that I think the site Treehouses.com is amazing? Not that there is a lot to do there, I just think it's awesome that it exists.

So, instead of one really far out there I have a compromise, first for my "tail end" site I suggest Bird and Moon. The original comic "Bird and Moon" is several years old and the basis for Rosemary Mosco's popularity. I admit this probably isn't too far out there on the tail but I think it's under-acknowledged.

For my second site, I want to suggest popular site, only it helps you find those little tail-end gems. Toothpaste for Dinner (according to it's FAQ) generates 40 million hits a month, qualifying it as a behemoth of internet culture. The simple comics are fun and often clever. However, I want to draw attention to a subset of this site but before I do I feel the need to warn you that sometimes the images on this site are graphic. Click at your own risk. The toothpaste for dinner Livejournal Picture Generator Brings up random pictures recently posted on people's livejournals. some of the pictures are amazing and I've found many hidden gems of comics, blogs, and photos this way. Just yesterday when thinking about this assignment I found some interesting art. Or check out this, this, or this. This takes people watching to a whole new level.

Experimentations in New Media

Though many of these stories are unique and challenging, but several them feel like exercises. It's as if they stretched to see what was possible and decided because they could do it, they should. I can deal with ones and zeroes flung carelessly enough across the screen to make me flinch for fear that one will hit me in the eye and I dealt with the garrish colors of Urbanity to see the tragic third part (12:00 get up 1:00 go slow... 9:00 no time for love), I just couldn't see the point of Star Wars one letter at a time. Sure the idea of seeing something created isn't necessarilty bad but the novelty wains after the third word or so. I'm reminded of that experiment where if you randomize the letters within a word but keep the first and last the same, it's still legible. (Or Soluhd I say lglebie?) Anyway, it's extremely painful to try and read because you can't process the word at once. Furthermore, I don't feel it's that innovative. Maybe if it were parsed into thoughts, syllables, something more it would be different but I don't feel it's a very meaningful breakdown.

That being said, there were several great pieces. Pieces like Red Rudubg Hood blur the distinctions between story and game. The whole piece reminded me of flash games of the "Point and Click" genre. Though often infuriatingly hard (anyone else tried to play 'My Diamond Baby'?) they often have a central story to tell. My favorite work, however, was The Fall of the Site of Marsha. The Fall of the Site of Marsha uses html webpages, the foundations of internet, to tell a story. Though the woman's demise into insanity isn't really anything new the idea that it is marked by changes in her website is. Not only is this being told through new media, but I feel like something different is being said about the harassing nature of the internet. If you've ever been to a website like Something Awful or Fark, this is the type of thing the people there would crucify. I kind of feel like this is the aftermath. I love the way they take new media to broach a new topic.

My Brilliant Career

I've been trying to decide exactly why I hate most blogs. It's not the poor writing, though there's alot of that on either end of the Long Tail. And it's not the narcissism - that's practically built into the process, that "Look at me, Read my thoughts" impulse (one could argue that all writers are narcissists). No, what I think bothers me is the wealth of self-aggrandizement that seems to fester in blogs once they've been around long enough to develop a bit of fan mail and a casual thumbs-up from a more popular blog (Scott Johnson at PowerLine raves: "YOUR VISUAL DESIGN IS INTERESTING...!!!") The bloggers begin doubting the words of anyone but themselves, become fascinated by the minutiae of their own life, assume that their readers want, nay, NEED to devour their observations on dogs, the Middle East, whatever. They reflect upon their brilliant career.
After pondering about a dozen of the blogs, I think that what bothers me is the lack of doubt - both interior (self-doubt - any acknowledgement that my little blog is just one of several kajillion trying to nab your time) and exterior (a lack of skepticism: my opinion is unchanging; it is also the most important thing you will read all day). The entire blog aesthetic (I'm referring here to the more personal blogs, not the big writing circles like Huffington Post) is really geared towards the creation of a Cult of Personality around the writer - I will tell you my opinions, my favorite music, and show you pictures of me on family vacation.
As an example, I checked out the blog All Things Beautiful . The page is beautifully designed: each posting begins with a gorgeous piece of artwork (often Renaissance, often religious), that has absolutely nothing to do with the posts, which tread relatively common conservative ground (War on Christmas, Liberals are cowards), and occasionally twist into fascinating logic pretzels (Carter-loving liberals are also Holocaust-denier Apologists; THAT is a pretty awesome accusation). The Biography of the site (I'm sorry, "The Vision") is:

Imagine having a copy of Vogue in front of you Imagine it moving Imagine it having sound Imagine things in context and being able to purchase what you like immediately The point of engagement is the point of purchase Simply swipe your credit card on the side of the wireless touch-screen tablet It is not the Web it is not TV it is not a Magazine but a combination of the best of all these media All Things Beautiful is a magazine in motion™ A still point in a turning world A moment for yourself Engagement Enrichment Fullfilment.

I love how "Magazine in Motion" is trademarked.
It just seems strange that what appears to be the main selling point of blogs - that it's written by normal people, for normal people, cut-through-the-bull-of-pop-culture - quickly fades away, because in a sense, the writers of the blogs begin to feel "important." People are reading me. I am become Celebrity. Another blogger couldn't stop laughing (in text form, so we could share in her joy) at how she kept on misspelling Labyrinth (Labiarynth, OMG LOL).
Am I being too critical? Certainly, I expect alot out of stuff that I read, and blogs by their nature are more amateurish than anything that's published (blanket statement, but blogs don't have to go through editors, publishers, even any rewrites). Perhaps I'm just too cynical to accept anyone sincere enough to put Rembrandt's "The Return of the Prodigal Son" over a posting celebrating the execution of Saddam Hussein (completely sincerely, mind you). It makes me want to write a blog about how stupid the Internet is. Except somebody beat me to it.