Tag Archives: interview

Lytro In Depth…

Some answers to our questions…

Following our post on Lytro’s revolutionary Light Field camera technology, we emailed them with some questions.

The nice people at Lytro’s PR agency (The OutCast Agency) have replied, and we offer you their unedited answers, below.

The most interesting point to note, is that it seems Lytro’s Light Field tech will play friendly with other lenses — so in theory it’s not out of the question to shoe-horn it into an existing camera-bag full of legacy kit. That’s exciting for any pro photographer with an investment in ‘classic glass’. More ambiguous is their claim that ‘we make use of the pixels you would traditionally throw away’ — they seem to be focussed here on most people’s on-screen viewing experience rather than the (admittedly) few of us who produce large, high-resolution prints, and whom rather than ‘throwing away’ pixels, resort to 50+ megapixel digital backs for fashion shoots… if indeed they’re counting on substituting depth information for resolution, then I admit to a diminished interest in their technology. ‘Better than HD’ resolution is, after all, fewer pixels than I’m using typing this on my MacBook…

But wait and see. Of course, we’ll only really be able to tell you more when we get our hands on one of their cameras…

BST: When will we get to see a product shot of the camera?

Lytro: The camera will be released later this year.

Is the technology in theory compatible with legacy lenses? From a quick look at Dr Ng’s original papers, it would seem that the Light Field microlenses are positioned after a traditional lens assembly — so is it possible that a Light Field body could work with classic lenses?

Lytro’s light field technology works with any camera that involves a sensor behind a lens. The magic is in the light field sensor and the software the processes the light field into pictures.

Why release what appears to be a consumer camera at a point where the consumer camera market is rapidly losing market share to smartphones?

We have a significant lead in making this technology available to consumers and believe that we can forever change how we all take and experience pictures. The camera market is in fact projected to grow from $38B in 2010 to $44B by 2015 and we believe Lytro technology could even expand that demand.

Any licensing deals in the works with the big players (ok we don’t really expect an answer to that)?

Our current strategy is to introduce this technology to people in a Lytro-branded camera that is fast, simple and magical to use.

Is the system *in theory* capable of working with video? We’re excited both about single-lens 3D and real-time depth-based compositing!

Video is entirely possible with light field. It will just require solving difficult software challenges. It is on our long-term roadmap but will not be available in our first product.

The demo images on the site are fairly low-rez — is there a tradeoff between resolution and the Light Field capabilities?

The amount of megapixels, or resolution, is fundamentally about how big of a 2D photograph one can print. So, when viewed on even big screen monitors, the 14 Megapixel camera ends up throwing away over 90% of the pixels. In fact, the lens on most point-and-shoots have a fraction of the resolution of their sensors! With light field technology, we make use of the pixels you would traditionally throw away. We use those pixels to retain the depth information of the scene. This has many benefits including, focusing after the picture is taken to any subject in the scene, on to displaying 3D pictures, even holographic when that is available. Light field resolution provides better than HD quality today.

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Face On

The 3D projection installation coming to a festival near you this summer.

Face On is an interactive art installation incorporating a 3D face powered by a 10,000 lumen projector, bespoke 3D graphics and video content combined with laser sensors. As a piece of public art, the installation dramatically raises the stakes of what can be done with projector technology as well as providing a new surface for artists to work on.

The installation is the product of Hear Colours who worked with a number of different artists to produce the work. We spoke to one of them, avant garde artist Patrycja Grimm.

BST: How did your involvement in Face On come about?

PATRYCJA: I got involved in the project through a friend who recommended me as I was often in an audio visual environment and would wear colourful faces and costumes on a daily basis.

I use my face as an alternative surface on which to paint; I experiment with colors, shapes, decorative writing and tagging the skin. Through this I’m looking for a more graphical way of reflecting my own personal being away from the traditional use of beauty make up.

As I grew more experienced I found people’s response to my self-expressed exhibition very positive, and this soon lead me to be invited into professional collaborations like the Face On project with Nicola Romanini.

What are your ambitions for the project?

The aim was to create animation with expandin face-paintings and also capture facial expressions to use as samples for each of the sensors that the public will activate. With Nic’s agreement my proposal was to implement tribal designs from Kabuki, the Congo, Kathakali, and Papua New Guinea — as these are disappearing arts, along with more contemporary face-paints — such as clowns, pierrot, and some modifications with free-styling. It was a great opportunity to combine my need to paint with video art and interactive installation.

With these designs I wanted to reflect the subjects impression, aura, as well as their natural qualities and energies.

The project is visually stunning, but what — other than spectacle — do you hope people will take away from it?

From my personal point of view, I think Face On has good potential for interactivity which brings about a great joy of discovery.

As well as making people perform, The Mask brings a relaxed confidence about their own image which can now be used as a canvas for a visual game and hopefully reflection on our appearance in the era of absolute conformism.

Face On will be at the Glastonbury Festival 26-28th June and Glade Festival 16-19th July.

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An Interview with Andrew Logan

The Alternative Miss World contest returns this year after a 5 year hiatus. We talked to its founder, Andrew Logan.

BST: Why are you holding AMW this year?

ANDREW LOGAN: Jes Benstock of Living Cinema shot the last event but didn’t have enough money to edit. So he then raised money with a new idea which was to take it right back to 1972 and to show how culturally it had influenced so many people and things. With me, I suppose, at the head of it. It is very much a family and friends thing. Very family-orientated but absolutely huge at the same time.

Can anyone enter?

Yes. I think we have 19 or 20 entrants this year.

What are the criteria for entry?

The contestants kind of find their way there. We don’t have auditions. It’s about transformation. Of course, it would be nice to have hundreds of people. But it’s quite tight and everyone takes 2 minutes on stage. And if you’ve got 20 people on stage that takes an hour. It kind of limits itself — finds its own level.

Can you confirm who the judges are this year?

We’ve got Ken Russell, Zandra Rhodes, Richard O’Brien, Tim Curry, Amy Lamé, and Betty — my housekeeper of many many years. And Tony Elliott. And then Philip Hughes who gave me a wonderful show up in Ruthin Craft Centre up in North Wales and he also published the book on my work. Altogether there are about twelve.

[The judges tend to be] the kind of people I’ve been involved with. And people that I admire. I’m not into names, names mean nothing to me. It’s just a bit of paper. That’s not the point of it.

You’ve described AMW as a family affair. Can you explain a bit more about that?

My brother Quentin has been in quite a few now. And my sister has been in every one. My mother judged it a number of times. My brother Peter used to the music and him and his wife — they both entered it. It was in 1973, when Derek [Jarman] shot it. Peter was doing the music so he had to get up — as the music was playing, walk up and down. It has always been a family thing.

Where do the similarities to Miss World start and end?

Contestants have a questionnaire which they fill in. Daywear-swimwear-eveningwear. Great isn’t it? It’s three outfits. It’s also fantastic to have an interview. It’s such a simple idea really — we just enlarged on that. In 1972 Miss World was huge in the UK, like it is in India is now. Every household watched it. Every household! No one escaped it.

Crufts Dog Show was the real inspiration. I’d been to Crufts Dog Show and we had one of the forms, for the dogs. Which kind of inspired the form for AMW.

There have been several films made already of the contest. Can you tell us a bit about the film that was made of the 1978 contest?

[The director Richard Gayor] was interested in disappearing tribes — so he chose us. He had been to 1975 so wanted to film 1978 and actually made a very beautiful movie. That’s the movie you should see. It’s about the event and the build up. It was the first time that 35mm handheld cameras had been used in this country and it was lit beautifully. Very sensitively done. I remember the credits — they said the AMW in mirror pieces. We laid it out on velvet and threw it up in the air and then reversed it. It produced a wonderful, magical movie and it’s timeless. You look at it and you wouldn’t really know it was 1978.

This year’s theme is The Elements. Can you tell us about how the themes work?

[The central theme of transformation] is timeless. There is a continuum between this generation of contestants and previous ones. Sometimes, I’m sitting there and someone comes out and I think — I’ve seen this before. Of course I don’t say that — I smile and applaud. Of course I’ve seen it before — there are only so many things you can do with the human body. Even though some of the transformations are absolutely fantastic.

There is always a theme. But I don’t know what the contestants are going to come as. I have the form, I read out the name and the description of the outfit and we do that all the way through the performance.

When you launched AMW the UK was in recession — and now we are again. It seems that AMW comes back whenever we need it most.

When I started the event and as it unfolded, I saw more and more that I wanted to continue with this event ‘til I dropped dead — brought in on a wheelchair. It’s fascinating that the format remains exactly the same and yet you get these things that happen. We had the war in ‘82- that was Miss Aldershot [who won]. There was punk in ‘75 — that was shot by Mike Ballard — the art editor for Interview, Andy Warhol’s magazine. The Alternative Miss World seems to indicate what is happening — or what is going to happen.

What’s the most surprised you’ve been by what someone came out wearing?

I think it might have been before someone came out. And it was my friend, the late, great Divine. I met him through Zandra and he came to the Alternative Tower of London. It was 1977 — it was the Queen’s Jubilee and we had a day-long party and he came to that. We became firm friends and he co-hosted the 1978 event.

I was getting ready in a caravan at the back because it was being held in a circus tent. I’d only ever seen him as a man — as Glenn. And a door opened and there… was Divine. He said, The look on your face, I’ll never forget it. I was a bit surprised.

Most of the others… Ok. When the donkey fell of the catwalk. That was a surprise to me. The donkey was the throne because it was in a circus. The donkey was fine because he fell on all these soft contestants in their outfits. I really wanted to have an elephant but it’s a good thing we didn’t because if that had fallen on the contestants it would have been most unfortunate. The whole thing is about surprises — you never know what will happen. All you can do is stand there and let the thing unfurl.

This year, a lot of health and safety seems to have crept in. however, it means that you have to use your imagination even more — so if you can’t use fire — what will I use? The postitive effect is that it stretches the imagination even more.

I remember the last contest drew some controversy because the then director of the Royal AcademySir Norman Rosenthal – took part.

Norman’s great fun. He got some artists to help him out, including Sarah Lucas. He didn’t win, by the way.

Do you see AMW as anti-establishment?

It’s what people make it. I just put it on — that’s it. I leave all the interpretation to others.


Other than the films, what other documentation do you have of previous contests?

Each contestant before they go on is photographed. So we have a documentation right back to the beginning. David Bailey came one year — he did 1973 — and took some pictures. That documentation is really important.

I want to do a book of these wonderful images. I have everything here. I’m just waiting for someone to come along and say they’d like to do an AMW book which I’d be very happy with.

You’ve mentioned Piers Atkinson whose work is currently part of the Stephen Jones hat exhibition at the V&A. Do you feel like AMW has nurtured talents like his?

Piers started here in 1995 for the Fire AMW. He’s actually here [in the studio] today. He’d just left college and came up and helped me work on the contestant numbers that they wear.

We have all these funny little customs and you need someone to help out with them. He worked with me for a number of years and then went on to work with Zandra. He did Daily Rubbish for Fashion Week and now he’s producing a souvenir programme for AMW.

Have you ever held AMW outside of London?

It’s very English but I’ve negotiated many times over the years to get it held someone else in the world. Places such as Japan, America — which was going to be a huge tour of all the big cities of America. Fantastic! Well, that didn’t happen.

And India but then a man set himself alight for Miss World. And we thought, well it might be a bit difficult — they might get a bit muddled up… I would love to take it somewhere else. We have many Russians coming this year if we can get their visas sorted out.

I think AMW is very English but it would transfer somewhere else but it’s never had the opportunity.

To conclude, can you tell me a bit about Andrew Logan?

I was trained as an architect. I think I am very different from any other artist anyhow. I think my work is unique. There’s no one else working like I do. I just happen to be based in London. But I am a great traveller. If I wasn’t an artist I think I would have been a traveller.

[Thanks to Andrew and his team for the interview and photo access. AMW 2009 - The Elements, is at the Roundhouse, 2 May 2009. Book tickets here. Jes Benstock's film, The British Guide To Showing Off, is due for release later this year]

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Paul Hartnett Interview

Photographer Paul Hartnett has been documenting the club scene since before many of our readers were even old enough to sneak out at night. In advance of his upcoming show in February, he kindly granted BigShinyThing an exclusive interview

From the early London punk scene, through Leigh Bowery and the clubs kids, to street culture in Japan and the Asian mainland, Hartnett has been there to capture the look while it’s still fresh and raw. We were keen to ask a few questions of the man who’s seen it all.

BST: You’ve been documenting youth and street culture for over 30 years now. What is it about those worlds that keeps you excited?

PAUL HARTNETT: I started documenting street and club culture at the age of eighteen as a means of social lubrication. I wanted to get close to the key punk players such as Soo Catwoman and Sid Vicious, who lived in the next road to me in West London back then. I wanted to go beyond the visual. A camera seemed a perfect excuse to talk, exchange ideas, develop a rapport. Sometimes there’d be very little beyond the hair spray and eye-liner, sometimes there were all kinds of viewpoints, the most brilliant perspectives.

At the core of my work there is a continuing look at customising, how individuals have crafted a look. My pictures are portraits, executed with a Kodak Instamatic, a Polaroid camera and a range of Nikon stuff. I’m not a technical person. For me it has always been about faces, dimly lit, content driven, not style driven. Faces, colours, textiles, soul. The messed-up, the dressed-up. The fucked-up.

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You’ve recently been exploring Chinese youth culture. What were the most interesting things they’re up to?

I recently visited Shanghai and Beijing for i-D magazine. I was involved with a street and club exhibition at Source’s Kong Gallery and this was a way in to meeting some creative souls. Visiting fashion schools such as IFA Paris and Raffles Design Institute was my focus, away from the gallery. There is such a rawness to Chinese fashion. It is often quite crude and quite different to the work Chinese students do at the likes of Central Saint Martin’s in London or FIT and Parsons in NYC. Having observed over 600 fashion students at work, having photographed a selected few, I gained insights. The Chinese are so very different to the Japanese. The work at Shinjuku’s Bunka, for example, is on another planet compared to what is happening in Shanghai and Beijing. Yep, it’s superior. That said, I was fascinated by the grounded approach of so many students at IFA Paris in particular. It’s a place to watch, they certainly have the technical skills.

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You’ve covered the most important musical and style movements of the last 30 years. Which of those do you feel the most empathy with, and what’s going on at the moment that you are most excited by?

I saw The Sex Pistols perform many weeks before the Punk Festival of 1976. It was just electric, kind of like Brecht entering the stage. Before that I’d only seen Sparks, Bowie and Cockney Rebel perform live. I was in a band as a teenager, Missing Presumed Dead, so inspired by the DIY ethos of Punk and Power Pop. What I love about fashion and music is when people are totally fired up, and a bit ‘bonkers’ with it. Really exploding internally and doing something individual externally, going beyond a commercial formula, a safe established pattern.

Right now there’s a musician named NIYI who DJs at club nights such as Gauche Chic. As a producer, NIYI is unpredictable, he uses the most unexpected samples. He is very playful and could certainly be categorised under ‘bonkers’. He is my #1 muse right now — a joy to photograph, when he can be bothered to turn up.

You’ve run clubs as well as documenting those run by others: have you always been that involved in the scenes you cover photographically? Have you ever had issues with access — scenes or subcultures who you wanted to document, but who simply closed ranks and didn’t let you near them? How do you deal with that? Who or what scene have you not covered, but would most have wished to?

I ran a club named Kawaii in London back in 1983. It was very inspired by Japan’s club culture. I also ran the world’s first club for drag kings, women who dress as men, back in 1995. The majority were female to male transvestites, some were heavy-duty transexuals. Every Thursday night there’d be 150 toughies, and me. There was one simple rule: NO CAMERAS! This allowed me a somewhat strategic exclusivity.

I’ve never had issues re access. I’ve had good coverage over the last three decades, and I tend to be guest-listed without ever having met the promoters. Door whores just know who I am. Being fat and a few months short of fifty seems to be a plus nowadays. Verification for clubs abroad is easier than it was in the past due to my website, people can check out editorial content, photographic approach, fast as click-click-click. Some fetish clubs can be stand-offish, they live in fear of News International and local councils.

The only club I have ever experienced shit with is that shit club named Boom Box. Oh, what a Hoxton hole. Just so hyped, so over-rated, and so over. I took a few pics… then pressed the delete button and left. I have little patience for fashion sheep.

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You seem both fascinated by style and its associated fantasy worlds, but your photos are raw and uncompromising — you talk about showing the ‘reality of fashion’. What does that mean to you?

Take a look at street-style pics in magazines such as i-D and Dazed & Confused and you will often find credits for an entire team of mag slags; hair stylists, make-up performers… an entire circus. To me this ain’t street-style, it’s manipulation. What I have done for the last three decades is SNAP with seconds of seeing. No touching, no altering, no upgrading. SNAP. Same location, same same same reality. Sure, sometimes I’ll ask for a plastic bag to be put aside or an event bracelet to be concealed, that’s all. So many magazines provide clothes that their advertisers wish to be promoted. That sucks.

What’s the future of street and club photography as you see it? What’s the role for ‘photographers’ as such, when the ‘kids of today’ have MySpace and a bunch of club photo websites on which to show off their poses, and every phone is a camera?

The Internet has come along and fucked so many people sideways. The music industry is in a tizz, everybody
seems to be online so much of the time. Punk’s DIY ethos is everywhere. People pimp their profiles to a narcissistic extent on myspazz and facebore. There are street-style photographers such as Facecunter (I think that’s his name) who snap at fashion events, but in a really bad way. So cheesy and hap-hap-happy. All very Grazia or Closer, Heatish.

I think it’s great that so many people are taking photographs, even if it with with dinky telephone toys. I love that crap quality, that low-res fuzz. I love the diversity available. That said, I continue in my own way. I have CCTV eyes, and pay an almost forensic attention to detail. I like clarity and the portraiture I have amassed is for a future audience I have never met.

Paul’s work will be on display at the Vibe Bar in Brick Lane from 14 February 2008. Go see. Also check out the PaulHartnett.Com and PYMCA sites.

[Thanks to Adz!]

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This Is An Interview

We’re massive fans of online/offline art publication This Is A Magazine. On the occasion of the release of their latest Compendium, co-creator Andy Simionato kindly granted us an email interview.

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BST: What was/is the vision behind This Is A Magazine? Has it changed/evolved over time?

This is a magazine about nothing.

The production values of TIAM are extraordinary — what is the nature of the relationship between This Is A Magazine and its printers/paper suppliers?

The Compendia are published with the help of a paper sponsor (Sappi) and the long standing collaboration with the print-suppliers Nava Milano. We work very closely with Nava on the production of the books which in a way become the result of the conversion of industrial processes into ideas and back again. “Who I Think I Am” was awarded one of the print industry’s most prestigious honors, the Gold Ink Award for Best Hard-cover Book world-wide thanks to our partners Nava.

Does your publication generate business and leads for the artists involved?

Each artist relationship is unique, some publishing for the first time such as Atsushi Hasegawa or Boogie, others are already established such as David Shrigley or Antonio Riello. Each collaboration evolves into a world in itself, each with its own particular orbit.

Personally, between making our own artworks and producing the various editions Karen, Ann and I rarely become fully conscious of the notoriety the project brings. Sometimes we get invited to art fairs and openings, which is always nice. But ultimately I think business does not always know what to do with us.

Is there any brief to the artists involved or is it simply ‘whatever you want to do’/'go crazy’?

Although we don’t offer predetermined themes or briefs to artists, much of what you see published is the result of a dialogue and (sometimes) several exchanges of varying vivacity between ourselves and the artists.

The content of this Compendium seems less political than previous ones — was this a conscious decision?

The short answer is that each edition is a by-product of our experiences.

The long answer is that with “Who I think I am” we wanted to make a collection of psycho-dramas played out in determining the parameters of that social-contract called “identity”. The book begins by asking for the reader’s signature of agreement that he/she will be required to “complete” the book, and therefore the reader is implied as an explicit and necessary part in determining the artist’s individual works, and ultimately the book’s collective vision. The book ends with a bag of cutouts from all the Compendia to date that can be used to complete the final chapter, which is presented as empty pages of coloured craft-paper. This is a game of empowerment where the political structure of publishing, where the roles of passive-reader and dead-author are inverted.

Who are your target market?

We are not organized or systematic in our approach to marketing, in our very first issue we opened with a warning: “Marketing studies have shown that you probably will not like this magazine”. We work directly with some bookstores mainly because we like them and know the owners and people who shop there, otherwise we trust that we can connect with potential readers through whatever means available, for example word-of-web.

What is the intended reaction to the content (if there is one)?

We want everything to come up to the surface, like in an earthquake. Then the reader can sift through and find whatever is of interest/use, and (we hope) rebuild new meanings.

Where do you see This Is A Magazine going next?

The publication started as an online flipbook, with micro-animations, from there we moved to streaming QuickTime editions (which we called Peepshows), followed by a PowerPoint issue which was intended to be performed, an animated-gif issue and most recently we are exploring raw programming languages so that the issues can be generated in real-time viewing. During these years we have produced a full-length DVD and read-along giant-picture folio book, a bunch of other Compendia which took various forms, the most recent being “Who I think I am”. Where to next? We have 2 squeaky-new online issues ready to launch including the hidden “jonkers worst comic ever”, and we have started production on a new 2008 compendium called “Trust me, you will not be sorry”, all made from smoke and mirrors and other magic.

With thanks to Andy and Karen Donnachie and also Simon and David at Someone.

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Jesse Shapins on The Yellow Arrow Project

‘Urban Dramaturge’ Jesse Shapins talks to BigShinyThing about locative media, reality programming and Washington DC hardcore.

Yellow Arrow is a long-running international media project which explores urban narrative through physical tagging of locations, text messaging and the Internet.

Not content with a nice brand, global reach, and thousands of participants, Yellow Arrow has recently launched Capitol of Punk, an ambitious, city-wide exhibition/media trail in Washington D.C., tracing the places and people of the city’s harcore punk scene. They are also very keen to work on a UK-based project: if any of you have opportunities or ideas, please get in touch!

YA’s Project Director, Jesse Shapins, kindly granted BigShinyThing this exclusive email interview.

BST: First of all can you tell us what the Yellow Arrow project is and how it works?

SHAPINS: Yellow Arrow is a new way of exploring cities. It began 2.5 years ago as a street art project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Since then, Yellow Arrow has grown to over 35 countries and 380 cities globally and become a way to experience and publish ideas and stories via text messaging on your mobile phone and interactive maps online. The project offers curated tours of specific cities and the ability to browse thousands of single points of interest submitted by people. We call this first dimension Yellow Arrow CityTXT Tours and the second The Yellow Arrow M.A.A.P. The “M.A.A.P.” acronym signifies that Yellow Arrow itself is a new map, and specifically means “Massively Authored Artistic Publication.”

The project is built around the general philosophy that every place is distinct and engaging if seen from a unique perspective. With this foundation, Yellow Arrow enables every place to become an attraction. Stories are always tied to unique details such as back-alley murals or unique street markers, as well as classic locations like the Empire State Building in New York or the Reichstag in Berlin. Overall, the aim is for Yellow Arrow to provide a frame and platform to see the world in a new way.

The first CityTXT Tour takes place in Washington D.C. as part of our recent Capitol of Punk project. To begin a CityTXT Tour you send the keyword for the location (e.g. Mall) to the number 67067 and then you begin receiving a series of messages that guides you through the streets. People publish to “The Yellow Arrow M.A.A.P.” by placing uniquely-coded stickers at locations of their choice and then sending a text message from their phone with the story they would like associated with that place. When someone else sees the sticker, they send the unique code and then receive the author’s original message back.

In more general terms, we see Yellow Arrow as evolving a true 21st century publishing platform that merges conventional editorial publishing and user-generated content. The structure leverages the power of community publishing set forth by new media, while maintaining elements of a traditional publishing model to support cohesive curation and foster high-quality content.

How many MAAPers do you currently have and what is the traffic like? How many countries do you now cover?

There are MAAPmakers in 35 countries and 380 cities internationally. The largest communities are in Northern Europe and the United States, but arrows have been placed in Kenya, Mexico, Argentina, China, India, and Russia among others.

Is it completely self-supporting financially? You sell the stickers and merchandise, but does that pay for the SMS traffic etc?

Yellow Arrow is one of many initiatives we have. Counts Media has invested heavily in the project and the dedication has been to the integrity of the brand and content. On the other hand, The Yellow Arrow M.A.A.P. is streamlined so that expenses are very low.

Now that American Idol has made Americans engage with text messaging, have you seen an explosion in interest and are you planning to publicise the project more in the UK where text messaging has been popular for years?

It’s no coincidence that initial creators of the project all spent extensive time in Europe. That’s where we were introduced to text messaging. When we first started the project here in the US, what seemed very natural to us was definitely very new to even more advanced technology circles in the US.

Now, though, text messaging has definitely taken off here and we don’t have to explain really how it works anymore. We’ve been very excited about that. We’ve never considered this a technology project. It’s always been a cultural project, and the most unique technological aspect is the creative application within the overall philosophy of Yellow Arrow.

We already have a small MAAPmaker community, and like everywhere, would be very excited to see it grow and have more curiosities on the map from the UK. And we’d be thrilled to create a CityTXT Tour anywhere in Britain. Maybe some completely conventional tourist destination like Newcastle or something [smiles] But seriously. I love the cities of the UK and think there is a huge opportunity to create some great projects there with the right partners.

Do you think that accusations of creating (street)space junk and litter may hamper the project as it proliferates? Do you have a contingency plan if it does?

We’ve been asked this question now for over 2 years and to date there has never been a complaint or a problem. There is a clear culture established in the community that encourages stickers to be placed carefully either with permission or in places where stickers and street art already proliferate.

That said, the Capitol of Punk project is the first instance where you can experience Yellow Arrow without any existing physical marker in the landscape. You can download the PDF map online that has all of the location information and keywords for the tour starting points. This definitely points in a direction where Yellow Arrow is a completely digital experience.

Can you tell us a little bit about Counts Media and its relationship to the project/locative media in general?

Counts Media was founded by the well-known New York experimental theatre artist Michael Counts in 2005. The company grew out of the past work that Michael had done that placed audiences at the center of the experience and took them on a journey through space. Yellow Arrow was one of the first projects the company took on. We see the future as a convergence of information and entertainment across multiple channels, and we work to produce experiences that from the beginning are conceived with specific elements multiple media channels. So, it’s not about writing a book like the “Da Vinci Code” and then making the movie and the game. It’s about creating entertainment that spans different media from the start.

No media company today can deny the importance of “reality programming” due to the mass access to digital media production. From this perspective, our opinion is that place is a very interesting lens through which to engage reality. By approaching reality through place, you necessarily engage collective stories and history. And if place is a key subject, locative media are a natural means of making this content available and interactive.

Here in the UK everyone is getting very excited about the potential of mobile content (especially with regards to marketing) but very few people seem to have a grasp on an actual exciting and engaging deliverable. Counts Media seems to have an idea — can you illuminate?

In our mind, the future of mobile content is in many ways the same as the history of content to date. People are engaged by interesting stories — both fiction and non-fiction. Of course an SMS novel or an SMS documentary is different than a standard book or feature length film. The format is different, so things like the length and pacing have to adjust. And the potential for interactivity is much greater, so content should be designed from the beginning with the experience of the user in mind. But the same general principles of compelling stories and inspiring ideas apply.

It also seems to us that you are creating a new medium of urban stories — it could also be seen as a wiki. Are you concerned that it will be hi-jacked by crass commercial messages (i.e. ‘McDonald’s this way’) attempting to gain a bit of street cred or — like YouTube — do you have the attitude that it’s all content/helps you on the way to world domination. Is there a masterplan (that you can tell us about… )?

I’d say our approach incorporates both Wikipedia and YouTube. This is illustrated by the multiple dimensions of editorial publishing and user-generated content. We see the major value of Yellow Arrow as bringing together these two models, such that the philosophy, brand and community drive high-quality content. This is then supported by the technology, that both enables the delivery and submissions of content. There will surely be crass location-based marketing and it might use a system similar to Yellow Arrow. However, if we stay true to the values of providing a new way of exploring cities and a frame for seeing the world in a new way, I’m confident that the community and marketplace will respect and support that.

On that same point, do you think your brand strong enough to resist the incursion of commercial brands entering the same space?

We hope so. And our brand is commercial, in that we aim to make money to further our goal of enabling a new form of travel and publishing that enriches people’s relationship to the world around them.

Finally, can you tell us a bit about your current project and how it has been received in the Washington DC area?

This project is something we’re really excited about.

Both in the U.S. and internationally, Washington D.C. is known for the White House (and therefore home to good ‘ol Mr. Bush), for the hundreds of national monuments and thousands of politicians from all over. But Washington D.C. is also home to one of the seminal movements of American music: D.C. hardcore and punk. The music scene is deeply tied to the city and a powerful embodiment of creative localism. We thought it fit very well within the philosophy of Yellow Arrow to showcase this music scene that emerged in the late 70s there and still continues on today.

We asked musicians and others involved in the music scene to tell stories about places that meant something to them. For the past year, we’ve been collecting these stories and anecdotes to create short documentary videos and the text message tours.

The tours include quotations from D.C. luminaries such as Ian Mackaye, Ian Svenonius and Marion Barry. To take the tours, people download a PDF map on the site with the starting points and specific instructions.

People can also watch the 10 documentary videos that give insight into the stories of each location. The videos feature original music from the scene and extensive interviews with musicians. People can view the videos on the website or download them directly to an iPod as a video podcast in iTunes.

And people have asked “Why is D.C. the “Capitol of Punk” instead of “Capital of Punk”? Our choice was intentional. We do not proclaim that D.C. is the “capital,” in the sense of the global center of punk music. “Capital” implies power. The word “capitol” specifically refers to a building, and in particular in Washington, it refers to the “Capitol,” the place where the nation’s congress meets. In this sense, “Capitol of Punk” is a metaphor for the city of Washington as a place where the musical cultures of punk collide and grow. By extension, this is a provocation for thinking about the collision of ideas and values that takes place daily in the “Capitol” building. As with everything in D.C. and true to the democratic values of Yellow Arrow, politics are unavoidable in this project.

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Henry Jenkins: On Convergence Culture

Henry Jenkins’ new book tells the story of emergent participatory media. He kindly granted BigShinyThing an exclusive email interview.

For a while now, we’ve been paying great attention to the writings of Henry Jenkins, Director of the Comparative Media Studies graduate program at MIT.

Over the last few years, he’s argued that the participatory creation led by fans and gamers heralds a transformation in creative media. His new book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide ties together many of the threads of his research, and was recently published to rave reviews from all sides.

While impatiently waiting for our copy to arrive, we caught up with Jenkins via email to get our readers the lowdown on his persuasive arguments about fan culture, collaborative production, and the social networking site backlash.

BST: We’re still waiting for your book to turn up in the mail! Can you tell us a little about its premise?

JENKINS: We live in an age where every story, image, brand, relationship will play itself out across the broadest possible array of media channels. This convergence is shaped top-down by decisions made in corporate boardrooms by companies wishing to tap their cross-media ownership and bottom-up by decisions made in teen’s bedrooms as they want to consume the media they want where they want it and when they want it.

Consumers are gaining a new power as they learn to operate within the knowledge cultures emerging within a networked society and as they learn to share media they’ve produced with each other.

Right now, they are acquiring and mastering these skills through their play with popular culture, but soon they will be applying them towards other powerful institutions. And Stuff.

You are a fan of fans, and argue that fans have long been ahead of the convergence curve, with their understanding that the ‘text’ of the stories they care about is open to engagement, involvement, transformation. Now a much wider community is participating in cultural creation. Is there an essential difference between fan-created content and other content contributions from the ‘former audience’?

Fans have been and are likely to continue to be the shock troops in this transformation of our culture — highly motivated, passionately committed, and socially networked. They are early adopters of new technologies and willing to experiment with new relationships to culture. (We might also throw into this category other highly motivated groups such as bloggers and gamers.)

There are signs that fan culture practices and products are spreading throughout the culture. Recent statistics from the Pew Center of Internet and American Life found that more than half of teens online produce some form of media and many of them shared what they produced by others. They are part of the participatory culture I am describing. So are people who join discussion forms or sign up for RSS feeds to get more information about their favorite band or television program.

As writers like Will Wright and Raph Koster have suggested, there is a pyramid of participation. Not everyone will want to spend massive amounts of time generating new content — some will simply want to engage with content others have produced. Not everyone will write fan stories — some may share critical responses with the authors. Not everyone will want to spoil reality television programs — some will simply enjoy the new relationships to the program the spoiler community helps to create for them. But the expansion of this participatory culture changes the context in which media content gets produced and distributed and thus it impacts all of us one way or another. Given this, I would imagine fans may still enjoy a privileged status in participatory culture but more and more people will benefit from the once invisible cultural work of fans.

As you define it, is ‘convergence’ an historical event, which has already occurred, an epoch (like the Renaissance), during which we are living, or something experiential, which is happening to different groups of people at differing times, in different ways?

That’s an interesting question. In some ways, each of these would be accurate.

In the book, I challenge those who think of convergence as a technological process and feel that we are a long way from integrating our communications technologies. I suggest we are already living in a convergence culture if we take advantage of the many kludged together ways that content travels across media platforms right now.

But I also see convergence as an ongoing process — not an endpoint — so it doesn’t make sense to read it as a historical event that has already occured, even if some aspects of the change have been building over an extended period of time at this point. I do think convergence is going to define our relationship to media for an extended period of time forward so it is in some ways an epoch.

But I also think the transitional nature of the present moment, as well as the uneven distribution of media technologies, means that we are not all living in convergence culture in the same ways or the same degrees. If it is an epoch, then, it is one that is just beginning and the long term consequences of these shifts are going to play themselves out for years and years to come.

The ‘Renaissance Man’ was a new creature, in that ‘his’ identity was open to invention, construction, reassembly, interrogation. What defines the ‘Convergence Person’, if such a person exists as a type? Who exemplifies this, and why?

The Renaissance Man was someone who sought to contain within their own individual intellect as much as possible of what anyone on the planet at that time knew.

Today, with the explosion of information we are all experiencing, it is simply not humanly possible to know everything. Most of us alive today know more about a broader range of topics than most of the people living in the Renaissance but we know a much smaller portion of what could be known that the idealized vision of the Renaissance Man suggests.

This is where Pierre Levy’s notion of Collective Intelligence enters the picture. Today, we see knowledge as dispersed across social networks. Everybody knows something, nobody knows everything, and what is known by any member is accessible to the group on demand. The Convergence Person thus knows how to tap that network to get the knowledge they need and knows how to make meaningful contributions back to the group in return. The Renaissance Man was a creature of hierarchy and expertise; the Convergence Person is a creature of adhocracy and pooled information.

Do you feel that converged culture offers specific opportunities to — or imposes particular obligations on — the ‘official’ creators of fictional worlds (open-endedness, unresolved story arcs etc)?

In the book, I offer two terms to refer to the aesthetic goals of convergence culture.

First, works seek to be cultural attractors. If consumption is now social and communal, then certain works will attract together people of similar interests so that they can begin to pool knowledge together. To do that, they often must tap existing cultural references in the way that Lost or The Matrix or Harry Potter can be said to do.

Second, works seek to be cultural activators. They give audiences something to do — some activity, some roles and goals, some meaningful form of participation. This can be literally the case in terms of the mechanisms of participation that surround reality television or computer games. Or it can simply be the show embeds lots of secrets and thus opens itself up to a prolonged process of decryption, as seems to be the case of Lost. There are plenty of shows that achieve the first, far fewer which achieve the second.

Once you’ve designed a cultural attractor and activator, the next step out would be to provide raw materials which fans then want to recombine in new ways and thus generate new forms of cultural expression. And the final step in this process may be to find ways to monitor and amplify the creative energies of these fan communities to sustain popular interest in your program.

To achieve the first two, you need the skills and creativity of professional creators. To achieve the second two, you have to create a context where grassroots creativity is respected rather than shut down.

Lost would seem to be a show which does very well by the first two criteria: a decade ago, Lost would be a cult show like Twin Peaks was in its time. Now, it is one of the highest rated shows on American television despite the fact that, as Steven Johnson has pointed out, it is also one of the most intellectually demanding shows on American television (or more precisely because it is so demanding.) It is designed in a way to generate constant secrets which we want to uncover and thus providing fuel for the participation of large scale knowledge communities. The map which was flashed across the screen for a split second in a single episode is, as Jason Mittell has noted, emblematic of that new relationship with the consumer.

As of this summer, the Lost Team has pushed this one step further by creating an alternate reality game that will generate new opportunities for participation and socialization around the series. There has been some suggestion that the Lost writers also monitor online communities and reshape the story in response to their speculations.

There has so far been fewer signs of audiences recreating Lost or creating the next generation of Lost on their own. This may be because the series is so demanding and people are still so unsettled in their expectations about what is actually going on there. In that regard, Lost may generate more new culture once it is finished than it has so far. This was certainly the case with Twin Peaks which only really started to inspire fan fiction once it was off the air. It is spectacular though to recognize that Wrapped in Plastic, a fanzine produced when the show was first aired, is still being produced and read — and if anything, it has more subscribers now, a decade plus later, than when the series was first broadcast. This is a classic illustration of the ways that fans can help extend the shelf life of media products.

With the advent of weightless digital media, we’ve anticipated some global crossover hit from somewhere other than the ‘first world’, but so far, it’s not happened — music in particular seems to exist in tight local (spatial or cultural) ghettos of genre. Any thoughts on what it would take for a truly converged global music culture and if/when it will happen?

I think you are measuring success by the old standards — looking for mega-hits — whereas the greatest impact of globalization in media content so far comes on the other end of Chris Anderson’s long tail. Global media in the West remains niche media.

Indeed, you can argue that it is the most vivid example of the potential of niche media for market success. Music is, as you note above, in general, defined right now by ever more precise niches or “ghettos of genre” to use your term. While music can be a shared resource within subcultural communities, there is very little music we listen to as a culture at large.

The Nichification of music is suggested by something like MySpace which emerged initially as a vehicle for helping people to find music that they liked by tapping their social networks. The massification of music might be suggested by something like American Idol — which has self consciously sought to generate music that will appeal across a broad demographic (though in reality, the best Idols have turned out to be second run performers on the show who then get pulled into specialized niches once they depart it.)

Right now, I see people consuming more and more media from other parts of the world — global fusion music, anime and manga, Bollywood films, Latin America soaps, Nigerian horror films, etc. but in fairly localized communities of interests. We are seeing this culture brought into the western market by a mixture of Otaku (fans) and Desi (immigrants): fans seek out difference where-ever they can find it in the world; immigrants seek to maintain ties back to the mother country which they left. Both contribute to a cultural landscape where global media is more readily available. And the results can take off dramatically.

Do you think that the diversification of modes of media consumption (iPod, PVR/DVR, home cinema, mobile phone) makes for a fundamental challenge to creators of ‘content’? If so, what’s the challenge, and where do you see this challenge leading?

Ok — there are two potential challenges — one a dead-end, the other a new possibility for gifted entertainers.

The dead end is the idea of developing content that simply gets reconfigured easily across all of those platforms. This is an idea that’s been kicking around for a while and this practice shows little to no appreciation of the aesthetic and social dimensions of those various media.

The result will be something like the pan and scan prints of films which have been reconfigured to fit our television screens as opposed to the letterboxed prints that reflect a recognition of the aesthetic practices that shaped the original product and seek a meaningful compromise as it is moved into the new medium.

To create media content that is mechanically reconfigured across all of those platforms is to produce content that really exploits the potentials of none of those media. We’ve seen this in cinema where the expressive uses of cinemascope found in the 1950s when films were designed for the big screen have given way to the pretty limited use of the frame edges that characterize current filmmaking practice. However big the screen looks in the theatre, the significant action has to play out within the boxed window which will be visible on the television screen.

There will of course be some content that moves easily from platform to platform but in general, I think one has to develop strategies appropriate for each space. We are already seeing that there are television series that do spectacularly well on video iPod that are not ratings champs on broadcast and other shows, sitcoms, dramatically under-perform in these new contexts.

The alternative is what I am calling transmedia storytelling or more broadly transmedia entertainment. This is a system where each medium makes a distinct contribution to the media franchise, each is left to do what it does best, and the reader is able to expand on their experience of a favorite story by pulling together bits and pieces of information from various sources.

I discuss this in the book in terms of The Matrix where the films, animation, games, and comics each made unique and integral contributions to the whole. This is similar to the “media mix” culture that has emerged in Japan, for example. I believe that transmedia storytelling represents the most compelling way to use convergence to expand the canvas on which our most creative entertainers work.

We are convinced that the current proliferation of hardware and software is but a moment ie netflix, PVRs, chargeable film downloads, before content moves entirely online (reaches convergence). However, the media industry at large appears to be in denial about this — do you agree?

I am much more interested in predicting where our culture is going than predicting where technology is going. My hunch is that we are going to see a variety of delivery mechanisms for the foreseeable future and indeed, that there will be no steady state of media convergence, no fully integrated technological infrastructure.

We are seeing that divergence as demonstrated by specialized devices is part of the process by which convergence operates. I don’t happen to like the idea of my cell phone as a media appliance, for example, and I find that I prefer to watch dvds on a portable dvd player rather than my laptop. These are probably idiosyncratic choices but then, the point is that every consumer wants their own unique mix of media appliances because they like certain affordances each offers in specific contexts.

My hunch is that as soon as some media functions get integrated, someone else will offer a new appliance that seperates them out again for consumers who want a different relationship to media content. This goes back to what I say about convergence being a process rather than an endpoint. We are going to see ever more complicated configurations of media, ever more complex integrations of media content, but we may never reach a technological steady state.

This doesn’t mean that all of the stop gap measures you are referring to above are here to stay. They will only last if they are seen by consumers as serving necessary functions or if they serve a clear niche in the new media infrastructure.

Nobody I suspect imagines the video iPod say is the best possible way to watch television. It simply came along at the right moment to provide an infrastructure to support television content on demand. And we will see a better solution emerge. We are already seeing Netflix and other services experiment with new ways to get movies into the hands of consumers besides mailing dvds. On the other hand, there are signs that people still want to buy books even where they can download the content for free on the web.

danah boyd and yourself seem to have become (reluctantly) the most visible defenders of young people’s rights to explore and create identity using emergent media. We remember when ‘learning-though-doing’ with technology and media was at the core of education, but it seems that the young people growing up now have to reclaim reedoms that have somehow subsequently been lost without a fight — any thoughts on what went wrong with the relationship between children and tools/media, and what we grownups can do to help them maintain and/or win back their right to play (with technology, identity, etc)?

In a way, each generation of young people across history have had to fight their own battles for expressive freedom and for the right to play with technology and identity. Young people have always been on the cutting edge of media change as they search for ways to escape the surveillance of their parents and define their own space in the world. They gravitate towards the new and the shiny and they are willing to put in the time to adopt it to their needs and interests.

Parents are often spooked by their relationship to these technologies that were not part of the culture of their own childhoods. They don’t know how to protect their children as they go into that space — and this is part of the point.

All it takes is one shocking tragedy — something like the Columbine shooting — to turn their ignorance into fear and then it takes the mixture of moral reformers, sensationalistic media, and opportunistic politicians to turn their fear into a moral panic which results in laws and regulations that try to put the genie back in the bottle again. It can take a generation to reverse those constraints — more particularly, it takes the generation which came of age with those technologies to take on adult roles as parents, teachers, lawyers, and citizens. Then, we see a reversal of course which allows us to adopt a more normalized attitude towards those technologies and practices.

With Columbine and video games, we were lucky that few of the laws passed in that phase of moral panic withstood judicial review. With MySpace, we are apt to be less lucky because if DOPA passes, it will be a law that is going to be hard to challenge in courts. Technically it isn’t censorship. Schools are not prohibited for allowing youth to access MySpace. They simply lose federal funding if they do so. And the Federal government can make any stipulation it wants on how it distributes its funds.

The result is going to be a law which we will actively have to repel once the generation that has grown up using social network software becomes adults. This is going to be a huge step back for participatory culture and a big step back for those of us who want to see Web 2.0 applications used more fully in the classroom. What is shocking is that it is occuring with so little real public discussion because the mainstream media has done everything it can to scare people about MySpace and has little interest in reporting the truth about this story.

That said, I think there was a fatal mistake in the discourse about youth and digital media in the 1990s. It became all about the digital divide which got defined in terms of access to technologies. This wasn’t true of [Seymour] Papert and a few others but it became the mantra. “Let’s build a bridge to the 21st century. Let’s wire our classroom.” Well, we wired the classroom — now what? We now face the participation gap — the gap between those who have unlimited access to new media outside of school (and more importantly, the skills and experiences they enable) and those who have limited bandwidth, limited access, on filtered computers. We dealt with the technological challenges but not the social and cultural challenges. And we have been held hostage by a culture war discourse that has been very effective at transforming adult ignorance into fear and backlash against those forms of cultural experience teens have found for themselves in the online world.

I am very involved right now in developing the case for a very different form of media education — one which grows out of a desire to enable kids to become more active participants in the participatory culture I describe in my book.

That’s where Convergence Culture ends — with the call for new media literacies — and that’s where my new book begins. We are going to be releasing a white paper later this fall that paves the way for a whole range of pedagogical activities designed to help teachers and parents better appreciate the value of gaming, social networking, fan fiction writing, and all of the other things the most digitally adept kids are doing now.

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Martyn Ware: Modulating Reality

As founder member of The Human League, Heaven 17 and BEF, Martyn Ware’s importance to the history of electronic pop music is enormous. But he’s not living in the past — Ware is both serial innovator and visionary. He kindly granted BigShinyThing an exclusive interview.

Under the aegis of Illustrious, a business he’s started with Erasure’s Vince Clarke, Ware is exploring new territories of sonic experience. The public face of Illustrious is large-scale public audiovisual installations with an emphasis on 3D sound, lighting effects and performances. Behind the scenes, Ware is busy lecturing, working with researchers and artistic collaborators, and drumming up sponsorship.

BigShinyThing caught up with Martyn in his studio to ask him a few questions about his unique vision for 3D sound and multisensory art.

BST: At a time when the iconic experience of music is on-the-move, via headphones, from a pocket full of instantly-available low-quality mp3 downloads: why Illustrious: big, site-specific and public?

MARTYN WARE: Because we’re stupid and anti-fashion! We believe very much in the experiential — in immersing people in happenings. What we’re doing reminds me of the excitement of forming The Human League: exploring in the undiscovered ‘country of sound’.

We’ve always attempted to do something interesting to us, creating a new oeuvre. It’s always in your soul to do something different — the thrill of the unexpected. We want people to feel ‘you had to be there’ to understand it. The Rock vernacular is a bit tired and clichéd — there are some fantastic shows around with good sound, but not so many that offer anything other than an experience for the feet.

With The Human League and Heaven 17, you really did start an oeuvre: you invented electronic pop music! Do you feel that what you’re doing now is blazing a trail that others will follow?

The same people who were enthused then are the people who are enthused now — albeit a different generation. With dance music, as soon as you go down the DJ route, anyone with intelligence sooner or later wants to create their own content. Big name DJs who have made lots of money go on to make their own music, try and make their own sounds — and then find that their own stuff is more interesting than the stuff they were reproducing.

Do you feel that you have ‘seen the promised land’ with 3D sound? Do you see your role as evangelism?

That’s all I ever do — I am John the Evangelist! Merging immersive art with sound is what I’m about. If more people are exposed to it they will dig it as well — I’m not the only one. It just makes sense to me. People intuitively like immersive experience — I’m into designing and changing people’s perception of what they are doing.

I love generative art and I love art that takes into account the content. Personally I think the whole VJ thing is puerile, just cutting up content to match a beat. The sort of thing we’re looking at involves multiple levels of art and entertainment: a hybrid of theatre and happenings. We’re also working on a hybrid of theatre and cinema: combining recent technologies to create brand new forms of experience. One of the things we are working on at the moment — a piece to perform at Gateshead called Near Life Experience (hopefully in January 2007 if the funding comes through) — features immersive 3D sound, a 30-piece choir in normal clothing concealed in the audience, members of the royal ballet, state of the art lighting design…

What’s your next public project?

Our next big project is the world’s largest public 3D sound field at ‘Sound Oasis’, an installation in Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s a 24-hour piece by 12 different sound artists rendered in 3D. The whole thing is predicated on using the sounds of Mexico City, modulating reality. Maryanne Amacher is performing the piece which won her won the Ars Electronica digital music prize at Linz last year. Chris Watson is involved, UltraRed

And with Designers Republic (also from Sheffield!) we’re doing the British Pavilion at the Architectural Biennale in Venice later this year.

In previous interviews, you have been upfront about your desire for sponsors and collaborators from the commercial and artistic worlds. Who would be your ideal collaborator? The perfect sponsor?

[laughs] Sponsors? Anyone who has giant amounts of money (just being honest!) We have some very interesting research collaborators and ideas — and it would be really useful to have access to some sort of state funding but we don’t seem to have that in this country. It seems more open in the US — they have a more honest relationship with sponsors, easy tax deductions and so on. We’ve had massive support from — and I can’t thank them enough — Bowers and Wilkins, who provide all our speakers and amps.

Collaborators? We’re interested in collaborators who can see the relevance of immersive sound to their business or art. We want to work with talented people with an open mind with skills that interlock but don’t necessarily overlap. Frankly, we’re not so interested in musicians — we’re more interested in performance artists and immersive artists of all kinds, architects and so on.

We did a lecture at The Royal Institution recently where we had sound-based toys in the foyer, and then at Cybersonica we met some nice folk who we’ll be doing more ‘future of sound’ stuff with, and we’ll have their sonic art in the foyers for future lectures. It’s all about engagement. We don’t really want to hold onto all the intellectual property of what we’re doing. I’m a big admirer of the Open Source way of doing things — there’s something very British about the idea of making something that maybe doesn’t quite work all the time and being brave enough to get up on stage with it, a bit edge-of-your-seat. We’re like Victorian explorers coming back with rhinos and things from our adventures — I travel a lot and like to bring people and knowledge back to share.

The challenge is just not to take the easy route. We all get tempted to take the easy one — compared to when we started out in the 80s, time is more limited and there’s less money available for making things and less money to be made by selling them in the long term.

There was less time pressure ‘then’: we would spend three months designing a new synth and making sounds in interesting ways — now I could create an LP’s worth of material in a week. It wouldn’t be anywhere as good as the old stuff but it would be interesting and that’s the problem.

With modern technology people — particularly people from the laptop fraternity — can get to a high level very quickly but with little substance. The challenge is for people to go from a facile route into a more difficult territory. That’s not the fault of the manufacturers or plug-in makers — they are just trying to make your life easier but inevitably that makes the product worse.

Is anyone still doing it ‘hard and interesting’ way? Is there anyone particular you admire for the way they make music?

It depends on whether it is derived from artisanship — look at someone like Vince [Clarke] who writes his songs on guitar then transcribes them as kind of contrapuntal monophonic layers…

There’s no-one who instantly springs to mind. There’s the electro-acoustic scene which I find interesting: the degradation of traditional music is interesting in itself. I’m working on a new BEF album where I limit myself to three virtual synths and no singers but famous actresses/actors to sing the words of familiar songs — the kind of sound we had on the track Morale… You’ve lost that Loving Feeling [on The Human League’s Reproduction].

What about the MySpace generation?

Today I was down at Brixton at our surround studio and one of the engineers was on MySpace. Looking at his page, Herbie Hancock is one of his ‘friends’ and he said they met on MySpace and talk all the time online. I mean that’s amazing — you’ve never met him, and you’re talking with Herbie Hancock (who must be amazingly busy) because you’re both interested in the same things! What struck me was the egalitarianism of it. I love it — MySpace is just one example. I like last.fm and Pandora — all these generative, modulating systems.

Your work is technically demanding for installation, but growing numbers of people have access to surround sound at home — do you have any plans for a ‘home version’ of any of your immersive works?

We work closely with DTS. We can produce binaural recordings with our tech but I’m not convinced that it works so well. In terms of delivering the 3D sound experience it just depends on where the speakers are — a cube of speakers for example would work. For that end we’re about to get into business with [conceptualist and producer] Charlie Morrow. He’s designed a kind of stand with one speaker on the floor, one high up on thin tubing which folds over for traveling. If you have four around a room then there’s your domestic set up. We can create 3D sound from 2D existing material which works spectacularly well — great for DJs in a club environment.

The big problem is content. Most record companies don’t even want to provide surround sound. For some reason lots of LPs have been mixed in 5.1 but the master tapes are just sitting on shelves, never released. I was thinking about starting a company to license the rights to these unused surround recordings and create a new label. But I don’t really want to be a record label: that model doesn’t appeal to me at all. Actually, people at the labels are keen, but everyone’s waiting for someone else to break the format if you know what I mean.

Listening to a stereo — actually sitting down to listen to music — doesn’t seem to happen to me anymore: I’m either in my surround studio, or at a PC with really tiny, crap speakers — it’s more likely that you watch TV, the Internet… The notion of listening to music conventionally sounds tedious now — there are so many other things to do.

I’m mixing the new album in surround and it will be available in 5.1. I don’t particularly like stereo anymore to be honest — it’s boring. Actually surround sound bores me — I’ve been doing 3D for 5 years now!

(Big thanks to Martyn, and to Lisa at Cybersonica for facilitating the interview)

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