BCA#39 GIF

Block cellular automaton, rule number 39 in the Wolfram Atlas of Simple Programs, 40 cells × 40 generations. GIF made with just 2 frames: original + inverted image, 50 ms.

BCA#39-40x40

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2015 reading

Most of the stuff I read in 2015 was about economics and politics. This was a deliberate effort to plug some gaps in my knowledge, prompted by following the news on the deepening economic crisis in Greece, the subsequent rise of Syriza, and their clash with the EC, ECB & IMF troika. So, here are some of the books, articles and blogs that I read with the hope of understanding the present state of the world and what we can do about it.

Owen Jones – The Establishment: And how they get away with it (Allen lane)
Highlights the anti-democratic nature of the socio-political structures of the UK’s neo-liberal elite, which accounts for some of the disconnect between people and politics today.

Ole Bjerg – Making Money: The philosophy of crisis capitalism (Verso)
Bjerg uses Slavoj Zizek’s ontology to understand money it its various forms (gold, notes and coins, digital data, etc.) and in its different modes of being: real, symbolic and imaginary. He explains that money doesn’t exist in the way we usually think it does, because when banks lend money they actually create it. Governments have created systems where banks now have more power than the state over the economy. The philosophical analysis is clear at the start, gets a bit heavier, but ends with a simple practical proposition: “the restoration of the state’s prerogative to create new money, and the reduction of banks into mere financial intermediaries that lend rather than create money”. This, Bjerg says, “would do nothing but make both parties conform to the idea of what most people already erroneously believe they are doing.”

David Graeber – Debt: The first 5,000 years (Melville House)
Debt debunks the idea that money emerged as a solution to the problems of the barter system, as is taught in standard economic textbooks. Graeber takes an anthropological approach, with evidence that there never really was a barter system. Instead, there were systems of credit – that is, social systems based on trust amongst family, friends and neighbours. Debts would be recorded on tallies, and there would be ‘reckonings’ every so often to settle up, or ‘jubilees’ in which debts (usually taxes) were cancelled and indebted prisoners/slaves were freed, or else there would be regular riots and revolutions. Money first appeared in the form of credit notes and IOUs that were transferable. Such systems of credit were therefore more common than money in the form of precious metals etc., which was used in situations without trust – in dealings with enemies, strangers and the military. Finally, legal tender money (coins and notes) requires the power of a state to enforce the legality of its money whilst demanding it as the form of payment of taxes. Building on this fundamental revision of the history of money, Graeber explores how debt is shaped by violence and power, why economic language is essentially moralistic, and how basic principles of communistic living and fair exchange formed the foundations of today’s socio-economic order.

What is a debt, anyway? A debt is just the perversion of a promise. It is a promise corrupted by both math and violence. If freedom (real freedom) is the ability to make friends, then it is also, necessarily, the ability to make real promises. What sorts of promises might genuinely free men and women make to one another?

Ann Pettifor – Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance (Prime Books)
Ann Pettifor is director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics (Prime), a good resource for non-mainstream economics. Just Money is an accessible introduction to modern finance and the role of credit in our political and social systems. The book provides a coherent account of a broad picture by explaining clearly the constituent parts of the whole economy. In addition to banking, finance, money and debt, Pettifor includes ecology and sustainability as vital elements in understanding what’s wrong with the current system and how it might be fixed. @AnnPettifor

Richard Murphy
Tax expert, promoter of the “People’s Quantitative Easing” idea. Author of The Joy of Tax: How a fair tax system can create a better society. Commenter on economic and taxation policy issues via the blog Tax Research UK. @RichardJMurphy

Another Angry Voice
A blog by Thomas G. Clark on economics, philosophy, politics and other stuff: http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/

David Allen Green
Lawyer, writer of the Jack of Kent blog and for the Financial Times. Sharp observer of legal policy. Foresaw that trouble with the Ministry of Justice contract with Saudi Arabia, for example. Insightful criticism of the government’s approach to law reform, legal justice, human rights and civil liberties. @DavidAllenGreen

Paul Mason – Postcapitalism: A guide to our future (Allen Lane)
Mason argues that we are seeing the end of neo-liberalist capitalism and the beginning of some kind of information-based economy. The failure of organised labour and lack of political will to counteract the inherent destructive tendencies of capitalism and financialisation has caused a break with established economic cycles. Austerity measures result in a prolonged post-crisis slump and a false impression of economic stability. This means that a second global financial crisis is increasingly likely. In addition, we also face the problems of an ageing demography and a changing climate, both of which are enmeshed with economic factors. But although the outlook is bleak, Mason says, there is a chance to develop a postcapitalist system that appears to be emerging, a networked information economy based on new forms of ownership and business. A lengthy article in The Guardian covers the main points of Mason’s argument: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/17/postcapitalism-end-of-capitalism-begun

Mason presents evidence to suggest that Kondratieff’s wave theory is basically correct, and that the deviation from this pattern is accounted for by Marx’s Fragment on Machines (PDF) which describes the revolutionary potential of automated labour and an information economy based on accumulated knowledge. In this respect, the argument is similar to Accelerationist Manifesto by Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek. Their new book Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (Verso) is next on my reading list.

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Sonic Complexity / Gmebogosse

I’ve written up some basic tests on the subject of sonic complexity. This is available via Gmebogosse, an online platform for music and text by Eric Frye. Gmebogosse 001 is a cassette mix by CF + essay by Duncan Laurie; 002 is a hip-hop mix by Jailblazer; and 003 is Opus17aSlimeVariation#7 by EVOL (another version of Hanne Darboven’s piece) + essay by Alexander Iadorola. My text on sonic complexity is 004: http://nul-ptyx.com/index.php/gmebogosse/004/

The tests involved generating a few thousand 1-second mono audio files at various pitches, waveforms and volumes. The analysis is based on an information-theory approach to complexity, looking at how the size of the files in different audio formats varies with frequency and volume. The audio was made by sorting sets of 200 files in order of increasing size.

 

 

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2015 music

Some of the things I’ve enjoyed listening to this year:

Rian Treanor – A Rational Tangle (The Death of Rave)
Mark Fell named some tracks on his UL8 album ‘Acid in the Style of Rian Treanor’. Connie Treanor narrated the ‘Composing with Process‘ podcast by Mark Fell and Joe Gilmore.

 

Peder Mannerfelt – The Swedish Congo Record (Archives Intérieures)
An uncanny re-creation/re-synthesis of old recordings of Congolese music.


Also by Peder Mannerfelt – Variation EP (Ultimate Hits):

 

Theo Burt – Gloss (Presto!?)
In addition to this album on Lorenzo Senni’s label, Burt’s own label BUS Editions has released some interesting stuff. BUS also released bus17a 12″, a version of Hanne Darboven’s Opus 17a by EVOL which I transcribed for the group. An extra mp3 version and some text on the process are available: http://www.bus-editions.com/bus017a/


 

ErrorsmithAirbag (50Weapons), and Protogravity EP (PAN) with Mark Fell.
Quality sounds from Erik Wiegand and reliable rhythms from Mark Fell.

 

Russell Haswell – As Sure As Night Follows Day (Diagonal)
Relatively minimal short-form pieces compared with some of Haswell’s noiser and more complex music, these tracks have space for simpler patterns and transformations to develop. More musical, even. Some you could actually dance to:

 

Calum Gunn & Sebastian Camens – Slant Deviations (Conditional)
Algorithmically-controlled FM synthesis.

Also Baggy Sheps by Calum Gunn, based on Shepard tones.

 

Dale Cornish – Ulex (Entr’acte)
Not sure how to describe the sounds on this vinyl album – sparse, intense.

 

Aino Tytti – Millenium Mills (Touch)
A project recording the sounds of the derelict Millennium Mills buildings in London.

 

Morton J. Olsen – INTERRUPTIONS #19. The possibility of drumming (Ràdio Web MACBA)
A mix in which Olsen explores the idea of ‘innate music’, looking at the practice of drumming from an anthropological point of view, re-examining rhythmic rudiments and their socio-cultural origins. The documentation (PDF) states that the aim is to try to keep it simple, but Olsen admits that “in other ways this means making it more opaque and therefore complex”. The resulting mix is over three hours long. In his words:

I’ve made something that, in my early days, I might have considered a long and painful listening experience of percussion oriented music.

Also by Morten J. Olsen and Rubén Patiño – Natalia Martínez Ordóñez (Where To Now? Records):

Powell / Diagonal Records
Lots of good stuff out on Diagonal this year, also on Powell’s Melon Magic radio show – including Autechre’s remix of Russell Haswell’s Heavy Handed Sunset, and then there was that Steve Albini thing too.

 

EVOL‘s Flapper That EP (Diagonal) exploits the pareidolia effect, with sounds suggestive of words or vocals. Listening to it is like when you repeat a word until it loses its meaning, except these sounds do the opposite, acquiring different interpretations through repetition. Another good one from EVOL was the Purple Melters 12″ (iDEAL Recordings) on yellow vinyl with a smiley face sticker.

 

C. Reider – Tape Loops (Linear Obsessional)
A musician I know through the Disquiet Junto, Reider’s had a tough time due to ill health, but he’s on the mend I’m happy to say, and continues to produce good music. Tape Loops is made from old cassettes, and Certainty Reducing Signals is an album including some pieces from Junto projects.

 

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Complexification Junto

The Disquiet Junto is an open group for musicians based on weekly projects that involve some kind of rule or constraint. I’ve been part of it since the start in 2012, when the first assignment was “Please record the sound of an ice cube rattling in a glass, and make something of it.” The Junto is run by Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet.com. It is named after Benjamin Franklin’s “club for mutual improvement”, and modelled on the OULIPO group who use creative constraints. Each Thursday or Friday an assignment is set, and the music has to be uploaded to SoundCloud by the following Monday night. Participants are encouraged to describe their approaches and to give feedback on each others music.

This week’s project is based on my and Sun Hammer’s Complexification project, which was released recently on the Entr’acte label. Un-mastered versions of the two most complex tracks from the album, 10GB and 10SH, are available to download. The assignment is to pick one and make it more complex. This is the stage at which our project stopped because it was difficult and it was taking too long to make the next piece. A Junto project only has a few days, so it’s quite a challenge. By Friday night, 10 tracks had been uploaded to the group.

It’s nice that the Complexification project is part of the Junto, because both Sun Hammer and I learned a lot from taking part in the group and applied it to that project. We used musical composition and audio processing techniques that we’d developed in the Junto. We also borrowed the Junto’s practice of documenting our aims, approaches and methods. It’s also good to be able to expand the project this way, and hear how different musicians approach the subject of musical complexity.

If you want to take part, the rules for this project are listed below. Get the full details at Disquiet.com: http://disquiet.com/2015/08/06/disquiet0188-complexcomplex/

Step 1: Pick one of the two tracks at the following URL: https://goo.gl/tN4Oit.

Step 2: Modify that one track in any way, using as much or little of it as you like, to make a new piece that sounds “more complex” than the original. You may add other sounds. (Note: You are free to use any definition or measure of “complexity.” You should be sure to describe your process and how it “increases” the complexity of the original track.)

Step 3: Upload your completed track to the Disquiet Junto group on SoundCloud.

Step 4: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Deadline: This assignment was made in the afternoon, California time, on Thursday, August 6, 2015, with a deadline of 11:59pm wherever you are on Monday, August 10, 2015.

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Aesthetic + Complexity Word Frequency

Google Ngram Viewer shows the frequency of words or phrases in books. This the chart for the words aesthetic and complexity between the years 1700 and 2000:aestheticcomplexitywordfrequencyComplexity overtakes aesthetic from 1962, and the frequency of both dip around the time of the two world wars. There’s a peak in aesthetic in the late 1920s and early 1930s, but it doesn’t really get going until the 1850s. The current meaning of aesthetic was developed by Alexander Baumgarten, who used the term to mean “things perceived”, as opposed to “things known”. Baumgarten’s Aesthetica (1750) was written in German. Here’s another chart for the equivalent words in German books over the same period, showing a quite different pattern: aestheticcomplexitywordfrequencyGermanThe biggest peak for ästhetisch is around the time Kant published the Critique of Judgement (1790). The crossover in frequency to Komplexität is 1965, during a steep rise in usage up to a present-day level that’s very similar to its English equivalent at around 0.0025%.

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Hardly Itself (ALKU 139)

I’m very happy to announce the publication of a conversation between myself and Roc Jiménez de Cisneros. Our discussion starts with Hanne Darboven’s Opus 17a, a generative piece of music that I translated for EVOL. I’ve written about the technical aspects of that translation process here. In this booklet we talk about the perceptual and philosophical aspects of translating music. EVOL have made a few recorded versions of this piece – Opus17aSlimeVariations, in addition to live performances and art installations. The publication is available via ALKU, printed in neon red ink on good quality paper: http://vivapunani.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HardlyItself

hardlyitself3

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