Thursday 25 February 2010

Welcome to Mars on Archive.Org

I think from the moment when I started my first experiments with writing, I have always been fascinated by the differences and tensions between script and oral traditions in language. That which is written cannot also be spoken with the same facility: each requires its own disciplines and exploratory approaches. This is one reason why I welcome any opportunity to work with dialogue, interviews, discussions, live broadcasts, readings and public panels as a means of encountering once again the spontaneity and drama of the spoken word – and why in particular I enjoy working with musicians and composers. Setting text that is neither sung nor ordered in a traditional manner within a live music and sound performance never fails to have interesting outcomes.

This is also why I was pleased recently to receive a post from Mark Pilkington via his Strange Attractor blog that a recording of the Welcome to Mars performance made at last month’s Strange Attractor Salon is now up on Archive.Org. You can link to it directly by clicking here. My thanks are due once again to Mark Pilkington and Bruce Woolley for their radiophonic interpretations and to Simon James for his original recorded soundtrack. It was a cold and wet night, as I recall, but their collective energy soon warmed things up. My main recollection, listening back to the recording, was of struggling with a failing light source and having to read most of the text by angling the pages to get the best from the flickering video images projected behind me – hence, the occasional break and stumble in the reading. However, that’s also why the live word is such an exhilarating challenge.

See also:
Welcome to Mars at Strange Attractor Salon
Strange Attractor Salon: A Site Report
The Wunderkammer in the Cellar

Pictured above: Bruce Woolley tunes up; KH struggles with the light, photographs courtesy of Agent Jbot.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Lecture Five: Spaces

Even our cities dream: from the world fair pavilions to the radical architectural theories of Archigram and the Metabolists, space has become a highly protean and powerful element in design practice – looking back to the early arrangements of cinematic space created in the 18th century to the interconnected ‘ubiquitous cities’ developed along the Pacific Rim during the early years of the 21st century, our approach to space has influenced the way we think and behave. In this lecture we’ll be looking at concepts of the transformation of ‘unreal’ modernist city into the ‘non-places’ of postmodern anthropology and on to the live networked conurbations of today and conducting a little future archaeology into the abandoned online ruins of tomorrow.

Context themes covered: time/space, spectacle, panoptics, psychology

Useful research and sites worth visiting:

Tokyo Must Be Destroyed
MediaLab Urban Screens Seminar
America’s Ghost Malls
Decay of Detroit
Dubai: The Towers We Will Never See
Dubai Star Wars sets
Future Archaeologies
Auroville: Laboratory of Evolution
Chernobyl Tourist Guide
City as Battlesuit for Surviving the Future

See also:
Catching Up With... (selected blog posts on architecture)
Godzilla Has Left the Building

Embedded YouTube clip above: Archigram/Plug In City animation

Monday 22 February 2010

GameBoy to Armageddon on BBC iPlayer

Ayone who missed the broadcast of my Radio 3 Sunday Feature, From GameBoy to Armageddon, can catch up with it on the BBC iPlayer for the foreseeable future by clicking here.

See also:
From GameBoy to Armageddon
Full Spectrum Dominator

Friday 19 February 2010

From GameBoy to Armageddon

My feature on the ‘military-entertainment complex’ goes out on BBC Radio 3 this Sunday, February 21, at 9.30 pm. From Gameboy to Armageddon features some amazing contributions from Tim Lenoir, Ed Halter and Tom Chatfield on the relationship of games and simulations to Past and Future War; P W Singer of the Brookings Institute on current deployments of UAVs and robots; some vintage archive material from RAND’s Tom Schelling on the Cuban Missile Crisis as a game; plus Michael Macedonia and Jim Korris on the founding of STRICOM and the Institute of Creative Technologies, the amazing Jim Dunnigan on Clausewitz and Kriegspiel, Skip Rizzo on ‘Virtual Iraq’ and a rare interview with the legendary Jack Thorpe – responsible while seconded to DARPA from the USAF for devising SIMNET, the first real-time, practical version of cyberspace. Acronyms totally rule on this one.

This has been a hell of show to put together, but it hasn’t left me a lot of time to post much on it – this is being written at dawn before I disappear into the Labyrinth for another day. I’ll come back later and put links in with some of these names, so you may want to check this entry again after the weekend.

Pictured above: Halo 3 gets physically busy, courtesy of Monstervine.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Lecture Four: Dreams

Dreams invade every moment of our waking lives. ‘What precisely is a dream?’ asked the experimental novelist William Burroughs. ‘It is a specific juxtaposition of word and image.’ This connection of word and image to create heightened states of perception has linked modernist and post-modernist strategies from the ‘pure psychic automatism’ of Andre Breton’s First Manifesto of Surrealism to the experimental cinema of David Lynch, Craig Baldwin and Gregg Araki. Examples discussed will include Salvador Dali’s ‘Dream of Venus’ fun house at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide; and the strange tale of Marjorie Cameron, Jack Parsons and Wallace Berman. Art and design practices would be unthinkable without the radical juxtaposition of historical images and contemporary references. When precisely did we stop making sense? And is it safe to get back in the water yet?

Context themes to be covered:language, spectacle, psychology, ethics, narrative

Useful reading and sites worth visiting
Ingrid Schaffner, Salvador Dali’s Dream of Venus: The Surrealist Funhouse From the 1939 World’s Fair, Princeton Architectural Press, 2002
Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, The Monacelli Press, 1994
Celeste Olalquiaga, The Artificial Kingdom: A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience, Bloomsbury, 1999
Andre Breton, First Manifesto of Surrealism (online extract)
Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud, Routledge,2006
The Cameron Parsons Foundation
Ferus Gallery
Artopia article on Wallace Berman and Semina

See also:
Catching Up With the Mercado Central
From ‘Dream of Venus’ to ‘Atlantis in Hi-fi’

YouTube clips embedded above:
Billy Rose’s Aquacade, 1939 New York World’s Fair
Night Tide trailer

Friday 12 February 2010

Full Spectrum Dominator

Apologies for the sporadic posts of late as I struggle to complete work on my latest piece for BBC Radio 3. ‘From GameBoy to Armageddon’ looks at the developing relationship between videogames, military training sims and the continuing history of Future War. Expect stuff on the Battle of 73 Easting, America’s Army, Full Spectrum Warrior and Virtual Iraq in the upcoming programme – in fact, expect everything from Kriegspiel Wonks to military historians helping to make the games arcade the military academy of tomorrow. I’m currently scripting links while my producer is locked in an editing booth with about twelve hours of interview material. More details over the coming week. In the meantime, I thought some of you might enjoy this embedded video presentation from the makers of Virtual Battlespace 2, which I came across recently.

This is their promotional film for VBS2, giving a short overview of the system’s capabilities from motion-capture of human movement to accurate tracer rounds, simulated explosions and sparkling night vision. This is not a game. Crank the volume up, and these virtual weapons platforms get really fierce – and for a contrast, try the eerily silent running footage of the VBS2 ‘Terrain Areas – Afghanistan and East Timor’, which you can find by clicking here. ‘All three terrain areas,’ a note advises,making the sequence seem even more unsettling ‘were created from geo-referenced data.’

‘Our mission,’ the homepage declares: ‘To create affordable simulation platforms that provide vast, dynamic, high-fidelity virtual environments supported by a comprehensive suite of easy-to-use development tools.’

The enemy can’t hear you coming if you aren’t actually there in the first place. Peace out.

Monday 8 February 2010

Lecture Three: Networks

People working in the US Federal Reserve are the first to learn of the start of Operation Desert Storm on the night of January 16 as the impact of the conflict on the US economy appears on their bright computer displays. They sit and watch the effects from minute to minute.

At another American location, far from the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations, personnel in the AT&T Network Operations Centre in New York are following the outbreak of the war on an electronic map of their worldwide telecommunications systems. The circuits to Baghdad suddenly go dead at 7.30pm, Eastern Standard Time. Then the map lights up with record calling volumes to Saudi Arabia.

Welcome to CNN...

This is a historical overview of how network planning and development has influenced communication – from the telegraph and the newspaper to speed commerce through to the establishment of ARPANET as a US defence strategy, networks have extended the range of our senses but also compromised them – as weapons systems, banking systems, home entertainment and design strategies draw increasingly upon the same operating platforms, the neutrality of the network is something to question.

Context themes to be covered: politics, psychology, ethics, power

Useful reading and sites worth visiting:
‘Cybernetic Serendipity’ catalogue PDF
Tim Lenoir and Henry Lowood, ‘Theaters Of War: The Military-Entertainment Complex PDF
Vannevar Bush, ‘As We May Think’
The Sputnik Observatory
The Edge
The War Room
War Is Virtual Hell
Cloud computing: how information giants are setting the pace for the internet's next decade

See Also:
Olaf Arndt: ‘Labyrinth and Camp’
Welcome to the Labyrinth

Pictured above: Paul Baran’s sketch for centralized, decentralized and distributed networks, courtesy of An Atlas of Cyberspaces

Friday 5 February 2010

BAGD Lecture Gallery

My attention has recently been drawn to the CSM Web Interest Group photostream on Flickr. I don’t know who took the photographs during the delivery of my lecture ‘History and Hardware’ for BAGD students in the stately splendour of CSM’s G12 auditorium at Southampton Row, but I hope they won’t mind me presenting a small selection in this post. I enjoyed giving the talk very much and am looking forward to giving a couple of more in the summer term. Details in all the usual places as and when they become available.

See also:
History and Hardware Lecture

Wednesday 3 February 2010

I Am Astro Boy

Just before Christmas I received a charming invitation from Virginie Selavy at Electric Sheep magazine to write a short entry for their Alter Ego column, where writers are requested to reveal who they’d most like to be if they were a character in movies. I asked if I could be a cartoon character – which is not much of a stretch for me, I know – and was told that this was permissible. I doubt whether many will be too surprised by my choice. Godzilla might have been my second call, had I needed it, but I’m feeling particularly optimistic at the moment, and Astro Boy’s cheerful heroism is always so inspiring.

You can read the piece, which has just gone online, by clicking here.

From now on Electric Sheep is to be published exclusively online, with a book-length anthology of film writing scheduled to appear in print at the end of the year, so please make sure you establish a good connection with their site. It would be a shame to miss out. The current issue has a killer combination of sex, death and ballet in the form of extensive pieces on The Red Shoes, Suspiria and Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Dance, fools, dance!

The above image comes courtesy of the National Library of Australia: Tezuka Osamu Tetsuwan Atomu (Astro Boy) Tokyo: Shogakukan, 2003, Vol. 1 of 5 vol. set Asian Collections JAP 726.1 Te95A (v.1) © Tezuka Production. Astro Boy comics are a good example of the manga genre, popular in Japan with adults and children alike. The Library acquires a representative sample of manga to add to its Japanese collection. Please drive carefully on your way home.