Surfacing Treasures


“By making everything available and downloadable then everything seems to become equal. But while an equality of access appears to be a good thing, in reality they are simply perceived as equally disposable.”
Jack Sargeant on the Frameworks mailing list, June 2008

What does it mean when everything becomes available for free? What impact does it have on “value”, not necesarely monetary value, but social and cultural value? Is the massafication of online information, as Jack Sargeant seems to suggest, leading to the fade-out of cultural difference – and remember, in contrast to what the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs seem to assume, we seek difference, not similarity? Now that we are being literally and figuratively diverted all over the Net, floating in a sea of noise, how do we find meaning and identity? What about music lovers and collectors, for example, who spend, or used to spend, huge amounts of intense energy seeking out rare music, trying to find the scarce in the world of physical cultural artefacts? The process of collecting and searching, diggin deep in the crates in record stores, on second hand marketplaces and after concerts, looking for and exchanging exclusive or out-of-print records or obscure bootlegs… all of that made sense, caus there is/was a sense of value and community, a way to meet people with similarly interesting tastes and ideas, while discovering other ‘treasures’. What does all of this mean in an all-digital world? Of course, Ebay and other online global marketplaces are crowded with music fetisjists, and some people even make a living selling rare records online. But what is the value of collecting when you can find all you desire via online retailshops or open sharing networks such as Soulseek, when even obscure audio tapes and records are being digitalised and made available via blogs or forums, be it “awesome tapes form Africa”, “diamonds form the Greek Underground”, “Homemade Lofi Psychedelic music”, Latin music from Puerto Rico, obscure singles of bands and musicians such as Stereolab, Shellac or John Fahey, or historical treasures, such as the bootlegs of The Theater of Eternal Music (also known as The Dream Syndicate, featuring La Monte Young, John Cale, Tony Conrad and Angus MacLise), the rare recordings that Godflesh and Loop made together, or the lost connection between the Sun City Girls and the Velvet Underground. The list is endless. You can easily get lost in the abundance of freely available music (like Chris Anderson wrote: “Every abundance creates a new scarcity”). Maybe that’s one of the reason the cassette culture survived and is still (or once again) alive and kicking, as I wrote before. Back to the aura of the original, the look & feel of all things analog (authenticity)? Back to the personal touch, with custom handmade tapes (sometimes taped over old stuff) and sleeves (personalisation)? back to a sense of belonging (community)? Whatever… tapes do offer an alternative for those who are put off by the ubiquity and harsh aesthetics often associated with digital technology and prefer the hands-on qualities of rudimentary analog equipment. It’s also one of the chosen mediums for the publication of musical snapshots, fragments of an ever evolving process of experimentation.

However, for those of you who aren’t in touch with this culture, and still want to discover the music on these tapes – some of the most exciting stuff these days is spread around on this format, believe it or not – there’s always a chance you might find stuff online. For example, I did a test and looked for some Belgian tape-music I like. Here is some of it. Keep in mind that all of this is made available on the net without permission and was not supposed to be listened to via some digital apparatus, but via a cassette player. If you like it, please check out the labels and musicians, although they’re obviously not in it for the money, they do need all the support they can get. Buy their stuff or invite them over for a show, you won’t regret it. And btw: you are missing out on some pretty amazing artwork.

Without any doubt one of the most talented songsmiths around, one of those people who’s able to craft a perfectly proportioned sensibility through his music, blemished and gracefull, of the moment and for all time. Grown up on a diet of lo-fi pop, ancient blues and the ‘Smithsonian Anthology Of Folk’, Bram Devens labels himself, not without irony, as a “lo-fi fascist”. Armed with nothing but a couple of seedy guitars, cheap synths, an archaic tape recorder and some effects, he creates disjointed sound scraps, mounted from a haze of improvised melodic figures and dark noise shadows. Both wayward and enchanting, intimate and alienating, romantic and poignant, his rich art-brut compositions explore the dark corners of the musical spectrum, where beauty arises out of intuition and confrontation. His music was published via (K-RAA-K)3, bread and animals, Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, Imvated and New Age Cassettes (this one under the moniker ‘Miles Devens’). A new release has just been released by Scumbag, a new record should be coming out on (K-RAA-K)3 in a few months. Ignatz also plays with Silvester Anfang and other on-off projects.

Ignatz – they are quiet as mice (Bennifer Editions, 2007. SOLD OUT).
Found via Experimental etc.

Ignatz – I Will Soothe My Eye To Feast It (Imvated, 2006. SOLD OUT).
Found via Experimental etc.

Orphan Fairytale
Thurston Moore hailed Orphan Fairytale, alias Eva van Deuren, as one of the most exciting live acts he has recently experienced, and right he is. She’s not only a delight to experience on stage, her music also sounds glorious, like nothing you have heard before. Using a set of organic sounding primitive keyboards and toy instruments, she shifts between fractured, whimsical melodies and brooding drones, resulting in an alienating, hypnotic universe that reminds me, in a way, of the movie ‘Night of the Hunter’ – a “nightmarish sort of Mother Goose tale” as director Charles Laughton once called it, like distorted childhood memories, lullabies that are as soothing as they are unsettling. “Looping casio keyboards inhaling magic dust and blowing it out into bright dancing psychbubbles.” Her work has been released via labels such as Sloow Tapes, bread and animals, Release the bats. You’re about to hear more of her. Other projects include Maskesmachine, Frozen Corpse and Hardline Elephants.

Orphan Fairytale – Twilight Time (Sloow Tapes, 2006. SOLD OUT).
Found via Bone Mallow.

Silvester Anfang
“Silvester Anfang is the flagship of the budding Funeral Folk empire. These primitive explorations are a near-perfect dichotomy of gloom and fun. And that is how it should be. That is what the phrase ‘Funeral Folk’ implies. It’s death, with a sense of humor. In the end, Silvester Anfang are more interested in drinking beers and having fun than they are in mourning some lost souls. Be that as it may, this is serious music in that it is dense and it is damn good” (Brad Rose). Call it “Pagan Belgopsych”, “post-krautrock”, “non-musical offertories”, “Sunburned Hand of the Man gone Rosemary’s Baby” or “Animal Collective with a burning cross”… the thing is that Silvester Anfang, who started out just a few years ago, is really working towards having their own idiom, much faster than anyone could have expected. Also check out the work of the individual members. Releases popped up on Funeral Folk, Eclipse, Sloow Tapes, (K-RAA-K)3, Meu Dia De Morte, digitalis industries, 23 productions, and other labels. Just released: a split 7″ with Burial Hex on Aurora Borialis.

Silvester Anfang – Spontane Opnames I: Anti-Metal Politie-Interventie (Meu Dia De Morte, 2007).
Found via Deleted Scenes, Forgotten Dreams.

Silvester Anfang – Het Orkest Van Scheuten En Speugen (Sloow Tapes, 2006. SOLD OUT).
Found via We Have No Zen.

You may also want to look for tapes (and other formats) by Benjamin Franklin, Buffle, Hellvete, Bear Bones Lay Low and a bunch of other Belgian delights. Also check out the compilation Graag Traag on Sloow Tapes.

image above: Orphan Fairytale by Rachel Agnew

Ubu et la Merdre


“Let’s face it, if we had to get permission from everyone on UbuWeb, there would be no UbuWeb.”, FAQ

“Watching films on a monitor is like listening to an opera via the phone”
Ladislav Galeta

The last couple of days I have been following the discussions on the FRAMEWORKS mailing list with great interest, as there has risen quite a bit of controversy over Ubuweb, and more specifically over the filmwork that has been made available via this site. The policy of Ubuweb is simple, but controversial: they take sound- and videofiles of avant-gardework wherever they find it on the net – be it via Karagarga, Greylodge or other (pirate) resources, put it on their own servers and make it available via, for free. However, according to their mission statement, they only put stuff online that is out of print or “absurdly priced or insanely hard to procure” (that’s already discussable). No permission is asked, but “should an artist find their material posted on UbuWeb without permission and wants it removed”, they remove the link. In the past some filmmakers have done this: Bruce Conner, for example, who has recently, for some reason, withdrawn his influential films from distribution altogether, which also means he took his prints from official film distributors such as Canyon. All the links to Peter Kubelka’s work have been removed as well, because he does not want any of his films ever to be transferred to any other media but film, analogue or digital, tape or file. As he says in a videoclip on Jonas’ Mekas’ website: he wants his films to “die” with the technology. All these filmmakers have ended up in the “hall of shame” of Ubuweb, and for many people that was a step too far (I had my reservations about that as well, as I wrote earlier, after seeing a talk by Ubu headmaster Kenneth Goldsmith). Not coincidentally, this “hall of shame” seems to be taken off the site just a few days after the discussions on the mailing list started.

Some notes. Tony Conrad (btw: ‘Beyond the Dream Syndicate, Tony Conrad and the Arts after Cage’ by Branden W. Joseph just came out, a must-read for those interested in the work of this bon-vivant artist and his milieu) writes about some fundamental problems with Ubuweb on the FRAMEWORKS list, as he explains why he asked his work to be taken offline:
“Of course, the UBU approach described here is at best questionable. But the UBU shit list treatment goes further, to being corrupt and mean spirited. There are no explanations, no appeals—only (it appears) Kenneth Goldsmaith (who?) spewing, when he isn’t ‘appropriating.’

The soundtrack, and soundtrack ONLY, for my film ‘The Flicker,’ turned up on this site, and I had already discussed and rejected the dissociating of sound and image in this work with Lee Renaldo (of Sonic Youth, sd) and others, in reference to their proposals to use the visual part of ‘The Flicker’ in live music performance. I had also rejected a Table of the Elements (who re-released Tony’s early sound work, such as the magnificent box ‘Early Minimalism: Volume One’ and ‘Outside The Dream Syndicate’, a collaborative project with with Faust, sd) offer to release the track as a CD. I felt that (1) the sound and image were conceptually integral (in ways I won’t go into here), (2) the film had been adopted as iconic in reference to the category of “structural” film, and should retain its integriy within that guise, and (3) questions of quality and my own artistic prerogatives prevented me from approving this rudely uninvited appropriation.

In actuality, I personally have a great deal of sympathy for and interest in the free dissemination of video and film works. For instance, I am the principal contributor to a project of the European Union called ‘Oasis’, based at ZKM in Karlsruhe, which seeks eventually to provide study copies of works online. And (prior to this contretemps with UBU) I would have hoped eventually to release all of my work this way, or in some other readily transmissable form. There’s also the tsunami of YouTube just off shore! But there needs to be a certain gentlepersonly code of conduct that can circulate within such efforts, to replace the failing system of intellectual property law. UBU, in this respect, is a disgrace to the field, and not least so in its (not really) laughable “hall of shame.”

Of course, “ubu” is as “ubu” does; Jarry (Alfred Jarry, the author of ‘Ubu Roi’, who also coined the term ‘merdre’) may have spewed crap, but he did not attempt character assassination, even tho he carried a rifle around with him.”

In a later comment he adds:
“In spite of national and other funding that has supported many film artists, the works of the independent cinema are overwhelmingly the willful product of individual effort. These works belong in the ‘public sphere’ only to the degree that their owners wish so; this society has been constructed around an ethos of individual ownership, and this needs to be respected, even in so chaotic a cultural scene as independent media.

Nobody is saying that some guy’s collection of beer cans SHOULD BE MADE ACCESSIBLE to the public at large. The independent films belong to the filmmakers, and it was with this in mind that the coop system, from its founding moment, was encouraged to protect any financial interest that the work represented. Similarly, the ‘art world’ (institutionally speaking) is in effect a systemic recognition that art is a part (and product) of the market system, simply and wholly. We could debate the soundness of this structural condition, but that is the foundation of the society that has produced the modern western world.

For example, take inheritance. Some people may complain about how heirs control works that should be controlled by cultural interests. There has been a debate about Jack Smith’s legacy, for instance. This debate is misplaced; if the inheritance system is to be looked at critically, the gaze should turn first to wealth, and the system of family control of the huge assets that rule our social order, and not to the meager leavings of dead artists.

It may have been wise to have circulated more widely the argument that intellectual property itself is not the chief source of return for an artist (as the music industry has finally begun to recognize!), and that making your work widely available is a strategy leading to greaterreturn than rentals on demand. On the other hand, work that has circulated within the ‘art world’ has been supported by the promotional machinery of that scene, making high rental fees pay off in increased desirability (at least in the short run). The ‘art world’ has also generated a bi-level distribution system, in which informal exchanges and promotional releases circulate freely, while the “actual” work remains ‘tightly controlled.’

This informal circulation of ‘illicit’ copies has been the only access, for many, to work that has been chiefly the product of what Diana Crane considers an ‘urban culture.’ If you want to see these works, you need to go to New York, or London…. UBU, as an expression of the new construction of a widely disseminated online ‘urban culture’ is premature — or as they used to say in socialist Eastern Europe, ‘comes too early.’ It forces issues onto the cultural agenda that should be approached far more broadly, in terms of property ownership at large.

In proposing Oasis, a research archive for general access that is to be much along the lines of UBU, Woody Vasulka pointed out that floating work among multiple institutional databases makes it in effect indestructible, and thus positions it within the larger circle of the extended canon (unlike other important work — such as my brother Dan’s singular and remarkable film ‘Circles,’ which exists in one never-screened print at the NY Filmmakers’ Cooperative). ZKM, in Karlsruhe, has had difficulty effectuating Woody’s plan, largely because of their problems in obtaining clear and explicit permission from the makers (to digitize, and in what form, and to circulate, but how widely, etc. etc.). UBU overwhelms this proper proprietary obstacle by ignoring it. Is that the way to go? For works that are in the ‘public domain’ yes; for personal property, and to squeeze the issue with the circulation to ‘the mob’ of a public listing of the artists who have any reservations.”

There’s several issues here, apart from the methods and rhetoric of the Ubu people, which you might or might not find offensive. First of all there’s the issue of “quality” here, something that is difficult to pin down, especially in the light of changing viewer’s behaviour and expectations. Where’s the value in experiencing the low-quality, pebbly, versions of the films on Ubu? To paraphrase David Lynch (from a fake iPhone commercial): “It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fuckin’ telephone. Get real!”. But Ubu attempts to address the poor quality of its reproductions. From the website: “We realize that the films we are presenting are of poor quality. It’s not a bad thing; in fact, the best thing that can happen is that seeing a crummy shockwave file will make you want to make a trip to New York to the Anthology Film Archives or the Lux Cinema in London (or other places around the world showing similar fare). Next best case scenario will be that you will be enticed to purchase a high quality DVD from the noble folks trying to get these works out into the world. Believe me, they’re not doing it for the money.” And in a recent interview, Goldsmith reiterates this position: “There is nothing that will replace sitting in a dark theater on a huge 35mm screen with a group of warm like-minded bodies enjoying a beautiful film. But unfortunately most of us don’t live anywhere near the place–the three places in the world where those things happen to be shown regularly. So this is not meant to be the real thing because it’s not the real thing–it’s a snapshot–it’s a poor substitution. And we like the idea that the film quality is bad because it’s going to make you want to go out and see the thing for real”. On the mailing list Tom Whitemore writes: “If Mahler had intended for his work to be heard on AM radio, he would have lived in the 1950’s. There is one very simple argument against UBUweb and anything like it – the work is seen through a dirty dusty dark lens. Experimental film is a visual medium. Lack of respect for that is simply lack of respect. Some folks are going to do it. I watched a David Rimmer film once on UBUweb, and that was enough for me. Make a xerox copy of a pizza. No matter how good that pizza was, the copy is going to taste pretty bad.”

In an interview published in the book ‘The Cinematic Reader’, filmmaker Ernie Gehr, who actually didn’t ask Ubu to take his work off the site, explains why the context of is so important in experiencing a movie, especially when it comes to certain practices in ‘experimental film’:
“My Impulse upon hearing that some of my films were available on was to get in touch with them and ask them to take them offline. It was too painful, seeing my films in such a state. Someone who contributes to had told me that if I contacted them, they would take the clips off immediately. But the representation of my work is so poor that I felt I had better leave it, before somebody puts clips online which look a bit more representative, because that would be even more painful. For certain kinds of information, like getting the idea behind the film, they might be useful. But if you would like to get the experience of my films, I would advise you not to look at those oline representations. I work on a certain scale. Also, in my studio, I project what I am working on, to see how it works. To see it on a computer monitor is quite something else. I am interested in the experience of the work, not necessarily in the outline, or the idea behind it. Otherwise I could have just put the idea on a piece of paper, it’s cheaper, and it takes less time to consume. You should look at a film in time.”

Jack Sergeant, author of several books on transgressive and beat cinema, and a regular curator and chronicler of “underground” cinema:
“I have had numerous students (in film and in media) who quite simply do not go to the cinema – not just independent film but even brain-in-neutral-candy-floss mainstream film – when questioned the cinema is not a priority because they can watch works online (or they just don’t bother to see something ‘weird’) and in their understanding online viewing is ok because it is ‘the same thing’.

This notion of watching online streaming, dvd watching, and going to the cinema as being the same has emerged because of our cultural emphasis on cinema as simply another form of story telling, the visual and aural nature of the experience is believed so often to be secondary to the narrative.

Another issue is in the relationship between so called technological innovation and the experience of pleasure. With the introduction of the MP3 player music became simply a ‘personal soundtrack to daily life’ (is this an advertising slogan?), endlessly streamed through headphones. But the pleasures of music are not just aural but also physical, you need to feel the sound in your body, not simply hear it in your ears, even on an individual level many people now seem unaware that they are not really experiencing music fully, but you cannot explain that to people who think the ipod has enabled them to become interesting because the sound delivery device has a number of different colour matt-plastic covers! The technological medium of delivery is now valued by some more highly than the actually music. The notion of personal pleasure also removes the collective experience of music; seeing a loud band, dancing at a rave, hearing an opera, whatever your interest there is a collective experience which the technology negates when it becomes simply personal.

Likewise with film, no doubt people here on frameworks get annoyed with the burned smell of crisco on popcorn and the loud whispers of the audience in a cinema, but the collective experience of watching a film is one of the pleasures the cinema, the shared experience of wonder, or excitement, of emotion, is what defines cinema. Quite simply you can’t have that much fun watching a computer screen.”

But then this extends even further than the quality vs availability discussion, that has been goin’ on for quite a while. Ubuweb might be helping to raise an awareness of otherwise marginalized culture and is for many people a valuable resource (I use it to preview stuff when we’re composing film programs). By making everything available and downloadable there’s a visibility that might lead to an increase of popularity and renown of the artists on the site, and thus increase sales. Or doesn’t it? Visual artist Lisa Oppenheim writes: “After all, from an economic perspective, anything that broadens an artist’s ‘market’ is arguably a good idea”. It might be interesting to check with film distributors if rentals have actually increased, in order to feed the many debates out there on the complexity the relationship between file sharing and sales and the overall earnings of cultural producers. But also: is an equality of access really a good thing, Sergeant asks, doesn’t this mean they are simply perceived as equally disposable? Where’s the balance in broadening acces and lowering quality (expectations)? where lie the priorities?

Bruce Mcpherson, who published books on Deren, Brakhage, Schneemann and others makes a point:
“Insofar as we are all being forced to recognize the Avenue of Bytes as the necessary and expedient way to disperse information about the existence of your (or any) art, I suggest that filmmakers need to make a better practice of giving a little in order to get a lot more.

Specifically, why not offer up a portion of your films, for free, to sites like ubuweb or youtube or whatever, and include information within the “teaser” about where to find/view/acquire your films in the form you feel is proper? Give half a film, or a quarter, or moiety, and you will create demand for the other half, or three quarters. If you tell ubuweb what you want to give them, I feel certain they will be willing to work with you.

You SHOULD control how your art is perceived. But you MUST be out THERE, in the thick of the cultural surround, and battle on your own terms for as much attention as you can possibly obtain. By all means, you should decide how much to give, how much to ask for, but you must be seen to want to be seen.”

Archivist Richard Prelinger:
“Experimental work is much too hard to see. In many places it’s a once-a-year, twice-a-year experience. Outside of a few major centers, it’s really difficult to see work that doesn’t have well-known names attached.

The chasm between experimental work and its existing audiences is deep. The chasm between work and new audiences is even deeper. Here and there artificial scarcity creates value, but most often it results in marginalizing important work that could transform more sensibilities if only it could be seen.

Some may vehemently disagree, but experimental work needs fans. It needs to reach receptive people who would never know to rent a print from the venerable distributors that have worked so hard to keep this culture alive. There isn’t a single way to help moving image works get to potential viewers. All are part of an ecosystem of strategies, and most are valid for one reason or another.

Today there are more images and sounds in the culture than ever before. Art books helped keep painting in the cultural foreground. You know the drill. We need a host of ways to keep good work from disappearing in the noise.

I defend Tony’s right to know where his work is going and steer it in a direction he feels appropriate. But the times may not favor his or any artist’s exclusive control. For Tony, I suspect there is value in maintaining a measure of control and scarcity. I’d only say that the more people that get to see his work and appreciate his career, the value of the billable events that happen around his work will increase. This has been our story.”

Tony’s answer:
“I agree of course: your point is that STRATEGICALLY speaking it makes sense to disseminate one’s work as widely a possible. My point remains: the decision to PURSUE this strategem, or not to do so, should belong to the owner (maker) of the work.”

Furthermore, the notion of the “gift economy” might have its cultural value and “intellectual property” as we know it might come to an end, but it’s clear for many filmmakers that we have to devise sustainable income sources beyond the current copyright regimes. After all, as Thomas Mccormack writes, refering to Lewis Hyde’s ‘the Gift’: “the desire for artists to be able to make money is tied up with the idea that artists should have complete and utter control over their work. These things are not actually mutually inclusive. Under the system of patronage, for example, it was not the case that making a living being an artist meant being proprietary about your work. (…) It’s hard for artists to make a decent living (as many Frameworkers are well aware), but criticizing copyright laws is not an attack on artists, it is an attack on the system, one that currently facilitates making a living (or not), but one that could, and most likely will in some way (possibly for the worse), change.

It seems to be taken for granted by many people on this thread that artists should have complete control over everything they do and make, forever and ever. I’d like to suggest that it is possible that making art is actually an act of giving over a little bit of oneself (or one’s property, work, etc.) to the greater community, and inherent in that act is generosity and a sacrifice of control. While I agree that living artists should be able, to the extent that they wish to, to control how their work is seen, I believe that eventually we have to consider the possibility that art is a community-owned object that is free for everyone to do with it what they wish. For example, people, I think, generally would not be pleased if the great-great-ad-finitum-grandson of Homer began getting very litigious over the Odyssey, because with works of antiquity we all take for granted the community ownership. Clearly there’s no exact point where we can say that a work passes from the individual to the community, but I think the author’s death would be a pretty good time, if we had to assign one. I think many peoples strong feelings about artists maintaining control over how their work is seen, are really sublimated hostilities pertaining to how difficult it is to be an artist in modern society. It makes sense that because we live in a community that often seems hostile to art, artists often become hostile to that community.

I can’t defend the fact that ubu makes it difficult for many people who are trying to do good things, but I can say that the degradation of quality is just something that happens, as is the greater access it allows. Many people don’t believe you “can read” poetry in translation – but you can certainly read something, have some experience, etc. Eventually, I don’t believe artists should have the right to prevent people from translating their works, whatever form (degradation) that translation might take. Without translation (almost always degradation) we would have no history that could be accessed by anyone but the highly specialized. Without these various forms of degradation, we would live in a world of intellectual poverty. Just one example – Ernest Hemingway, who spoke no Russian, could not have Leo Tolstoy, who wrote no English. This is what I mean by community. I don’t think Leo Tolstoy, had he wanted to, should have had the right to prevent translation, at least after he passed away. It would rob the community of too much; regardless of the fact that translation probably robs Tolstoy’s work of some of its power. People are often hostile to this kind of thinking, because, again, they relate it to the fact that it is so hard to make money, and our current system puts so much weight on “control” and “rights” and gives artists so little respect. But I think, in fact, that when artists sacrifice this kind of “control,” it is the very thing that demands so much respect.

Figuring out how this will all work in an age where intellectual property laws are increasingly problematic will be interesting and, I’m sure, difficult. But, as these things are being figured out, I hope art-loving citizens like the Frameworkers don’t automatically support many bad fixed-ideas that are really symptoms of having to exist within the current system. I also hope forward-thinking people like ubuweb put more thought into working out systems that can benefit artists as well as the community, and stop being shameless and smug.”

So the real question might be, as one Frameworker notes: “does the economy of this kind of work really mean ubuweb’s ‘grab and post’ attitude is the only way such a comprehensive archive could come into existence? ”

To be continued…
Read the discussion here

Picture above: Tony Conrad @ No Fun Fest 2008. May 16 2008 at the Knitting Factory In NYC

Towards Open and Dynamic Archives / Program


As mentioned before, one of the projects I’m working on is titled BOM-VL (which stands for “Archiving and Distribution of Multimedia in Flanders” – amazingly enough, there’s no offical website yet, but I guess that’s the way it goes with this kind of large-scale (overscaled?) projects). BOM-VL was set up earlier this year, with support by Minister Patricia Ceysens’ cabinet of Economy, Innovation and Sciences, to analyze the problems of digital preservation and distribution of audiovisual content in Flandres. It involves a wide range of cultural organisations (I’m supposed to be one of those “cultural” Bozos, whatever that might mean). From the multimedia sector the national broadcasting channel, commercial and regional channels and Videohouse and Comsof participate. The IBBT and the VRT Medialab see to the scientific support.

One of the research topics is the “use” of online audiovisual archives. What are the current social, cultural and economic paradigms surrounding the production, distribution and exchange of audiovisual content, and how can we implement these models? What can we learn from the Web 2.0 discourse, and what are the (potential) problems or shortcomings we’re facing? What does the wave of “mass amateurization” imply and how can we generate sustainability? Of course, we aren’t the first ones – nor will we be the last – who are trying to formulate some answers, or at least some propositions, to these questions. So I invited some people who have an interesting vision on these issues, which they are trying to implement in diverse ambitious European archiving projects. The workshop is free, but invitation only. If you’re interested, just send me a mail.

Towards Open and Dynamic Archives
Tuesday 10 June // 13:00 – 18:00 // Brussels
promotiezaal (lokaal D2.01) VUB, Pleinlaan 2 Brussels

The traditional functioning of audiovisual archives is being completely reshaped by today’s technological advancements. The expansion of fast broadband networks and the availability of software, hardware and recording equipment have broken down the barriers to the production and distribution of audiovisual content. Large quantities of multimedia materials are flowing on the Internet and into the archives every day, and all over the world ambitious projects are set up to digitalise heritage collections. Moreover, media start to look more collective and inclusive: the ubiquitous “Web 2.0” discourse promises new levels of participatory culture in which all users are producers, sharing, appropriating and remixing content, overcoming the old regime of top-down broadcast media. Blogs, wikis, social networks and “user-generated-content” tools are presented as the new wave of voluntary alliances that users seek online. Even the traditional media are swept away into the hype: the BBC designated 2005 as the “Year of the Digital Citizen”, in 2006 Time magazine chose “You” as the as its esteemed Person of the Year.

These new socio-technological dynamics are generating many challenges, as well as opportunities for the use and exploitation of audiovisual archives, to the potential advantage of various user groups, in the cultural, educational and the broadcasting sectors, and for the general public. How do audiovisual heritage institutions and broadcasters deal with these new social and economical paradigms? How can sustainable online archives be generated, taking into account the relentless instability of digital technology and the Internet, and the stranglehold of the corporate regimes of monopoly that call themselves copyright and intellectual property? How to create meaning and value within the abundance of “free” content and build vital contexts for exploration, participation and education? What are the potentials and limitations of user-generated tagging and folksonomy systems to improve description and searchability? How to respond to changing forms of labour, knowledge and value, triggered in part by sociable web media? Which strategies can be used to address the challenge of legitimating content produced within an interactive and participatory media ecology? How can we embrace the potential of network culture and create truly open and dynamic archives where reception, interpretation and creation encounter one another?

These and other questions will be discussed during a workshop, organised in the context of the BOM-Vl project. Five international guests, who are each involved in ambitious audiovisual archiving projects, will enlighten their perspectives on the issues at hand.

Paul Gerhardt (Creative Archive Licence Group, GB)
Tobias Golodnoff (Dansk Kulturarv, Denmark)
Marius Arnesen (NRK Media, Norway)
Geert Wissink & Johan Oomen (Images of the Future, Netherlands)

Paul Gerhardt runs the independent consultancy Archives for Creativity, working with public broadcasters and archives around the world, including the BBC, Arts Council England, and the US Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Paul originated and lead the BAFTA award winning Creative Archive project for the BBC, and now co-ordinates the UK’s Creative Archive Licence Group. His career at the BBC has included the launch of the overnight Learning Zone on BBC Two, and the transformation of the major BBC/Open University partnership. From 2001 to 2004 he was Controller of BBC Learning, and responsible for the BBC’s adult education strategy and for national campaigns such as The Big Read.

Tobias Golodnoff is the project director of Dansk Kulturarv, the cultural heritage project within DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation), in cooperation with the Film Institute, the National Museum, the Royal Library, the State Archives and the National Art Gallery. He has been working with online media for more than ten years now, and has in DR especially been working on innovation and new media strategies. Dansk Kulturarv developped several case studies in which they tried out a few interactive models, experimenting with playlist and tagging systems. With the Bonanza project they invited the public to participate in the preservation project by voting which audiovisual material should be digitized in a first phase.

Marius Arnesen works for the R&D division of NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. His work focusing generally on new media, and the Internet in particular. NRKbeta is NRK’s testing area, where Marius spends most of his days. Recently he has been working on a project in which one of their most popular shows on traditional TV in Norway has been made available to download for free via BitTorrent.

Geert Wissink and Johan Oomen are both working as researchers for the Dutch Images for the Future project, run by the Filmmuseum (FM), the Dutch Institute for Sound and Vision (Sound and Vision), Centrale Discotheek Rotterdam (CDR), the National Archive (NA), the Association of Public Libraries (VOB) and the Netherlands Knowledgeland Foundation (KL). Geert Wissink is also working for Knowledgeland (KL), an independent Dutch thinktank based in Amsterdam, who are aiming to establish the Netherlands as one of the key regions in the international knowledge economy. Johan Oomen is project-manager of R&D projects at The Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. He is mainly working on externally funded R&D projects, such as FP6 projects VIDI-Video, P2P-FUSION, MultiMATCH and eContentplus project Video Active. He is also a member of the “Webstroom”, the working group funded by the Dutch SURF Organisation on the use of streaming media in higher education,

Virtual Old Skool


The list of virtual audio tools that are available online is growing steadily. In an earlier post I pointed out the tendency to remediate and emulate the immediate qualities and/or aesthetical retro charm of old skool instruments and formats, notably the audio cassette, in applications like Mixwit (who are now working on new stuff, like photo and video based widgets,) or Muxtape (I was happy to see that this app is now being used by some labels as a promotool. It is for sure less annoying, cooler and more attractive than MySpace. Check out this Muxtape of Asthmatic Kitty Records, home to Sufjan Stevens). A few weeks ago TapeDeck 1.0 was released, a Mac only emulator of a cassette tape recorder. It’s designed to look like a cassette tape deck, and even operates like one, complete with a tape deck-style interface: tiltly buttons, line level meters, rotating cassette spindles, large text that leaves you in no doubt regarding function, and even the clicks, whirrs and pops of a real cassette deck recorder. They even threw in that sped-up sound that plays when you fast-forward or rewind. However, old and new are bridged: mono, stereo and quality levels can be selected with mouse clicks; tapes can be labelled and relabelled with ease; and keyboard shortcuts provide an alternate means of controlling the virtual tape deck. Sounds can be quickly and easlily captured and stored as “tapes” (only in MP4-AAC format, which is a shame). Each recording is saved and organized in a searchable, virtual “tape box”. You can also write notes and email recordings (for voice memos, for example) or send to iTunes or an iPod/iPhone. Sure, TapeDeck offers nothing new in terms of functionality – the likes of GarageBand, Audacity and a slew of other recording apps do everything TapeDeck can and much more, but for those who are in a nostalgic mood, or just looking for a straightforward take on audio recording, it more than fits the bill. It’s not free (although 25 bucks is reasonable), but be sure to try out the demo, which sports two weeks of “gradually declining battery life” and lower-quality recordings.


For those who are looking for more professional features, now there’s the Hobnox AudioTool. This free online electronic music studio is an emulator of machines used by DJs, producers, and bands from all over the world. It includes two TB-303 Bass Line generators, the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines and two banks of effects pedals including three delays, crusher, detune, flanger, reverb, a parametric equalizer and a compressor. You can drag virtual cables between any output and any input to customize the setup – like the Reason software. The available version is a demo, but the developers are working on new effects and tools, ways to record pieces easily (now you have to use external Recorders) and use Flash entirely (no requires Java). In addition, the next version should support collaboration, so that groups of friends can work on the same pieces.

Reznor’s gift


“Each label, like apartheid, multiplies us by our divide and whips us ’til we conform to lesser figures. What falls between the cracks is a pile of records stacked to the heights of talents hidden from the sun. (…) And the only way to choose is to jump ship from old truths and trust dolphins as we swim through changing ways.”
Saul Williams, in his notes accompanying the free release of his album ‘The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of NiggyTardust!’, November 2007

I’ve never been much of a fan of Trent Reznor’s music, but his experiments in gift economy really caught my attention. A few months ago (see previous post) Reznor gave away part one of Nine Inch Nails’ four part album ‘Ghosts I-IV’, as well as Saul Williams’ latest album, on which he collaborated. He now does the same with the NIN new album ‘The Slip’, which is available for free as low quality MP3’s, but also (as torrents) with Lossless compression (FLAC or Apple) or as 24-bit, 96 Kbps WAV files that sound better than the CD would have, if Reznor had bothered to release one yet (vinyl and CD versions will go on sale in July, according to the site). All versions come with a printable PDF with the album cover, the track listing, and artwork for each track. Not only is it available for free, but it was released under the Creative Commons “attribution non-commercial share-alike” license. Remixes can be uploaded, shared, listened to, rated, discussed via the community platform You can also download some remix tools, create profiles, podcasts and playlists.

In the introductory notes Reznor writes: “thank you for your continued and loyal support over the years – this one’s on me”. As this kind of generosity is hard to resist, I might give the album a listen. If this was part of the intention, it’s working.

stream via ilike