In search of the Sublime.

This might be my second post about Instagram. About its worth to me, personally. It’s quick and superficial — looking at the “the continuous partial everywhere” of Cerveny and Juha, but maybe in terms of Coleridge and Wordsworth. I think I’m coming to find the opposite of Juha’s experience; a continuous partial nowhere.

The constant awareness of other people’s locations – thanks to foursquare, twitter, instagram – is causing a small sense of dislocation. I am not really a part of those locations. It’s wonderful, of course, precisely because of that. It’s cause for fantasy. Of escapism.

I’ve found the photographs I’ve actively liked on Instagram are pretty much a straight split between food/drink, brutal/urban, and pastoral/remote; the rest made up of moments and (what would once have been) noticings.

It’s pastoral/remote images like this:

This:

This:

and this:


I think I’m increasingly drawn to them because they’re over there. Not here, part of my daily routine. They’re a foreign bit, and they are very definitely somewhere. I find myself following people from Finland, Portland, Norway, adventurers and people near lands of tall pines, mountains, fjords. I follow them to escape briefly from the urban, suburban, bricks, mortar and railway tracks.

This is the nearest I have to a contemporary Romanticism; to reconnect with landscapes I haven’t known. Finding moments of the Sublime in amongst the bus rides in the city.

It’s the pastoral companion to Bridle’s Robot Flâneur. It’s post-industrial escapism delivered by the ultra-modern super-computer in my pocket.

(Images by Anne Holiday, Jez Burrows, Graeme Douglas & Jørn Knutsen, respectively)

‘Limited Edition’ publishing in a digital age.

Walk The Plank 7" first press, "limited blah blah"

Today is Record Store Day 2012. A day designed to “celebrate the art of music” by encouraging people to visit, engage with, and purchase physical products from physical record shops.

It’s a noble aim, to support something that has brought a lot of light to people’s lives — the people at Probe Records in Liverpool, Piccadilly Records in Manchester have been particularly helpful in nudging me down avenues that the racks of HMV, Virgin MegaStore or the algorithms of Amazon’s recommendation engines never could.

The first thing that is particularly interesting about RSD is that it mimics the music industry’s recent shift from sales to events. Touring acts are now the primary focus for income from the major labels, and RSD is an event to encourage merchandise sales. There are plenty of in-store performances in record shops to entice the curious. Although, if you’re a regular at Rough Trade East in London, you might be put-off by today’s special performance: Keane.

The second thing that is interesting is the means in which RSD offers added value: limited edition records. Small number pressings of seven/twelve inches by bands such as Arctic Monkeys, The Hives, Talibam!, Belle & Sebastian and, er, Abba.

What these two things are doing is drawing a massive line in the sand, demonstrating what record stores can do that the online merchants of Amazon, eBay, Discogs etc can’t do: physicality and ‘value’. The online value is usually down to price; offline value is about being able to be part of something, hold something beautiful, and — crucially — be one of the few people to have that experience or product. As Andy Votel notes, “tangible & sociable (not invisible)“.

The internet does scale well, the ‘real’ world does intimacy well. The question is: can the web successfully do limited edition publishing, with intimate value?

It is dangerous to mimic the models of one form in another, and I don’t want to see a replica, but the frictionlessness of online is perverting the value in supply and demand. If everything is always available, can it have value?

It’s a question I’ve looked at briefly in some work. MemCode — a small publishing project — follows an issue model of publishing, looking at quarterly editions of memories and form experiments (issue 2, blue). An initial idea was to have a payment system, for intangible moments/memories, with a built in half-life of the link. That’s a form of the solution, but it doesn’t enable a person to retain the ‘product’ permanently, and leaving a trail of dead links across the web is littering.

Another form of this is a project I have worked on with Philter Phactory’s Weavrs MMM — a storytelling platform for bots, where a majority of the narrative is hard-written and a percentage is generated based on searches and API calls. It’s a version of ltd edt as each version is likely very different, but it’s not quite the same.

At the moment, it is very binary: paywall or completely open. Yesterday, I noticed this tweet from Caitlin Moran (by way of Mary Hamilton) about a temporary paywall amnesty:

I think this is the start of something along the lines of what I describe above. The offering is the value of not having to pay, but also the satisfaction of being one of the people who got it when it was available.

A limited edition offering, a ‘first pressing’.

Exploring Breivik’s Manifesto.

The Guardian Data Blog has done some excellent work exploring the links and references in Anders Breivik‘s Manifesto. This is genuinely fascinating, a much better way of engaging with how a person processes information and distorts it.

This won’t explain Breivik’s motivations entirely, and a lot of things are contradictory, but it is a brilliant means for exploring the contexts that encourage such unhealthy paranoia and delusion.

Finished. It’s finished. Nearly finished. It must be nearly finished.

Last week, Marie and I posted the last entry to Playlist Club, a 51-track compilation featuring an appearance from all the contributors of the last year. It was the end of a year-long project, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do. As I said over on PC:

Hopefully, you’ve found one or two new songs or artists that you hadn’t heard before, or rediscovered some forgotten gems, and that we’ve done our bit.

Our time is up now, kids. These 12 months — and the shedload of songs, stories and elevenses they have brought — have been a lot of fun, but it’s time to move on. A year seemed about right, and there are lots of excellent new ways of discovering music that have popped up since we started (a favourite of which is This Is My Jam, say hello & hai! ), and perhaps our purpose is served.

The other side of that, is that it got a bit tiring. I have endless respect and admiration for the people behind the 365, curating a person to contribute every day, needs full-time editors. Marie and I jumped in head-first without really thinking it through. I’m glad that we did it, after calling her on a flippant comment, but harrying people every week — with occasional anxiety about missing our set publication time — came to be a bit of a drag. When people are dead into it, they are dead into it; when they’re a bit lackadaisical, it’s a bit frustrating. Of all the weeks, we only missed one day (cheers, Brandon) and had a couple of late shows. Not bad, I think.

Anyway, so the ending of it. We’d got tired early December, but decided we would stick with it until there was a natural moment to break it up. A whole year, 52-weeks, seemed as arbitrary as it did good, so we decided that mid-February would see the end of Playlist Club.

It seemed so final. We’ve got a real URL, a proper logo (thanks Kipi), shiny badges (shout if you want one) and a massive stack of people who still wanted to contribute (sorry, pals). We’ve put in many hours to this thing, often with minimal reward, but it was a fun thing.

Importantly, it was a thing, but its life had run and we put it to bed. I thought that maybe we could just tweak it, make it a monthly thing and lighten the burden on us, but it would just slowly diminish and lose any lustre that it had. This way, it may be a bit disappointing to a few people now — but we’re not disappointing everyone for a long time.

It was good to do. I’ve been thinking about endings, off and on, for a while now. There seems to be a disjunct between ending Real things and Digital things, even if they’re not that different. In the ‘real world’, it is easy to put things to an end. Artists end their own stylistic periods, musicians kill off personae/bands (“Mount Eerie is a new project. The Microphones was completed, or at least at a good stopping point. I did it because I am ready for new things. I am new.“), narratives are drawn to a close (Gold Blend couple) and we all sup the last of the tea.

I’ve noticed an odd trend of the concept of time in Digital. In ‘the past’, time has been planned, forward. Things plotted against and things made to arrive on a certain date, for a certain reason. An ad campaign would have its lifespan for as long as it could afford screenspace, newspaper ads, or billboards, or backs of buses. The product was locked into time and – because of that – had to end. Digital has given the illusion that time is some how more real now. Things are always on and always available, Day V Lately from the Yellow Pages campaign could be, right now, looking for his record in Vinyl Tap — so he will tell you about it, right now.

But what happens when he definitely is not?

He gets busy, doesn’t have time for us any more. Takes a break. Or goes on holiday:

It might be a bit facile to pick two fictional characters from ad campaigns, but they’re indicative of the difficulty in letting go. There’s the illusion that they could always come back, but there’s a slight hint of desperation — if what we’ve got lined up doesn’t work out, we’ll be back.

There’s no desire to sever the ties, but I think that’s important for getting on with new things.

Things that I said to people at Culture Hack North.

I was invited to give a short provocation/inspiration talk at Culture Hack North. CHN is part of the wider Culture Hack programme bringing developers, arts organisations and creatives together to think about how to use technology differently, and develop prototypes for New Things. It seemed to be a very successful weekend and you can see some of the hacks that were made.

There were plenty of good people talking, including the always excellent Matt Edgar (his notes), Frankie Roberto (talking about embracing ambiguous data through the Open Plaques project) and the new-to-me but very interesting Natasha Carolan (her write-up).

I’m not a seasoned speaker, so thanks to Rachel for twisting my arm and making me go to Leeds. The images I used to represent my points and the words I tried to say are below.

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Instagram and Other People’s Shopping Lists.

Since October last year, Instagram has ruled my photograph taking. It’s done what Flickr should have done and what twitpic, yfrog and the like thought they were doing — a simple, single-purpose photo sharing mobile app.

It gets a lot of flak from people moaning about the use of filters, but that misses the point of what it really is. Like criticising twitter for people’s spellings. As a social space, it’s probably my favourite at the moment. It reminds me of the early days of twitter – the days when you followed a fairly small, but diverse, group of people. When you shared ideas – occasionally what was for lunch – and didn’t have to worry about blocking all the SEO spammers or niche retail outlets from Kentucky, or people shouting for attention.

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One more time, with feeling.

I downloaded the iPhone app Weddar yesterday.

It’s a cute application that seeks to crowdsource the weather in the area that you’re in. It’s not about meteorological fact (22°C, 6mph Westerly wind, 78% humidity etc), but about how the weather is perceived.

Weddar: how does it feel?

I’m struck by the simplicity of its question, and the basic idea behind it: reporting on how it ‘feels’ is quietly brilliant. How does it feel?