A year in pictures.

I’ve now pretty much left Instagram, bar for commenting/liking, and have moved my day-to-day photos towards Flickr.

For a while, I’ve had a feeling of wanting to take longer-lasting photographs, of better quality, that actually stand-up to time  — something which Matt well articulates. This post-Instagram, post-filter landscape has been accelerated by Instagram’s recent behaviour that has undermined its value to me and sullied the gentle social: the main reason I loved their service.

It is still a good record of the bits and pieces that I’ve experienced over the past year — including getting married, a handful of trips to Mitteleuropa and more Copenhagen — but next year I’d like to get better at photography, with a better camera.

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Jumping 23 miles and landing on your feet.

Today, we watched a man jump from the edge of space, 23 miles above the surface of the planet. He landed on his feet.

We watched it live on a social network video sharing site, via wifi and 3G, whilst sharing our collective anxieties with everyone in the world on our handheld super computers. Live.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that the future isn’t what it was supposed to be.

Mount Eerie presents…

Phil Elverum has made a visual playlist of videos and music that are good reference points and (possibly) inspirations behind the newest Mount Eerie albums, Clear Moon (released end of May) and Ocean Roar (September).

It’s an interesting mix of a lot of things I’m interested in: Pacific North West music (Eric’s Trip, Nicholas Krgovich, Earth), ’80s UK goth type acts (This Mortal Coil, Cocteau Twins), ethereal soundtrack music (Popul Vuh), a good dose of Black Metal, and a lot of natural landscape fantasies.

It’s great that artists can make these kinds of context documents for fans: to share actual inspirations that can be in some way experienced, understood and add value to their own creations.  These things used to be limited to the ‘thanks’ section of LP inlays, where I would see which bands, record labels and — occasionally — authors, artists, books and films would be referenced before going into town and spending money on one or two of those things.

Anyway. Enjoy the playlist, and pre-order the LP.

‘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’.

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.

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?