Music = Speech - Text

Sean Booth, of the abstract electronic music duo Autechre, in their AMA, answered the question "What is music?" with:

yeah music = speech - text.
at least roughly - i reckon it's a kind of super-developed version of the pitch and intonation parts of speech (the aural bit that doesn't contain textual info)

This idea resonated deeply with me, has been on my mind ever since and influenced my own creative practice. I started asking myself what if music just sounds musical because it contains the same gestures, pitches and cadence as human speech? Is music enjoyable because its an abstract voice speaking to us? I started recognising this formula in a lot of music I listen to and started collecting examples in an Are.na channel.

music - text = speech

Wind instruments are a prime example of speech like gestures and pitches in music. At Alarme Festival 2016 in Berlin I heard the duo Luft consisting of Mats Gustafsson (saxophones) and Erwan Keravec (bagpipes). I witnessed an alien conversation between two musicians using a lot of interesting extended techniques:

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In electronic music Rashad Becker is big example for me. Using beautiful timbres and amazing gestures rare to most electronic music I have the feeling I'm listening to voices of a different species:

{{{:bandcamp 2972808472}}}

text + music = speech

Through James Gleick's book The Information (can recommend!) I learned about talking drums. These drums sound like humans humming and can be used to mimic speech to relay messages up to 10 kilometres! Music can be a means of telecommunication as well a deciphered way of text. Here's one example of vocals turned into percussion which I love, it starts 1:15.

{{{:youtube NeWhd3dcplM}}}

speech - text = music

A concept explored by quite some dadaists. In Spain I saw an exhibition of the experimental writer José Luis Castillejo. A couple of his works a books containing poems written with a single or a couple of letters, like the Book of I's or Book of J's. There are a couple of my favs:

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music - speech = text?

????

Know of more? Feel free to add more examples to my "music = speech - text" Are.na channel

Music = Speech - Text

Over-engineering: The tech behind this website

Hello world! I've finally turned these articles sitting on Are.na into a website! Here's a small peek behind the scenes of this seemingly simple, but over-engineered tool which I wrote to build it.

Initially, this blog started as some articles on an Are.na channel, but I think it's a bit of a poor reading experience. Unfortunately, there wasn't a tool that would do this out of the box for me. So I wanted to roll a different frontend for it which would allow me to tweak the readability. Luckily Are.na has an API, so I decided to make use of it to pull in all content and generate a website based on that data with a homebrew script.

For the fetching of the Are.na channel and generating the HTML I'm using Clojurescript (compiled with shadow-cljs) and handlebars (templating) which is all executed by node.js. Although Clojurescript is perhaps a bit overkill for a simple project like this, I learned from a previous website project (done in next.js+plain js) that sometimes you should pick the tool which you know best. There are luckily no runtime costs since it's all precompiled anyway.

I love static website hosts and used different services like Github Pages, Zeit, Glitch and Netlify for various projects. I started building this blog on Glitch, but ended up using Netlify for their custom domains + https and better tooling.

I've previously also used other hosted backends like Contentful, Airtable and Google Sheets instead of Are.na. I can recommend Airtable which works especially well for portfolio websites (image upload!) but unfortunately doesn't have webhooks to notify the static website host.

Anyway, here's the source code if you're interested. I still need to actually tweak the CSS of the blog to make it more readable and appealing, but it's a start. :)

Over-engineering - The tech behind this…

A modern totem pt. 2 - General-purpose

Rooms in houses are there for a reason. It's great to have different places for different functions, so your mind instantly knows what's up. Research, for example, shows that having a bed close to your working place makes you less productive and more sleepy and vice versa having a desk next to your bed sleep less quick.[citation needed] Having your kitchen in sight can trigger appetite. Clear separation makes great conditioning, useful, but only for those with a multi-room house.

{{{:image {:url "https://d2w9rnfcy7mm78.cloudfront.net/5937078/original_af524504dca86d51014a742a7488c428.png?1579374441?bc=0" :style "width: 100%;padding-bottom: 40px;"}}}I think we're still in the cave era when it comes to computers. Your computer's operating system tries to be it all: your entertainment, your workplace, your pub, your altar, your park, your school, your action, your relaxation. One shapeshifting digital context, impossible to become a native in, one massive clusterfuck for your brain.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops are too general purpose to the point that they became a drag. As soon as you start cursing them because of endless waiting on updates, time spent doing your taxes, reading about drama on facebook, they no longer a place of comfort: 'slave boxes', 'glowing rectangles', digital altars, a catalyst for distraction and mood shifts. The screen, desktop operating system and keyboard became a synonym for everything digital, nothing in particular, except for being uncreative and depressing perhaps.

I don't want more apps, and I want things to get out of my way, I don't want more layers on top of layers (operating systems), modes on top of modes.

{{{:image {:url "https://d2w9rnfcy7mm78.cloudfront.net/5937079/original_31209baab330e4d3f9b7fe728538ad6b.png?1579374441?bc=0" :align "right" :style "width: 500px;margin-right: -300px;"}}}Single purpose computers (e-readers, mp3-players, game consoles) are different beasts. They are focused devices (places/rooms?) with clear intent. Unfortunately, they are not in fashion at the moment (in comparison to smartphones), but I hope they will be again soon, albeit in a different form, hopefully with some focus on creation. I wonder if we see different internet platforms getting their own dedicated hardware (like Snapchat glasses). I can only hope that we're going to abandon the form of general purpose glowing rectangles (with too-general-to-be-ergonomic interfaces) soon.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating more devices (and thus more waste). I want to everyone to question the screen, keyboard and operating system as an interface (as the solution for it all). Let's start tailoring tools to specific functions. Let's stop complecting OS'es to warrant general purpose, yet be less than ideal to a single function.

This was written on an iPad Pro with folio keyboard and the Ulysses app. My very expensive typewriter lol.

A modern totem pt. 2 - General-purpose

A modern totem pt. 1 - Interactivity

Computer are the new altars. We're praying to our glowing rectangles and apples™️ for the majority of the day. In a half prayer position: underarms flat on the table, with hands folded over the keyboard, our head slightly tilted downwards we bid like modern monks for the computer to give us information. For hours at end we peek into the pixel void and come back the next day, hoping for more. More of what though?

{{{:image {:url "https://d2w9rnfcy7mm78.cloudfront.net/5937077/original_9d76e275663c2c7ac7d85f69c189cd39.png?1579374440?bc=0" :style "width:100%"}}}

Yet these artefacts aren't modern totems. They are mundane objects meant to be as general purpose as possible. A standerdized and limited set of inputs (keyboard, mouse, screen) meant to suit a broad range of uses. Why doesn't it have levers, pedals, fidget spinners or radars as an interface? Why doesn't the tactile experience guide me more in my search for information? Why isn't there a small cactus growing on my laptop?

Fun is only a side effect of the software, not the hardware. Yet that software is ever changing and not always fun. You can switch the functionality of your computer from fun (games!) to boring (spreadsheets.) just by swapping all the pixels on the screen. General purpose computing shifts your mood as soon as you switch apps. Why can't I have a machine(s?) with a predictable outcome like my Kindle. It screams: this device is meant for reading and there's nothing else I can do with it.

{{{:image {:url "https://d2w9rnfcy7mm78.cloudfront.net/5937076/original_749b39827bd45bf27281425a8ec90133.png?1579374438?bc=0" :style "width:100%"}}}

Lately I've been wondering if I should get into building my own computer. For the sake of art, not to productise or solve world problems. It should be for a specific domain, my first thought being music creation. My next thought is: "but can I use it for other things as well?" and we're back at the start again.

Or should I build a computer specifically for programming? What would I program though? Isn't every programmable environment by definition multi-purpose? Should the form follow function? Or would it be refreshing to have function follow form for a change?

I want to build a dada computer.

(Inspired by To Make a Modern Totem)

A modern totem pt. 1 - Interactivity

A bicycle for the mind

A while a go I received two new computers from my employer: an MacBook Pro and iPad Pro with the Pencil. Although I dislike the Macbook Pro (but that's for another post), I quickly fell in love with the iPad. For me the 11-inch iPad Pro with the Pencil and Folio comes very close to what I have in mind when I think about "a bicycle for the mind", but there's one essential bit missing.

The app I use most is Paper by Wetransfer. It turns the iPad in an expensive notebook, but I love it. The pro version gives you a lot of handy tools, which I normally don't bring with a notebook, like brushes, scissors and glue. The Pencil is not just on/off, but also pressure and tilt sensitive. So I started shading my small doodles by holding my pencil in a certain angle and adding more colours to the doodles.

If an app doesn't implement the Pencil SDK it is nothing more than a precise mechanical finger. I'd love to be able to use the Pencil also in apps which don't support it. Allow me to annotate everything, everywhere and give the OS a sort of memory layer of all doodles I place everywhere. I'm currently typing this in Ulysess, my favourite writing app which doesn't make use of the Pencil. I'd love to highlight certain sentences, cross out certain things and make small doodles in the sideline.

Let me doodle OS-wide; on top of app icons, photos. I don't want to wait on the app developers for support of the Pencil. Adding an annotation layer to iOS itself would turn this iPad into a true "bicycle for the mind".

A bicycle for the mind

On writing

I’ve always seen blogging as a drag, but I envy people who put words out in the open. Take my colleague Misha for example. He makes blogging seem so effortless and it almost feels as If I'm having a casual conversation with him during our work day. I love reading his blog because of its various topics, it's not over-edited or click-baited, and it makes me feel closer to him.

The envy mainly comes from my lack of transparency; I'm bad at documentation and thus have troubles to show people what I've done or thought of. Sometimes this becomes a bottleneck because I can't easily refer to something I've built or written. Also transparency to yourself is important: I believe writing can be a form of meditation and guide you to deeper realisations.

With opening up, you also make yourself more vulnerable. Having lived in a politically oppressed country and having an interested for infosec, I'm quite paranoid on publishing things which enable (future) abuse. So although I wish I could be more open about certain things, I don't want to take any risk.

Another thing I don't like about writing things on the internet is that it's quite static. A lot of things I granted for true in the past, I disagree with now. Writing on the internet has no notion of debunking and people take a single paragraph for face value, without reading updates/edits. So, don't be surprised if these posts are deleted or edited in the future.

Oh and there's me not being a native speaker and trying to always being political correct. Natural languages are infused with culture, which turn it into a minefield. It's really easy to say something wrong although you mean something completely innocent. In the past I've made unintended inappropriate remarks while discussing sensitive topics, which were frowned upon and I didn't even realise I was saying something wrong. This is even more likely in written text, so please call me out when I say something which can be interpreted wrongly.

I've tried blogging in the past and this is going to be yet another attempt. "Don't attempt, because if you do you will fail guaranteed", said one of my teachers once. I hope to enjoy this attempt while it lasts.

On writing

Talking gibberish on a tech conference

It's been a month since I "performed" my conference talk at ClojureD (a German conference for the programming language Clojure). In the meanwhile I've had a lot of questions about it and would like to shed some more light on it.

I started the talk hinting at it being a puzzle after which I immediately started reading 20 minutes of computer generated gibberish to the audience. The random sentences, generated on the fly were accompanied with generated slides (with quotes and snippets of code), gestures ("lean on right elbow", "hiss", "pop lips", "hold up lighter") and even answers to the audience's questions.

My idea was that the audience had to figure out which rules were in place. By giving hints via code snippets on the slides, programmed repetition in the rules and showing my teleprompter with cues briefly, I hoped that people could piece it together themselves. I didn't end up revealing anything to the audience concretely after the performance. Leaving it open for interpretation just like a koan. From the feedback I received afterwards, a couple of people understood it and confirmed the rules with me, which was already more than I hoped. I expected people to walk out, but that didn't happen. Success!

The most beautiful piece of feedback I got was from someone who called it transcending. He said that after 5 minutes he wanted to leave the room and go to the other track, but 10 minutes in he found himself wondering about his own patience and stress, finding himself listening as if it were to a mantra and feeling peaceful. Although unintentional (although not unwanted), I wonder if this is the zen of the wise John Cage shining through on who's "45 minutes for a speaker" I based the talk on.

It was a risky endeavour and I regretted a couple of times submitting this talk as the software was quite tedious to write. Also I was afraid that the engineering audience wouldn't be so receptive of something artsy, but it seemed like it was (with the exception of a couple of negative reactions). I'd love to do more performance talks in the future.

The sources for inspiration for the talk were 45 minutes for a speaker by John Cage, Guy Steel's conference talk Growing a language and a mysterious video game called the Witness.

Talking gibberish on a tech conference

The search for the best pt. 1

I currently have an internal struggle with trying to optimise what I have. Take this brand new Kindle Oasis e-reader, for example, I just don't need it, but I want it. My 7-year-old Kindle (with keyboard) is still rocking, and I don't notice any shortcomings. I just happen to know that there's a new Kindle Oasis and it's beautiful design piqued my interest. If I wouldn't have known about it, I'd be more content with my old one. I feel guilty: just because I know there's something else out there, it shouldn't mean it should devalue my current version, right?

I find myself often searching for the best thing available. Even for trivial stuff like kitchen scales or yoga pants. I'm not searching for a bargain, but I'm searching for the highest quality by reading reviews, forums and recommendations. Am I afraid of buying something not ideal or am I afraid of bumping into something better a week after? Am I that afraid that a marginally less quality product will decrease my own quality of life?

Vipassana (a meditation technique) teaches that annoyances/desires are all intrinsic. They are the product of a little voice in your brain which labels everything ("good"/"bad!"), not an external factor. An example is pain; some people embrace pain to the extent that they even love it, others just wish it to be gone. Or me liking noise music, for most that's just unwanted noise. It's your choice if you like it or not.

I guess what I'm after is knowing how I can be more at ease with not picking the ideal, knowing that the thing I have is not best in class and don't feel the need to upgrade. Maybe I should just hit my meditation mat as soon as I start reading Amazon reviews? Perhaps I should just avoid having stuff in the first place?

The search for the best pt. 1