MonthOctober 2013

Every Day is Halloween: The Evolution of Ministry

jourgensen-and-jourgensen

I wrote for Intonarumoron:

The first two Ministry albums I heard were With Sympathy and Filth Pig. I can’t remember which one I got first, but they sounded completely different not just from each other, but from what I expected Ministry to sound like — something like Skinny Puppy or Nine Inch Nails.

How did Ministry begin with such pop roots and emerge as a heavy metal band? Jourgensen has claimed he was forced by the record company and his producers to create a pop album. Others have speculated that he discovered hardcore punk later in life and was converted.

“The singer has been accused of punk posturing on the video for ‘Stigmata,’ which has him decked out in skinhead garb and wallowing in a pile of trash,” the Phoenix Times wrote in 1988, following the release of The Land of Rape and Honey.

Neither version of the story is true. And while skipping straight from “Revenge” to “No W” would be quite a shock, there’s actually a steady progression in the sound over the years. This evolution has been a fascination of mine for a long time, and may be the thing I like most about his work.

On their own, most of Ministry’s albums aren’t great. There’s a forgettable synthpop album, a poppy EBM album that’s OK if you like that sort of thing, two rather confused industrial rock albums with a few good tracks, one excellent alternative metal album, a below average sludge metal album and a bunch of above average speed metal albums.

But considered as a whole — as a single continuum instead of several discrete works — Jourgensen’s albums are much more interesting.

His authorized biography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen by Jon Wiederhorn, provides some insight into how all of this came to be, but it’s often at odds with contemporaneous interviews he gave. I’m not interested in proving whether Jourgensen is being entirely truthful in his account of what transpired at Arista records, but in gaining more understanding in how and why Jourgensen’s music changed over the years.

Full Story: Intonarumoron: Every Days is Halloween: The Evolution of Ministry

Warning, this is long (4,500 words) and self-indulgent.

The Impossible Music of Black MIDI

Michael Connor writes:

… seemingly impossible music can be found today in a group of musicians who use MIDI files (which store musical notes and timings, not unlike player piano rolls) to create compositions that feature staggering numbers of notes. They’re calling this kind of music “black MIDI,” which basically means that when you look at the music in the form of standard notation, it looks like almost solid black:

Blackened notation

Blackers take these MIDI files and run them through software such as Synesthesia, which is kind of an educational version of Guitar Hero for the piano, and bills itself as “piano for everyone.” It’s kind of brilliant to imagine a novice piano player looking for some online tutorials and stumbling across, say, this video of the song Bad Apple, which reportedly includes 8.49 million separate notes.

Full Story: Rhizome: The Impossible Music of Black MIDI

More info: Impossible Music: Blacked musical notation

This reminds me, for some reason, of the old Amiga demo scene.

The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

War of the Worlds New York Times headline

From Slate:

The supposed panic was so tiny as to be practically immeasurable on the night of the broadcast. Despite repeated assertions to the contrary in the PBS and NPR programs, almost nobody was fooled by Welles’ broadcast.

How did the story of panicked listeners begin? Blame America’s newspapers. Radio had siphoned off advertising revenue from print during the Depression, badly damaging the newspaper industry. So the papers seized the opportunity presented by Welles’ program to discredit radio as a source of news. The newspaper industry sensationalized the panic to prove to advertisers, and regulators, that radio management was irresponsible and not to be trusted. In an editorial titled “Terror by Radio,” the New York Times reproached “radio officials” for approving the interweaving of “blood-curdling fiction” with news flashes “offered in exactly the manner that real news would have been given.” Warned Editor and Publisher, the newspaper industry’s trade journal, “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which has yet to prove … that it is competent to perform the news job.”

Full Story: Slate: The Myth of the War of the Worlds Panic

DSM-5 As Borgesian Novel

Mental Disorders

DSM-5 as a dystopian novel:

If the novel has an overbearing literary influence, it’s undoubtedly Jorge Luis Borges. The American Psychiatric Association takes his technique of lifting quotes from or writing faux-serious reviews for entirely imagined books and pushes it to the limit: Here, we have an entire book, something that purports to be a kind of encyclopedia of madness, a Library of Babel for the mind, containing everything that can possibly be wrong with a human being. Perhaps as an attempt to ward off the uncommitted reader, the novel begins with a lengthy account of the system of classifications used – one with an obvious debt to the Borgesian Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, in which animals are exhaustively classified according to such sets as “those belonging to the Emperor,” “those that, at a distance, resemble flies,” and “those that are included in this classification.”

Just as Borges’s system groups animals by seemingly aleatory characteristics entirely divorced from their actual biological attributes, DSM-5 arranges its various strains of madness solely in terms of the behaviors exhibited. This is a recurring theme in the novel, while any consideration of the mind itself is entirely absent. In its place we’re given diagnoses such as “frotteurism,” “oppositional defiant disorder,” and “caffeine intoxication disorder.” That said, these classifications aren’t arranged at random; rather, they follow a stately progression comparable to that of Dante’s Divine Comedy, rising from the infernal pit of the body and its weaknesses (intellectual disabilities, motor tics) through our purgatorial interactions with the outside world (tobacco use, erectile dysfunction, kleptomania) and finally arriving in the limpid-blue heavens of our libidinal selves (delirium, personality disorders, sexual fetishism). It’s unusual, and at times frustrating in its postmodern knowingness, but what is being told is first and foremost a story.

Full Story: New Inquiry: Book of Lamantations

More Masked Monkeys of Indonesia

Pertu-Saska-a-kind-of-you-1

A couple years ago I linke to a collection of photos of the deplorable living conditions of leashed begger-monkeys in Jakarta. Here’s another photo gallery on the monkeys, with an emphasis on how creepy they look, rather than how they are abused.

ufunk: The Disturbing World of Street Apes in Jakarta

(Thanks Hautepop)

To Move Drugs, Traffickers Are Hacking Shipping Containers

Makes sense:

The scheme sounds like a work of near science fiction. But police in the Netherlands and Belgium insist its true, and say they have the evidence to prove it: two tons of cocaine and heroin, a machine gun, a suitcase stuffed with $1.7 million, and hard drive cases turned into hacking devices.

The plot, which began in 2011, reportedly involved a mix of international drug gangs and digital henchmen: drug traffickers recruited hackers to penetrate computers that tracked and controlled the movement and location of shipping containers arriving at Antwerp’s port. The simple software and hardware hacks—using USB keyloggers and more sophisticated purpose-built devices—allowed traffickers to send in drivers and gunmen to steal particular containers before the legitimate owner arrived.

The scheme was first noticed last year, when workers at a container terminal in Antwerp began to wonder why entire containers—said to contain cargo like bananas and timber—were disappearing from the port. In January, the plot appeared to culminate in a daring raid in the province of Limburg, near Antwerp. A truck that had left the port and was unwittingly carrying containers stuffed with drugs was attacked by suspects armed with AK-47 assault rifles. According to police, the gang had assumed the driver, who was not killed, was from a rival drug gang.

Full Story: Vice Motherboard: To Move Drugs, Traffickers Are Hacking Shipping Containers

Mindful Cyborgs: Power and Privilege in the New Working Order

This week Chris Dancy and I talked to Shanley, a tech product manager and feminist in the Bay Area, about sexism and micro-aggression in the work place.

KF: How can people be more aware of what’s going on there? I mean, one of the things I was wondering about when I read it is how often managers are really intentionally doing this because I imagine there’s some element of desire to be the boss and express power in those ways but I’m guessing actually that there’s a fair amount that’s completely subconscious and that if managers were more aware of they actually would perhaps not do these things.

First of all, do you agree that some of it is unintentional and secondly like how can people become more aware of this stuff?

CD: One of the things I heard Shanley you say was when I become or when we become managers the things we observe so I think to Klint’s question is some of this just kind of picked up like lint on your mind because you’ve watched people manage?

SK: Yes absolutely. I think we tend to emulate what we see around us, we tend to try to emulate and live up to the mythologies around us. I think that most this type of behavior is not conscious at all. No one is sitting there thinking how can I make my team feel bad, how can I make them feel inferior, how can I make them feel less than … but there’s something amazing about that realization because it starts with this realization that like managers have a profound impact on the lives and experiences of their teams.

We know this is true because when you ask people about bad managers that they’ve had you see the tremendous negative impact that managers can have and not just affecting you as an individual but ask someone’s partner, their friends about the bad managers they’ve had and they’ll give you an earful too. And then you talk with managers and they have this really strong desire to really help their team but there’s a disconnect going on there. When you can sort of star in this shared position of being like okay, like this is a really powerful space, the space of interaction is really powerful. It’s something that sometimes goes horribly wrong but no one wants it to you and how can we sort of start from that position of like good intention but more awareness and honesty.

As always, you can find it on Soundcloud, iTunes or Stitcher, or download it directly.

Show notes and transcript are here.

Continue reading

Creativity Literature is Bullshit

Thomas Frank on the creativity industry:

What our correspondent also understood, sitting there in his basement bathtub, was that the literature of creativity was a genre of surpassing banality. Every book he read seemed to boast the same shopworn anecdotes and the same canonical heroes. If the authors are presenting themselves as experts on innovation, they will tell us about Einstein, Gandhi, Picasso, Dylan, Warhol, the Beatles. If they are celebrating their own innovations, they will compare them to the oft-rejected masterpieces of Impressionism — that ultimate combination of rebellion and placid pastel bullshit that decorates the walls of hotel lobbies from Pittsburgh to Pyongyang.

Those who urge us to “think different,” in other words, almost never do so themselves. Year after year, new installments in this unchanging genre are produced and consumed. Creativity, they all tell us, is too important to be left to the creative. Our prosperity depends on it. And by dint of careful study and the hardest science — by, say, sliding a jazz pianist’s head into an MRI machine — we can crack the code of creativity and unleash its moneymaking power.

That was the ultimate lesson. That’s where the music, the theology, the physics and the ethereal water lilies were meant to direct us. Our correspondent could think of no books that tried to work the equation the other way around — holding up the invention of air conditioning or Velcro as a model for a jazz trumpeter trying to work out his solo.

Full Story: Salon: TED talks are lying to you

I’ve linked to a bunch of these sorts of “science of creativity” articles over the years, but the best advice I’ve heard came from a conversation I eavesdropped at a local coffee shop a couple weeks ago. A comic book artist was being interviewed (I don’t know who it was or what publication was interviewing him), and he said “the muse strikes when you’re working a lot, not when you’re sitting around waiting for the muse to strike.”

See Also:

Peak Intel: How So-Called Strategic Intelligence Actually Makes Us Dumber

Richard Florida = Lyle Lanley

Teachers hate creativity?

The End of Prozac Nation and the Rise of Deep Brain Stimulation

Vaughan Bell on the shift from psychiatric drugs that act on one specific neurotransmitter in favor of a “circuit” driven model of treating mental and neurological disorders:

In its place is a science focused on understanding the brain as a series of networks, each of which supports a different aspect of our experience and behaviour. By this analysis, the brain is a bit like a city: you can’t make sense of the bigger picture without knowing how everything interacts. Relatively few residents of Belfast who live in the Shankill spend their money in the Falls Road and this tells us much more about the city – as these are the key loyalist and republican areas – than knowing that the average income of each area is much the same. Similarly, knowing that key brain areas interact differently when someone gets depressed tells us something important that a measure of average brain activity would miss. [...]

Perhaps more surprising for some is the explosion in deep brain stimulation procedures, where electrodes are implanted in the brains of patients to alter electronically the activity in specific neural circuits. Medtronic, just one of the manufacturers of these devices, claims that its stimulators have been used in more than 100,000 patients. Most of these involve well-tested and validated treatments for Parkinson’s disease, but increasingly they are being trialled for a wider range of problems. Recent studies have examined direct brain stimulation for treating pain, epilepsy, eating disorders, addiction, controlling aggression, enhancing memory and for intervening in a range of other behavioural problems.

Full Story: The Guardian: Changing brains: why neuroscience is ending the Prozac era

See Also:

Deep brain stimulation to treat depression

The Curious Case of a Woman Addicted to Her Brain Implant

The Resurgence of Floatation Tanks

Neima Jahromi on floatation tanks:

Powers calls the Walden experiment a withdrawal “within the world,” but he overlooks the utopian aspirations of Thoreau’s experiment. There’s nothing transcendent about making yourself comfortable within the world’s limits.

Many floaters more readily align with Powers’s mistaken description of Thoreau. Rather than use the tanks to escape from society, they isolate themselves to escape toward society. Floaters are happy to have the anxious aspects of themselves reprogrammed into a sociable tranquility, especially those afflicted by serious mental wounds, like military veterans who hope sensory deprivation will help treat their PTSD. (One Float On employee told me she believes that if prisoners were given the opportunity to float, they would become much more “manageable” and prison violence would likely decrease.) When the solution serves too well, some floaters pragmatically impose limits on the relief they seek. Andrew, the “human firewall” consultant, told me he used to book sessions in the morning before work but had to stop. “I found myself being much more understanding and sympathetic and I let a lot more things slide,” he explained. “It was then that I realized I needed to stop floating in the morning or I’d start allowing people’s excuses—and projects would get delayed and pretty soon none of us would have a job.”

One wonders if, in a hundred years, the tacit philosophy of the floaters who accept the world as it is and change themselves instead could improve society. Robert and Edward Skidelsky, the father-and-son economic historians who wrote the book How Much Is Enough? (2012), believe that there is something worth reprogramming in us: not the parts of our brains shaped by digital technology, but the drive to work too much. If only more schools, against our avaricious natures, taught us to be leisurely, those who labor pointlessly for more and more capital would relax instead of working overtime, and more wealth would become available to those who need it. The income gap would shrink.

Full Story: The Nation: In the Tank

(Thanks Kenneth!)

See also the conclusion of my article on “contemplative computing”:

Pang’s notion of mindful, or contemplative, computing is useful, but ultimately it’s just a way of coping with a world of applications designed without our best interests at heart. Just as meditation, prayer and weekend retreats can help us cope with the harsh realities of the modern world, so too can it help us cope with flame wars, feral inboxes and the non-stop rush of social media. But just as citizens can demand safer cities, more humane governments and even economic reform, we can demand a new class of technologies.

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