Free Culture Reviews

Turning Software Inside Out

A review of FLOSS+Art (the new book I have an essay in):

As our familiarity with software deepens, the question of its cultural understanding looms. Here Tony Sampson reviews FLOSS+Art and Software Studies: A Lexicon, two recent books which attempt to open up the black box to a wider audience

see Mute magazine – Culture and politics after the net.

Reviews Satire

Non-Relational Aesthetics

Sometimes, in a free society, we may read things that we not only don’t agree with but that we find personally offensive. For me, Charlie Gere’s “Non-Relational Aesthetics” is that book. It is the most godawful piece of shit ostensiby about art that it has ever been my misfortune to read. But rather then firebombing the publisher, as Gere defended other aggrieved critics doing recently, I’ll commend Artwords Press for seeking out new voices and encouraging readers to engage with ideas that they might not otherwise encounter.

If anyone wants a copy let me know in the comments and I’ll send you mine, post free.


From An Ancient Star

The bands signed to Ghost Box records are developing the most fully-formed musical mythology in British music since The Fields of the Nephilim (or possibly the JAMMs). With “From An Ancient Star”, Ghost Box band Belbury Poly have continued to expand and integrate their range of retrofuturistic references, blending them into an intensified musical dreamtime of the historical and technological uncanny of the 1970s.

This is the time (and space) of ouija boards and “Tomorrows World”, synthesizers and maypole dances, standing stones and polytechnics, Eric Von Daniken and Denis Wheatley. This is the synthesis of techno-social utopia and haunted rural folk culture. Add the words “dialectic” and “simulacra” to taste. And as the album’s cover strongly suggests, this is the time of the final Quatermass adventure and of “The Children Of The Stones”.

It’s an accessible and rewarding listen. The analogue synth sounds echoing Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, The BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The musical styles and found archive reodings echoing folk culture, television and film music, and public service announcements. The reslt is much more than the sum of its parts, and very contemporary. This is not nostalgia, it uses the musical past as a prism for the cultural present.

A nagging voice at the back of my mind asks “what next?” Is there only so far this formula can be refined? But then the reggae rhythm starts. And it works, and works well. If you’ve bought any other Ghost Box releases, this is one that you have to ad to your collection. And if you haven’t bought any other albums from Ghost Box this is definitely the one to start with.

Aesthetics Reviews Sketchblog

Notes For Two Reviews

When I’m at an art show I’m going to review, or as soon as possible after leaving it, I take notes. These may be taken in low-light conditions, on the last train of the night, under the influence of complimentary alcohol, or in otherwise sub-optimal conditions. But they tend to have an immediacy that the finished review replaces with more in-depth reflection. So as an experiment here are scans of the notes for my review of “Neurotic and the PVCs” at the ICA and “SwanQuake: House” at v22. Excuse my scrawl.



Aesthetics Art Computing Free Culture Reviews

Two New Reviews at Furtherfield

I have two new reviews up at Furtherfield.

FLOSS Manuals

“Neurotic” – a performance at ICA by Fiddian Warman featuring three robots and a number of Punk bands.


Music I’m Currently Enjoying

Bela Emerson‘s cybernetic cello performances are excellent. New album out soon!

Brad Sucks is mis-named. His college-radio-friendly Beck-ish rock wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea but it’s BY-SA and it grows on you.

Amanda Palmer is, fortunately, not really dead because her debut solo album is great.

And on the retro front I’ve been enjoying Tangerine Dream and The March Violets…

Aesthetics Free Culture Reviews

New Reviews At Furtherfield

I have two new Free Culture-related reviews up at Furtherfield.

Abstract Hacktivism

A book collecting two essays by Otto von Busch and Karl Palmas transforms the concept of “hacktivism” with well-argued historical analysis and a number of informative case studies.

Big Buck Bunny

“Big Buck Bunny”, the second short film from the Blender Foundation, features well animated cartoon animals trying to kill each other in order to advance free software and free culture.

Both of the works under review are excellent and well worth downloading and/or paying for.

Aesthetics Reviews

Solaris – The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2

Solaris – The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume 2

They’re not mentioning it in the publicity, but this collection contains the new Jerry Cornelius novella from Michael Moorcock, “Modem Times”.

I’ve started reading it and it’s very good. Absolutely vintage Cornelius but with the quotes from Iraq now rather than Vietnam.

If this blog post is threatening to mean precisely nothing to you, Wikipedia isn’t much help. I will blog about Cornelius at some point, the stories are absolute classics.

Aesthetics Generative Art Reviews

furtherfield review – Addressable Memory

furtherfield review – Addressable Memory

Michael Takeo Magruder is portraying this landscape of digital memory with its own tools, producing portraits of its inhabitants with its own palettes. In Addressable Memory the first draft of history is allegorized as a process of combining and quantizing disparate experience and telemetry. Of mashing-up and composing. The technology and aesthetics of mobile phones, Internet news feeds, video screens, computer image processing and virtual reality are all turned on themselves. At TheSpace4 in Peterborough this show takes up all three rooms. It will be touring the UK throughout 2008.

My latest review at Furtherfield.


The Worst Pies In London

The broadsheets haven’t been kind to Sweeney Todd. The Grauniad bemoaned Tim Burton discarding the play’s critique of capitalism while The Sunday Times was upset that there weren’t any proper tunes in Sondheim’s score. Oh, wait, I got that the wrong way round. The Times wanted more class activism, The Graun wanted something to hum. What is the world coming to?

It’s an excellent film. I found watching it a harrowing experience, as much from its psychological aspects as from the actual close shaves. The violence was a long time in coming as everything slowly fell into place (or possibly apart), and when it finally arrived it was visceral but matter-of fact which made it all the worse. A savage slash and few gurgles and that’s it. Apart from the final scene, which had both a deeper feeling of dread and even worse atrocities pervading it.

The criticism I’ve read of the acting is space filler. Burton got a good performance out of Alan Rickman ferchrissakes, the one that Rickman always feels and that if you were sat in the stalls of a theatre or behind the camera on a set that you would feel but that, like all supernatural auras, usually never quite gets captured by technology. Burton gets Helena Bonhma Carter and Ali G to give performances that go from comic to tragic in the space of a few moments without ever being annoying. And if Johnny Depp doing some unsubtle emoting rather than actually acting would please broadsheet critics then that’s just another reason to ignore them.

I found listening to the film confusing to begin with. It’s The Muses’ revenge on me for every time I have ever been unsympathetic to someone who doesn’t get modern art. The words pole-dance around the music. The music is complex and fleeting. But I got into it, and by the time the worst pies in London were on the table I could find my way around it.

The punchline works thanks to some masterful misdirection of the viewer’s attention, and the film ends at precisely the moment it should. In the soundtrack album notes, Burton mentions Hammer’s horror films as one of his points of inspiration, and I think this is the kind of film the old Hammer would make now. If they did musicals and had Tim Burton as a director.