Wednesday, December 30, 2009

that which is hidden and theories

When you are a child, you have fantasies, daydreams or imagined activities, even imagined possible futures, based on the limited information that you have accrued. When you are older, you still imagine and fantasize, based on a little more information, but the scope of your daydreams might be narrowed to things that seem more plausible.

As an adult you have these daydreams and fantasies to amuse yourself, to make yourself feel better. As a child, your daydreams might be more uncontrolled, broader but also more "real" (because you have less grounded information to base them on, there is less of a distinction between real and fantasy to start with) and you might even scare yourself with them.

The most effective fantasies are anisotropic: they have a direction, a vector that they follow, that leads to a satisfying resolution. If things aren't going well, you might imagine a world in which you are successful, you conquer or achieve something: you score in an athletic contest, you give a performance that is received with wild applause.

But because these are fleeting and self-generated, they are essentially a forgone conclusion. This is why stories appeal to us: a good story promises the satisfying resolution, hints that one is in the offing, but might steer away from the direct path to it, in order to heighten the tension.

So, it is fair to say that everyone who can comprehend a good story likes a good story. There are varying opinions on how good a story is, or if it is good at all, but enough desire for stories exists that a wide variety of stories of varying quality can be told.

If imagination is hidden, then, and the story is the surfacing of imagination, and we all like stories, then it stands to reason that we all share a certain hidden part.

Now, because we have the fantasies we have based on the information and experiences we have, it stands to reason that if a population has the same information and experiences that the individual members of that population might imagine similar fantasies. Conversely, when presented with a fantasy, a story, the individual members of that population would receive it similarly.

Imagination in the purest form occurs in dreams. Unlike our waking daydreams, a dream proceeds as if someone we do not know is generating the story line, so it can surprise us. People experienced in semi-wakefulness during the dream state can nudge the dream one way or the other, taking advantage of the immersive simulation being generated to inject some of the waking fantasy into it. However, it is much less likely that individuals in a similarly experienced population will share the same dream.

This is because dreams are a byproduct of the mind tagging, sorting, merging and linking experiences and so the experiences in the filing system that are not affected by the process do not come into play, and the experiences being processed have not yet been codified.

The dreams, other than outright nightmares, that I find unsettling are the ones in which I'm being judged or assessed somehow. During the dream, I am engaged in some activity that is the main subject of the dream, and it is pleasant enough, but there is someone else weighing the value of the activity in the background. I cannot account for this, because of course everyone in the dream is me, and I am the only person having the dream.

So I think that sensation of being judged or graded is my own 'notes to myself' being processed. We do not go through our daily activities without considering how we might improve these, and it is not always the case that the activities are so consuming that they cannot leave room for some self critique. So these experiences are internal and self-generated, paradoxically in the dream state they seem like they are coming from an external source (which they are, from the point of view of the primordial dream processor, they are 'metadata' that was generated earlier by the waking self). That is one theory anyway.

Now my other theory, which is the theory I started to introduce truth be told, is the theory about the movie and television fiction industry. So if everyone has a similar experience but cannot generate the best fantasies to suit themselves, it stands to reason that the movie/tv story industry strives to serve as their fantasy processor. And, because there is no line between dream and fantasy when the artifact is being generated externally, the movie/tv story industry also serves as the dream processor.

That is, the movie/tv story industry is akin to the unconscious. It works on a separate thread, observes and records information that we are unaware of, and then presents it having a cast of characters and a direction.

Then, if the movie/tv story industry (I say 'story' to separate the factual or documentary aspects) is akin to the unconscious, are there also the same kind of 'clues' we might find in a dream as to what the future holds for the population having the "dream"?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

history and philosophy and art and Slovenia

First, I had been reading about the NSK state
NSK State,
which is an art collective that was formed in Ljubljana in the 1980s, in what was then Yugoslavia and now Slovenia.

I was reading this because of the music of Laibach, which is an electronic/industrial band that has a very unique aesthetic.

In a nutshell, it is a movement that takes taking itself seriously very seriously, but which does not really seem to take what it is taking seriously about itself as seriously as what it does seem to be seriously about. They have chronicled their own rise with a movie entitled "Predictions of Fire".

More tangibly, they have taken up the historic thread of aesthetics cast off by totalitarian regimes and infused this into the presentation of their work,
and to me it projects the future as clearly as the early avant garde modernist art of the 1900s. The images they invoke mjust have
immediate visceral connection with people in central and eastern europe, but also globally. They are also wryly commercialistic,their webshop banner's dynamic text proclaims things like "WE ARE THE INCOME OF YESTERDAY" and "WE KILL TO SURVIVE.

On one hand NSK is a humanist movement in its spirit, and they recognize and most importantly are unafraid to recognize the part that the essence of traditional nationalism plays in human culture. Everybody loves their country. On the other hand, they seem to be having a good time assembling their aesthetic from the utility drawer of discarded "state-oriented-art", and Laibach recycles a lot of their own work, so they do not write material at the pace of a flash-in-the-pan pop band, instead refining and re-releasing their works.

A possibly disturbing aspect of NSK, and Laibach, is that they seem anti-American. "The End of History" is a phrase associated with America in Laibach's work. The basis for this is healthy, however. In order to maintain a clear objectivity, all symbols of state supremacy have to be scrutinized for aesthetic durability as well as what they attempt to obscure with their symbolism.

As purveyor of one of the most ascendant set of state symbols, America's oeuvre must be held up to the light, candled in order to ascertain the true shape of the embryo within. Paraphrasing from the film, "the triumph of capitalism over communism does not mean that capitalism will endure endlessly. This is because capitalism's 'active ingredient' is greed, and greed's characteristicis to destroy itself once it is sated".

In addition, a fascist state is a "corporate state", where ruled by a board of directors whose authority is complete. US corporations and the USA are at times indistinguishable, much to the delight of (and profit for) the corporations.

So anyone from a country as small as Slovenia is rightfully skeptical and even a bit afraid of the US.

Slovenia. It seems like an unlikely place to unravel the unraveling that has occurred in the past three decades. But it is actually one of the most logical places to do so. Here is a place, as the film mentions, where " the border between East and West has crossedfive times". From the perspective of this place, Slovenia, the minor fracas that was the disintegration of Yugloslavia to us in America.
But, regarding the Balkans, as it says in the film "when Europe falls out of balance, it is visible here before anywhere else".

The NSK info also provided pointers to Slavoj Žižek who is a philosopher and researcher whose theories springboard from Lacanian psychoanalysis and a bit of "old fashioned Marxism" by his own reckoning. In still photos, he looks happy and scholarly. In video,his audio aside, he is intense and somewhat manic, constantly fidgeting and gesturing. Then, with the audio, he is all of that plus a Slovenian accent with a squishy "ssss". He sometimes seems to be peering into some other-dimensional cabinet or bookcase for erudite concepts, and other times seems to be frantically but eloquently explaining his way out of a misdemeanor.

I doubt that Slavoj Žižek could not have been born and raised in America and achieved the same scholarly worldview. He would have been taunted mercilessly in high school and become a disaffected gambler or something.

In the US, we tend to see continental Europe as France, Germany, Spain and Italy, with some smaller derivatives of themselves in-between. Oh, and maybe Greece.

Then if we are asked to strain ourselves and include a countries from Central and Eastern Europe, we might come up with Poland, Czech... something, Romania? Bulgaria? maybe. Ukraine? possibly, but that is pretty advanced.

Slovenia? Is that a country? It is hiding, not quite Eastern Europe, and not quite Western Europe. Or, both.

At any rate, I guarantee that if you take a look at the NSK video series, and any of the YouTube videos featuring Slavoj Žižek, you will learn a lot in just a couple of hours.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Brief Biography of Every "Community" site

There was a time around the turn of the century when something very auspicious, but mostly unnoticed and insidious, started to happen.

Websites with applications on them started to be referred to as "platforms".

Not platforms in the sense of a combination of computer machinery and operating system (as the term had been used more typically until that time) but in the sense of a website that was running some applications.

And now people refer to things like Twitter as a "platform", like it is a mostly stable base to build things on, when in fact it is a website running some applications, as the whale-being-borne-by-birdies notice reminds us.

Facebook is also a "platform" now, MySpace is also a "platform", which at this point is mostly known for being too slow and being surpassed by Facebook.

Facebook became popular for reasons not very clear, but mainly (of course) because Buzz was Generated. Now there are many more people on Facebook than there are in the United States... well, many more unique IDs, anyway.

Facebook, like MySpace for the most part, is a way that you can fill in more forms that populate a website application that displays the information you provide in a genericized format. The forms are sometimes straightforward, and sometimes not. The "edit this thing" link is a way to pull up more forms. What "this thing" might be is not necessarily clear until you begin to edit it, and partway through editing it what does become clear is that there will be many more "things" to edit until you have the page that you sort of want. "Sort of want", because it will always be displayed the way that the website application... excuse me, "platform" wants it to look. Because of course the platform is a place where advertisers can put ads, that is what it is a platform for.

Because Facebook is the type of web application that accepts information about people, it is a "community" platform. Now, the actual mechanics of the application is that it accepts data that describes objects, so if the data accepted was about vegetables, it would be a "garden" platform, I guess.

So, in a community platform you edit a bunch of things and then are able to submit that information to the platform's seach system, which generally sucks, so that people can sort of find you, if they know some of the information that you entered into the platform.

More in the context of this blog, if they know that you are an electronic musician, and then enter in the search terms "electronic musician" there is a good chance that you will be among the results they are looking for, somewhere in the pages and pages of results, that is.

But that is not the concern of the providers of the platform. Their concern is that advertising gets displayed while people use their applications. In fact, if there is one key aspect of Facebook that works in its favor it is that unless you actually know some of the information about the people you are looking for, you are unlikely to find them. They want people looking for things that are like a description to find zillions of them, to prove that they are in there, but you won't actually find anything (any one, that is) unless you are describing a very particular thing.

So, here is the biography of every community site:

ACT ONE: it builds a dataset containing snippets of information about the people who join the site and enter data into the site's applications, essentially a directory. If you belong to the directory, you can link yourself to other people in the directory (basically, when you link them that way, you add them to your data along with your other data). Many many people join it, looking for various things. The creators of the platform have all kinds of data to provide to advertisers (aggregated, de-personalized) so they can target advertisements. The members of the directory are able to find people they may not have been able to find otherwise, or they may be people that they see everyday.

ACT TWO: More and more people join, the platform creators have no real clue why. They try to add some features to make the platform more appealing. These features meet with mixed reviews. EVERY feature will meet with mixed reviews, because there is a vast cross section of people in the directory so OF COURSE that will happen. Also, the platform creators have lots of money, or opportunities to borrow lots of money, so they start spending money on things they believe are cool but which may never bear real fruit. The platform starts to sprawl, with features this way and that. Somewhere, elsewhere, there is someone building another platform, with The Features that People Really Like. It begins to Generate Buzz.

ACT THREE: The community platform begins to react more slowly, many of the people who have connected have exchanged email addresses and tend to contact one another more directly. Others get bored, and find other ways to share 14 second videos of themselves doing stupid things. Community members who joined to promote a service or band or product realize that keeping their wall and discussion groups seemingly active is a lot of work, and that the lack of an active wall or discussion groups is a way for new people who visit to ascertain, at a glance, that they are failing. The people who built the applications built them hastily, in a way that will require more technical work to occur in order to keep them running just as they are, let alone the cool features. The young people who generated buzz start to generate buzz that the platform is passe', to the point where participating in the platform indicates one is behind the times. The site stagnates, it becomes another brand of platform that is supported by advertising. The advertising either supports the operation of the platform, or it does not, and the platform either folds or is bought by a company that will operate it at a loss for tax purposes

Monday, December 21, 2009

ups and downs, nows and thens...

There are times when I get excited about things and they make me happy and get me motivated, and then they let me down.

I have a feeling this happens more often, to more people, now that so many people are participating in so many things online. What happens is the new site or new online community that seems appealing and fun, and then various aspects of it let you down and you realize that it is just a front for some advertising scheme. It starts to run slower, the features are lacking, then it gets dull.

The digital age is an exciting thing in general, and it would be great if it could actually work. I mean, to be able to sit at home creating one's digital artifacts, upload them to market and be paid handsomely, this is what so many people want to be able to do.

But the only thing that really seems to be making money on the internet is advertising. The actual price for it goes up and down, of course, but it always seems to be able to make some money.

In other words, there are various sites here and there that act as online shops for digital wares which have varying degrees of success or failure. But *everywhere* there are sites providing advertising, and no matter what kind of site. If you can advertise on it you can make some money, but most people cannot make enough. It doesn't really matter *what* site you provide, as long as it draws some traffic you can advertise on it, and if it draws a lot of traffic you can make good money advertising on it.

The original internet was intended for the exchange of information by introverted geeks who didn't want to actually go places to meet people. Yes, I know that there is more detailed and accurate history, but that is the bottom line. There are still pockets of resentment for the whole commercialization of the internet, and to be sure I do not inhabit any of those, but the whole spirit of clever people putting things out for the whole world to share has its roots in that original idea.

Then, huge media interests tied their giant wagons to these clever people, sensing the next big thing and a way to make a killing.

Making a Killing was the name of the game. Just like in the music industry, or in professional sports, the people who want to Make a Killing have come up with means to analyze offerings and get an idea of how much they are worth bothering with-- how many hits they can produce, how well they will play for how long-- and then provided money to gain some control and secure some return. Or, in some cases, purchase them altogether, hoping to bind and harness the creative output to their own financial advantage.

So that begat a formula, a whole life cycle: a group focuses on a clever and innovative idea, they get it to the point of being able to demonstrate it on the internet, and then they hope to be bought out by some corporate interest that will, in turn, "brand" the whole thing and support it for mass consumption.

That is, to take the clever innovative idea and turn it into just another product.

The people who came up with the Formula for Making a Killing on the internet were hailed as geniuses, or at least promoted themselves as such to the point where it was accepted that they were. They were able to make it happen, you see. These clever, innovative ideas were commonplace, but to Generate Buzz and Monetize these things Effectively, that is what had to happen in order to make a killing.

So a lot of effort became focused on being able to Generate Buzz in order to Make a Killing.

As a result, to get back to the original theme, once something is Buzzed Up to the point where it can Make a Killing, it doesn't necessarily need to work well, or completely live up to its hype. People get excited because of the Buzz, they come and see and sign up or whatever. Then, they get discouraged, for any number of reasons.

But, at that point, someone has already Made a Killing, so it is not so important that people are discouraged. The people with the original clever and innovative idea will struggle with it to make it work, to live up to the hype, and they become discouraged but they have been committed to Those who have Generated Buzz.

An additional irony is that, because new clever and innovative ideas often depend on other creative and innovative ideas for their inner workings, there is a series of things that don't work quite as well as they have been Buzzed Up to be.

Maybe it will help if I became more cynical, so as to not become excited by something that seems clever and innovative. But that is no fun, either. Mainly what becomes instantly exciting is when someone does something on the internet that makes you think "hey, that is the sort of thing I would do in that realm, which isn't my main realm so I would never do it, but it is cool and I'd like to use it".

But it tends to fall short at first, and maybe at always. So, pursuing fun and excitement in the digital realm is something of an emotional roller coaster.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

record labels and the "real" music biz...

This is a very good article that describes the some of the mechanics that are involved in a record contract.

The interesting thing about this article, which I came across from a mention here, is that it made it easy to see what a record label does and how a label can actually make money if it is successful.

There are thousands of CDs in a mainstream-type music store from hundreds of artists that you will never buy. If you take a moment to consider it from the store's point of view, it is often the case that the slots on the shelf contain product that does not move. But it gets rotated out to somewhere and it is not like it physically spoils, so as long as enough of it sells it's ok.

From the record label's point of view, there are two kinds of musical artists: those that are 'recouped', and those that are not. That is, those whose output has more than paid for the cost of the promoting and publishing work that the label does, and those whose output has not.

There are two kinds of problems for the record label: 1) the kinds of problems when they don't have enough recouped output, and 2) when they have too much.

The first problem is the one we think that most labels currently have: too much cost and not enough hits. Solution, concentrate on established acts.

The second problem doesn't seem like a problem, all the artists are recouped by big hits. But it can be a problem because when your investment is small but your return is huge, you end up owing a lot of taxes. So you introduce some additional overhead into the mix, and you pay less taxes.

So, from the label perspective, the artists like the one who posted this article are really just "ballast". That they get upset when they get cut loose is irritating to the label.