Category Archives: Culture & Economy

HyperKult XXV: Audio Panel

This year’s HyperKult at Leuphana University in Lüneburg was the last instance in a string of 25 extraordinary conferences. They were extraordinary because they provided room for discussions around the computability of cultural practice away from the bustling struggle for impact and ratings that we experience in the CHI community, for example. With the historic town of Lüneburg as the backdrop, discussions were usually able to slow down and get more thorough as they could be continued over beers by the river. However, this is over now, at least in the form of HyperKult. Aptly named “Shutdown”, this year’s conference was focused on the notion of closure, of endings, in the context of technology that is designed for always-on operation. At the same time, it also provided an opportunity to look back and reflect on the topics that had been in the focus over the years. I was invited to participate in a panel discussion moderated by Rolf Grossmann, and we were joined by Michael Harenberg from HKB Bern. My part concentrated on aspects of interfaces in audio production and performance as they changed over the course of the years, and how this was reflected in scientific and artistic contributions at the HyperKult conferences. The videos of the talks and the panel will be available soon in the HyperKult archive.

GiantSteps Panel at Sónar 2014

On Thursday, June 12, I will be part of a panel discussion on musical knowledge in technological innovation. The panel is part of the Sónar Festival 2014 in Barcelona. It is organized by the GiantSteps EU-funded research project (http://www.giantsteps-project.eu/), in which Native Instrument is involved as a consortium partner.
Panel website Post at GiantSteps

CTM MusicMakers Hacklab Conversation

At this year’s MusicMakers Hacklab during Club Transmediale, we discuss how the concept of “the user” shapes how we think about future features and interfaces of creative instruments. How do we construct our notions of the musicians who will want to use our designs? Do the Hacklab participants follow radically different approaches than a company like Native Instruments?

Join the Conversation!

CDR Maschine Special

CDR Berlin

CDR Berlin will host a Maschine Special on October 10, offering a workshop session with a focus on the work and the thoughts behind Maschine Studio. I will get a chance to answer questions on the CDR stage. Afterwards, there will be a workshop with Mouse On Mars, and they will – among other things – talk about the WretchUp app I helped to put together, and which is nearing its release (finally!). Should be a nice evening with friends!
CDR Preamble with a short Q&A
Event website with registration

WretchUp by Mouse On Mars Crowdfunding Campaign

WretchUp interface, as used by Mouse On Mars.

Mouse on Mars together with Peter Kirn of Create Digital Music have launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to turn one of the Pd patches I developed for them into a full iOS and, potentially, Android app. I am not part of the campaign or development effort, but of course looking forward to the outcome.

Besides developing the app, this project will also contribute to the porting of the great Rjlib set of Pd abstractions for use in other iOS projects. The patch itself and all code that is not protected by Apple will be made available as open source.

In addition to the benefits of the Pd patch becoming an app and the Rjlib becoming more accessible, this is also a highly interesting social experiment. The discussion on Create Digital Music is a great example of how value is being negotiated in today’s economy, while at the same time, several funders of the campaign have invested more than they were asked for in the respective packages they chose.

Read more:
Campaign Website
Create Digital Music
Rjlib

Dynamics of “Vivisystems”

Although Kevin Kelly’s famous book “Out of Control” was published back in 1994, it still holds plenty of topics that are worth to be brought to the table in all different kinds of discourses on systems. In addition, it provides a broad spectrum of ideas for computer models of complex systems. The author has kindly made the full book available for free on his website.
Book page

Strangely enough, although the author describes the benefits of biological and technological coevolution, he then ventures to favor technological taking over biological evolution by means of genetic and bioengineering. This is where I’d disagree, as it seems illogical, especially in the context of the book itself, to deliberately give up biological assets such as proven sustainability in conjunction with emergence, and fallback mechanisms that can help minimize risk for all parties involved.

Wired: The Death of the Open Web

In Wired’s recent article “The Web is Dead, Long Live the Internet”, Editor in chief Chris Anderson and contributing editor Michael Wolff lay out their vision of a complete pervasion of electronic media by capitalist interests. In their view, apps are the perfect vehicle for this victory: They are small, limited, and perfectly controllable containers for focused transactions between consumers who willingly give up freedom of choice for convenience and companies who are willing to invest in the necessary technology to make the consumer experience as positive as possible as quickly as possible.

However, this cannot be seen as the whole story, at least not at the moment or in the near future, as the Wired editors project it. Yes, consumers willingly give up freedom of choice in the act of consumption, but this is something they’ve always done, e.g. by entering a store with a limited selection of wares but with expert consultation at hand. And no, consumers do not seem willing to give up their freedom of choice altogether, just as they would not give up their right to leave a brick-and-mortar store and walk down the street to look at what other stores have to offer. In the landscape of the web today, there are always alternatives just around the corner. If the popular and successful offering’s grave drawbacks become visible, consumers can and will turn to the seemingly better alternative. That’s what happened between 2007 and 2009, when MySpace lost almost all of its social relevance to Facebook. But the users are aware of such shifts, and they use technologies to prepare for them. An artist with a presence on MySpace or Facebook would still keep on paying for a domain name and website and maintain an email list of an interested audience, and teenagers who organize 98% of their contacts through Facebook will still have backups of this data locally somewhere, if only in the address book of their phone that syncs with the online service.

Such fallbacks mark the ability to survive the shifts between dominating services, and therefore survive – stay connected! – in today’s world. The only way to control user behaviour entirely would be by controlling their access to the online data and merge the different, yet surely capitalist interests of networking services, content providers, and ISPs. But would the users, consumers, give up their freedom to chose which access to use just as willingly as they give up a simple buying decision? Maybe. Maybe a Facebook-only mobile device with heavy discounts on monthly payments but no access to anything else but Facebook could be successful. But would its users also give up their internet connection at home in order to use such a device? Would they give up their phone numbers and be reachable exclusively via their Facebook identity? I doubt it. And as long as there is freedom in the choice of access, there is freedom to leave one company’s cozy and convenient offerings and gather somewhere else.

HyperKult 19: Mobiles – You Are Now Here

Already in it’s 19th incarnation, the annual HyperKult workshop & conference takes a fresh look at the topic of location-based applications for mobile devices. While this issue has been drifting around social sciences conferences for years, we are just now seeing widespread adoption of such applications and services, which should allow us to change the mode of discussion from utopia to concrete social practice.

As always, video streams of the full presentations will be available both live and in the archive.
Conference Website (in German)

Conference: netaudio Berlin 2009

After the great discussion rounds at RAW Tempel in 2007, the netaudio Conference is back in Berlin. This time, both lecture and party sessions are located at Maria, right on the river. The night line-up is massive, with two floors hosting live acts and DJ sets by some of the finest netlabel artists, all neatly organized by styles and genres – whether that makes much sense remains to be seen, of course. The daily lectures and discussion rounds promise to be extremely interesting as well.
Conference website

21st Century Economy: Socialism Revisited?

Wired Magazine’s latest cover story “The New New Economy” includes an article “Socialism Revisited” by author Kevin Kelly that outlines online collaborative work and creative commons licensing as comparable, though not identical, to socialism as political/economical idea. The descriptions in the article hint at a detached economy that has reached a certain mass to become important even in the work market of the networked society.

However, this description of a no-state, detached, grass-rootsy economy leaves room for doubt in two areas. First of all, at least in Europe, many of those careers take place in a state of precariousness that is only possible because of a state subsidies for start-ups in what’s still being referred to as “New Economy”, as well as subsidies for the arts, grants for research projects etc. This would still account for a significant attachment to the existing political structures.

Secondly, the question whether or not this “New New Economy” does indeed have the chance to overcome the era of industrialization has not been decided yet. After all, the technological basis for this economy – network servers, routers, mobile computers, cell phones, digital cameras, etc. – is being produced in economies of scale in countries that are just entering the age of industrialization. Without China’s low-wage, low-standard workforce, there would be no $300 netbooks.

In the end, even the whole idea of socialism as a role model for the next New Economy is questionable. So far, the economical ideas are not creating an egalitarian mass, but an audience that knows what to pick for which purpose and that requires diversity, at least in content. Socialism as an image to reach beyond industrialization seems improbable at this point in time.
Full article

21st Century Economy: DIY Licensing

Internet activist Cory Doctorow has published an idea on how Creative Commons licenses could be amended to account for actual license fees the moment the original work is used commercially. A simple addition to the CC license text could ask a certain percentage out of the revenue generated by a product based on the original creative work that was released under this license. This approach would leave the benefits of CC licenses – free distribution, unlimited noncommercial use – untouched, and could therefore leverage the potential of a product that people can try out and use (noncommercially) freely without any limitations. Just when they start to generate money for themselves do they have to actually pay for the material they use.

The downside of this idea is of course that it depends on people’s willingness to obey the license, as they don’t gain anything from paying for the product and/or material at the time they’re required to pay. Enforcement of the license is expensive, and depends on whether or not the user can be dragged into a court at all. On the other hand, it certainly would not hurt to add license fees for commercial use to the license text itself, therefore making the terms clear on which people can work with the material.
Full Article at Internetevolution.com

EU Parliament acknowledges internet access as fundamental right

The European Parliament has re-adopted a part of a law that describes having access to the internet a fundamental right. Thereby, the representatives have voted against approaches that are known as “Three Strikes” legislation, where anybody caught three times conducting illegal acts such as sharing copyrighted content would essentially be thrown off the grid by authorities and their ISPs. French President Sarkozy is one of the primary advocates of such legislation.

The vote of the European Parliament is not legally binding, but the acknowledgement at least strengthens the position that internet access is not some negotiable “nice to have” matter, but should indeed be seen as a basic right for everyone, completely independent of questions on how to police law infringements.
Full article at La Quadrature du Net 

Germany’s top blog on strike against online censorship legislation

Supporters of the strike on a map of Germany

Supporters of the strike on a map of Germany

Germany’s #1 blog Spreeblick has entered a demonstrative strike against the online censorship legislation that was just passed by the federal government. Notably, the strike is not against the cause, which is to prevent people from entering child pornography websites, but rather against the amateurish belief that a simple list with URLs and IPs to be blocked will actually prevent the proliferation of such abominable content, and also against the very real possibility that the small effect such a blockade might have will be used politically in the future. Here is the original statement from Spreeblick:

Spreeblick.com, a german weblog, is on a demonstrative strike today.

The reason: Today, the german federal cabinet passed a new law to filter websites based on a secret list compiled by the Federal Criminal Police Office. The Federal Ministry for Family Affairs communicates the law as a remedy for the prevention of child pornography. While we strongly support any attempt to stop the abuse of humans and children in particular, we doubt that this is the real reason for the law.

For months, experts of all fields have impeached the facts and figures that were communicated by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs as well as the technical implementation of the filtering process. We mistrust the planned non-transparent process, we regard it as ineffective and amateurish and we believe it is counterproductive and a possible thread to democracy.

Since illegal sites on a list must be known beforehand, we urge the government to shut those sites down and prosecute the operators of those sites.

In times of a nationwide election campaign, we regard political populism as highly inappropriate when it should be about the fight against the abuse of minors.

Time Magazine has an article about a similar approach that backfired on the Australian Government a few months ago.

Distant Shore – The Anti-Facebook

Video courtesy The Blimp Pilots

With the arrival of distant shore for the iPhone, there’s finally a distinct alternative to the Facebook style of this secong-gen web of our lives. While Facebook tries to achieve full inclusion of its users under their real names, Distant Shore’s design is just as utopian, but takes an entirely different route. There, the high-profile, involved communication scheme of mixed up privacy and business agency, here the ultimate laissez-faire of an empty beach. In an endless summer, you walk the endless shores, collecting shells and the occasional message in a bottle from the sand. Messages do not contain any information about their sender, and one’s answer is transmitted in the same anonymity. Five collected sea shells earn one sending of a message by throwing a bottle into the water. But it is still a web, for answers will indeed reach the correct recipient.

Distant shore is an experience of complexity, stripped down to a relaxing core. You can ask everyday or philosophical questions, without involvement and virtually “no strings attached”. The form of communication offered by Distant Shore might just be the right way to spend a mellow night after a long hard day over at Facebook.
Distant Shore

Free pays off for Nine Inch Nails

 

Image courtesy Nine Inch Nails

Image courtesy Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails’ four-part album “Ghosts I-IV” took the crown in Amazon’s 2008 sales ranking for mp3 albums. Taking into account that Amazon’s mp3 store positioned itself against iTunes in terms of revenue, this placement would mean a considerable earning on the band’s side. What makes this interesting is the fact that the very same album was released for free under a Creative Commons license directly from the band’s website. However, people chose to pay for this album. This may seem special, but considering basically all music is still available for free illegally, the same could be said for almost every sale of an mp3 album. People choose to pay because they value the artistic work and the convenience offered by second-generation online stores like Amazon and Beatport. DRM-free offerings may play a significant role in this.

Nine Inch Nails apparently understood this and took the straight approach: Don’t make free downloads illegal; those downloaders are still your fans, and they may well pay for a concert. Maybe because they were given the free option, so many people felt enticed to pay for the download in the end.
Via Chris Anderson’s Long Tail Blog

2009: The Year of Music Releases in App Stores?

As the “music only release” business model becomes more and more unattractive, especially when a physical medium is involved, the year 2009 may bring a lot of success stories around interactive releases that are not seen as mere “records”, but rather as games or applications. There are two main reasons why such concepts may play a bigger role in the future of releasing music:

– New distribution concepts for regular album releases are great if you already have a big name. Then, you can custom-tailor your release strategy to fit the needs of your project and your fans, while receiving a lot of attention from the public and press on the way. This worked well for Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, but would probably not help an unknown producer in Kreuzberg get her name out.

– The app store concept goes hand in hand with the proliferation of ever more powerful, yet more or less closed systems. The ways to get new software onto any regular PC are so diversified, an app store for Windows Vista or Mac OS probably doesn’t have much impact in terms of revenue. However, on platforms that are either closed entirely, like most game consoles or an un-jailbroken iPhone, or that focus on convenience in getting new software onto the device, app stores will likely be the main portals you turn to for new software. And on these platforms, consumers are used to paying money for products. That’s one of the main reasons why they’re so attractive for music releases. Here, control is possible and its exertion doesn’t even bother the end consumers.

There are two sides to this story, really. On the one hand, any system that will help musicians pay their rent (not get insanely rich) with their artistic work should be welcomed, especially in these recessionary times. At the same time, though, we should worry when whole new macro-economies build around a technological platform that is controlled by one company – such as Apple, Sony, RIM, and Nokia, to name only a few. The way to go would be an open standard, a cross-platform application format that would be accepted in the app stores for mobile phones, game consoles, and netbooks alike.

The Eastern Spree Banks: A Berlin Heterotopy II

bar25

Photo by Bar 25

The banks of the river Spree in the Eastern part of Berlin are home to a diversity of clubs, music venues, art projects, and cultural practice in general. The activity in this area contributed a lot to equip Berlin with the identity it now enjoys as a global hotspot for new developments in electronic music and contemporary art.

Come 2009, the grounding for all this is in danger of being erased as the major development plan called “Mediaspree” will be enforced. Bulldozers will tear down locations like the world-famous Bar 25 if nothing happens. And a lot has already happened. A referendum was held in the districts affected by the development plan, and the vast majority cast their vote renouncing the execution of the plan. However, this did not have any legal implications for the Berlin Senate, and they are determined to go ahead with the destruction of this cultural heterotopy in the middle of Germany’s capital.

There is another online petition to save Bar 25, but there’s no reason to believe this will have a bigger impact on the decision makers than the huge public referendum.

Ironically, Berlin’s apparent attractiveness to investors in the media business is largely owed to the work that was done and the things that happened in the very area now bound to be torn down.
Check out and/or sign the petition here

The Creative “Pro”

In software for creative media production, a re-definition process is gaining momentum that was originally started by Apple’s consolidation of their top-line creative software as the “Pro” line. But what does “Pro” stand for in an economy that is on the way of making the old definition of professionalism obsolete. Professional instruments are traditionally those you can bet your life on. Transferred to the creative media industry, that makes professional instruments those that one uses to earn a living. But there’s no clear divide any more, as electronic musicians use products that used to be considered as un-professional to make a (good) living with music, while an army of amateurs invests in “Pro” products, thus funding their development in the first place.

So, as the hard, essential definition of professionalism doesn’t seem to hold in this realm, the “Pro” in so many software products seems to signify something else: The image of the straightforward, no-frills professional, the one that “gets things done” with just the right tools for the job. With an abundance of complex creative tools at hand, a demand is created for straightening out the creative process, for something to help actually finish a project – just like the glorified “professional”. Maybe that dream is what so many of us buy in a “Pro” product.

Quantizing MySpace: The Online Musician’s Currency

Profile Views

Whenever certain qualitative criteria for the assessment of a product or a service are not enough to justify (or determine) its value, generalizations occur. This becomes blatantly clear in the way numbers on MySpace pages are being observed. Right now, MySpace is the most important source of information among industry artist managers, bookers, and music journalists. There are essentially three important numbers these people look for, and their meaning has become very powerful. But what can they really tell us, taking into consideration how easy it is to manipulate any quantitative measure on the internet.

The first number one looks at when checking out a MySpace page is typically the count of Profile Views. Up until now, this has established itself as the single most important measure when it comes to getting something via a musician’s MySpace presence. This seems to link directly to the attention an artist is able to generate, and thus can be used to determine their value for a company or an event. It’s a generalized measure like a currency, because no qualitative assessments of the musician’s artistic qualities have to be taken into account in order to determine this very abstract “value”.

The state of this currency in the Indie scene at the moment: Everything less than 10,000 Profile Views: not worth bothering. Between 10k and 20k Profile Views: still poor, but may have the chance to grow. 20k – 40k Profile Views: the broad midrange. 40k – 60k: the upper midrange. 60k – 100k: pretty good for Indie measures. 100k – 200k: really good for non-mainstream. Above 200k: Already a big name.

These numbers and categories evolve, of course. Older profiles have an advantage simply because they’ve had more time to accumulate Profile Views. Therefore, it can pay to keep an eye on the development of Profile View numbers. A musician with 10,000 views getting 500 new people per day interested in his music may be more worthwhile to work with for a company than an artist in the 40k-60k range attracting only 15 new views per day. 

Thus, it’s also very interesting to see how often a new song the artist put on his MySpace page gets played right after deployment. But be careful: There are tools out there to manipulate this number. So don’t take it too seriously. Likewise, the number of friends (third number) an artist has are more a measure of his or her activity on MySpace than a real account of popularity. This is because many people don’t even check who exactly wants to be added as their friend, and again there are software tools out there that can automatically generate lists of people on MySpace you may want to add as friends, and you can then send them a mass mailing with an add request. Although not as manipulatable as the number of plays of a song, this does make it possible to have a huge number of “friends” on a profile that may have never heard the music. 

It is going to be interesting to see where MySpace is heading in the near future. If it wants to build on its status as a keeper of the Online Musician’s Currency, it will have to take measures against inflation – and deflation, of course, which may come with a lack of attention for the platform as a whole. Although this may not be about the music directly, generating generalized “value” doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even for an Indie musician. It allows to reach across artistic and cultural borders, and find out what’s “out there” that might be worthwhile to get in touch with.

Exhibition: Notation

notation

September 20 – November 16 at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin; February 14 – July 29 at the ZKM, Karlsruhe. 

Can you really exhibit notation? Is not the “exhibitionist” notion one of creating a work, a piece, an artefact, something for others to look at that is complete as an example of art? If so, then notation is limited to providing a process to create art, but never to be art. Interestingly enough, artists of many times have felt the need to incorporate their creative process into the final pieces. This is one of the main aspects I see in the current exhibition at the AdK. However, this poses a new question: If notation is indeed not limited to providing a process without ever being art itself, then how do we separate notation and final piece? Do we have to?

Apparently the answer is yes, otherwise nobody would come up with an exhibition about notation. So do we see notation in art not as art but as something outside of art entering into the realm of art (but retaining its distinctive difference)? Although this exhibition certainly did not give me the definition of what notation is, it did help reformulating those questions.
More information

Quantitative Assessment of Qualitative Problems

As we apply qualitative assessments in our descriptions of our roles in relationships and organizations, how much do we know about where those categories we apply stem from? What brings definitions of good and bad or efficient and unefficient into being? In an organization that tries to survive in the marketplace, the answer is likely quantitative. Concrete numbers will work as measures that can be tested against goals, and the evaluation of a situation will often use actual measurements to gain a qualitative outcome.

But what if the goals are not so easily identifiable as mere numeric values? What if they are of qualitative nature themselves? And, couldn’t we also identify a qualitative goal behind every desired quantitative outcome? Maybe it could be helpful to try to actually count situations that seem to lead towards a certain goal – qualitative or quantitative as it may be – and from there derive a strictly qualitative assessment of the general proposition towards this outcome. In a way, the counting of micro-situations could lead to a grounded assessment of the macro-situation with regard to a certain direction in which it is desired to develop.

This brings up questions about how we want to deal with those numbers. Where do the values we use as thresholds to gain qualitative statements (such as good or bad) come from? Are we at the beginning of the loop again? Quite the opposite, I would assert, as we now have gained access to a valuation order on another level, a level we would normally not be able to observe. And that is a qualitative value in itself.

Conference: Relational Sociology

September 25-26, 2008, Humboldt University Berlin. Starting tomorrow, the Humboldt University will host a conference centered around the relational approach to sociology as developed by Harrison C. White. The conference will offer an interesting mixture of papers, providing links to Systems Theory and other ideas in network theory. All abstracts are online.
Conference website 

Interview/Feature: Radiohead

When Radiohead stopped by in Berlin on their world tour, I had the great opportunity to get up close and personal with their stage setup. Their really nice keyboard tech Russ Russell showed me around all the details, including the cleverly devised backline (with lots of Native Instruments software) and the astonishingly experimental Max/MSP / synthesizer station at the stage center. One other aspect I wish I would have had the time to check out in detail is the light system. It’s built using the most advanced LED technology, and it runs entirely off a battery they keep in a truck behind the stage. According to the technicians, this is the most energy-efficient way to run a stadium-sized lighting system so far, and they plan to proliferate the technology to other eco-conscious bands as well.
Full interview
More information on the lighting system

Share a book: Reading experience on Scribd

Reading a document inside the frame of a website may seem redundant, but an elegant implementation can give back some of the gratification we find in experiencing a book in our hands. A good example, at least as far as technical realization is concerned, is Scribd.com and their incredibly slick iPaper viewer. This takes in all types of documents we deal with in our software offices all day, and transforms them into an interactive flash movie. Now, the frame inside the frame turns into a full-fledged playground in its own right as the viewer allows for fullscreen display, text search, and a zooming and scrolling behavior that feels much more rounded off than my desktop pdf reader. So this is immersion at its best on the web: The inner frame seems to escape its framing website, the captured document feels more flexible than its original version. But not all is good in Scribd-land, as the company exhibits its corporate nature via control efforts against too much liberty in dealing with documents. For example, outbound links are no longer allowed inside the viewer. Well, with this in mind, let’s turn to one of my favorite finds: The Tibetan Language for Beginners

Update: As Jared from Scribd has pointed out in his comment to this post, outbound links are once again allowed in iPaper, but there seem to be technical difficulties in the Pdf conversion that sometimes still prevent links from showing up correctly.

M_nus Sunday Adventure Club: A Berlin Heterotopy

Sunday Adventure Club

Richie Hawtin’s M_nus label are usually wizards when it comes to the creation of a coherent identity for an event or any other type of activity. This is mostly achieved through a good communications concept and brilliant web design. Thus, it came as no surprise that the website for yesterday’s Sunday Adventure Club was rich with signifyers towards the intended identity: A pirate’s bay of minimal techno, with Berlin as its island base and other parts of Europe as free-floating islands in a sea of irrelevant rurality. Globalized local identities at their best.

With this in my head, I was stunned to see the venue mostly undecorated and without obvious connections to the symbolic language of the corresponding website. Instead, the Berlin-identity was back in the driver seat, with its diverse train system rolling right past the crowd, which itself was stuck in a recess between the tracks and an old-Berlin style clay wall. No, this was no island at all. Instead, what I saw and felt was a heterotopy, a venue separated from the regular Berlin, but deeply rooted in its symbolic topos. This was enriched and transformed by the international crowd and the improbability to see a Richie Hawtin set in (almost) full daylight. So, the best communications concept for the creation of an event’s identity is worth nothing after all, if it is not executed all the way through to the venue, where people would couple this identity with social inter(!)action. A great party nonetheless, this event did not convey the coherence I had expected from a brand as successful as M_nus.

Richie Hawtin DJing

Save STEIM

STEIM, the Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music in Amsterdam, is in immediate danger of losing its governmental funding. The bottom line of the negative advise from the reviewers is that STEIM doesn’t appeal enough to the mainstream pop-music audience. Chasing ghosts of mass-media hype, the Dutch government is on the verge of shutting down an unparalleled institution for creative support, where I had the privilege to work on the projects “fello” and “noiseroom”, as well as to teach two Pd workshops with wonderful and inspiring participants.

For all the details on the current developments, please head over to STEIM’s website. Although time is running out, there’s still the possibility to send a letter of support.

Here’s an excerpt from my letter:

Both artistic work and technological research conducted at STEIM have influenced and benefited a large number of projects in a diversity of fields, such as academic and popular music, interactive media art, modern dance, instrument and performance theory, and the visual arts. Many of these projects have brought together participants from different countries and cultures, thanks to STEIM‘s unique ability to provide lodging, without which many projects could not have happened. Providing such support and thereby drawing in advanced projects from all over the world, STEIM serves as a beacon in the heart of Europe, bearing testimony to the open-mindedness and support of plurality that the Dutch culture is known for internationally.

Today more than ever, STEIM brings together artists from different fields and connects them with a global network of creative productivity. In the Open Studios at STEIM as well as in the guesthouse, both artistic and social exchange have found a safe haven that should be of high value to the Dutch people. STEIM is a place where well-known artists engage in experimental projects to advance their creative scope and broaden their technological as well as artistic repertoire. From my point of view as a German resident, the existence and the acceptance of STEIM, rooted in Amsterdam‘s local culture but decidedly international in its scope, is nothing but admirable.

STEIM homepage / Related posting on Createdigitalmusic.com

How long will quantitative assessment hold its lead in the marketing world?

As more and more people turn to online resources for everything from news to product reviews of all sorts, fresh marketing money pours into the realm of web-based publications. Although the absolute size of most budgets may not grow, but rather shrink (at least in the world’s benchmark market, the US), manufacturers of goods start to realize that the consumers aren’t necessarily where their ad money is. So they want to change the balance between online and offline spending. Problem is, how do they know where to go? In the society of the printing press, circulation numbers used to be the holy grail of marketing assessment. With magazines giving away more than half of their print run and two thirds of their paper paved with advertisement, the suspicion arose that quantitative data may not really have so much to say anymore.

In the online world, reader attention can theoretically be measured with great accuracy. Unique visits can be counted, and it is even possible to determine how long readers stayed on certain websites. Mighty tools such as compete.com and websitegrader.com do induce a feeling of power. However, it can only be a good sign that even these services warn you not to blindly trust their data. Combining data sources with qualitative research is what’s called for. The mere time a website is open in a browser window doesn’t tell you very much about the communication going on. The number of hits on a website can only vaguely hint at its relevance for certain target groups.

With this post, I want to kick off a series talking about possibilities to create a methodology for the integration of qualitative and quantitative analysis that could help find ways for better assessments while raising awareness for the complexity of the matter.

Conference: The Methodologies of the System

September 4-6, 2008, at the University of Hohenheim. The main focus will be on the combination of empirical research methods and the evolution of sociological systems theory. From the Call for Papers:

“It has been researched about most social phenomena as well as they have been described from the perspective of systems theory – and yet those two areas of sociology, systems theory and empirical research remained mainly ignorant towards each other. General reproaches of theoretical or empirical blindness too often collide. This leaves important potentials unused. The theory-based development of empirical methods as well as the empirical richness of social theory – especially this of systems theory – and thus the contribution of sociology to current problems of society have to rely on the bridge of methodology. Therefore the conference aims at pushing forward the dialogue between systems theoretical conception and empirical observation by broadening and deepening it.”

So, the University of Hohenheim sounds like an interesting place to be in the first week of September. Find out more at the Study Group Functional Analysis.
Download the Call for Papers

The magic 10

Whatever it was with this year 1997, something must have been special about it. Not in world politics, but in the homey world of the German Electronica (as it was still called then) scene. Somehow, social dynamics must have reached a point in 1997 that drove many of its protagonists to turn institutional. First shouts go out to De-Bug Magazine, of course. They are joined in their celebration by labels Sonig, Karaoke Kalk, Shitkatapult, and Sonar Kollektiv, to name a few. Coincidentally (??), two of my institutional backgrounds were founded around that time as well, with Native Instruments already having celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2006. But the Project ((audio)) at the University of Lueneburg can also claim the magic 1997 as its founding year. A great example of social dynamics – involving technology such as mp3 – building up to a point where an institutionalized organization of cultural practice “suddenly” seems to make perfect sense.

Microeconomy, Berlin-style

Microeconomy on the parking deck
In a microeconomic experiment, unemployed inhabitants of the area around Kottbusser Tor, Berlin, were given the chance to develop concepts for unused decks of a massive parking garage. The top deck was used for agriculture, while the deck below it had a mixture of grocery vendors and small repair shops. A group of illustrators creating custom comic strips on demand seemed to draw the most customers. All in all, the atmosphere was not much different from a pre-Christmas bazar in any given old-folks home, though. Good will was showing, but there was no emergence of new socio-economic practice in the air. The problem with such microeconomic experiments: If you still use money as medium of success, you reference the entire socio-economic complexity of today’s society. Not a good start for an escapist experiment. Read more on the project page (in German language).

Computers and music culture: last.fm’s local strategy

The grassroots approach of last.fm already proves extremely powerful in regulating our access to music at our desk. But one more important connection has been made in last.fm: The pooling of global links with local interaction. Based on your taste profile, you get recommendations for concerts in your neighborhood. Thus, last.fm provides a viable structure, making links in communication between global and local possible that used to require complex promotion embedded in the roots of the local music scene. The selection appears as contingency, but is that really true for everyone? Make no mistake: Last.fm may look grassrootsy, but it is already an institution of social power.