Friday, May 29, 2009

Conspiracy Brings Power Closer (as Narrative)

Yesterday a good friend told me about a film he saw on the net that made an impression on him. It is called The Obama Deception and it deals with:

The Obama phenomenon is a hoax carefully crafted by the captains of the New World Order. He is being pushed as savior in an attempt to con the American people into accepting global slavery.

Last night I watched some of it with this blog post in mind and a critical eye at the ready. My thoughts congealed around the idea that power for 99% of the population is as distant as the moon. Conspiracy (and I will explain what I mean by that) is one way of bringing the conception of power closer to the mundaneness of daily life. To explain how I came to this idea I go back to the Goombungee school bus in the hot summer of 1983. The Australian government had just changed and after 8 years of centre-right leadership the adults who could had just voted in a Labour government led by Robert (Bob) Hawke, then holder of the beer sculling world record, a yard glass - approximately 3 imperial pints or 1.7 litres - in eleven seconds.

On my school bus sat several teenagers from religious families. I remember one of these kids speaking at length about Hawke "being pushed as savior in an attempt to con the American Australian people into accepting global slavery" involving a world bank and Zionist plots. There was even a prophecy from Nostradamus involved in his explanation (something about "a man with the name of a wild bird in a land yet undiscovered coming to power"). We on the Goombungee bus looked out over the eucalyptus scrub and dry fields and felt somehow involved in the functions of power by being privy to this 'truth'. The machinery of power may have been impossibly distant from us there in that hot tin box on wheels, but we understood something that perhaps others did not. There was a conspiracy at work and we had come into contact with it through narrative.

Later in my life, in 1994 I attended a lecture at Sydney University by Noam Chomsky (who no doubt is part of the same conspiracy as Bob Hawke but we on the Goombungee bus did not get much exposure to the anarchist linguist so he was never in the story). I remember Chomsky touched on the idea of conspiracy theories in his presentation. He said that conspiracy theories are dependent on distance; if it is an enemy state it is not a conspiracy, it is intelligence (think Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq, the famine that has been going on in North Korea for a decade and so on). If the theory under consideration is closer to 'home' and involves one's own government then we are talking conspiracy.

In the decade and a half since I saw Chomsky speak, power has drifted even further away from the masses in many lands. With jobs moving to the new industrial economies of the East and governments moving upwards into a level of global blocs (NAFTA, EU, ASEAN and so on) the average citizen can be forgiven for feeling there is more to the story of government than what they are being told. The concept of politic agency at the individual level is not strong and healthy at the moment in many nations. It is here that the conspiracy enters into the fabric of political narrative. Conspiracy, such as The Obama Deception brings power closer to people via narrative and thereby provides a sense of mythic agency in relation to politics.

The tragedy of media such as The Obama Deception is not the possible degrees of truth value that can be related to it as a text. Rather, that political agency is translated into complex narratives and enacted out along reactionary lines of behaviour as a part of the political process (it has had 2.5 million views on just one of its YouTube sites) I find very disturbing. The more time people spend putting together the pieces of The Obama Deception puzzle (even if it is just in their minds) the less time is being spent on actually doing something to participate in the democratic political process. Of course the people behind The Obama Deception would say that there is no democratic process today. That's the way they want it. The result of such a narrative as The Obama Deception and "the man with the name of a wild bird" from 1983 is a negation of what few democratic rights we have remaining.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

European Union Elections and the Fear

"We build the knowledge society" - Election poster from the Swedish Pirate Party, Umeå May 2009.

On June 7th those adults living in the European Union who have not submitted a postal vote already go to the ballot boxes for an election of members to the EU parliament. Sweden is of course taking part in this process and I tell you things could not be more interesting if you are a researcher in digital culture and textuality.

Since January the membership of The Pirate Party in Sweden has risen from 14000 to 55000. If current polls are reflecting how people will vote they are now a serious contender for seats in the EU parliament. The problem for the PP in the 2007 Swedish general election was few of its supporters actually voted. This may change on June 7th but it is not for certain. In a recent poll, the Pirate Party Showed 5.1% of the vote. The second largest party for Sweden in the 18-29 age group and the fourth largest for the 30-44 group.

All this attention has not gone unnoticed by the larger parties. The Vanster (Left) party are the only one of the other serious contenders for EU seats which is adopting a position even sympathetic to that held by the PP. The center left Social Democratic Party is against the digital surveillance and copyright laws passed recently by the government in principle, but have failed to take a strong stand by providing any sort of dramatic alternatives. The Green Party of Sweden (Miljöpartiet de Gröna) are somewhat silent on the issue of file sharing, and their coalition with the Social Democrates probably has something to do with it.

The center-right coalition which forms the government in Sweden is not silent on the issue of either surveillance or P2P file sharing. This afternoon I listened to Hans Wallmark, a Moderate Party candidate for the EU parliament speak about

"Where is the limit for freedom on the internet? Shall we accept child pornography and drug trafficking on the internet? I believe freedom has its limits on the internet. Just as one warns of integrity but one must also give answers to the questions. Drugs on the net? Child pornography on the net? What is permitted?"

Serious questions but it all sounds very familiar to one who follows the news on the other side of the globe, and the net filter that is currently being debated, often irrationally, in Australia:

"There is no political content banned in the existing Broadcasting Services Act," he said.

"We are not building the Great Wall of China. We are going after the filth - like child pornography. Its been done around the world and it can be done here."

How it is done "will be guided by the outcome of the trials."

Most of the assertions otherwise are "patently a scare campaign [against] a policy objective we think is fair and reasonable," he said.
Australian Communications Minister Stephen Conroy

Fear is the key to this, as Senator Conroy points out. Fear is also being peddled in Sweden. Fear of lawlessness and the idea that in order to be safe media must be controlled and those who use it monitored. If we go further back we can easily find connections between media, fear and politics:

"Something that stood even deeper than the fear of Protestantism was also at stake in the great refusal of 1496. The decision to stand by the Vulgate, to veil the gospels, and stress lay obedience over lay education was certainly framed as a reaction to the Protestant threat. Fear of the threat of the spread of Lutheran heresy undoubtedly loomed large in the debates. Actions taken by Catholic churchmen, however, were designed to counteract forces which had begun to subvert the medieval church before Luther was born and which continued to menace the Roman Catholicism long after Protestant zeal had ebbed.
It was printing, not Protestantism, which outmoded the medieval Vulgate and introduced a new drive to tap mass markets."
The Printing Press as an Agent of Change By Elizabeth L. Eisenstein p353

The account of the printing press and the revolution it brought about, while often verging on a tale of technodeterminism, is undoubtedly worth considering when listening today to the members of the Pirate, Left, Moderate, Green, Social Dems and so forth on internet controls. Those with an insight into the long term effects of what we, in the economically developed parts of the world, are experiencing in media ecology should not resort to fear in order to express themselves.
And don't forget to vote.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

John Berger reads Ghassan Khanafani’s Letter from Gaza

John Berger reads Ghassan Khanafani's Letter from Gaza from Palestine Festival of Literature on Vimeo.

I have seen few examples of online videos that demonstrate such powerful ability to evoke emotion. Berger reads Khanafani with an understated certainty and warmth that is extremely moving. This is brilliant.

From People's Geography

Friday, May 15, 2009

What I Did Last Night


I will post the whole recording of this soon...

From Fairyrings

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Media Online and in Your Mind (Recommended)

The past week has been a blur of activity so it is only now that I find the time to post, between other tasks, some online media offerings that I recommend. I shall not get bogged down in self-reflection but push onward to THE STUFF:

UbuWeb Featured Resources, April/May 09: David Toop & Pauline Oliveros
David Toop is a musician/composer, writer and curator. Pauline Oliveros (b. 1932) is an accordionist and composer who was a central figure in the development of post-war electronic art music. Oliveros was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and served as its director. She has taught music at Mills College, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

U B U W E B :: Canntaireachd
Dating back to the sixteenth century or earlier, canntaireachd developed as the art of "chanting" pibroch (piobaireachd), the classical form of Gaelic bagpipe music. Essentially an oral form, canntaireachd consists of vocables, which stand for recognized groups of notes but otherwise have no meaning as words. When written down or, more commonly, sung as mouth music they provide an alternative to the Western system of musical notation and a means for preserving and passing on both the the melody and fingering of tunes. The following two examples of written canntaireachd are the Ground (urlar) and first variation of the classical piobaireachd "The Cave of Gold," attributed to Donald Mor MacCrimmon, circa 1610.

Drift Study by Le Monte Young (Mp3)
"Consider the premise that in determining the relationship of two or more frequencies the brain can best analyze information of a periodic nature. Since chords in which any pair of frequency components must he represented by some irrational fraction (such as those required for any system of equal temperament) produce composite sound waveforms that are infinitely non-repeating, only an infinite number of lifetimes of listening could possibly yield the precise analysis of the intervallic relationship. Consequently the human auditory mechanism could be best expected to analyse the intervallic relationships between the frequency components of chords in which every pair of components can be represented by some rational fraction, since only these harmonically related frequencies produce periodic composite sound waveforms." Aspen Magazine 1970

UbuWeb Sound - Los Angeles Free Music Society
Broadcast on KPFK, Close Radio, (recorded live) November 3, 1977, 44 min. 19 sec. A concert of experimental music and performance.

World Digital Library
Nice interface and lots of material.

Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy by Lawrence Lessig

Download the book as a PDF. "Copyright law regulates culture in America. Copyright law must be changed. Changed, not abolished." This is not simply the thesis of "Remix"; it is Lessig's mission statement, and runs through his other books, academic writing and blogging. He seeks to ensure that copyright law, the sole purpose of which is encouraging creativity, does not end up stifling it instead.

Talks by Gil Fronsdal on Buddhism
Gil has practiced Zen and Vipassana since 1975 and has a Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from Stanford. He has trained in both the Japanese Soto Zen tradition and the Insight Meditation lineage of Theravada Buddhism of Southeast Asia. Gil was trained as a Vipassana teacher by Jack Kornfield and is part of the Vipassana teachers' collective at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. He was ordained as a Soto Zen priest at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1982, and in 1995 he received Dharma Transmission from Mel Weitsman, the abbot of the Berkeley Zen Center. He has been the primary teacher for the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California since 1990. He is a husband and father of two boys.

Clinical Archives
Clinical Archives is independent netlabel for eclectic and illogical music. The basic directions : abstract, avant-garde, alternative, free improv, intuition improvisation, jazz fusion, electronic jazz, free jazz, funk rocktronica, jam band, live electronic, experimental, manipulation, neoclassicism, illbient, ambient, musique concrète, noise, tape music, minimalism, acousmatic music, sound sculpture, sound collage, electroacoustic, acoustic; drone, new wave, field recordings, microsound, montage, psychedelic, folk; quasi-folk; prog-rock; post-punk; trip-hop, soundscapes, sound art, spoken word, strange and other forms ...
"Clinical Archives is about expanding the definition of music"
All those works are released for free under Creative Commons Licences.

U B U W E B - Film & Video: Craig Baldwin - Sonic Outlaws (1995)
Within days after the release of Negativland's clever parody of U2 and Casey Kasem, recording industry giant Island Records descended upon the band with a battery of lawyers intent on erasing the piece from the history of rock music. Craig "Tribulation 99" Baldwin follows this and other intellectual property controversies across the contemporary arts scene. Playful and ironic, his cut-and-paste collage-essay surveys the prospects for an "electronic folk culture" in the midst of an increasingly commodified corporate media landscape.

U B U W E B - Film & Video: Tony Oursler - Synesthesia: Genesis P-Orridge (1997-2001)
Genesis P-Orridge, performance artist and vocalist for the iconoclastic English industrial band Throbbing Gristle in the late 1970s, pioneered industrial music. P-Orridge, who went on to form the experimental band Psychic TV, continues to work in music, art, and performance in New York, and is undertaking a long-term "Pandrogeny" project involving a radical identity transformation.

Raven Sings The Blues Volume 1
This comp's been in the works for the last few months and is now finally ready for public consumption. We honestly couldn't be more excited as this release (and the site redesign) also marks the 3 year anniversary of Raven Sings the Blues. A big thank you to all the artists involved and also to Darryl for the great design.

Let your freak flag fly in the months of moths to come........

Saturday, May 09, 2009

2009 PressPress Chapbook Award

The world's smallest, but one of the best, poetry publishers PressPress is holding its award again:

Deadline 30 May 2009

The PressPress Chapbook Award is an award for the best chapbook length collection of poems. The deadline of 30 May 2009 is rapidly approaching (not long now!).

What you need to know:

What can I submit? An unpublished chapbook length manuscript of poems (20-40 pages). Aside from that, it’s up to you.

How do I enter? Go to the PressPress site at for conditions and an entry form. Alternatively, email or send an SSAE to PO Box 94 Berry NSW 2535 Australia.

How long do I have? Until 30 May 2009.

What do I get if I win? Chapbook publication with PressPress and $500 AUD.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Visiting Guantánamo in Second Life

Many so-called enemy combatants are still held at the US military run detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most of them never charged of any crime. January 11, 2009 marked the seven-year anniversary of the arrival of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

Having just blogged an obituary for Augusto Boal, I think he would have approved of such a project as Virtual Guantánamo, a simulation of the United States military detention center in Cuba within the virtual online world of Second Life. By exposing such institutions within the structures of the state apparatus, the possibilities for democracy are strengthened.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Augusto Boal is Dead

While I learnt of the death of Augusto Boal (April 16, 1931 - May 2, 2009) the day after it happened, I have had not had a chance to sit down and reflect and write some lines on what it means to me that Boal is no longer among us.

I first learnt of Augusto Boal in 1994 at the age of 25 while working with a group of artists and activists on a fanzine in inner-city Sydney. One of our company, who had for a short time been the star of a popular film in Australia, spoke about Boal quite often. Ross O'Donovan placed an add in the fanzine with the words 'Augusto Boal: The Courage to be Happy'. I learnt more about the Theater of the Oppressed over the coming years, and everything that I heard I liked. In the last six years I have read the text twice. While I have tried to incorporate some of Boal's philosophies into my own performance in public places (street musics) I have never never taken it to the level that he intended. However, there are strands of Boal everywhere.

The Theatre of the Oppressed is theatre in this most archaic application of the word. In this usage, all human beings are Actors (they act!) and Spectators (they observe!). They are Spect-Actors.... Everything that actors do, we do throughout our lives, always and everywhere. Actors talk, move, dress to suit the setting, express ideas, reveal passions - just as we do in our everyday lives. The only difference is that actors are conscious that they are using the language of theatre, and are thus better able to turn it to their advantage, whereas the woman and man in the street do not know that they are speaking theatre. (Boal 1992: xxx).

The Flash Mob is one example of a current theater form that owes some of its being to the guerrilla theater of Boal. Invisible Theater is a gift Boal gave to the world:

Invisible theatre is a form of theatrical performance that is enacted in a place where people would not normally expect to see one, for example in the street or in a shopping centre. The Brazilian theatre practitioner Augusto Boal developed the form during his time in Argentina in the 1970s as part of his Theatre of the Oppressed, which focused on oppression and social issues. Boal went on to develop forum theatre.

Invisible theatre can give people who would not normally have the chance to see plays the opportunity to do so—or, as is often the case, it can be performed without the knowledge of its audience, which in such a scenario would consist of whoever happens to wander by. This can be done in order to help actors make a point publicly in much the same motivational vein as graffiti or political demonstration, or it can be done in order to help actors gain a sense of what a realistic reaction might be to a certain scenario; for example, a heated argument over a political or social issue. This type of theatre is performed in public on unexpected bystanders, whom the actors will try to get unknowingly involved in the scene.

I have been shaped by Boal. In my work as an academic and artist I consciously attempt to observe the principles he outlined in his writings. At the center of his corpus in the concept of community. It was while working in community arts that I discovered Boal and it with a quote from him I would like to end this rememberance that does little justice to him:

I think that all the barriers have been collapsing already and now what I think we should reinforce are some barriers instead of collapsing them. Building new walls against racism which is one of the horrible things that exist in the world. A wall against intolerance which is not accepting and is a form of racism, not accepting the existence of the other one. The wall against sexism which enslaves half of humanity - women. A wall against globalisation which makes all of us become clones of ourselves to become robots, so now is the moment to build barriers, to build walls and to fight against intolerance, against racism, sexism and globalisation, to fight vigorously against that. And to re-unite people. Boal

Rest in Peace Augusto.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Second Life is Back in My Life

While I continue with thesis research, having just completed two papers for pedagogy courses I needed to finish and working on a paper for an upcoming conference, I am also back in Second Life in a big way. I am working on a major project for HUMlab, which shall be revealed shortly. I also am hosting a seminar this Friday streamed from Second Life on the Virtual Macbeth project by Angela A. Thomas.

The first half of this year has been fairly quiet for me in regards to Second Life. While I have continued following it, I have not spent so much time logged in. This past week I have been inworld a lot more and I have noticed a change in the way it is presented by Linden Lab and the sort of avatars one meets inworld. The hype seems to be over, which is great. Those users I have encountered that remain are more experienced and usually doing something with the program other than just wondering around.

This video summarizes some of the present factors at play in Second Life:

The Drax Files for May 2009: Dareth Denimore is a sociology student at Cambridge University in the UK. He just finished his "cybersex" survey and in the process talked to over 200 avatars about their habits when it comes to relationships and intimacy. Draxtor Despres, fresh back from the first ever virtual journalism summit at WSU in Pullman, WA, profiled this energetic young man.

I hope we are going to see more serious exploration of Second Life as well as more virtual world platforms that feature performability with community and creative functions.