"Chimpanzee That! Monkey News."

To quote the classic Something Awful-ism, it's "teh funnay". It's popular, too. It's why I got weird looks from a lady on the bus for appearing to laugh at nothing. It's also why my girlfriend shot a curious / irritated look at me on the plane the other day... to her, I appeared to be laughing at the back of the seat in front of me. But that's not what it was...

It's the The Ricky Gervais Show podcast. Try not to laugh every time Gervais cackles at Karl Pilkington's inane insights.


The refix is in (for now).

Refix? Yeah. Here's a fun example of a refix that follows-through on ETUC and movie remixing:

DJ Food's Raiding the 20th Century - an audio-history of the cut-up. It's a bit of a listen, but I highly recommend checking both versions - the original mix is brilliant, and the refix is true genius.

Methods of refixing in sound recording date back to Musique concrète and through early forms of sampling and dub:

Tzara, Burroughs and Gysin called it the cut-up;
Zappa called his version xenocrany;
John Oswald dubbed it Plunderphonics;
Double Dee and Steinski considered their examples "lessons";
Pop Will Eat Itself said it all in their name.

Though not the first to use it, DJ Food is onto something with the term refix. For the time being, it is a remix of the term remix - and therefore may be a better word for this discussion. Technically, I'm refixing my blog by linking to previous posts to create a richer context for this particular post and to reinforce the themes behind this entire blog.

The refix not a new tactic. It's just a new word for an old trick. We have always reappropriated cultural capital, legally or otherwise, to re-tell stories (personal experiences) within individual and institutional worldviews.

Think of all the "classic" art that is little more than a commissioned depiction of a royal family imposed on biblical or mythological scenes - notably, without the permission or consent of those who wrote the Bible. Those Bible stories are largely based on previous mythology and folklore, but "fixed" enough to support Christianity's insidious patriarchy and supplant Pagan belief systems. These refixes are traditionally maintained as classic art because they've been hanging on museum walls for centuries - but apply the same tactic to modern media and you are asking for a cease and desist order, lawsuit or worse. (That's because our permission culture is all f'd up, and our courts can't clearly define fair use.)

The refix tactic reaches into all niches of culture, not just the traditional, classic arts: ricers, bikers and gearheads refer to it as Kustom Kulture; writers know it by several names, portmanteau perhaps the most exotic of them; gamers know it in the form of cheats, mods and even machinema; programmers and hackers may consider it open source; one day soon we will refix our own genetic codes under the ideals of democratic transhumanism.

It will no doubt be outdated in a matter of months, but for now the refix is in.


A Letter to Wal*Mart Dance Party-People:

Kids, no anarchist spends so much effort trying to make a big-box store look like a fun time. You've practically produced three spec advertisements for Wal*Mart and Target here, playing up to cliches and ultimately showing that you (suburban alterna-kids, nu-metal heads and army brats) enjoy yourselves at the big-box stores in your town.

Don't get me wrong - I'm sure you all had a great time at Wal*Mart. But you are neither anarchists nor punks just because you wear black, mohawks and tatoos into big-box retailers (and dance to mainstream pop music, and film what amount to guerila promo videos for said retailers).

Wal*Mart and Target both have big corporate marketing departments, public relations agencies, branding consultants and advertising agencies that are very pleased with you all right now, for giving them inadvertent "viral" marketing (about which they can now say "the kids think we're cool enough to have a dance party here") - even if the sales clerks turned your party off.


RE-Remixing movies

This PSFK post reminded me of a Mike Meyers film-sampling effort that was talked about a few years back but has yet to materialize. Now Xeni Jardin has Steven Soderbergh talking about this allegedly "new" approach...

But film and video remixing isn't a new idea. Films ranging from Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid to Kung Pow: Enter the Fist have already dabbled in this territory. And these barely compare to the complexity of Emergency Broadcast Network's work. (Remember U2's ZooTV? That was video remixing.)

Steven Soderbergh implies that it's as simple as recutting and rescoring your own film. Meyers seemed to be taking more of a mash-up approach (much like we see in the other examples listed above). Both count, technically, as remixes (a vague term that is too often co-opted and over-used for the sake of sounding hip). But neither is a new revolution in film-making (or re-making)...

It's been forty years since Woody Allen "remixed" new dialogue into International Secret Police: Key of Keys - which would become What's Up, Tiger Lilly? - it just wasn't called "remixing" then.


Cooking with social currency

Douglas Rushkoff recently posted an excerpt about social currency from his forthcoming book. He first wrote about the idea a few years ago, and ran with it as the theme for this latest book.

A term like "social currency" can help explain a bigger idea like the meme, and Rushkoff's analogy about how we listen to the telling of jokes starts getting at the meat (which, I'm fairly certain, is lurking somewhere in that new book):

Observe yourself the next time you’re listening to a joke. You may start by listening to the joke for the humor - because you really want the belly laugh at the end. But chances are, a few sentences in, you will find yourself not only listening, but attempting to remember its whole sequence. You’ll do this tentatively at first, until you’ve decided whether or not it's really a good joke. And if it is, you'll commit the entire thing to memory - maybe even with a personalized variation, or a mental note to yourself to fix that racist part. This is because the joke is a gift - it's a form of social currency that you’ll be able to take with you to the next party.

This is a lot like an example of the two ways memes spread, which I seem to recall from Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine. I don't have the book with me, so I'll go on as if this was in fact where I got this (it may have been Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene): memes are ideas - regardless of "good" or "bad" - that spread via imitation. Memes are the building-blocks of culture; culture is based on imitation. There are two basic ways we imitate, and you can think of them around this example of an apple pie: when you have a great piece of apple pie, you can either experiement with various ingredients in an attempt to arrive at the same pie by trial and error, or you can just get the recipe.

Imitate the result or imitate the recipe - these are the transactions made with social currency (I prefer to refer to it as cultural currency, but this is mere semantics).

In Rushkoff's terms, you listen to the joke for humor (the pie) at first, then attempt to remember its whole sequence (the recipe) -- so you can retell it (spread the meme, as it were). Consider for a moment the cheap imitations of the world, which attempt to copy the product without respect for the recipe. The recipe is worth more, culturally-speaking, because it does more to preserve the fidelity, fecundity and longevity of future results.



It takes a fair amount of restraint for me to keep from posting music reviews on this blog, but some artists are thematically right-on with my intentions for PYLB...

Coldcut are back with a new single, "Every Thing is Under Control", featuring Jon Spencer and Mike Ladd. No shit.

It's only on iTunes Music Store now, and will be in stores November 14. There's a video online already. The track is promising... guitar and vocals from Spencer, politically charged rap from Ladd, all cut up sharp like only Coldcut do. Can't wait for their first new album in eight years, Sound Mirrors, due early 2006.


Crazy like a Fawkes

I'm in London for work this week, and arrived just in time for Guy Fawkes Night. Having only a cursory knowledge of the origin of this holiday, I felt I had to do a little research...

For those of you not familiar with the occasion, it is a celebration of the capture of Britain's most notorious traitor, Guy Fawkes. This frustrated military man - whose biography bears several resemblances to that of a more recent American - and his cohorts planned to blow up Parliament (Roman Catholics trying to disrupt Protestant rule with an act of domestic terrorism).

So how does England commemorate the foiling of The Gunpowder Plot? She co-opts the explosive approach Fawkes took... setting off fireworks, bonfires and flaming effigies of the Pope for a night. Okay, the Pope part doesn't happen so much anymore, as Catholics now celebrate the holiday, too. But the holiday was originally set to celebrate the saving of the King and to instill violent anti-Catholic sentiment.

All this drove me to the point that prompted this post:

When you get down to it, practically every recorded incident of terrorism revolves around the fundamental inseparability of a Church and a State. So are we ultimately fooling ourselves when we believe the two can operate independently of each other?


What to do with Chicago's water tanks...

According to the Trib, the Chicago Architectural Club recently announced winners of a contest seeking ideas for what to do with the city's rooftop water tanks. There are some very cool ideas, my favorite is the winning idea from Rahman Polk (PDF), which uses the tanks to harness wind power and support a city-wide Wi-fi network (an idea that's got some people talking already). Let's hope the best ideas prevail.


Parents, more than ads, make kids consumers

We Make Money Not Art directs us to a Guardian article about the innumerable marketing messages kids (and everyone else) are exposed to every day.

Unfortunately, the article takes the low road, opting for sensationalism instead of realism. For example, "one study" (we have no idea the sampling size, randomness of sampling, population, etc. - which makes this study reference useless) claimed that more kids recognize McDonald's golden arches and Nike's swoosh before they recognize Jesus. (To be fair, McDonald's and Nike are real companies; Jesus is mythology.)

The article goes on to complain about kids who know brand names better than they know their own names. Not surprising, if you bother to look at the parents. When they are raised in a world where their parents place irrational values on brands, kids naturally immitate their parents' behavior (regardless of how rational that behavior is). Kids typically continue to do this at least until they reach their tween years, when the influences of peers begin to crowd out the influences of parents.

I think the article fails in that it doesn't hold parents accountable (or even acknowledge parents as key influencers), as if three- and four-year olds are somehow on their own in the world. When your parents proudly wear swoosh-laden clothing every day, or seem to be in a better mood when they can unload the dinner duties on a place that has golden arches at its entrance, what kind of conclusions do you make about the world? Whatever they are, your parents' behavior leads you to those conclusions - perhaps more than any other cultural influence.


Blue-Faced Cell-Out

CTA Tattler captures the disdain for a U.S. Cellular guerilla marketing campaign that's been annoying Chicagoans during their commutes this week. I personally encountered no less than five of these chumps while riding the Blue Line for a mere three stops the other day.

The first indication that this "stunt" was BS: there's no way any of them were getting a signal in the tunnel -- whatever conversations they were pretending to have were obviously fake. The CTA should know about this (I'd bet that U.S. Cellular didn't bother to get clearance first), so if you've encountered this shite, be sure to report it to CTA customer service.

This stunt seems to coincide with a promotion the carrier is running with WCKG radio (scroll down to "U.S. Cellular - win a free phone and service"). Go ahead and ask Pete McMurray if he's going to paint his face blue, too.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. Cellular claims to be approaching teens with this "call me minutes" campaign -- so why are they irritating twenty- and thirty-somethings during the morning commute? You might also ask the conglomerate WPP Group (and subsidiary G Whiz), who (according to WSJ) helped U.S. Cellular come up with such a bad idea in the first place.

And to U.S. Cellular: if you're so keen on minding the blogosphere, be sure to check out that link to CTA Tattler. The people who blog about what you've done don't like you at all. They are talking about boycotting your services in your own home town. Joan Cusack was annoying enough; this blue-faced desperation is a total turn-off.


Buzz-words aside...

Are Current TV's "pods" and Squidoo's "lenses" basically the same thing? When you get through the fluffy language written around these entities, each is just a meme pool with somewhat proprietary nomenclature.

Are we really just seeing a revival of self-appointed experts... the kind that used innumerable day-time talk shows as their platforms in the 1980's? Maybe. One thing is certain: When everyone is an expert, being an expert becomes meaningless.


To Yahoo!, from the streets

Wooster Collective reports that Michael Oliver has created a cool hack combining Flickr (a Yahoo! property) and Google Maps to create a dynamic map of street art snapshots as uploaded by users. Of course, Oliver's hack isn't working right now... but there's a similar hack that does work - using geotagged Flickr images and Google Maps - here (though there isn't much that's been mapped yet).

Hey, Yahoo!, maybe it's time to get your map application in shape enough to compete with Google's? This "hack" creates a combination of tools that are not unique to street art afficionados; wait until the travel industry and its journalists pick up on this... if they haven't already.


Cruelty-free living isn't what they say

PETA, in its holier-than-thou crusade for the ethical treatment of animals, has overlooked the fact that man is an animal, too. The alleged proponent of "cruelty-free living" has taken to paying homeless people a meager sum (less than ten US Dollars) to invade KFC locations and scare customers away. Since when are homeless people are lower lifeforms than chickens? PETA is clearly more about sensationalizing marginal issues and pushing propaganda than it is about being an ethical citizen. I suppose when your primary audience is over-privileged, arrogant suburbanites it's easy to lose your grip on reality.

Before you PETA folks post any comments (as if), see if you can answer these simple questions: If animals are not ours to exploit, why do we all drive automobiles that run on fossil fuels (animal byproducts)? Is there a time limit on how long an animal must be dead before it's okay for us to exploit it? Why do PETA booths at festivals sell DVDs and stickers that are produced with plastics (petroleum byproducts)?


Jet Blue Flight 292, via Caural

I just found out that my friend Zachary (aka Caural) was on that flight. He's blogged his account of it here. Glad to know he made it safely, and that he appears to be taking this all in stride. What a good sport! I'm interested to hear what new music of his this event inspires. Here's a quote from his account, which is very surreal (blogging about appearing on the media, where you were talking about how you watched your plane make an emergency landing on TV - while you were still on the plane):

As I was exiting the plane I was talking with Take. Watching the news, he informed me they were filming everyone walking down the ramp and to the tarmac. So when I got to the door, he recognized me and told me to wave. We both started to laugh, and I was waving around my hand- holding the cell phone- saying hi to him through the news cameras. That is the story behind the photo so many of you have seen on what made front page of the LA Times and other publications.
Soon, a producer for CBS' Early Show named Alan approached me to interview the next morning, and I even turned down Good Morning America! This was the ultimate in surreal. I was driven to the Beverly Hilton where I stayed in a beautiful room on CBS' tab, and we relaxed for about 10 minutes while taking care of some more logistics with the network. We flipped through the channels, and I did double-takes seeing the footage of the interviews I had just done on the flat-screen TV. I had made CNN, Fox, NBC, CBS, and local stations like KTLA. Huh? I just wanted to eat- we went for sushi and Sapporo on La Cienega and Wilshire.

Cheers, Zach! Get to Chicago safely for your next gig, will you? (Would rather see you there than on MSNBC or CBS News [w/pic, video].)


Shadow Percussion Project

I have to agree with Music Thing: this is amazing. Two tracks from DJ Shadow's Entroducing performed by an after-school percussion ensemble in Minnesota, under the direction of Brian Udelhofen. The Internet Archive this .WMV of the performance.

Music collaged from samples, recreated with live percussion. Brilliant.


Boot Sale Sounds

Boot Sale Sounds is

A music blog , mainly featuring records and tapes found at boot sales, charity shops and flea markets. Mainly comedy, novelty and odd items that are hard to catagorise.
... and it's going to keep me busy this weekend, going through all the wonderfully strange content. Another awesome find via We Make Money Not Art.


On "Across the Sound"

Big thanks to Across The Sound for quoting a comment of mine in the their second podcast. Across the Sound is the pairing of marketing gurus Steve Rubel and Joseph Jaffe, who "discuss the world of new marketing, media and PR"...

If you're a persuader by trade, you should be reading and/or listening to these guys. If you aren't in the persuasion industry, this is potentially even better: you can learn about how the marketing messages around you (and those that are to come) are crafted.


Dance me to the end of funds

There's apparently a lot that Leonard Cohen has been trying to keep from the public. This article calls it "a sordid tale involving allegations of extortion, SWAT teams, forcible confinement, tax troubles and betrayal."

The first thing I thought was, this is much too juicy for pander-happy cable networks to pass up. I am going so far as to predict a Lifetime Original, based on Cohen's former manager's perspective, to go into production any minute now... And this tale of a Tibetan Buddhist suing a Zen Buddhist would no doubt be sponsored by shampoo and cosmetics, department stores, quick-serve restaurants and the fad diets to which QSR customers resort, plus superfluous prescription medications that promise all kinds of "pharmaceutical enlightenment" that include dozens of unhealthy side effects. Perhaps I am more predicting that the premise of disambiguation will be sold (as it already is) through strict employment of ambiguity.

The next thing I thought was, this seems like the kind of thing that only could happen to Leonard Cohen. However ironic they may appear, these are rather epic, poetic circumstances - even for someone of Cohen's outlook. If my hunch is right, maybe he'll get to pick who plays him in the movie.


"I came here for a good argument."

A Swedish library "will let curious visitors check out living people for a 45-minute chat in a project meant to tear down prejudices about different religions, nationalities, or professions". [article]

All I'm going to add is that, for me, this immediately brings to mind the Argument Clinic sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus.



Lillian Virginia Mountweazel

Kottke points us to a New Yorker article about fakes in your favorite encyclopedias, purposefully inserted in an effort to protect copyright.

If Mountweazel is not a household name, even in fountain-designing or mailbox-photography circles, that is because she never existed. “It was an old tradition in encyclopedias to put in a fake entry to protect your copyright,” Richard Steins, who was one of the volume’s editors, said the other day. “If someone copied Lillian, then we’d know they’d stolen from us.”


Innovation begins with "in"

My first post on PYLB was fuelled by the frustration of trend-watching being just another trend in and of itself - a futile one that never seems to help persuaders-by-trade innovate in any significant fashion. Douglas Rushkoff recently captured this frustration and put it into more neutral terms:

But this endless worrying, wriggling, and trend-watching only alienates companies from whatever it is they really do best. In the midst of the headlong rush to think “outside the box,” the full engagement responsible for true innovation is lost. New consultants, new packaging, new marketing schemes or even new CEO’s are no substitute for the evolution of our own expertise, as individuals and as businesses.

Indeed, for all their talk about innovation, most companies today are still scared to death of it.

This quote is from the flap copy for Rushkoff's new book, Get Back In The Box. Those of you who know the clients I work for already know that I face the crippling fear of true innovation on a daily basis, at an institutional level... and cannot wait for this book to come out.


R.I.P. Bob Moog

Musical inventor and luminary Bob Moog died yesterday. Music Thing has the details I would have only retyped here.

But let me refer you to the recent Moog documentary. My favorite scene shows us a man who saw little fundamental difference between the circuits in a machine and the plants in his garden; his view of the world imparts the wisdom with which he invented and inspired so many musical innovations.

I think I'm going to watch the documentary again tonight, then make a donation to the Bob Moog Foundation.



Remember that stencil job I literally stepped in yesterday? It was a fake; guerrilla marketing, and a half-hearted example at that. Look what aired on a break last night (it aired just about two hours after I posted this):

Who's weak attempt at guerrilla marketing was this?
Three letters...

Fine, HBO. The joke's on me; I inadvertently promoted your new show. Gosh, you really got me on that one! Thanks for making me feel stupid, I guess. To show you my gratitude, I'm going to make a point of not watching your new show. Ever.

I'll even go a little further here, because I've known you a while and recently noticed some erratic behavior of yours. Are you feeling okay? I think you're trying too hard to cover up your dirty network secret: you don't appear to be number-one anymore, and you obviously want this new show to be a buzz-laden hit.

HBO's ratings are currently down something like 18%; an empire fallen, the network doesn't have a single show in the top ten. Kinda makes this poor attempt at "graffiti" seem a bit desperate, doesn't it? The Romans didn't have spraypaint; graffiti doesn't make much sense as a tactic for promoting the show.

This pandering to "buzz" is likely to continue until the show airs in the next two weeks, and might well become a new bad habit at the cable network. I personally think it's risky for the Home Box Office to be so determined to take this expensive new show and shove it down our throats.

Up your ass with luxury.

Various sources are reporting that we may soon witness a rise in popularity of luxury toilet paper.

Why would I want to willingly associate the unattainable idea of luxury with the soiled, tangible reality of fecal matter? Luxury = shit? Well, okay, if you luxurious brands insist... I'll just think of you all as crap from now on. (I'll keep favoring the "secret" brands who don't make me pay to be a walking billboard.)

Could a "high-end meets rear-end" trend actually signal the decline of luxury brands, or just a lowering of standards for what are considered luxury goods?

Either way, it appears that luxury (as we once knew it) is ultimately headed down the drain... probably for the best.




They were all curiously close together, as if the stencil-er worked within an arbitrary ten-foot radius... no less than five duplicates of this stencil, strewn on the ground along the edge of the garage, on the alley that runs behind the south side of Chicago Avenue, where it meets the Noble Street sidewalk. I wish my cameraphone was able to capture the whole scene in one shot.

Oddly enough, if you stood in the center of the stencils and looked up, you'd see a big sign advertising the crappy company that manages my apartment building. (I say "crappy" because it's nicer than saying "slumlord".) I know what some of you are thinking, but I didn't set this up. Honest. If I wanted to be mean, I'd have deliberately posted a photo of the sign, too.

I told myself I wasn't going to rail on graffiti for a while (having the building management mention conveniently gives me an alternate bad guy in this story), and I normally don't photograph things people paint on the sidewalk, but...


when I found the stencil laying on the ground less than one block away, I knew I'd need photos to explain this chance happening as a sort of "compound coincidence"... plus, I knew this presented a new secret for the city: what I did with the stencil after I picked it up and walked away with it.


Pimp my hybrid.

A California man spent about $3K pimping his Prius, adding extra batteries that recharge via plug in a wall outlet. Now he could get up to 250 miles per gallon of gas. It's not cost-efficient just yet, but it is an eye-opener.


West Bank Art Attack

I know, I'm late on this one... but I think it's absolutely brilliant, so better late than never:

Banksy (who normally doesn't show himself) hit Israel's barrier with Palestine. Take a look.

This is some of the most innovative and conceptually responsible "street" art to come along since "clean graffiti". For a self-described "fictional character", Banksy has been pretty busy.


Current TV, frozen in time

Al Gore once allegedly claimed that he invented the Internet. Whether he did or not, you'd assume that he was trying to position himself as a forward-thinker. So here's the unfortunate irony: his participatory-media venture is limited to the (relatively) primitive medium of cable television.

Douglas Rushkoff, who was in the initial brainstorming sessions for Current TV, remarks on his disappointment in what the project became, and opportunities it's missing.


Old & busted: BRANDS, New hotness: MEMES?

Adliterate's Meme Doctors post raises an interesting point. It cites the weakness of brand as a concept as reason to claim that memes are better than brands. But the weakness of the "brand" concept is no fault of the language, but of complacent and unimaginative agencies (and their interpretations). A brand is made entirely of memes; in other words, a brand is a memeplex.

The difference is only semantic. If you're not conscious of memes (whether you call them by name or not) when building a brand, you're simply not a good brand-builder. This doesn't make memes "better than" brands per se. Adliterate's stance is too much like saying molecules are better than cells, cells are better than organs, or organs are better than systems - it doesn't quite make sense, because you're really only talking about semantic differences in what makes a basic unit. Call it "brand building", "meme doctoring" or "cultural engineering"; I think it's all the same thing.


Dark is the suede that mows like a harvest.*

The European Space Agency has discovered what it believes to be ice on Mars. Thanks for saying something about it, BBC! Our domestic news engineers were aggressively ignoring Europe's success in space by reporting on the same thing California scientists said about a different object just over a year ago. Well, that or the space walk.

It's probably safe to assume that NASA doesn't want to you question its authority any more than you already do. It seems the agency is putting a softer spin on this latest mission, particulary its similarities to a disaster in recent memory. I don't mean to be morbid, but NASA might reconsider having return in the shuttle mission's title.

* - Obscure Mars Attacks! reference. Didn't want to do the obvious "needs women" Mars joke, and "pump up the volume" was too much of a stretch. Like this post needed any more hyperlinks.


Oblique Strategies

I recently rediscovered Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt's Oblique Strategies when they were made available as a Widget for OSX Tiger's Dashboard. These "one hundred worthwhile strategies" are a lot like Zen Buddhism's koans - only with fewer religous overtones. You can get your hands on a hard copy via Eno's online shop, or check out several other digital versions. I've got to admit, I put them to use on some new business I'm working on, and they definitely helped get the (mental) wheels turning. You business types out there might employ Oblique Strategies to arrive at the proverbial Purple Cow that Seth Godin is always talking about. Or you could carry on being unremarkable.


Lidell did I know...

Certain corners of the Indie-net have been abuzz with Jaime Lidell lately. (Admittedly, I slept on most of his work until now.) His innovative approach to "soul" vocalization is what ultimately makes you a fan (I'm told you have to see it live, but there are a few videos online that give you a hint). His discography reaches from the Super_Collider realm of yester-year to Matthew Herbert's Big Band, to his latest, Multiply on Warp - perhaps the last label on which you'd expect to find a soul singer.


X-ian zombies want to eat your porn-riddled brains!

Mind Hacks has a post about a conservative group that's raising money to conduct studies in the hope of proving that porn is an erotoxin. The term is a neologism coined by an anti-porn activist, so you know the ratio of actual science to irrational conservativism is low. This pushy, "holier-than-thou, but out-of-touch-with-reality" christian conservativism reminds me of the "Xian Zombie Vampyre" chorus from My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult's "Days of Swine & Roses" (on Confessions of a Knife). Someone had to point this out, because these irrational christians are the real zombies and zimboes.


Birds imitate man-made, electronic sounds

In Germany, orinthologists have determined that birds imitate mobile phone ring tones. I'm very pleased to see this article, as I have noticed birds in my neighborhood imitating car alarms (you know the tune). Bird's songs are a great example of memes occurring outside the human race, and bird's ability to mimic human speech sounds is widely known already; it seemed completely logical that they would begin to imitate urban noises (albeit in a monophonic way, since birds can't sing chords) and incorporate these sounds into their song-vocabulary.


While my girlfriend scoffed at the thought, I insisted it was at least possible - and awfully coincidental that the birds picked up those sounds around the same time a neighbor of ours couldn't keep his car alarm (the ubiquious "song" of the city) from going off for an entire hour at a time. Some are helping to call attention to the similarities with a little clever editing, too.


Is Not Magazine

Is Not Magazine would be a magazine if it weren't published as a poster. There's a lot of talk in the persuasion industry about "invented media", and this is a good example. It's a nice, simple idea. I especially like that the site does not duplicate the content, but instead offers information about the editorial staff and the means by which Is Not is produced / published. You get a glimpse at the recipe for this invented media, and you still have a reason to be on the loookout for a poster (next time you're in Melbourne, anyway).

[via Kottke]


Laces of death

The pair of Adidas kicks I'm wearing have ridiculously long laces, and today was the umpteenth time they got tangled in the wheels of my office chair. Naturally, I was thrilled to discover YewKnee's link to this list of shoelacing methods. I'm going to try the doubleback method, the lattice method... or just get shorter laces.


The Recombinant

Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us. Though not all of us know it - yet.

William Gibson romanticizes our recombinant tendencies and cut-and-paste culture in this Wired article.

I've always liked the word recombinant - ever since first learning it during a genetics chapter in grade school science class (a truly remarkable occurrence for Catholic school). I wouldn't apply the term to my creative output for at least another ten years, once I learned to study culture in terms the meme (parallel to the gene in biology). Now it's a challenge to describe my work (and recreation) without using the "r" term, or some synonym of it.


Two-faced Tats Cru?

This post completes my triology of calling out street artists. It's more of a follow-up to the Tats Cru / Hummer post.

As you can plainly see here, here and here, Tats Cru are in fact paid by Hummer. They get paid to paint the message, then deface it. I'm almost jealous. Isn't the consumer supposed to be involved in the communication at some point, folks? Are Hummer and Tats Cru just wanking each other here?

Just because you're "street" doesn't mean you're immune to ethics. Wait... Let me rephrase that: just because you're a corporate graffiti artist doesn't mean you're "street".


More Irresponsible Commentary

So I'm sure came off grumpy in the last post about ill-conceived street art... but here's another reason why the street artists need a good calling-out.

Tats Cru used a toxic, perhaps even petroleum-based spraypaint when they tagged this Hummer ad, presumably to add a tone of environmental responsibility. And they re-branded it with their own branding, which isn't much nobler than what Hummer did in the first place. One could argue that it's actually worse, since Hummer paid to place the ad and Tats Cru played the role of the hater.

If it were only about the environment and opposition to gas-guzzling, there'd be no reason for Tats Cru to brand the vandalism; instead, they're just looking for legitimate work for themselves... Tats Cru is already in league with coroporate graffiti. Consider the projects they've already done for soft drinks, hard liquor and malt liquor.

Or was Tats Cru simply paid by Hummer to vandalize their own ad?


Clip art blows, kids.

I've seen way too much of this in my neighborhood.

I know I'm not the only person who's tired of every other struggling art student assuming the general public wants to see his or her doodles plastered all over bus stops, train stations and otherwise private property. I'm all for poetic terrorism - but not shoddy imitations. "Street art" in this vein strikes me as arrogant and inane - this particular example mounts toxic paint and adhesives to other people's property. The poetry of the "nature scene" is lost, betrayed in the piece's execution.

The take-away here (though it may not have occurred to the artist) is that Chicago street art is as boring and unoriginal as clip art. Maybe try to break the law for a good reason next time, kids? Follow-through and please try not to further poison our environment with half-baked "back to nature" efforts.


Homo Urbanus

According to the UN, half the world's population will soon live in cities. This comes as no surprise when you consider that we're well into the Information Age, we're consequently placing more value on culture itself, and cities physically represent our cultural centers. A higher population density means a higher rate of meme-churn (did I just coin a new term?); a higher/faster rate of cultural evolution. More people tend to yield more ideas, simply put. More complicated, however, is the urban sprawl that ensues.

(article link via Kottke)

TV doesn't love you.

It's true. When was the last time TV really put out like the Internet does? Right, never. But TV still thinks it rules the world, and it's up to you, me and all of us to prove otherwise. So if you're the type who speaks with your clothing instead of your actions, go pick up one of these shirts from Simple Letter.

(via Preshrunk)


Traffic alone does not a meme make.

But if you want to be successful in "contagious media", it appears that you’ll still need the help of meta-sites like Slashdot, Metafilter and Fark. This, at least, is a determination made by Mark Glasser on the heels of the Contagious Media Showdown.

While some are quick to classify “most popular websites” as memes, I would argue that these are not necessarily memes just because they are "viral" in the sense marketers use (that is, getting a lot of traffic). Truth be told, “viral” simply means that your message is talked about, or replicated, outside of the confines of your media buy; all truly “good” marketing is already viral, whether online or off, but getting internet traffic does not necessarily mean that you have a meme.

A meme has to have the right mix of fidelity, fecundity and longevity. Obvioulsy, digital media do a lot to preserve the fidelity of an idea. And longevity is why books haven't gone anywhere (your email, however, may not provide the best longevity... and your IM is terrible at providing an idea with longevity). But fecundity can be more tricky; it's not mere eyeballs you get on your site, it's how much your message sticks to existing ideas in the brains behind those eyeballs, and how likely those brains are to replicate the message. Successful memes are more culturally (or sub-culturally) relevant than a page-view; this is why they "stick" to ideas your brain is already carrying.

Here's an example of what I mean when I say traffic is not a true measure of a meme: Of all the web sites you've seen or forwarded to someone else, how many of them do you actually remember - without checking your Sent folder or your Bookmarks? Why?


Wait for it...

Golden Palace Casino, where are you on this one? Or this one? We all know these auctions are still cheaper than an advertising campaign, and we all expect you to keep bidding and buying your way into the news... Don't let us down.


Trendwatching, a trend in itself.

Originally uploaded by pylbug.

Yesterday, while suffering through my umpteenth coolhunting / trendwatching presentation, it hit me: the ultimate trend right now is trendwatching, but the trendwatchers don't realize it. The shift from "mass media" to "media of the masses" is a real problem for most marketers and merchants-of-cool. But it's not just the learning curve involved with new technology, nor is it because "cool" is so elusive. It's a fundamental ignorance as to how culture evolves, despite the fact that we are immersed in culture our entire lives. If you happen to work in the persuasion industry, you're a cultural engineer; if you don't study culture itself, you're not doing your job. Too many of you flail in an attempt to catch up to "cool" when you should be learning the recipe for making "cool".

Here's where I shift gears slightly, and make sense of the above photo. Before another chump tells you that hip-hop came out of thin air, contemplate the cultural connections between early electronic music, and how it led to house, industrial and hip-hop (among innumerable subgenres). For example, consider the cultural influence of Kraftwerk.

Then check out the pics I took at Kraftwerk's performance last weekend - nearly twenty years after I first heard their work imitated, spoofed, sampled and otherwise recontextualized. Few imitations have surpassed Kraftwerk's cult status, because few have bothered or been able to learn the recipe for what makes the band's "brand" so eduring.