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Berlin, DE
Immortal since Oct 16, 2009
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Gabriel Shalom
Quantum Cinema
Cyphox Industries
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    The human species is rapidly and indisputably moving towards the technological singularity. The cadence of the flow of information and innovation in...

    A series of rambles by SpaceCollective members sharing sudden insights and moments of clarity. Rambling is a time-proven way of thinking out loud,...

    The Total Library
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    Where forward thinking terrestrials share ideas and information about the state of the species, their planet and the universe, living the lives of science fiction. Introduction
    Featuring Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames, based on an idea by Kees Boeke.

    Illustration by Charles Glaubitz

    The object as product. The time of the product as merely the output of industrial production is over. Today individuals are re-entering into the discourse of products using the same physical language of fabrication and prototyping as industrial manufacturing. Our facility with techniques such as laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing and vacuum forming — processes which used to be the elite language of twentieth century industrial manufacturing — are now starting to become the common vernacular of craft.

    This physical literacy of products is an emergent tendency which is changing communication. We can communicate ideas physically; for instance, as visions for future products in the form of functional prototypes. The individual can express a greater degree of his or her own vision. See also the capacity to use a laptop computer to independently produce, edit, distribute, and market video content all via the same device. The DIY and FabLab movements — and what they represent for manufacturing — is a parallel process; the implosion of that which was formerly stratified across the hierarchy of industrial production into one workshop.

    The object as commodity. While we are now conversant in this industrial product language, we simultaneously experience the compulsion to commodify (objectify) our work. This happens most clearly at the level of branding, insofar as the contemporary creative producer is painfully aware that the standard practice for gaining recognition in the product discourse is through brand narrative. Yet the auric peculiarity of the handmade or limited edition clashes with the anonymity and standardization implied by the dogma of industrial branding.

    This commodification (objectification) extends beyond consumerism to sexuality, politics, and public space. User-generated amateur pornography objectifies sexuality to such an extent that it alters our sexual identity as our objectified flesh is reflected back to us in the Internet. Political figures are commodified and become brands, giving us the Obamafication of an election, the Merkelization of an economy, or the Bushification of a war. In the face of this political impotency comes the privitization of public space, with entire new urban ecosystems coming into existence under corporate stewardship.

    The object as node. The semantic {object}{/object} (curly brackets used because code brackets get parsed). The object as the ideal modular component of a total system, defined unambiguously and therefore allowing portability across platforms via open standards. This model, originated in software, is having greater and greater relevance in the physical world; especially as we continue along a path towards interacting with the physical world using a digital interface.

    This language of objects from the world of programming has a value system. Which is to say that many of today’s programming languages are “object-oriented.” The value of an object is its ability to have a unique ID. In the physical world this value is reflected in the case of biometric identification embedded in passports. Each person becomes an object in a database; an aggregate of personal data. Tags in the cloud.

    Trends in augmented reality suggest that every product, every place, every person, every context may eventually be a semantic object, which is to say it may be a discrete node in a system with a unique ID, and therefore something which can be digitally identified, located, and manipulated. The vision of an Internet of things is contingent on each particle of physical existence having a unique digital identity or aura. The exploration of these digital auras using some sort of aura recognition interface poses a design challenge that will determine quite a bit of what it is like to be a human in a twenty-first-century urban space.

    The architecture of space becomes subjugated to the architecture of information. Certain architectural spaces which made sense in the twentieth century will make no sense in the twenty-first century. Witness the office building as a relic; as something which could transform into a coworking space, hinted at by the trend of Internet cafes becoming hubs for freelance knowledge workers. Work has become nomadic and therefore object-oriented through its connection to the mobile Internet workstation. The entire concept of “going to work” as per the industrial era is open to redefinition. The physical world of work begins to reflect the logic of the database instead of the cubicle.

    The object as sprite. Our contemporary moving image media of video games, computer interfaces, and the Internet proposes an aesthetics completely contingent on an object-oriented image field. Graphic illusions of depth or four dimensionality point to a future volumetric moving image medium. The aesthetics of these media pre-figure the larger aesthetics of the built and virtual worlds we’re likely to see in the future. The objects in video games become increasingly important culturally and economically. We witness the industrial appropriation of virtual object production with Chinese World of Warcraft gold farming sweatshops. Meanwhile we see the behavioral modification of an entire generation of children and young adults who’ve spent countless hours playing video games, interfacing with an object-oriented environment that programs both our behavioral and also aesthetic expectations.

    My generation of artists was raised on video games yet trained to work in classical digital media such as video. We are faced with a dilemma: as many of us are non-programmers, how do we represent an object-oriented moving image world in a flat, frame-based medium? The answer to this question begets hypercubist aesthetics, as the illusion of multiple timelines in the same frame reflects our struggle to reconcile an aesthetic ontology of 4D objects within a flat medium.

    The object as prop. The prop as that which is neither character nor set piece. The prop as a property of a story, somewhere along a continuum between a functionally interchangeable McGuffin and an irreplaceable touchstone of dramatic symbolism. As the boundaries blur between the physical and virtual we experience the first tremors of a wave of future shock that is capable of overwhelming our senses, attention spans and — yes — perhaps even our sanity.

    Yet despite the novelty of the technologically-driven evolutionary delta which humanity faces, it will be with one of our oldest and most sacred human traditions that we will survive this information inundation: namely, by engaging in storytelling. Stories are our time-tested cultural defense to cope with that which overwhelms the rational mind. We engage the arbitrary structures of narrative to serve as a needed filter, parsing the dataflow into digestible chains of meaning.

    Whatever narratives we choose, those narratives will need characters, sets, and props. The more that the digital and the physical merge, the more that every object in our lives will function not only for its physical properties, but also for its social properties and therefore its narrative value.

    We’ve always been in a narrative space. The transcendence of the prop out of the frame and into the world reinforces our role as actors in the lived hyperreal space of urban narrative. As actors — and as nodes in a network — we will increasingly find ourselves confronted with our lack of uniqueness; we may find ourselves (arche)type-cast, and at times struggle with the cheapness of the roles that have been written for us. We may long for a more heroic disposition or a more epic journey. And as a result of those obscure desires we may embrace a cosmopolitan tribalism with its own urban mythology.

    This essay first appeared in:

    Case 2. Have Balls [Eccentric]
    The Anxious Prop, First Edition — July 29, 2010
    SPLACE, Alexanderplatz Pavillon — Berlin, Germany

    Author's note: I am currently co-authoring a hypercubist manifesto and looking for collaborators.
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    ac_Sound Transform collage by Iuri Kothe

    Although our repositioning of augmented reality as aura recognition (aurec) has brought us closer to the perspective necessary to envision new aurec applications, there remains a major obstacle facing widespread use of aurec: the user interface. Many opinion leaders are vocal advocates of visual interfaces for aurec, whether they take the form of smart phone aurec “windows” or high-tech sunglasses/contact lenses that display visual overlays directly in front of our eyes.

    The shortcoming in these visions is threefold; 1) there is negligence of our eyes' naturally narrow perceptual “bandwidth” – our eyes' function is very similar to a stereoscopic laser scanner; we focus on every word when we read, not the whole page. Displays which cram our visual field with metadata are therefore bound to be highly distracting. And even if the overlays very subtly follow our eyes to only display information about the things upon which we hold our gaze, there is a fundamental secondary flaw which will hold back this method of aurec for years to come: 2) economics. At the present moment, aurec optical gear is very expensive, is not being mass produced, and is likely to be unwieldy, nevermind a major fashion blunder. Aside from some very enthusiastic science fiction fans, few regular consumers are prepared to line up this holiday season and buy aurec goggles. 3) Lastly, while we will most likely give up much privacy in order to benefit from aurec, we will still be more inclined to use aurec if we can do so discreetly. Holding our aurec devices out in front of us in order to see overlays on a person is not exactly subtle.

    So, what to do? How can aurec progress now if the technologies available for visualization are presently so fundamentally limited ways as to make their widespread use a fantasy better suited for at least 10 years hence? My sincere belief is that the answer lies soundly … in sound!

    Humans have always used sound to carry metadata. With the wider “bandwidth” of our ears as a receptor, all manner of technologies – from church bells to alarm clocks, washing machine buzzers to AOL's “you've got mail” notification – have used sound as the medium of choice to transmit information which is proximately and temporally specific. Furthermore, we can pick out this sonic information amongst the myriad other background sounds with ease; our ears are made for it. Just as we can hear the voice of a friend in a noisy crowd, distinguish our own cellphone ringing in a busy train terminal, or listen just for the solo violin in an entire symphony, our sense of hearing is capable of filtering a vast volume of sonic information down to an incredibly granular level.

    The economic advantages of sound are, in comparison to the visual options, tremendous. Everyone with a smart phone already has a pair of ear buds in their pocket, and we've already witnessed business people all over the globe become prototypical sonic cyborgs with their bluetooth earpieces. The costs in bandwidth, storage and processing power of delivering sound are far cheaper than visuals. The likelihood of early adoption of sonic aurec is therefore much higher, as far more people are likely to be early adopters if they don't need to buy new hardware.

    Thanks to the prevalence of ear buds, sound is also a completely discreet carrier of information. By blending in with the background created by widespread use of personal mp3 players, aurec ear buds will not identify the wearer as unusual in any way. This covert quality will be critical for future models of aurec as well, as we expect more and more seamless aurec experiences and streamline the technology to make it integrated and less distracting.

    Relevant Further Reading

    The motivation for using non-speech sound in human-computer interactions is manifold, because:
    • Sound represents frequency responses in an instant (as timbral characteristics)
    • Sound represents changes over time, naturally
    • Sound allows microstructure to be perceived
    • Sound rapidly portray large amounts of data
    • Sound alerts listeners to events outside their current visual focus
    • Sound holistically brings together many channels of information

    The different perceptual characteristics make sound ideal to complement visually displayed information.

    Multi-touch designer and developer Richard Monson-Haefel considers sound as an important part of our user interfaces. As an application of “Calm Technology” which revolves around giving feedback about the running state of a system in the ‘periphery’ of our consciousness – a concept introduced by ubiquitous computing pioneers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown – he proposes to attach a sound to every process running on your computer: an unique croak, chirp or trill – the sounds of frogs, crickets, and cicadas of a small pond at dusk. Resulting in an ambient environmental murmur people should be able to interpret.

    “If every process had a unique croak, chirp, or trill – a sound that is the same every time the process is run – our computers would have a kind of natural ambient pond-like sound when it ran. At first we would take notice but after a short time the sound would settle into the periphery of our awareness so that we would only take notice when a new, and unexpected sound, was introduced. If we just installed some new software a new sound would register when the software was installed and become a part of the natural and healthy ambient audio rhythm of the computer. If, however, some new process – one we did not intentionally install – was introduced such as a virus, the new pond-sound (i.e. croak, chirp or trill) would be out of place and stand out. We might take notice and wonder, what new process is running?”

    Writing about the human experience of night before electricity, A. Roger Ekirch points out that almost all internal architectural environments took on a murky, otherworldy lack of detail after the sun had gone down. It was not uncommon to find oneself in a room that was both spatially unfamiliar and even possibly dangerous; to avoid damage to physical property as well as personal injury to oneself, several easy techniques of architectural self-location would be required.

    Citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau's book Émile, Ekirch suggests that echolocation was one of the best methods: a portable, sonic tool for finding your way through unfamiliar towns or buildings. And it could all be as simple as clapping. From Émile: "You will perceive by the resonance of the place whether the area is large or small, whether you are in the middle or in a corner." You could then move about that space with a knowledge, however vague, of your surroundings, avoiding the painful edge where space gives way to object. And if you get lost, you can simply clap again.

    Ekirch goes on to say, however, that "a number of ingenious techniques" were developed in a pre-electrified world for finding one's way through darkness (even across natural landscapes by night). These techniques were "no doubt passed from one generation to another," he adds, implying that there might yet be assembled a catalog of vernacular techniques for navigating darkness. It would be a fascinating thing to read.

    Some of these techniques, beyond Rousseau and his clapping hands, were material; they included small signs and markers such as "a handmade notch in the wood railing leading to the second floor," allowing you to calculate how many steps lay ahead, as well as backing all furniture up against the walls at night to open clear paths of movement through the household.

    The history of independent cinema is one of the development of a visual language of increasing subtlety and expression. Locative or Mobile Media are in their infancy and are only just starting to explore work with a comparable range and depth. The idea that a real space could become the diegetic extension of narrative is a concept as relevant to architects as it is to cultural theorists, filmmakers or media artists. We are witnessing the birth of a medium for which sound is the most appropriate tool. In this medium, for obvious reasons the visual is finally on an equal footing with the auditory. To quote Sean Cubbitt:

    In the evolving audiovisual arts, sound can no longer afford to subordinate itself to vision, nor can it demand of audiences that they inhabit only ideal and interchangeable space. Any relation to screen will require that the audience be mobilised. …. Sound enters space not to imitate sculpture or architecture, but, through electronic webs, to weave a geographic art that understands too that the passage of time is the matter of history: a diasporan art.”
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