Nate Harrison's audiovisual essays

A while ago I came across a widely-seen Youtube video about the history of the Amen breakbeat, which was a reposting of a recording of a 2004 documentary audio installation by artist Nate Harrison. It details the artist's view of the rise of the break, as well as what this might tell us about the effects of intellectual property on cultural development.

Can I Get An Amen? — Nate Harrison (2004)

Having enjoyed the piece's dry-yet-engaging style, as well as learning about such a specific cultural phenomenon in some detail, I sought out other pieces by the same artist. Luckily, they're posted on his online gallery, as well as on Archive.org. Several of them are somewhat-abstract video installations which are less interesting to me, but there are several other audiovisual essays which I have enjoyed, on various aspects on art, media and tools.
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Glitch Pigeon

Screenshot: Glitch pigeon in a painted autumn sky.It's been a pretty horrifying couple of weeks on Twitter, hasn't it? At least it has on my timeline. Two unrelated, awful events in particular came right on top of each other, each whipping up a social media storm. First the violent incursion of militarised police into peaceful democratic protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Second the eruption of sickening misogyny and violent threats directed at female game makers and games journalists, in particular Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn.

In both cases, my Twitter stream did what it always does. First came the reports from those directly affected, amplified and retweeted by other journalists. Fear, indignation, outrage, disbelief, heartbreak. Then came the wave of initial commentary. What does this mean, why now, how did things get like this. Then came the meta-commentary. Actually things have always been like this, privilege blinkers those not directly affected, look how existing power structures even suppress discussion, which sources can we really trust.

Endless echoes in endless voices of an event, now refracted in endless dizzying facets and meta-facets and ironic subtweets.

It was in the midst of thinking this, and my own feelings of helpless-but-mustn’t-look-away, that I encountered Glitch Pigeon, a little prototype crafted by Hannah Nicklin and George Buckenham at the Oxford Playhouse. Continue reading "Glitch Pigeon"

Police suppression of peaceful pro-NHS protest, March 17th 2012

Here's what happened when me and a few friends went to London to show our opposition to the atrocious Health and Social Care Bill 2011. The one currently being forced through parliament with a middle finger to all who look on.

I feel it's important to document what I witnessed at this demonstration since, as many have noted, there has been little-to-no coverage of this protest by the BBC and other UK mass media. A deeply worrying trend for anti-government protests, but one others are better placed to comment on than me.

The bottom line is: this was a completely nonviolent, unaggressive protest. The police action was hostile and totally unprovoked. There is no way we could have been seen as a threat to anyone.

The goal of the police did not seem to be to confront the protest or get into a fight. Each time a kettle was formed, it was dropped after a short time on some signal. The police were acting in a coordinated fashion, and their only goal seemed to be to suppress and disband the protest. By kettling and separating any big group which formed into smaller groups, they prevented the the crowd coordinating, communicating or decision-making properly. At its start, the protest was self-motivated, passionate, and made up of citizens trying to make a (last) stand for something they believed in. Through their action, the police successfully reduced it to separate groups of disconnected, scared, angry people who didn't know what to do and felt unable to continue.

The way the police acted was, while not actually violent in any cases I saw (grabbing, shoving and restraining, but no beating), extremely intimidating. They incited the crowd to run for safety on multiple occasions, though there were many elderly and disabled amongst us (this was a pro-NHS campaign after all). I did not see anybody get hurt, but if the crowd had been any denser, larger or had any rogue elements, things could easily have kicked off — if they had it would have been completely the fault of the aggression and intimidation tactics of the police. No attempt was made at dialogue, or even megaphoned monologue to warn the protest that action would take place. Instead, the riot police acted quickly and unpredictably, communicating with shouted codes, avoiding eye contact with the demonstrators.

There are other accounts online. Important points to note from my view of events that may contradict or corroborate other points of view:

  • All aggression I saw was on the part of the police.
  • All the protesters I saw were completely nonviolent, and not even aggressive.
  • I saw no signs of police firearms, though there have been alarming reports of this (including photos of police with automatic weapons within sight of the demo) from elsewhere.

Below the fold is my account in full, to the best of my recollection.

Edit: still no mainstream attention, but a great roundup of social media coverage by Steven Sumpter can be found here.

Edit: Since I complain here about a lack of media coverage of the protest, I should acknowledge that the Guardian's NHS Reforms Liveblog has just made mention of the protest and included a link to this post. I'm flattered that it's "worth a read" and delighted that they explicitly "don't endorse it's view" :P
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Cultural Relativism and Technology

[Update: Now I am older and wiser, I don't necessarily any-longer agree with everything I wrote here, but I'm not going to delete it (yet). If you also disagree, let me know.]

I was talking to a couple of friends of mine about politics the other day. The conversation ended in a disagreement about whether or not one ought to adhere to principles of cultural relativism. That is, whether it is fair or legitimate to criticise the practices of members of another culture from the inescapable perspectives of ones own. I was arguing against cultural relativism but in the course of the discussion some arguments were raised which I hadn't considered before and which made me stop and reconsider my position.

My purpose in writing this is partially in order to get my thoughts in order and partly in the hope that the discussion can continue, 'cause it's one that interests me. I wish to wear my ignorance of many relevant topics on my sleeve and, as always, I'm completely open to the prospect of changing my mind.

My feelings were that open criticism of other cultures should be permissible. I felt that if we had carefully examined our own reasoning and motives, we ought to be allowed to criticise the practices of others, even if we understood that those practices may be the product of another culture and its historical context.
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Seeing the full picture?

Window smashed during 2010 student protests in London. Image "courtesy" of BBC.
Window smashed during 2010 student protests in London. Image "courtesy" of BBC.


I can't help seeing this image like this — a lone protestor doing something crazy and anarchistic surrounded by a semicircle of a hundred professional cameras — and wondering if this is anything like good journalism.  Sure, this event happened. But it sure looks like a stunt for the cameras, rather than an organic protest event.  Would this have happened were the cameras not there to see it? Continue reading "Seeing the full picture?"