Wikinomics One

April 28th, 2008

Thinking about the power of the ordinary person makes me feel empowered.  I’m seeing connections in Wikinomics and Buddhism.  There has been such a lock for so long on the power of the individual and the power inherent and guaranteed to the singular.  Granted, singularity provides one a clear voice and a regularity traceable to a closed and definable source, but from the singularity comes the deception and illusion of isolation and completely solitary creation. 

     Instead, what has always looked like singularity has really just been the filtration of the masses into a single pen or tongue.  Whereas many have always provided the guidance, teaching, inspiration and background for creation, only one gets credit for the end result.  I think what the peer movement is all about is returning credit to the common.  It’s about non-sanction, it’s about peers.  It’s no longer about money or singular claim and fortune.  It’s about progress, innovation and fruition, by whatever means necessary and available.

     I’m seeing connections with this thinking process and the Buddhist readings I’ve been getting into lately.  They share the common, disparate act of losing the ego, or losing the conceived ‘one-ness’ that has penetrated and egged on or collaborative stillness.  What happens when you give up the ego?  You give up the walls of the ego, the invisible but pressing bindings the tininess of singularity calls for.  When you lose the ego, you shatter the walls that hold you in, and you find yourself yearning and screaming for connection.

     Not only can the loss of ego force you to extend beyond yourself, it causes you to really become part of something extraordinary.  The ego is so limiting – the collective is where true power and insight can evolve into something larger than ourselves.

     There are, of course, people who don’t find such change and evolution as a good thing.  

“Composer Jaron Lanier worries that collaborative communities represent a new form of “online collectivism” that is suffocating authentic voices in a muddled and anonymous tide of mass mediocrity.”  (Wikinomics, Tapscott & Williams.  p. 16)  

     The fear here is a result of the beaming ego and the dynamics Western humans have always placed upon the power of creation and identity.  The problem I have with Lanier’s view is two-fold.  First, I’m not entirely sure that the authentic voice is something real.  I’ve recently completed a research project on the ‘voice’ of composerAaron Copland.  What I’ve realized is that the voice is more limiting and burdensome than valuable.  

     I may detail this in a later post, but to put it into a nutshell: The voice has two defining features.  The first is that it allows the listener to instantaneously identify and isolate the music of a singular composer.  The second is that is forces the listener to instantaneously identify and isolate the music of a singular composer.  While it is good from a commercial and education standpoint, from an artistic standpoint, it is a death-knell.

    To get back to the quote, Lanier laments that the collective is inherently stupider and less creative than the singular.  I’m not sure where he gathers his data.  The truth is that when many people start creating in the same medium, there will be a swelling influx of media.  If more people have access to free and easy music-creation software, it follows that more people will create music.  This means that the ‘market’ (blogs, online-stores, music forums) will see a tidal wave of new content, most of it muddle by commercial standards.  

    But as stated before, it’s not all about money anymore.  As people realize that they can share their creations with each other, and even begin to collaborate, connections emerge, excitement over a medium skyrockets, and people become invested, fiscally and emotionally.  What started initially as a venture to give people the tools to become creators, they become customers to a wide range of new products, including higher-quality music software, instruments, marketing tools, etc.  

     There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to mass sharing, collective creation and the loss of the ego.  I’ve just started reading the book ‘Wikinomics’, and it’s kickstarted an inner dialogue.  I really think there’s something important in all of this – I see the future of my generation as being the first to really get the chance to innovate on a global and free scale.  And it’s damn exciting.

Here are links to see/hear what we created today.  Enjoy!  PDF      MIDI        MP3   

·        Janet Murray said, “The logic of the art world and the logic of new media are exact opposites.”  We feel that this quote is a perfect opening for our presentation because it represents the dichotomy between the old and new worlds of music craftsmanship.  However, the notational software Finale which we are going to speak about today can easily glide between those two worlds.

·        The use of Finale can be seen as basic as using a toaster; it allows for faster input and for cleaner results in a tangible sense.  Yet it also presents the modern composer (and non-composer) with a seemingly-infinite library of sounds, notation, and thus sonic possibilities.

·        We will start off with showing Finale as a basic input device – the pen in overdrive.  Now we know that you aren’t all music majors so we will give you a very basic music theory introduction: this is a score, staves, instruments, notes.  However, the knowledge we just shared isn’t essential to being able to use the program in a basic sense – kind of like how you don’t need to now linguistic theory to use WordInput is done in two main ways:1. Simple entry: the user essentially drags and drops the desired notational patterns onto a set of blank staves.2.  Midi entry: finale notationally captures a performance via a midi controller or keyboard, as inputed by the user – essentially ‘do what I do’.Basically, even without the midi controller, simple entry transforms the composer into a musician as well because of the wonderful playback feature. 

 

• In the beginning midi files used in playback were merely for reference.  Poor quality (if you’d like to call it that), essentially non-realistic and definitely non-human imitations. However, with faster processors and larger hardrives we have the ability to use sampled sounds which replace the human performer more effectively.  This human playback involves more than just sample sounds from real life but also calculated errors which simulate the randomness inherent to any live human performance.  So now that we have these sounds what shall we do with them? Oh anything we want.  

 

• A big part of being a composer is hearing your music before your audience hears it.  In the past, composers would need to hire performers or be able to play through their creations on the piano.  With the advanced features of finale, the modern composer is granted instantaneous playback which has a more than satisfactory quality level.  This transition has transformed the creative process of the composer.  Now everything is laid out, the guesswork is almost eliminated, and the process becomes more of a discovery than an invention.

·        To demonstrate this, we will compose a short (4-measure) piece for piano and clarinet.  This is a new piece we will we be creating live for you – we don’t know how it will turn out, and we don’t know whether it will be any good (probably not).  We’ll take turns, measure by measure, only allowing ourselves one minute per measure.  We’ll be using the playback features to build off of each other’s ideas.  Here we go!

Compose piece- 4 minutes

·        Here’s the piece which we shall play back in full. We are interested in the classe’s response to our piece for not only the quality of our composition skills but also pertaining to the audio of the piece.  Feel free to comment now on either wet paint of your own blog.  Now we will show you how to break up the score into individual parts for each instrument.

• Below are excerpts from an interview we had with Assistant Professor of Music, Dr. Craig Naylor on his experiences with Finale and how he feels it has shaped the world of music. 

• Mosaic (first composition program)Dr. N started using Finale in 1987 – serial was 1024 or something like that – it came on a 3.25 inch floppy drive – back in the days before internal hard drives – dual floppy drives – one to run the software, and one to store the information. – it was designed mostly for home and personal publication in the beginning.Playback in the beginning was very sparse – designed for the print medium pretty much. In the early 90s you could play back with instruments at a decent level.Beaming over the barline was a difficult thing to do with Finale, so many composers stopped doing that since it was hard to do – with normal notation, Finale makes things easier – but it has limited the experimental and extended technique of the composer.  Naylor feels less careful now with finale – it is so easy to revise now – whereas with ink, it was essential to make sure everything was perfect it allows him to be more experimental since it can be changed easier -the availability of the instruments have led to a decline in the ear and at piano playing back the music being written – it allows people to write more in a copy-paste, rhythmic, looping music more conducive (and popular) to the young composer. Finale hasn’t had a negative impact on the composer – people always use the best available tool? – Carpenters don’t use handsaws anymore.It’s just a tool. A rifle is a tool – you can use it to shoot dinner, or to shoot people.

 

• As we saw with the Engelbart video, computers are quite the communicative device.  Finale has four ways to communicate its information.1. .mus file2.  midi export/import3.  PDF viewing4.  audio recording

 

• We will now paste all of these files live onto my UMW blog to show how easy it is to share this newly created information in many ways.

• Now, Jeff and I will show you pieces that we have recently constructed that explore our individual musical fascinations.  Like the composer Milton Babbitt, I also feel the need to push the level of human audibility to the limits.  Finale allows me to do this.  Forsaking the aesthetic of the actual score itself (because I am not worried about conveying information to human players but just the computer player itself), and focusing on the aural realization,  Finale allows me to create things that are almost beyond our perception level and way beyond our performance level.  Here is my piece SWANPHAN for four trombones and four oboes which is an example of this.As a composer interested in real performers, I use finale equally as a compositional device as I do a publication device.  Here are two examples of my work.  The first is a piece for wind ensemble I finished last week.  Here is the score, and here are parts – all of which are realistically playable.  The documents finale makes are professional-quality, and these would be admissible to hand out to a professional group.  In fact, numerous publication houses use software like finale for their professional work.  The other example is a second movement from a piano piece I wrote in February.  As you can see, I was able to manipulate finale to produce scores which are a little different – many possibilities exist.

• As Kay and Goldberg said – “…devices, which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years.  People use them to communicate ideas a feelings both to others and back to themselves.”

• in the beginning, we felt that programs like finale were bastardizing music and compositions by saying that notation programs could just make anyone a Beethoven.  But, what Kay and Goldberg were really saying is that the possibilities that lie within the world of notational software makes innovation and exploration more accessible to the user then ever before. 

 

For the full version of this paper, go to www.jeffzeiders.umwblogs.org for the content posted during the presentation

Video Games and Zen

April 7th, 2008

I think the connection that the older gamers had in the article the Zen and meditation practice was fascinating.  I’m very interested in meditation and the practice of centering and process-realizing.  I never really considered the ability of intense gaming to take the user to a meditative state.

 

Part of me thinks that this type of effect is only really possible in the older games (the games that the users in the article were playing).  Today’s games are more obsessed with graphics and interweaving story-lines, rather than the more simplistic, rules-driven gameplay and mechanics of the 1980’s videogames.

 

The users who achieved the meditative state are somehow missing a lot of the point of meditation and Zen practice.  As long as your source of centering and focus comes form an external source, you will always be bound and constrained by the possibilities and thus limitations of your source.

 

However, if your source of centering and calming is the self (as in many meditative practices), you need not rely on a plastic box of electrical parts, but rather your flesh box of electrical parts.  Meditation is also a practice which can (and should) be integrated into many parts of your day.  If video games were to be integrated to that point, I feel they would lose any meditative value at all and would just become habit.

 

I’m glad to hear that the 20 and 30 year-olds in the article are enjoying their gaming.  I just hope that they realize that video games is a shortcut to a Zen state which will ultimately dead end and grow tiring.

Right-Side

March 24th, 2008

This essay brought up a slew of topics and concepts that completely blew my mind.  It’s always impressive and astonishing when I find that I have assumed something for so long without even realizing it.  I mean, of COURSE school is a good thing!  How can it not be?  Teachers are the most valuable resource we have – we need to spend more money on public education – it’s the only hope we have of getting out of this stupid-America stink we’re in.

 

I’m not sure this article has really dispelled all of those statements, but it did cause me some considerable pause.  I began to think about why we educate, and what is the purpose of what we know to be a basic and essential education.  

 

There’s been a lot of talk (especially now from Presidential candidates) about how America is falling behind when it comes to our math and science scores when compared globally.  We used to be a powerhouse; no one could touch the brilliance of USA kids.  But know we’re struggling to keep in the top 5, and major bucks will be spent trying to reverse that number.  

 

But really, when I look internally at what I think is important, I’m seeing my inner-hippie blossom and grow.  So what?  So what if we’re not the best in math or science or bio-tech?  Our world is so global that innovations from any modern country will be accessible to all.  What benefit is there to having US innovation (beyond pride)?  Even if an American business developed the next best thing, those jobs wouldn’t stay here.  They would go somewhere else anyways.  To think that Americans need to be leaders in math and science a dated mindset.  Our world has grown small and flat, and we need to allow innovation to flourish from all locations.

 

That being said, why don’t we focus on our arts and culture?  Let India take over the math and science bit.  Give America a Renaissance of music, poetry, dance and theatre.  Let the right-half of the American brain grow and flourish.  We can see globalization and the loss of scientific-dominance as a sign of death, or we can see it as an excuse and a reason to explore the human condition beyond building faster cars and taller buildings.

 

Let’s use public education as a means for cultural growth and social understanding.  I’ll be okay if world ‘progess’ and ‘development’ slows as a result.  There’s plenty of time for all that.  Let’s take some time for us.

Medium

March 19th, 2008

From my perspective, the arts have seen one of the greatest advancements in medium over the past half-century than possibly ever before.  

 

Think about it; painters have the canvas, they have paints, and what else have they really come up with as a medium?  Different brushes, maybe, spray paints, combining 3-D elements to their 2-D depictions, using wood boards.  All of these details fade when you consider the power that can be bought at Best Buy for $99 right now.  For that relatively small sum, you could pick up a pen and tablet with bundled illustration software.  Take that home to a decently-powered computer (preferable a Mac), and you have an assortment of manipulation at your fingertips that Da Vinci and even Pollack couldn’t have imagined.

 

Musicians have been given an enormous gift as well.  We’ve been coming up with new instruments for a while (the saxophone is only about 150 years, anyhow).  We’ve been tinkering with using instruments in new ways, turning them upside down and such.  We’ve also been looking for more things to bang on.  But all these advancements are really just alterations on what’s been around in regard to the medium for the past 1,000 years.  We have things we blow on and things we bang on.  But now, go to that same Best Buy and pick up a $99 midi keyboard with bundles virtual instruments.  Go home, plug it in, and you’ve just been given access to sounds and manipulations that Bach and even Stravinsky couldn’t have imagined.

 

Personally, for all my art (painting and composition), I use only analog goods.  I use the digital world as a place to publish music and as a place to play around with colors for inspiration.  But all my works exist unplugged.  I see the incredible gifts mentioned above as new choices available.  And I’m glad to see so many people choosing new mediums for their art.  But for me, the tangible sound of a wavering oboe and the found splash of orange on canvas is the only way to really make the hair on my neck stand up.  

Habitat

March 18th, 2008

I think the best way to begin thinking about the impact of Habitat along with other massive-online multiplayer worlds is to start with the very end of this article: “Cyberspace may indeed change humanity, but only if it begins with humanity as it really is.” First of, I’m not really sure what humanity really is, but I can assume that the author really means that that cyberspace can change culture (and thereby humanity), so cyberspace should be a reflection of culture as it really is.   My posts may be seeming to get a little repetitive, as I’m feeling a lot of the same feelings about cyberspace as i did about comics last week.  I never game MMO experiences much thought, leaving them for the legions of friend-less, desperate computerites.  But this article is really stressing the idea that while the space is virtual, the humans interacting are very real.   The author mentions that interacting with artificial creations is boring and predictable; only humans can provide the amount of drama and unpredictability that humans need to have a meaningful experience.  In many ways, this is nothing new.  Of course humans entertain each other.  Nature and humans provide the only means of stimulus for humans.  But the thing I left this article with is the understanding that these virtual worlds serve merely as a new medium for human interaction.  It’s just a way to meet people, even if they are portrayed as a walking rabbit, humanoid, or mechanized monster. It’s hard to me to really be so critical of these worlds now, since I’ve had this mini-realization that it’s people meeting people, and not just mindless staring into a computer-screen.  It allows human interaction to go beyond hanging out at someone’s house.  It allows human interaction to involve going on treasure hunts and flying to distant islands, which is pretty cool if you think about it.  Granted, you lose every physical aspect of communication, which is pretty vital.  But you gain the ability to live fantasy with other real people, which is pretty fascinating.  These virtual worlds allow you to share imagination with other people, in real time, across the globe, with feedback and the ability to choose where to go next.  

Comics!

March 12th, 2008

Maybe it’s because I’m some type of elitist, but I never considered comics to be really worthy of serious thought or consideration.  I remember driving with my older brother every Thursday to the local comics store way back when.  He had a weekly subscription deal with the shop for the Spawn comic series.  He had a box in the store, and every week we would go and he would pick up the latest edition of the series.  So, even though series comics have been a presence in my life, I’ve always thought of them as drawn out soap-operas, and I’ve never paid too much attention.

 

I’ve always been a fan of Sunday comics, and have read them whenever there’s a free copy lying around.  But again, these comics were never a source of serious consideration.  Quite on the other hand, I was reading them since I didn’t want to read the more serious content on the front page.  

 

Maybe the content of comics is why I never considered them too seriously.  How can you take Beetle Bailey seriously, much less the media on which he is derived?  Recently I’ve begun reading some internet comics, and only one has really made me stop a little and think (xkcd.com).  But still, the medium was never the message to me.

 

This article really got me excited.  Not only did I learn about the graphic design and aspects that go into comics, knowing what I know now will add another level to the comics I read on a weekly basis.  I began to feel bad at myself while reading the article because I never gave comics and comic-artists their due.  My respect level for the possibilities of comics as an important medium has skyrocketed.

 

And to be honest, this article was the most pleasurable to read.  

Music Notation and Computers

February 18th, 2008

I’m a composer.  

 

I live in Finale, which is a professional-level music notation software title.  I’ve been using it almost daily for the past eight years, both on a PC and Mac.  I’m currently on Finale 2008, and I remember the days of Finale 2000.  It sucked back then, and a lot of it still sucks now.  But I am an expert.  I know that program inside and out.  I know the menu systems, button schemes, tricks to get around bugs, shortcuts, plugins, everything.  It’s evolved, and each year it takes a week or two to get used to everything, but my academic and professional career is dependent upon my use and disuse of Finale.

 

It may seem that I spend a lot of time in Finale.  And I do.  But a lot of those hours are creative.  My music professors who also compose lived in a time before Finale and digitized music notation.  Most of their hours weren’t spent creatively.  They were spent hand-writing and copying scores and parts.  Much of their compositional lives were spent at the drafting board, with rulers and heavy erasers.  For a major orchestra work, where the ensemble has 80 players, the time spent by the old composers doing clerical work was monstrous.  The score itself would take 30-60 minutes per page (a 30-minute orchestral work is easily 100-150 pages).  Every part is 5-6 pages.  Totaled up, the composer is responsible for 500 or so pages worth of hand-copying.  Oh – and you better not mess up.  If you do, you have to start all over.

 

Today, I press command-P, and I get a full copy of my 30-minute orchestral work in about 2 minutes with my laser printer.  Add those parts, and it’ll take another 2 minutes.  Account for the atypical paper jam and the paper re-stock, and I’m looking at 5 whopping minutes.  Jeez.

 

Obviously, Finale and other music notation programs have dramatically changed the way composers create and spend their time.  Granted, Finale has a slew of problems, and a lot of time is spent figuring things out and slamming fists on the keyboard in frustration.  But I can go in with a MIDI keyboard, play a melody line, and Finale recognizes and transcribes it for me.  It’s amazing how technology has altered the process of my art.

 

My notation has become digitized.  Just as Microsoft Word allowed for easier input and documentation of the written language, Finale has led the way to easier and more effective compositional technique.  But Finale and Word are only mediums.  They are tools which capture and record a creative process.  It still takes a creative mind and will to create valuable art.  You can’t hand anyone a laptop with Word open and expect them to craft a major work or poem.  Likewise, you can’t give anyone a laptop with Finale open and expect a masterwork.  

 

The Dynabook claims that since it would allow for music notation to be digitized and easily manipulatable, it would be easier for “fledgling composers” to create art.  This is nonsense.  It’s such nonsense and cheap promotion.  This whole article is an advertisement.  I find a lot of things wrong with it, but especially this. 

 

“Buy our Dynabook and become Beethoven.”  

 

Bullshit.  I have Finale, and I’m no Beethoven.  I’m not even Reich, and all he does is copy-paste, copy-paste.  (That’s a little joke for those in-the-know).

Education and New Media

February 12th, 2008

First off, I want to make sure that everyone knows that, in fact, Santa IS more important than God.  Honestly, where did the illustrations in this book come from?  They’re fantastic! The most interesting part of this article to me was the ideas he presented on integrating technology and new media into the classroom.  He suggests some really revolutionary techniques and insights on how students can benefit from the unique opportunities and experiences only computers can deliver.   The illustration of the flow cycle between subjects and students was especially powerful.  In the first two examples, there was a teacher and a computer illustrated as brick walls between the subject and the student.  In the third panel, hypermedia was presented as a cloud which engulfed the student in knowledge and information.  Honestly, I think it’s mis-representative to depict teachers as brick walls, as they have been the bridge between information and students, but the point is well received.  Technology has a lot to offer us as a society, but it may be beneficial the most in the classroom. What I struggle to understand is how we’re here over 30 years later, and technology still isn’t as integrated as it could be.  We all still buy textbooks, we turn in paper tests, we learn via lecture, we do group projects on science-fair poster boards, and we still raise our hand to answer questions out-loud.  Granted, the rise of the virtual classroom and long-distance learning has opened the doors to many people, but in practice, even those classrooms which depend on technology are still emulating the traditional, analog model of education. How will our children’s classroom look?  In America, I can guess it will look very much the same.  Computers and interactive media are getting cheaper everyday, but in a world where government-sponsored breakfast is still an issue, I don’t see every child having a computer at their fingertips in the classroom.  Portable computer labs are still a novelty, and real computer labs are aging faster than the children using them.  But even moving past the economic issues at hand, I think the real brick wall between the classroom and hypermedia is the lack of understanding and trust on behalf of administrators and teachers.  Sure, there are some who want to move forward, but the vast majority will never loosen their grip on textbooks and pencils you chew on.   It’s become a part of our culture to engage in the analog classroom.  And until we’re able to see the real benefits of hypermedia, it will stay analog.