Last summer FACT did an Against The Clock film with Rian Treanor and Mark Fell. But I’ve had a busy year which I guess is why I only found it recently.
If you haven’t seen it before, Against The Clock is a Youtube series where FACT challenge a musician to improvise creating a piece of music in 10 minutes, on camera. Despite the videos predominantly consisting of a person glaring at a laptop screen, they’re a fascinating body of work exploring how different artists use essentially same set of tools in dramatically different ways to express themselves.
But the Rian Treanor and Mark Fell film differs from that format. With multiple groups of collaborators they use custom built software to improvise a punishing rave track, remotely over the internet. The groups include a bunch of teenagers in a community art space, Fell sitting on a dale in the Peak District, a pair of young electronica musicians in London, and Treanor’s grandmother performing from her own home. And as the different groups collaborate on the music, its also being blasted out live in a Sheffield club with synchronised lighting and effects.
Honestly, its fucking great and you should give it a watch when you have a spare 15 min.
It’s also a really inspiring view of what a good metaverse experience could be.
Like, I’m sure we all understand by this point that the metaverse is a marketing term to get investors excited about a bunch of immersive realtime web technologies. Its sort of bullshit, but we’ve also all been using this stuff over the pandemic, and presumably we can all see how it’s going to be a bigger part of our lives in the future. We might as well talk about what we want from it and see if we can shape it.
And Treanor and Fell’s image of that future looks so much more fun than the vanilla corporate-core coming out of the big tech companies so far.
Back to Mark Fell, Urbanomic just published a book of his collected writing. It’s called Structure and Synthesis: The Anatomy of Practice, and although it’s about making experimental electronic music I found it resonated a lot with my experiences working in technology.
At the risk of oversimplifying,* his main argument across the book is that innovative uses of technology only come from actually using the stuff and learning its constraints and quirks through hands-on experience.
Having worked in tech for a while now, its just blatantly true. And Fell fleshes out the argument with a bunch of historical examples, philosophical context, discussion around the consequence this has on commissioning and funding new work, and the role of theory and strategy in post-rationalising and claiming credit for innovative new works rather than doing anything to create them.
All uses of a technology alter and define that technology. Any tool is subject to redefinition through its uses, and is dependent on its placement within wider social and cultural contexts; for example, my Dad’s use of a screwdriver to open a tin of paint, or my friend’s use of a shoelace to commit suicide.
Mark Fell, Structure and Synthesis
He also goes on to explores the class, race and gender biases that lead to theoretical strategic practice being more highly valued than hands-on technical experience, despite the hands-on technical work being the activity that pushes things forward.
And I guess that’s whats missing from the big metaverse concepts we’ve seen so far; creative play.
It’s a great book, and very readable (ie, you can skim over the philosophy bits and it still makes sense, even while feeding a five month old baby).
If any of that sounds exciting to you, Rian Treanor is running a free electronic music and sound art workshop for families next week (29 July 2022) at Camden Arts Centre.
You’ll learn how to work together as a group to explore computer patterns, electronic rhythms and unusual digital sounds using accessible music devices. The session will offer a fun, creative and relaxed space to explore playing and experimenting with sound. It’s open to families, children must be accompanied by an adult for the full session (apparently will be suitable for children age 3yrs and over).
Sounds fucking brilliant, I wish I could make it. You should go.