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July 26, 2000

Jouke writes to tell me of his critique of the SIGNUM issue which I referenced yesterday. Jouke writes:

It's crying time again. The drinks we served in the early 90s had gone stale anyway. Cigarette buts drown in them. We're @aloss. We're at the end of fantasy as we know it. The following players know it too... Their conceptions of a new world cultural order, the information age, cyber reality, were conceived as an extrapolation of last century's grab bag futurisms—like their opponents' cultural critique was seasoned by post-Marxism and the Franfurter Schule et al (see Sirius, when he explains his right wing libertarian image with academia). They sure changed the world, but not their imaginations.
I'm still trying out digital cameras. I'm not entirely satisfied with the Agfa CL18 I bought. Very cheap and it works well, with a USB and video interface, but the pictures tend to come out with poor color balance and they're too contrasty. Indoor shots make people look like they're made out of ceramic. Not exactly what I was hoping for. There are some excellent 1.3 megapixel cameras available, however, for $200-$400, so I'm going to be investigating those. At the moment I'm leaning towards the Fuji MX-1200.

July 24, 2000

Had dinner yesterday at Waddles, a 1950's-era diner with a giant "EAT NOW" sign which looms hugely right next to the freeway. I've always been curious to see what it was like there, but somehow scared to actually go in. I felt somehow intimidated by the giant sign, as though one could not actually eat there without a special dispensation or secret membership or something. The famous sign was designed by Pietro Belluschi, as it turns out; a designer of the Pan Am Building in New York as well as one of the first modernist buildings in America, the Equitable Building, also here in Portland (it predates Lever House in New York). It's quite an amazing sign, actually, I think I like it better than most of his other buildings, actually. It's got a kitsch longevity which is perhaps the main reason the restaurant hasn't yet gone out of business. And the food wasn't quite as scary as I feared... in fact it's a surprisingly good, relatively unthreatening, robust classical American diner. Not retro, exactly, since it's actually been around since the 50's.

I'm not the only one who was scared of Waddles (second to last entry).

I also bought a cheap digital camera yesterday, mostly so I can more easily capture images for this weblog...

I forgot to mention one of the cooler things in the Topiary Kings show (see below) was a song involving the use of a modified Speak and Spell... as the Speak and Spell would display a word, out would come an eerie, extremely-low-pitched rumbly screech, amplified magnificently through the sound system. Tiffany informed me that this cool device came out of a collaboration between the Topiary Kings and David Chandler, who builds and modifies musical instruments and toys and uses them to make music.

As I mentioned in an earlier entry, Tiffany also edits a web magazine/journal, SIGNUM, and the latest issue just came out: Whatever Happened to the Cyber Revolution? Contributions from R.U. Sirius, Brenda Laurel, Mark Pesce, and many others.

Off to New York on Thursday on my eventual way to the Kira Summer School. Maybe I ought to bring some DEET along :).

July 23, 2000

Finally saw Dogme 1 - Festen (aka Celebration). Somehow I had imagined that with all of the Dogme 95 restrictions, the film would come across with a rather documentary feel; but instead I have to say I found the film beautifully shot, with exceptional care and skill given to composition and editing. The film was also well written, and the performances generally superb. I'm not sure I totally believe it is really that important to be such a purist as they specify in the Dogme 95 rules, but I think the central idea of using inexpensive handheld cameras and simple lighting and sound (Festen was shot with a handheld Sony DV video camera) is quite interesting; making work whether or not one can get big funding for it.

July 21, 2000

Went to Olympia to help Khaela set up her new website, Seesawing, for her and her friends to have their own weblogs and a discussion space for interchange. As she puts it, "Seesawing is: written conversations between people who generally investigate: people's weird deals, making things, and why things happen like they do in the world. " At present there is only one entry on the site (her initial entry) but there will be more to come over the next weeks and months as they upload material to the site. Khaela got the idea to do Seesawing partially from Synthetic Zero and similar parts of the weblog community; she was impressed that there were some people online who were talking about some of the same interesting things that she talks about with her circle of friends. She was saying that she and her friends had originally tried to set up an informal group organized with paper and ink, which they had called ACE Investigations (check out this poster made by Amber Bell), but it had been difficult to disseminate their reports and writings. But now, they can publish their thoughts for everyone to read on the web.

Last night Susan and I went to hear Tiffany play in her ambient/experimental/electronica/tribal/Goth/folk/noise band, Black Orchid, which had disbanded when Tiffany moved away to New York, but has partially re-formed now that she's back. They followed a fantastic set by the intense and delightful experimental jazz/ambient duo, Topiary Kings (the two groups have a drummer in common). (Just as an aside, The Topiary Kings are often found playing with the incomparable Seattle bass player and singer, Amy Denio.) A terrific way to spend a Thursday night, and nice to hear them all again.

July 16, 2000

For some people, myself included, there is something very strange about Portland; it isn't just that it is a pleasant city, with many amenities, livable, great cafes and bookstores, blah blah blah (all of which are true)... but there is something that hangs in the air here, a feeling that one cannot really explain, covering everything with an unmistakable sheen of beautiful unreality... as though, when walking around, one is immersed in a vivid dream, more real than real. When I first met Miranda I happened to mention how much I loved Portland, and she said she felt exactly the same way, and she described it in the best way I have ever heard: when she tells friends about this city, she says, "You know that feeling when you first move to a new city, when you feel as though you're in a movie? After I moved to Portland, that feeling never went away."

What's strange about it is that it isn't an abstract feeling you get when you think about the place, like "oh, a lot is happening in New York," or "San Francisco is a pretty city," --- and it isn't just when you run across the seemingly endless crazy wonderful cool things that are scattered all about here, but it is a feeling that permeates even the mundane parts of the city, just walking down the block. Exiting my front door I am hit with a series of strangely intense images: for example, the smeary cloud drifting against the dazzling blue sky past the top of the old brick apartment building with the insistent trees barely swaying below, all shouting at me soundlessly. But objectively, how is this different from any other city? I couldn't say. Miranda also said when she walks outside she feels as though the ground is everywhere carpeted; that's sort of the feeling I get as well; not so much carpeted but everything coated with a sparkling invisible lacquer; or perhaps it is more like what it might look like if everything had a layer of dust removed, and you could see more clearly what was really there, underneath.

July 11, 2000

Susan and I had an interesting conversation on the subject of language. She said that she had never really gotten much out of reading philosophical books, even books on subjects she likes, like Zen, Dzogchen, or Taoism. For years she had read Trungpa or Shunryu Suzuki but, as she put it: she'd read the words, they'd seem to be making an impression on her mind as she read them (they sounded like language), but right after the sentence or paragraph or page was over, this impression would just go right out of her head --- they might as well have been gibberish or blank pages.

Many years later, when she was at her first Zen meditation retreat in the mountains, her instructor, Steven Tainer, gave them the advice: when sitting there in zazen position: don't meditate. The reason for this advice was that he didn't want them to be trying to impose some idea onto what they were doing while they were sitting there --- since of course the whole "point" of it (if you could call it a "point") is something closer to deconditioning, deconstruction, de-manufacturing of the world than it is to constructing something or attaining a goal of some kind. But, ironically (or not), because of this good advice she had her first real sense of this stuff, the ungraspable suchness of existence. Words hadn't worked for her, but sitting there without meditating --- did.

For me it is a little different. My dad once told me that when I was a kid, he had "cracked my shell"; by this I think he meant he had somehow helped me to escape the strictures of simplistic thinking, of being stuck in my map of the world. His take is from the art world, and for him, the practice of art was and is his way to this deconditioned realization. But he also used words --- he was able to use words to help me to break apart my world, to crack it open --- so words haven't always been for me associated with construction --- they've also been associated with motivating me to deconstruct my conceptual world (which is not a maneuver in the normal sense of th word). So, reading books actually does help me --- not because the words themselves speak directly to me but because they give me the motivation to align my mind and body in a way that helps me to better un-build the structures of my mind.

With words Sue prefers literature. Good fiction writing is concrete. By evoking embodied experiences, fiction enables her to more easily make contact with the things she finds important to her, the body memory of things like walks in the woods (which she loves); smelling the grass, being dazzled by the shy unexpected color of flowers, feeling her feet softly mashing into damp earth. Wordless experiences bring her back to herself, and literature, for her, brings her closer to wordless experience. I also love literature and am constantly amazed by its breathtaking power. I think there is fantastic power there. However, I am also comfortable with more abstract writing, as long as it is is not closing one's map but rather helping one to open it. What counts for me is the ways in which words reveal the spaces around them. Which reminds me: Paul (Alamut, July 6 entry) asks:

The trouble with any set of coordinates is that they define 'the space' (and thus close the space) right from the start. And even if it were possible to 'unlearn' a set of coordinates, at some point the 'learning' starts again. But what if we begin by accepting ALL possible points and coordinates? So that there were no distinctions? No selection? No sense?

Could we develop a repertoire that included absolutely everything?

I think all we can do is to always remember the anti-maneuver of not falling asleep with our face in our maps to dream that their coordnates swallow the world. Open the map, put the map down, and avoid getting stuck.

July 9, 2000

Had a dream that I was with my parents and we were walking around my Los Angeles neighborhood, which had been converted to a spaceship that could fly up and land anyplace else in the world. So I could take my family home and parents with me as we travelled to distant lands. It was a very comforting thought (unlike most of my friends, I actually get along with my parents).

Which reminds me. Many people don't know this, but Calarts in Valencia had a predecessor, the illustrious Chouinard Art Institute, which educated such art luminaries as Ed Ruscha, Robert Irwin, Larry Bell, and many others. In its later years one of the chief funding sources of the school was Walt Disney, as many Disney animators were trained there (just as they are today at Calarts). Disney had this vision to move the school from its funky downtown Los Angeles location to a brand new campus in Valencia. However, Disney died before the move could take place. The Disney corporation hired some New York guys who knew nothing of the school, and they came in, fired all the senior faculty, and tried to re-hire some of the junior faculty (including my father, who taught there), but with one or two exceptions they all resigned in protest. Thus abruptly ended the history of arguably the greatest art school on the West Coast at the time. Ironically, the two New York guys then proceeded to quickly run the school into the ground, and within two years they had both resigned. But Chouinard was gone. My dad once said that he had gone by Calarts once and looked at a "history" of the place; there was no mention of Chouinard at all (whose official name had also been the "California Institute of the Arts").

Interestingly, however, in recent months my dad has started to receive alumni newsletters... from Calarts. Yes, it seems that somehow they rediscovered their Chouinard "roots" and have retroactively granted alumni status to my father and many other former graduates of the original Calarts. They've even put a section up on their website for the school, and the alumni newsletter has a section devoted to Chouinard now! It's pretty strange, and a bit disorienting, for a school that has been gone for over a quarter century to suddenly be recognized and in some strange sense, reappear, as though it had never gone away in the first place.

Some people can't deal with the twentieth century. It's a bit late for that now.

I've recently upgraded my machines to Windows 2000. A warning: if you buy the "upgrade" version of Windows 2000, it won't let you install in a dual-boot configuration if you're starting from Windows 95/98. You have to get the "full" version for that. I was saved, however, because if you'd installed an earlier beta copy of Windows 2000, it will let you do whatever you want if you run the installer from inside Windows 2000 beta. A few good things: NTFS is more efficient with disk space than FAT32, so I saved a lot of disk space. A couple gigabytes, in fact (off of a 10 gig partition). This is really great because I'd been wondering how I was going to find the space for the video files I'm going to need for Miranda's performance piece, The Swan Tool. Didn't want to have to buy a bigger hard disk.

July 5, 2000

Damian (Bovine Inversus) writes me:

Strangely enough, the Boy Scouts started out as a sub-pagan organization. They were origionally called the Woodcrafters (or was it the Woodscouts? To be honest, I no longer have my source material, don't quite remember), Gerald Gardner and Victor Neuberg were both involved. Activities included invocations of Dionysius and rites of Pan (honest! I'm not making this up!), lots of North American Indian influence (some of which is still there - watered down quite a bit), some Masonic symbolism was involved as well. At one point it was decided to tone it down a bit and add some western christian stuff into the mix, then in the 60's they were bought out (sponsored) by numerous christian organizations, after which point there were numerous problems with child molestation and the like.
An interesting discussion of the original relationship between paganism and the Boy Scouts. So sad that such a promising organization had to devolve into what it has become today.

Miranda points me to this well-done Flash-based web art site.