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Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Super Laser! We have the power!!!

Muah ha ha ha!!! No one will stop us. Soon we will be the… most powerful… nation in the … worl-
hey aren’t we already umm… nevermind.

But everything is falling into place.

Unbeknownst to either Karlheinz Stockhausen or the rioters in France, there were seven days of coincidence in May 1968 whose reverberations are still felt today.

From May 7-13, Stockhausen was holed up in his house in Germany writing Aus den Sieben Tagen. A pouring forth of highly personal and raw expression of emotional matters at hand through supreme abstraction, Aus den Sieben Tagen was landmark. The score was a set of written instructions. Both the traditional musical score and the construction drawing have a spatial expression inherent that implies the physical process of making – building or music. But Stockhausen’s were heretofore unseen textual instructions on how to build music – not dependent on some “assumably neutral” notation but introducing the idea that music can be an improvisational succession of emotional responses and affects. So, removed by an extra step from the physical act of making music in the same way as a textual “construction document” is yet more abstract than a “construction drawing,” Stockhausen was attempting to transcend the limitations of notation.

Simultaneously – beginning on the 6th of May – students took to the streets and rioted. Impressively, they fomented a general strike that ended as such things always end… Order restored, the resistance holding their heads high, romanticised and proud of their defeat. Cynicism aside – ask anyone who was there (or at Woodstock) and they will tell you that there was a time; to echo Hunter Thompson, there was a moment, there was a high-water mark – at which everything made sense and the right side was winning. The future held promise, things were changing for the better. But of course, like the hippie movement’s death at Kent State in America, the tide washed back out with it the ideals of the new generation that had been crushed under the boot heel of state authority.

Even though they are well trod ground for most intellectuals aspiring to fashion themselves a challenger or a rebel (myself included), the student riots of the late ’60’s – and the French General Strike in particular are still important. As a collective, the uprising was aware of its spectacular nature. They were important because they posited that building can be a more revolutionary act than destroying.

One cannot make a construction drawing of resistance: but you can write manuals and manifestos and slogans as “construction documents” instructing the revolutionary how to build a barricade, how to subvert power. You can, as a subversive act, conceptualize a city as an improvisational succession of emotional responses and affects, rather than an “assumably neutral” set of coordinates or directions. You can revolt – not through storming the Bastille, but through building barricades and ad-hoc structures. Revolt through detourning the presence of the news camera by treating it not as a mechanism of control but as a vehicle for dissemination of your ideas. By removing an extra step from the physical act of revolt in these ways, the rioters of those seven May days in 1968 and beyond have taught us to transcend the limitations of dissent.

They and Stockhausen both, without realizing, were exploring construction by means other than spatial abstraction. They were projecting a new and robust world view that had it been able to take root could have overturned the rigid framework of notational and coordinate based world views. And for the loss of that alternate way through the intellectual and political territory we can still navigate, we are the lesser.

6250 Hollywood Blvd.

6250 Hollywood Blvd.

Happening Right NOW in the LA Forum’s Hollywood gallery, the students of the Research Studio at CalPoly San Luis Obispo – under the direction of Steven Phllips – are presenting their final thesis projects.

There is a lot of really rigorous and impressive work here, and luminaries of the LA architectural world will be dropping in to give their critique.
It’s well worth coming by.

Check out their flickr if you need more convincing.

In other big Forum news, come Meet the Nelsons on Friday. And you can hang out with them for five hours four days a week for six weeks thereafter, if you wanted to. Much more on this forthcoming, it’s going to be a very exciting event.

Nicolai Ouroussoff finally jumps into the fray.

When Santiago Calatrava unveiled his design for a luminous glass-and-steel transportation hub for ground zero in January 2004, government officials touted it as a 21st-century version of Grand Central Terminal — one of the few bright spots in a development plan crippled by politics, petty self-interests and the weight of the site’s history.

We should have known better.

Populist outrage at the excesses of the “elites” is the fashion today. But reference my comments regarding Nicolai Ouroussoff months ago. I am excited by what it means for architectural criticism that he feels he can finally come out of the underbrush and shell someone’s bloated and ridiculous post-9/11 monstrosity.

Like the old saying, it couldn’t have happened to a better project.

In other Ground Zero news, this hollow shell of a non-project is not the only thing being gutted. So is the square footage.

The takeaway? Design these

Thanks Inhabitat

Thanks Inhabitat

They’ll mangle them until they get these
Thanks Architectural Record

Thanks Architectural Record

And seven and a half years after the most significant “act of urban planning” in since World War 2, the Bush and Giuliani/ Bloomberg genius has brought us… this.
Thanks Gothamist

Thanks Gothamist

It is empty, and they want to replace it with emptiness.

Activist Culture Hackers Monochrom have posted an interesting bit about how initially countercultural “hackerspaces” have become the Punk Rock of their day. That is, they are open and democratically accessible in concept only. They make the valid charge that the white, male, middle-class “nerd” has thrived in these conditions at the expense of true accessibility.

The conclusion needs a lot of work – there is no statement of process about how to enact radical social change in what should/could be a catalyst of radical social change. But the ideal expressed that these workshops came out of an anti-capitalist (read – anti-greed) grassroots and that they have badly lost their way is incisive and timely. What was originally conceived as a social condenser straight out of Marshall McLuhan’s dreams became … well, a bit of a treehouse for making throwies.

The true spirit of hackerspaces is to democratise something that should be accessible to all, but is usually limited to the functionaries of power. That is – access to tools and complex technologies, and the terrains these open – the internet, electronics, digital fabrication, etc…

But there are terrains just as important surrounding much older tools and technologies… The physical terrains to which nonprofit bicycle building workshops offer access. With this incredibly simple-tech*, the opportunities for those who would often never have access to these tools – and thus modes of transport – are multiplied.

Safe and unencumbered physical access to all the parts of the city will someday be understood as a basic human right. Probably around the time that as a society we abandon the backward thinking, anti-safety, exclusionary, encumbering, and environmentally devastating personal motor vehicle.

The focus will then be able to move on to ensuring safe and unencumbered digital and electronic access, but right now a bicycle can change someone’s life a hell of a lot more and faster than a throwie can. Let’s hope we get there soon, and let’s thank the nerds for keeping the laser cutters warm for us while we do.

*I am getting to the point where I reject the notions of “high-” and “low-” tech in favor of “simple-” and “complex-” technology. High Tech is a stylistic flavor of Post-Historical Eclectic architecture. Let’s banish it there…

On Pandora, I am listening to Earle Brown‘s Folio, for piano and electronics right now, a very interesting piece. Earle Brown is well worth seeking out.

In this particular version, about a minute in, amidst the dialog between the analog (piano) and the electronic instruments, there interrupts a third instrument…

Someone coughs.

Not to overemphasize the importance of the musician, listener, or human subject in general, but it is the most compelling note in the whole piece. Suddenly, this conversation between these platonic representations – the warm, physical analog instrument and the cold, virtual electronic instrument is offered counterpoint by the only living thing presenced.

All of the possibilities of abstract tonality fall away and what is revealed is a direct relationship to a literal human presence. Suddenly the piece has a throat – and by extension ears listening and the rest of a body (and possibly a malady thereof!). It turns from a self-sufficient formal arrangement to a performance to be made and appreciated, a projection of human sensing.

It is startling and beautiful. And while this insertion of the human presence is neither good nor bad, it recontextualizes the very identity of this piece. And I love that…

On the subject of singular interjections, They Might Be Giants Lie Still Little Bottle has a single piano hit in the middle that is a great hinge point for the progression of the piece.

On the subject of coughs in songs, it reminds me that Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha has a cough in it, if you listen closely. As does an Elvis Costello song from Armed Forces. Although I don’t recall which. Will report back with that information…1:51 into Big Boys.