The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'lofi'
Momus' latest New York Times Post-Materialist blog post is about fixed-gear bicycles, the latest hipster must-have after turntables and Lomo cameras, and, like them, a translation of lo-fi into the realm of physical transport, and a refusal to capitulate to bourgeois practicality:
The fixie cult demonstrates that limitations are what give a thing flavor, and that stubborn simplicity can be a sort of charisma. People love these bikes because of what they can’t do as much as for what they can. In that sense they join analog synths, vinyl record players and Lomo cameras as lovable retro lo-fi must-have. In addition to the charm and fashion kudos these bikes deliver, there are other advantages. Not only do they run cleaner than cars, you don’t even have to park them when you reach your destination. Just hang them on the wall and call them art.Even more interesting than the article is Momus' blog entry about it, which elaborates on some of the points:
Code of honour: I often find myself defending as new forms of honour things that others dismiss as fads. What do I mean by that? I think it's already encoded in Alin's self-portrait. His accident, here, isn't just a random misfortune. He "wears his wounds with pride". Like a soldier wounded in a battle fought in the name of a just cause, he feels there's something more important in life than mere safety. In fact, you could almost see cycling, and its attendant aesthetic, as "something worth dying for". The New York Times actually removed the phrase "to die for" from my text, replacing it with "must-have". But I wasn't just making a gruesome joke about cycling being dangerous. I really meant that it was important that fixie cycling -- like skateboarding -- is both difficult and dangerous. To understand why, you really have to go to non-Western places, places where Being is more important than Having, and where people -- including scary people like suicide bombers and kamikaze -- place higher values on certain ideals, certain codes of honour, certain loyalties, certain aesthetics than on life itself. Or you have to go to the chivalric codes of the middle ages. Cycling is, after all, a mechanized form of chivalric equestrianism.
Viral ecology: There's a danger that making people ecologically-conscious can end up preachy and worthy. What you need is something viral, something viscerally compelling, something cool as fuck, which is also something green. And fixie bikes are that: viral ecology with the urban credibility of skateboarding and the rebel cool of smoking combined. No more sermons! On yer bike!
Distinction strategy: We were talking earlier this month about shifts in graphic design style as a sort of distinction strategy, a game of catch-up in which one set of designers keep throwing wobblies, keep embracing ugliness and absurdity in order not just to "make it new", but to put a comfortable distance between themselves and the client-pleasing coffeetable hacks who hobble along behind, copying and pasting. The fixie trend is also a distinction strategy. It's a way for hipsters to say "I'm not just another suburban bozo with a car". But it's also a way for the West to say to China: "Okay, you all have cars now. Well, we're onto something else: bicycles." Which is ironic, since the West used to laugh at China for wobbling around, in its billions, on bicycles.
The Independent has an article on the extraordinary revival of the Holga, a cheap and primitive medium-format film camera made in China in the 1960s, now prized by lo-fi aficionados and art-school hipsters alike, much like the Lomo and Diana:
The Holga, barely more sophisticated than a pinhole camera, takes rolls of medium-format film which, when developed, produces square pictures. It features just two aperture settings ("sunny" or "cloudy"), four focus positions from "portrait" to "landscape", and a basic flash powered by AA batteries. A spring connects a clunky lever beside the lens to the shutter, which has just one speed (one-hundredth of a second – or thereabouts).
Williamson, 25, soon grew tired of what he calls the "sterility" of digital. In the age of the booming digital camera industry, with its spiralling megapixel counts and camera menus that would flummox a fighter pilot, converts to the cult of Holga celebrate the camera as an antidote to high technology. "Everything seemed so pristine in my photos," Williamson says. "They were almost optically perfect."
Williamson's website offers instructions on how to make the camera even more low-tech. Holga hackers can cut a square from a drink can, drill a hole in it with a sewing needle, unscrew the camera's shutter mechanism, insert the aluminium square in place of the lens, add a cable release to allow steady shooting, and voilà – you have a pinhole camera, christened, inevitably, the PinHolga.
Art hipsters rejoice: someone has finally designed a digital camera without a screen or viewfinder:
Designer Sungwoo Park's prototype Eazzzy! camera consists of a USB stick with a lens and one button, and offers "the feeling of not knowing how your shots turned out à la analog film" with the convenience of USB transfer; not to mention a groovily ironic, retro-styled shape in several bright colours. And you can undoubtedly expect the images to turn out fashionably lo-fi, as you'd get that with anything of that size.
Though I wonder if it'd be just standard cameraphone lo-fi or whether they'd put an artfully crappy lens on the thing (as with cult film cameras such as the Lomo and Diana). They could, of course, program the firmware to oversaturate the colours, or overexpose the centre of the image and vignette the edges, though that would run against the cult of authenticity from which the lo-fi fad stems, thus being the photographic equivalent of alternative rock recorded for major labels in expensive studios, with special ProTools plug-ins thrown in to make it sound grungier.)
In his latest Wired column, Momus writes about how, in the age of digital music, record crackle has changed from undesirable noise artefact to desirable sonic texture:
There must have been some tiny glitch on one of my tracks, because the engineer -- looking as pleased as a dentist who's discovered a cavity -- rolled his swivel chair over to his newest toy: a Cedar digital declicking unit. This device, he explained, would search my recordings for clicks, crackles and other errors and strip them out faster than you could say "Leadbelly."
Fifteen years later mastering studios -- and digital restoration devices made by companies like Cedar Audio -- still flourish. But something else has happened in the interim, something either contradictory or complementary, depending on how you look at it. There are now all sorts of devices that, rather than removing "imperfections" like crackle and click, actually add them.
When analog recordings on vinyl were our main way of representing music, there was no reason to think of a black 12-inch record as a fetish object, to be celebrated for its rare, soulful, unique properties. Back then, we didn't cherish surface noise, or find failure charming. A record was supposed to be an audible "window on the world" -- the less it crackled, the better we could hear what was going on through the window.
But when CDs replaced vinyl, some of us began collecting the black stuff religiously, and treasuring its unique properties. Those turned out, mostly, to be errors and limitations.
But maybe that halo -- that warm, holy glow -- is just the consolation prize we award to any medium that's been displaced from the coveted role of representing the world. Think of painting focusing on the brushstroke when photography comes along, TV turning self-referential when we get our information about the world through computers instead, or analog crackle becoming something you add with a digital patch.I have wondered whether, at some future stage, low-bit-rate audio-compression artefacts will become fashionable in the same way that faux record crackle is these days; perhaps with bands making allusions to a mythical golden age of MySpace bedroom indie authenticity or somesuch?
Following up from yesterday's post about the digital camera/Lomo hybrid, and its question about digitally simulating the look of Lomo photographs: Alec Muffett has pointed me to a Kottke blog piece on the subject, which also links to this Photoshop-specific tutorial. For the penguinheads in the audience, there is a Gimp Script-Fu script for applying the Lomo effect here. Now you too can make the output of your high-end digital camera look "authentically" lo-fi.
This person is attempting to build a homemade digital Lomo camera, by grafting a Lomo lens onto a camera (an Epson Digital Rangefinder, which sounds a bit too expensive to be something to casually hack). It'd be interesting to see whether he succeeds, and whether the resulting Frankensteinian hybrid really does combine the grungy, ultra-hip Lomo look with the convenience of digital.
If there was a market for a digital camera that takes pictures that look Lomo-like, wouldn't the obvious way to do it be by adding a mode in the onboard firmware which vignettes the edges of the image and fiddles the colours? I wonder whether anyone has written a Photoshop/Gimp plug-in which "Lomo-fies" images.
The latest cinematic art movement in Paris is the "pocket film" movement, which involves footage shot spontaneously on mobile phones and edited into short films, of which there was a festival last year:
Pocket movies are often intimate and engaging, and because mobile phones can go anywhere the camera gets a licence to roam. You can film on a bike, or shoot the rush-hour crush; one director has even filmed herself voting.
Film director Jean-Claude Taki says: "These days the process is more after the fact. By that I mean that we don't make out a storyboard and organise the filming beforehand, but we start with the filming which is something which becomes part of your life that you do whenever you want, then we edit. And all the time you can film stuff for the edit and that's how the film is constructed."The web site of last year's Pocket Films festival is here; there is a selection of films here (in streaming Flash). They vary from raw phone footage, some with overdubbed sound or music, to more elaborately edited works which use footage shot on mobile phones. Some of them tell simple stories, and some of them look not a world away from the sorts of things shot by artists with 8MM cameras in decades past, which one can find screened at film nights in inner-city bars.
Formulaic music isn't just for the teeny-boppers and pissed-off teenagers. Computer scientist and songwriter Loren Jan Wilson develops a system to analyse Pitchfork music reviews, finding which words have the most positive connotations, and then using that to write two songs, scientifically designed to appeal to the coolsies who write for Pitchfork.
There are positive values for "rough" and "primitive," and negative values for the words "shiny" and "polished." This points towards a preference for lo-fi recordings, which are usually associated with lower-budget independent music. This falls in line with the Pitchfork reviewers' dislike of capitalism, which I talk about a bit in the other interesting results section below.
The "sadness" group is by far the highest-scoring mood, beating the next mood ("dark") by over 1100 points. As a response to that, I've tried to make these songs as sad as possible.
The songs, Kissing God and I'm Already Dead are provided with MP3 form, along with detailed descriptions of how the analysis guided his creative decisions. The songs, as you'd expect, combine gloomy lyrics, lo-fi guitars, choppy beats and layers of effects.
It'd be interesting if he had gotten Pitchfork to review these songs before revealing their origin, if only to see whether he'd have been critically lauded as the next Radiohead or whatever.