The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'diy'
A Parisian outfit named Rectangle Radio has an interview with Clare Wadd of Sarah Records, in the form of a podcast, in which she discusses the label's origins, history, end and legacy.
It was totally plucked out of the air; I guess you look back and I guess it was just on that cusp of, kind of.. lad rock, that whole kind of grebo thing, that then became the 90s Loaded thing; that's probably unfair on some of the grebo bands, but it was almost which side of the fence are you on. And record labels were run by boys as well, so I guess we were making a point about that. I ws reading “Emma” by Jane Austen at the time, so it kind of came from if a book can be called Emma then a record label can be called Sarah. It was never meant to be Sarah Records, it was just meant to be Sarah, but that was too difficult.
I think in a way, though, the thing I'm most proud of ... is the way we ended the label when we did and the reasons for doing it. One of the things that drives me absolutely crazy is when people think we went bust, or something like that. We always felt that there were about three or four ways to end a record label. One's to go bust, which happens reasonably often; two is to start putting out crap records and everyone stops buying them and you just kind of dwindle away. You could sell out to a bigger record label. We didn't want to do any of those. And then there's just getting to a nice round number ... throwing a big party, and taking out some ads in the press and saying, you know, we're basically destroying it. That I'm just so pleased we did, even though it was so hard to do.Whilst derided, somewhat though perhaps not entirely unfairly, as twee at the time, and not getting much recognition in histories of alternative/indie music (Sarah Records is mentioned in a footnote in Richard King's alternative-music history “How Soon Is Now”, in reference to being even more idealistic and out of touch with commercial realities than the labels the book's about), Sarah seems to be finally getting its due, with a book about the label (by Canadian writer Michael White) due this year and a documentary in production.
Sarah Records as a label is gone, and definitely not coming back, but the name exists on Twitter; Clare uses it to post music-related items.
A number of retrocomputing enthusiasts are taking arcade games which were poorly ported to 8-bit computers back in the 1980s and re-doing the job properly, i.e., creating ports, to the vintage home computers in question, which (being unconstrained by the unreasonable deadlines often imposed by game publishers) do the original arcade games justice (or at least as much justice as one can physically do with a Commodore 64 or an Amstrad CPC):
"You make one mistake in your life and the internet will never let you live it down," wrote Keith Goodyer, programmer of the unfortunate R-Type port, on the CPC Wiki. "Electric Dreams / Activision gave me 21 days to do the port. I wish I had the time to do a nice mode 0 port with new graphics, but alas it was never to be." Impressed by his candor, other readers of the forum decided to make it a reality 20 years later -- and gave themselves more than 21 days to get it done.Goodyer's forum post goes into detail about the development tools, techniques and conditions in which the 8-bit games readers of a certain age will remember nostalgically. Apparently, by the late 1980s, 8-bit game developers had a pretty sophisticated system named PDS, which ran on an MS-DOS PC, assembled and linked the code and zapped it over to a tethered 8-bit computer, much in the way that iPhone development is done today. (Before then, one imagines that a lot of development was done on the actual host system.) I wonder how the tools used by today's (enthusiast) 8-bit game coders differ from those used by professionals in the 1980s.
Also, if those who feel sufficiently strongly about inadequate video-game ports from their childhoods can go back and right wrongs, I wonder whether or not other media will benefit from similar DIY interventions. Can we expect, for example, guerilla filmmakers making (illegal) film adaptations of books previously butchered by Hollywood, or (when the technology becomes available) correcting the maligned films with resynthesised graphics, altered dialogue and altered scenes? Or taking it upon themselves to record what they feel a band's disappointing follow-up album should have been, cobbled together out of samples of the originals, with new vocals resynthesised to sound like the original singer? As the technology becomes available, the possibilities are limitless.
(via Boing Boing)
In the past, hand-made goods used to be considered inferior; cheap, flawed, jerry-rigged substitutes for expensive manufactured products. Nowadays, perfectly mass-manufactured goods are cheap, almost to the point of disposability. Hand-crafted items, meanwhile, have become signifiers of status, their flaws and imperfections representing individuality and artisanal values, in opposition to the alienatingly sterile qualities of assembly-line products. (That bag hand-sewn from drink containers by some dude in Berlin or Portland may not be as solidly made, well-designed or otherwise fit for purpose—in a prosaic, bourgeois way—as one manufactured in Shenzhen by the million, but what you lose in build quality and materials, you get back tenfold in the warm fuzzy feeling of being part of something outside the corporate-consumerist mainstream, i.e., differentiating yourself from the wrong kinds of white people who shop at Wal-Mart and eat at McDonald's.)
Writing in Make (a magazine of the maker culture—a new hobbyist culture with a focus on repurposing existing items, from cheap consumer electronics to flat-packed furniture, often for fun), Cory Doctorow speculates on how the corporations will attempt to commodify this trend, extrapolating from the already prevalent practice of having call centres in low-wage countries full of workers trained to pretend to be American/British/Australian to a vision of a manufactured replica of an anti-corporate maker counterculture, conjured out of the whole cloth using low-wage labour and business-process outsourcing methods:
Will we soon have Potemkin crafters whose fake, procedurally generated pictures, mottoes, and logos grace each item arriving from an anonymous overseas factory?
Will the 21st-century equivalent of an offshore call-center worker who insists he is “Bob from Des Moines” be the Guangzhou assembly-line worker who carefully “hand-wraps” a cellphone sleeve and inserts a homespun anti-corporate manifesto (produced by Markov chains fed on angry blog posts from online maker forums) into the envelope?If it happens, it won't be unprecedented. Ersatz authenticity (from studiedly shitty-looking advertiser-sponsored zines to ProTools plugins for making major-label alternative bands sound grungy and lo-fi) is big business.
The Chipophone is an instrument for live chiptune performance (i.e., playing live music on a keyboard in the style of music generated by 8-bit computers and game consoles), made from microcontrollers and housed in the chassis of a 1970s-vintage electronic organ by a Swedish chap named Linus Akesson. There is a video of Akesson demonstrating the unit and its features, and playing some classic chiptunes live, here.
13-year-old Hibiki Kono built a machine allowing him to climb walls; the rig consists of a backpack with two small vacuum cleaners strapped to it, suction pads attached to the nozzles; the pull seems to be strong enough to allow him to climb as high as the power cord lets him. (Meanwhile, some commenters here claim that Kono merely copied somebody else's design without improving or modifying it.)
Seen at Maker Faire: Two guys from ARM (the people who designed the CPU in your mobile phone and probably a dozen other devices you own) have designed an amazingly elegant new microcontroller prototyping board, for making electronic gadgets even more easily than with the Arduino. Called mbed, it consists of a board with a USB port and 40 pins. The pins do the usual things (analogue/digital I/O, USB, Ethernet, &c.), but that's not the impressive thing about it; the impressive part is the design of the whole system, which brings web-style agile development to microcontroller-based gadgets.
When you get an mbed, you plug it into your computer (which may be a Windows PC, a Mac, a Linux box or anything else which can mount USB drives); it then appears as a USB disk, containing one file: a web link. You go to the web link, which directs you to mbed's web site, where you log in or create an account; from then on, you have an integrated development environment in your browser, with source navigation, syntax highlighting and a compiler. Your code is hosted online on mbed's servers (the system uses the Subversion version control system as a store). Create a new project, and you get a "Hello World" program (written in C++) which, by default, flashes one of the mbed board's built-in LEDs. Hit the Compile button, and your browser soon prompts you to download a .bin file of the compiled program. Save it to the mbed card's drive, hit the reset button on it, and your program runs.
That's not all, though; the mbed card can work with a plethora of hardware modules, from Nokia-style LCD displays to GPS units, Bluetooth modems and more. Which is where the next bit of elegance comes in. There exists an ecosystem of modular classes for driving these various devices. To attach a supported device, all you have to do is add the class for it to your project (by pasting the URL of its Subversion repository into a dialog box; the IDE does the rest for you), instantiate it as an object and call its methods. For example, here is code for drawing on a Nokia-style LCD display:
This goes some way towards making building gadgets as easy as building web applications with a framework like Django or Ruby On Rails.MobileLCD lcd(p5,p6,p7,p8,p9); // the I/O pins lcd.background(0xffff99); lcd.foreground(0x000000); lcd.locate(2,2); lcd.printf("Hello world\n"); lcd.fill(0,64,128,128, 0xffffff);
mbed is somewhat more expensive than the Arduino (the price quoted was about £45 for the mbed board itself, whereas Arduino-compatible boards go for £13 or so). However, the elegance of the design, its ease of use and sheer niftiness could make it worth the price.
A sound artist from New York, now based in the desert of Texas, makes neckties woven from audio tape, prerecorded with sound collages made from samples recorded in New York. If you dismember an old Walkman and pull the playback head out, you can run it over your tie, making noise.
If you want to order one (and live in the US), you can do so here.
(I can imagine this sort of thing going further. If one could make magnetic fabric, and imprint it with wave patterns, one could essentially make cloth that functions as a wavetable synthesiser, and fashion it into playable clothing.)
Independent comic of the day: Hackney: The Comic. A four-page mostly monochromatic meditation on memory and subjective history and love letter to the area of East London:
Read: White Barbarian, an essay by a French Wikipedia contributor, vividly defending Wikipedia's culture:
I'm ten. Every week for French class we are required to select a book from the class library. I already can't stand the classics, so I reach for a gamebook. The searing glare from my teacher confirms that just because I'm allowed to take the book does not mean I can. I take it anyway.
I'm fourteen. A colleague of my father spots me as I'm idly tapping keys on a demo synthesizer at the local department store. He takes his time to explain how this is worthless; such instruments warrant nothing but contempt and true music requires no amplifiers. I suddenly develop an interest for electronic music.
I'm twenty-eight. I discover on Wikipedia that tons of people share my unusual knowledge. Some try to convince me that the method is flawed and you can't treat all topics as equal. By nature incapable of listening to such arguments, I ignore the bores. So does everybody else, anyway. The bores get annoyed at this fact and proceed to announce they are Right and everybody else is Wrong. I'm not sure I get that logic.And it concludes...
I am a barbarian. A well-educated barbarian, mind you, who has read and listened to all the right things, but a barbarian nonetheless. Left to my own devices I will always develop completely nonstandard interests, and experience taught me that, no matter what, people expect me to acknowledge what I like to be intrinsically inferior. Thanks to Wikipedia, I know that the world is full of people like me. I can't tell you about the rest of the universe, but to those here that expect me to give way again, I say this: go take a stroll in another encyclopedia.
Wikipedia's Rome wasn't invaded by barbarians. It was built by them. Oftentimes I go for a walk on the city's Forum and hear an orator trying to rally the crowd to his cause and explaining that the barbarians are at the city's doors. I'm still laughing.The original French, by the way, is here.
(via David Gerard)
And now, a chap in an orange puffer jacket and plastic electro shades who goes by the name "Jetdaisuke" will demonstrate how to make a talkbox using only a Nintendo DS, a copy of Korg DS-10 and an ordinary drinking straw. It's in Japanese (with a few recognisable words like "sturo", "talkbox talking modulator" and "daftapunk"), but easy enough to follow from the video alone.
(via Boing Boing Gadgets)
The Guardian fires off a robust rhodomontade at the phenomenon of knitting as a staple of alternative culture.
We've gone from screaming for anarchy, rocking against racism, storming the US Embassy and picketing recruiting offices, tuning in and dropping out and rutting like pigs on Viagra to taking up the favourite hobby of senile old grannies everywhere and declaring it radical. Which was hilarious for about five seconds about five years ago.
Nonetheless, the truth must be stated. Germaine Greer didn't articulate her disgust with women's oppression by knitting a lavender and yellow toilet-roll holder. Dr Martin Luther King Jr didn't say: "I have a dream ... set of place mats that I crocheted using a pattern I got from a magazine." Jimi Hendrix didn't take to the stage at Woodstock wearing a nice orange and puce cardigan (with a reindeer on it) that he made using a job-lot of wool he got at a jumble sale. And Sid Vicious didn't crotchet his own stupid mock-Tibetan hippy-dippy ear-flapped bobble hats. And neither should you. If you need a hobby, take up spitting.They have a point, if one regards punk-as-macho-destructive-nihilism and ignores the DIY aspect of punk and post-punk alternative cultures. (Wasn't it Lydia Lunch who said that the problem with punk rock is the "rock" thing, i.e., that beneath the obvious stylistic novelty, it's still the same regressively macho alpha-male proving-ground as the greaser rock of two decades earlier?)
This page has some interesting-looking tutorials on how to use Photoshop (or the GIMP, for the penguinheads) to transform your family and friends and/or random celebrities/supermodels into hideous, decaying ghouls.
(via Boing Boing)
Allen Park Deputy Police Chief Dale Covert said the roughly six-foot tall guillotine was bolted to a tree and included a swing arm. Covert said police also found several store receipts detailing the materials used to assemble the device.
"I can't even tell you how long it must have taken him to construct," he said. "This man obviously was very determined to end his life."This is not the first such incident; some three years ago, a man in Sheffield killed himself in a similar fashion, after telling relatives he was building a toy car as a surprise.
(via Boing Boing)
A blog named Mocking Music has a primer on what "C86" is, both the original NME DIY-indie cassette and the genre (jangly and/or twee pop) it has, rightly or wrongly, become synonymous with:
C86 is a type of music, but what it describes is a contentious point. Its original meaning can be agreed upon at least. What it began as was a free cassette that came with issues of the British magazine NME in 1986 (hence, cassette 1986), later available for purchase as an LP through Rough Trade. Like its predecessor, C81, it featured a slew of up and coming indie acts. Unlike C81, this cassette's indie acts were far more indie and less established.
Says NME's website: "We [tried] to invent an alternative scene - our own version of punk you could say - by forcing a coterie of new bands onto a cassette called C86. It's not entirely convincing and you should get out more if you remember The Shop Assistants - but it nails our colours to the mast. We, it said, for better or worse, are indie."
Of course, NME is no longer indie, but twenty years of popularity will do that. Were C86 a cassette alone, it wouldn't merit much note now. But it became more than that. Although not all the bands featured on the compilation were stylistically similar, enough of them shared the same shambolic sound for C86 to quickly become identified as a particular genre, a movement, in independent rock. That sound is arguably twee, and definitively Jangly. Although many tweepop groups do grow from C86, the genre is, strictly speaking, jangle pop. Some have argued that, like Krautrock, C86 is more a time and place thing: late 80's British DIY indie, rather than a genre, but listen to the compilation, or any of the bands that became linked to C86 afterward, and you'll find that most of the artists have a shared, distinct sound (i.e. discordant feed-back laden guitars mixed with almost child-like vocalization of mostly cheery, sometimes political lyrics).(Of course, the statement "NME is no longer indie" is only valid if one uses the word "indie" in the purist sense, rather than the popular sense. In the other sense, NME remains the bible of "indie", but "indie" is no longer indie; instead, "indie" these days is the next generation of "alternative", a fashion-conscious, highly commercial and formulaic genre of music, upbeat, stylishly-distressed football-terrace anthems, sponsored by Carling and Clear Channel, and comprised of simple riffs and the catchier bits lifted from the underground music of yesterday, streamlined for mass consumption. But I digress.)
Mocking Music goes on to examine each track on the NME cassette (side A and side B); the descriptions are somewhat brief and in some cases cursory to the extreme (and contain a few mistakes, for example, "Bullfighter's Bones" is named in one place as "Bullfighter Blues"), though they do include MP3 links, and does explain who Nerys Hughes was.
IMHO, C86 is an interesting historical document, and worth a listen, though it is far from a list of either the best or most significant exponents of the zeitgeist that became known as C86. A handful of the tracks merit repeated listening (in my opinion, the highlights include Primal Scream's Velocity Girl, The Bodines' Therese, Stump's Buffalo, The Shop Assistants' It's Up To You and the abovementioned Half Man Half Biscuit song, (even though it's arguable nobody who hasn't lived in England during the 1980s has a chance of truly understanding HMHB, however, collecting their works and cribbing up on the soap actors and second-division football managers mentioned from online cheat sheets could be useful for Anglophilic oneupmanship); much of the rest is somewhat forgettable. On the other hand, I suspect that more recent NME compilations (Britpack anyone?) won't stand the test of time to anywhere near the same extent as C86 did.
The Grauniad has an article, by Bob Stanley (also one of knowingly smug London indie-dance outfit Saint Etienne), on the DIY music movement that formed in the UK in the wake of punk, with countless garage bands, improvised instrumentation, passion, whimsy, cardboard drum kits, homemade synthesizers, homemade C90s sold by mail order and pseudonyms more for escaping the attentions of the dole office than affecting any sort of rock'n'roll cool:
The look was monochrome, handmade, an A4 photocopied sleeve wrapped around a handstamped 7in single. Photos of the bands were rare. Grinder were an exception - their sleeve shows four blokes, three with moustaches, the other with a Rocky Horror T-shirt. DIY had no time for poseurs. Pseudonyms abounded, probably so the dole office wouldn't get wind (after all, some of these records were selling thousands of copies). On the ideal DIY single, Warner reckons, "no band member's name should be over three letters long; otherwise, it should be false. If there is an address on the sleeve it should be the drummer's aunt's house or a local youth club." One Hornchurch band, What Is Oil?, numbered Dunk, Mike, German, Stoat and - playing "toast with cheese" - Dungheap.
The sound was art-school - a kind of urban British folk inspired by Vivian Stanshall, Syd Barrett, music hall and Dada. It was rickety, semi-musical and open to anyone: it related to punk in the way skiffle had to rock'n'roll. DIY archivist Johan Kugelberg describes it as "the wild enthusiasm of being 17 and discovering Alfred Jarry and the beauty of children's drawings." Strange, redundant keyboards were a common feature, as punk had laid waste to anything outside the guitar/bass/drums set-up, and this old gear was going cheap. Martin O'Cuthbert's Vocal Vigilante EP lists a Dubreq Stylophone and a Crumar Performer as his instruments - highly desirable now but obsolete technology in February 1978.
If you can find them, DIY records are extraordinary artefacts - the last hurrah of the Angry Brigade, good hippy aesthetics, and the punk/situationist interface. If you can't find them, the Messthetics series of CDs provides an in. This was the sound of the underground; the hiss of the tape, the amateur pressing, the sloppiness and the sheer sense of glee. The feeling of liberty. Chuck Warner compares DIY to the early days of blogging: "Both DIY and the blogs were so engaging precisely because of their common carelessness about wide public response."The DIY scene is often categorised as "post-punk" (which is chronologically accurate, though stylistically, as Stanley points out, the term belongs too much to more polished and/or deliberately abject bands like PIL and Joy Division to fit this scene easily); its history is mentioned in Simon Reynolds' excellent history of the post-punk era, Rip It Up And Start Again. Some DIY bands ended up acquiring skill and technical polish and metamorphosing into something slicker (most notably, Scritti Politti, who started off as rabid Marxist squatter types and ended up as a polished, if knowingly subversive, pop band, who, incidentally and through no fault of their own, served as the inspiration for the naming of Milli Vanilli); most vanished without a trace as their members got Proper Jobs. A few served as the training ground for other projects; the article mentions acid-house outfit 808 State. The DIY scene also spawned numerous successors: C86, bedroom electronica, the millions of homemade MP3s all over the web and phenomena like National Solo Album Month all owe a debt to this explosion of creativity.
It's interesting to compare the UK DIY movement with the "little band" scene in Australia at about the same time. They were roughly the same phenomenon (improvised, ad hoc creativity, occurring in the wake of punk), with similar aesthetics. However, the Australian scene seems to have been more live-performance-oriented, whereas the British one was more concerned with recorded music (the artefacts being homemade cassettes or hand-pressed 7"s). Could this be a result of Australian enthusiasts tending to gravitate to concentrated bohemian epicentres in the inner cities (St Kilda/Fitzroy, Newtown, Fortitude Valley and such), while Britons, not having any such focal points, remained in their suburban sheds, or of Australian musical culture being more rockist and/or more gregarious, with live performance being considered more important than in the UK?
If you want a hovercraft, you could always do what this person did and cobble one together for about US$200, using a lawnmower engine and a fan from an air conditioner.
First there was Jeri Ellsworth's 21st-century Commodore 64 and the highly hackable TV game it spawned; and now, a Dutch hacker is building an Amiga in a FPGA chip. Dubbed "MiniMig", Dennis van Weeren's project implements the Amiga's custom chips on the FPGA connected to a 68000 and RAM, and uses disk and ROM images stored in a standard FAT file system on a MMC card. At the time of writing, it is close to completion.
There are kits to add MIDI interfaces to a lot of old synths; and now, someone has developed a MIDI interface kit for the Speak & Spell. The kit (costing US$49.95; assembly required) puts a MIDI socket in the side of one of the early-1980s talking toys, connected to a microcontroller that performs various glitchy circuit-bending operations on command. It has several modes: two ways of accessing ROM sounds by playing notes or sequences of notes, and one which maps keys to the keypad (with leftover keys serving as "glitch control").
(via Music Thing)
The latest beat-'em-up video game from Japan is Line Kill Spirits. It's much like any other beat-'em-up (Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and all the numerous lookalikes), except that (a) all the characters are lolitaesque anime girls, and (b) the only way to make damage to an opponent stick is to take a photograph of her underwear. Or from the Google translation of the official page on the game:
it is possible to convert the latent damage to the actual damage. First, the punch button and the kick button are pushed simultaneously, the skirt of the partner is turned, " it turns and makes skill move ". When the skirt burrs and rises, timing the photographing button (with default the V key) pushing well, it will cut the shutter. It is appraised at 3 stages of the BAD * GOOD * GREAT by the area of the underpants which have been taken, if above the GOOD conversion of the damage is done.The web site also has two video clips of the game in action; Line Kill Spirits appears to be the work of a group of hobbyists, rather than a game publisher. It appears to be part of the "Dojin Soft" small-press game movement, which does tend to produce its share of bizarre ideas, such as a fighting game based on Les Misérables.
This person is planning to build his own home-brewed GSM mobile phone, out of an ARM-based Linux board and a GSM module. It doesn't appear that he's quite hardc0re (or insane) enough to write his own GSM stack over software radio and risk a visit from
the FCC Ofcom's SWAT team, though at the end of the day, he will end up with a phone that runs Debian.
(via bOING bOING)
Guerilla Drive-Ins are a cross between a drive-in cinema revival, illegal raves and Make-style improvisational techno-larrikinism. Some people in Santa Cruz are reviving the mid-20th-century American custom of drive-in movies, only this time reclaiming public space using a car fitted with a video projector, a FM transmitter and a movie; those in the know are notified in advance by email.
Films scheduled include cult classics (Dawn Of The Dead, Harold and Maude, Delicatessen) and worthy documentaries and dramas (The Take, The Yes Men, City Of God). It's an interesting idea, though, IMHO, it would have been more ideologically sound if they used bicycles instead of cars.
A DJ in Russia built his own DJing cassette decks, with hand-operated jog-dials and motor and pitch controls, all in handmade Masonite packaging for that ghetto-tech look. And there's a Flickr photo set here.
Paul Slocum converts dot-matrix printers into musical instruments, by reprogramming the EPROMs; the resulting instruments use the print head, paper feeder motors and internal beepers to play music, of which MP3s are provided (this one is probably the best). And then there's the Mellotron-like contraption made of a printer, a Walkman and a length of cassette tape.
An intrepid hacker has created a port of Grand Theft Auto III to the Nintendo Entertainment System; that's right, the 8-bit, 6502-based console from the 1980s. The game isn't out yet, though will be released as a free download, joining the swelling ranks of elaborately handcrafted games being made for obsolete platforms because they're there. The page contains details of how he did it and the tools he used, including his elaborate homebrew developer NES system.
Danny O'Brien on the growing class of microcelebrities; people/bands/&c. who are famous within a smallish, widely distributed group:
But there are plenty more people who are what Carl Steadman first identified as microcelebrities: famous for fifteen hundred people, say. And fifteen hundred very thinly distributed people too. One person in every town in Britain likes your dumb online comic. That's enough to keep you in beers (or T-shirt sales) all year.
But is it enough? Is fame relative? The upper reaches of fame have disappeared beyond human ken - so does that mean that we're all humiliated by not being as popular as Madonna? Or is it a fixed constant? If you're liked by about-a-paleolithic-tribesworth, is that enough to keep the average person with a smile on their face?
Danny mentions a band named Groovelily, who sit in this middle class of fame; who have small groups of fans around the world willing to put them up and arrange gigs. Which sounds like a familiar story to anybody into indie music (of the DIY-CDs-sold-at-gigs variety, not the signed-to-a-label-just-outside-the-Big-4 variety).
In fact, microcelebrity seems to be the default meaningful sort of fame; the megacelebrities, the various Madonnas and Elvises of this world, are too few in number and too eroded by the demands of mass appeal to mean anything.
One guy couldn't wait for Sony to bring out a handheld PlayStation, so he made his own, complete with precisely-designed rapid-prototyped plastic case. It's quite impressive.
The new generation of indiekids are making music, and they're not using guitars, Casiotone keyboards or battered old Roland synths from the 1980s. Meet Service Station Youth, extremely lo-fi electropop from Talkshow Boy and friends, which has punk sensibility though probably owes more to Kid606 and insane Europeans with modified GameBoys than to the Pixies or Sonic Youth or whoever. Hardcore or just crap? You decide.
A DIY enthusiast in Sheffield spent weeks building a guillotine, with which he decapitated himself. Kevin Brunie, 42, told relatives that his secret project was a toy car. He was unemployed and was thought to have recovered from depression, and was reported to have been in good spirits days before he died. (A lot of suicides are reported to have been uncommonly cheerful just prior to doing themselves in; take Ian Curtis, for example.) (via Die Puny Humans)
How to make a trucker cap out of garbage, or, more precisely, paper plates and beer can rings. I fully expect home-made trucker caps (though possibly pastel-coloured ones with glitter and googly eyes) to start appearing at Architecture in Helsinki gigs, if not at the actual merch stall.
Also on the same site: how to make pruno; or, more precisely, how to turn perfectly good fresh fruit into foul, toxic rocket fuel, prison-style. (via jwz)
As of today, I have a 40Gb* Archos Jukebox Recorder 20.
This Sunday, I went to the computer swap meet and picked up a 40Gb notebook hard disk (a Hitachi TravelStar, for what it's worth), along with a notebook-drive-to-IDE-cable adaptor. Yesterday, I wandered down to Jaycar and bought a set of Torx screwdrivers (that's the funny hexagonal screws used to fasten things that people with ordinary household screwdrivers have no business in opening) and an antistatic wrist strap (just in case).
First, I copied the contents of the Archos to the new disk; I used the adaptor to attach the disk to my Linux box (as /dev/hdb; to make it into the slave device, I borrowed a jumper from an ancient SCSI hard disk I have lying around whose exact origins are lost in the mists of time). I then partitioned it (making one big FAT32 (LBA) partition, as on the Archos), and copied the Archos' contents to it in one gulp, with:
dd if=/dev/sda1 of=/dev/hdb1
Then I used GNU Parted to resize the partition (and the FAT filesystem on it) to take up the entire span of the new disk.
Then came the hardware modification; off came the "Warranty Seal" sticker, and the rubicon was crossed. I was working from this guide, which, whilst written for older Archos units, was quite accurate. The operation was easier than I feared; I was half-expecting the Archos hardware to be next to impossible to take apart without destroying some delicate connection or other, but this turned out not to be the case. The most tricky thing was putting on the black rubber bumpers when putting the case back together (obviously, whoever designs cases for Archos is not the same person who designed the Apple Macintosh G4 case or any similarly hacker-friendly hardware enclosure). In any case, everything went smoothly and without a hitch. I'd say that changing the hard disk in an Archos Jukebox isn't much harder than doing so inside a generic PC; if your warranty has expired (or would involve shipping the unit to France by courier or something similarly useless), it's worth a try.
Now I've got a 20Gb hard disk full of MP3 files, waiting to be recycled. In an ideal world, someone would sell external USB drive enclosures (like the ones you can buy for hard disks) with built in MP3-player functionality. (I believe there are all-in-one MP3 decoder chips that can talk to an arbitrary IDE disk.) Though if those don't exist, I may just end up using it as a backup device or somesuch (the usual fate of old hard disks).
* That's in marketing gigabytes. It actually has 37Gb or so of space, though that is still twice its former capacity.
Today's Cat and Girl ties in nicely to the chip-tune/authenticity debate previously mentioned:
"Guitars are bourgeois, OK? They're expensive and the skill they demand is elitist!"
"We should be making music with computers! They're the populist medium of today!"
Mind you, computers are bourgeois and expensive too; the iBooks that all the inner city hipster kids have certainly are. Though maybe it's more authentic if you shlep along a battered beige box that looks like it was stolen out of an office and souped up numerous times, running Windows 98 and AudioMulch (or better: Linux and some home-brewed audio software; it's not going to sound as slick as Cubase, but slickness is bourgeois). Having to lug that and a 15" glass bottle to see what's going on bespeaks punk authenticity and commitment to one's art, in a way you can never get with an Apple PowerBook.
(Of course, there's no way you could carry a PC/monitor to gigs on a bicycle. Then again, real proles drive, usually battered Mazdas or Holden panelvans. Cycling everywhere is a bourgeois affectation, like vegetarianism. Discuss.)
(Btw, Graham: any ideas on how one could combine tracker modules and live performance? Perhaps a tracker with keyboard-controlled mutes/cuepoints/sample triggers could be useful for that...)
Local home-keyboard cabaret artist CasioNova on How to Make Music. Mostly ignores the use of computers and software in favour of budget hardware (such as Casiotone keyboards, asuming that their prices haven't yet been bid up to TB-303-like levels by a new wave of post-Ninetynine bands with major-label advances, that is). (via Rocknerd)
A Mini-ITX novelty project with a difference, Bass Station is an oversized 1980s-style ghetto blaster containing a Linux-based Mini-ITX PC which plays MP3s. Not only that, but it contains an 802.11 access point and web server, making an instant collaborative jukebox, file server and bulletin board for all within range. (via bOING bOING)
The new Ninetynine mini-CD is out, and it's called Receiving the Sounds of Science Fiction (how's that for a cool title?). So how do you get it? Well, you can't buy it, but you can get it by joining the Dark Beloved Cloud singles club. No, it's not a dating service. To join, you send your details and six hand-decorated 3"x3" cards (which will become the artwork for other people's singles) to a PO box in New York.
If your creative skills aren't up to it, you can always wait for the UAR Australian rerelease next year, which apparently will have bonus tracks. (I wonder what those will be; new original material, remixes, live tracks, or multimedia content?)
(Thanks to Leigh for the heads-up)
America is experiencing a rise in do-it-yourself religion; this ranges from trivial examples (i.e., Catholics who privately practice contraception or Jews who don't keep kosher) to more elaborate combinations (Judaism/Buddhism is an extremely popular combination, apparently, though others, like Buddhism, Islam and the Norse pantheon, exist), and various made-to-order pop-cultural syncretisms (such as Elvis religion and self-help-book "angel" spirituality). Is this the logical combination of the two American traditions of religious identity and commodity consumerism? (via Plastic)
Neopagans themselves mix all sorts of spiritual ingredients -- and not always consciously. Many carry baggage from the churches they've supposedly rejected. "The former Catholics are the ones that are into the big ceremonial magic, because that's what they grew up with -- the big Catholic ceremonies," argues Ceredwyn Alexander, a 33-year-old pagan (and former Catholic) who lives in Middlebury, Vermont. "And the Baptist pagans tend to be the rule-oriented pagans: 'You must be facing the east at this particular time of day, and anything other than that is evil and wrong!'"
Mind you, real-world religions aren't the only thing being appropriated into new DIY spiritualities; some prefer to base their religious beliefs on works of fiction and popular culture:
So it was that in 1993 members of the Order of the Red Grail, a Wiccan group in Nebraska, held an "experimental magickal working from the High Elven point of view," drawing on the world invented by Tolkien. And so it was that in the mid-'80s some occultists in California -- not a pagan group, my informant stresses, though there were some pagans among them -- attempted to channel the Amazing Spider-Man. The collective unconscious was probed, and a persona claiming to be Peter Parker emerged; the magicians then tested the alleged superhero by asking what would take place in the next few issues of the comic book. Alas, the channeler's predictions proved inaccurate, thus nipping the project in the bud.
One person's High Elven is another person's High Elvis, of course; "Elvis miracles" have been reported for decades now, and there are "serious" Churches of Elvis. There's even a book about "Elvis spirituality". And then of course are the Jedi; sure, most of them put "Jedi" on their census forms just for the hell of it, but there are surely a few who find deep spiritual meaning in lightsaber battles and dyslexic muppets.
Such playfulness marks the so-called Free Religions. Under this header one finds Discordianism, the "Non-Prophet Irreligious Disorganization" devoted to the Greco-Roman goddess of disorder; the Church of the SubGenius, inspired not by classical mythology but by conspiracy theories, UFO cults, and sales manuals; and the Moorish Orthodox Church, which might best be described as Discordianism crossed with Afro-American Islam. Other Free Religions are one-off efforts, sometimes launched by followers of other free faiths.
That seems to be right; what Discordian or SubGenius hasn't at some stage (and often under the influence of various substances) declared themselves on a whim to be the High Pope-God-Emperor of the First Universal Church of Spray-On Cheese or something?
A while ago I was thinking that, while memes like that occur everywhere, the placing of them in a religious context seems to be a very American idea. I.e., if Discordianism originated in, say, England or France (or even Australia), it probably wouldn't classify itself as a religion; perhaps it would be an art movement, or a philosophical experiment, or perhaps just a meme, a signifier marking out those In The Know.
(I put down "Discordian" on my last few census forms, though I don't regard it as a religion, any more than Dadaism or Situationism was a religion. (One could argue that Marxism, one of the parents of Situationism, shows the characteristics of being a religion, but that's another can of worms altogether.))
Null Device handy home hints: Do you have a bunch of old IDE hard disks sitting around gathering dust and waiting to take their place in the landfill because they're too small to waste case real estate on? Well, here's how you can use them as removable storage, backup media, &c.
For this exercise, you'll need:
- An external 5.25" USB/FireWire Mass Storage case:
Note that it must be one of the 5.25" ones (i.e., wide enough to fit a CD-ROM or similar), not one of the smaller ones.
- One or more mobile IDE hard disk racks.
- Some old hard disks, as mentioned above.
Open the USB mass storage case and mount the outer tray of the rack where the CD-ROM unit would go, connecting all the necessary cables.
Then mount a hard disk in the inner tray.
Repeat for other hard disks and racks.
Voilà! Now you can access your old hard disks as USB Mass Storage devices, and swap between them. (Note that you should switch off the case before removing disks, otherwise your machine will have a fit. And if it doesn't work properly, make sure the hard disk is slotted in firmly before switching it on.)
If you have spare IDE device space, you can of course forgo the external USB case.
First there was the C-One, the Commodore 64 of the future, and now some hackers are using FPGA chips (i.e., dynamically reconfigurable hardware) to reimplement old arcade game boards, all on a chip; just supply the ROMs. The FPGA designs apparently even have extra "code" to convert the arcade-video-monitor signals to VGA, for those who don't have one of those big glass bottles sitting around. (via Slashdot)
(This is cool, not just because of the hipness of the the retro-video-game thing; the fact that you can make a small FPGA chip emulate any digital circuit, from a Pac-Man board to a Commodore 64 with an IDE interface bolted onto it, all by downloading the right information into it, is very cool. Now you have hackers creating open-source "hardware" components for FPGAs; i.e., code which, when integrated into a project, makes a complete 6502 core or USB interface or whatever, and others bolting them together to make all sorts of highly miniaturised gadgets. Unfortunately, FPGAs seem to only work for digital circuits, so something like a purely analogue open-source TB-303 core (suitable for embedding into mobile phones, childrens' toys and other gizmos) would not be possible.)
The release date of the next Harry Potter book has been announced, and the publisher has kindly released two excerpts, including the first sentence. Over at plastic, this has been turned into the start of a collaborative literature exercise.
Petunia ran out of the house. "Thank God you arrived, officer," she said. "They've got no right to take him! They've got no right!" The policemen looked up at the flying car hovering over the house. "Call in air support," said one of them. A few miles away, two helicopters sprung into action. "The car's license belongs to one Arthur Weasley," said one officer. "Arrested four times for posession of illegal and unlicensed substances - claimed they were 'magic potions'". Arthur Weasley saw the patrol cars down below, but did not worry. "Those Muggles and their laws," he said, shaking his head and laughing.
The Great Electroclash Swindle, or how to be electroclash in a few easy steps. (via Graham)
Some sensible news from the fashion front: conspicuous consumption is out, and thrift is in. Spending less is now not so much a sign of shameful poverty or low social status as one of defiance against the corporate branded lifestyle.
The word 'luxury' has become so overused it has become completely meaningless. For the intelligent consumer it simply means overpriced and overhyped. The new trend towards thrifty shopping is as much about being ahead of the curve as it is about saving money. The cheaper holiday destination might be the one the rest of the planet hasn't quite discovered yet; that old 70s leather handbag you spotted at Oxfam might be the one that a researcher for a big fashion house might snap up if you don't.
Of course, then the brands will start making tatty-looking thrift-chic items, objects fresh from the Indonesian sweatshop that look like they've been pre-worn since the 1970s, and selling them for obscene prices, and the cycle will repeat itself.
A number of scholarly (or perhaps pomo-wanky, or perhaps both) books are coming out looking at punk 25 years on. (via Rebecca's Pocket)
When punk emerged, it scrambled the distinctions between high and low culture even more severely than bebop jazz (whose practitioners sometimes wore "existentialist" goatees and horn-rimmed glasses) had in the late 1940s. The term "punk" had been coined in 1971 by critics who, disgusted by what they considered pretentious "art rock," were championing obscure American groups from the 1960s such as the Sonics and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators -- garage bands that made up in energy (and volume) what they lacked in instrumental finesse.
By the time newsmagazines and record companies were discovering punk, in 1977, a second generation of experimentalists had emerged, called No Wave, in which musicians abandoned rock primitivism for even more extreme musical experiments. (The feminist group Y Pants played amplified children's instruments, while the guitarist for DNA scraped and plunked on an untuned electric 12-string.)
Children's toys? Could those be the origins of Casiopunk?
This looks doovy: One enterprising hacker has developed an Atari 2600-based musical instrument cartridge. The Synthcart has beats and arpeggiators, and can be operated without a TV. Wonder how long until we see Ataris take the stage next to circuit-bent Hello Kitty toys and GameBoys running NanoLoop. (via Slashdot)
Frustrated with CityLink toll evaders speeding through their residential streets every day, some Melbourne suburbanites are fighting back, by staking out the streets with hairdryers, pretending they're radar guns. Wonder how long until the two-wheels-good-four-wheels-bad crowd take this up as a form of direct action.
Before blogs and the web, the hip young mutants were publishing zines; the late 80s and early 90s were an explosion of zine culture, with the likes of bOING bOING (it wasn't always a blog), Ben Is Dead and Pagan's Head arising out of Generation X slacker/hipster ennui and spreading their memes widely. It was a subculture in which ideas, rather than clothes, social hierarchy or animal magnetism, were the arbiters of cool. Now there's a book on zines, which has articles and interviews with the leading lights of the zine wave. (via bOING bOING (the blog))
The latest new arrival to This Blogging Lark is mag/tif, the inimitably spunky West Coast zinester, indiegrrl and cultural identity. Welcome aboard, tif.
While the Recording Racket works on ways to sell you "secure" downloads that you can only do what they want you to with, unsigned bands are finding their own ways to make money online, whilst retaining their independence and their copyrights.
"I don't have an answer for why this happened," said Quirk. "If it was that people just wanted the record that second it would be one thing, but the fact that people are donating more than they need to must mean there is something else going on. Now Jay and I own this record forever because the people who are going to buy the album have kept us from giving away our rights."
These people make improvised electronic musical instruments (with names such as the "Pikachu Glitch Synthesizer") out of toys and other devices. Pretty doovy. (via Slashdot)
An interesting article about the next generation of female hackers, and how they are challenging stereotypes (like the ones which say that they don't exist, or that they're all web designers or somesuch):
Gweeds, one of Marcelo's male hacker friends, confirms this. He wants to see more women hackers, and he tells me excitedly about an all-female-authored distribution of the operating system Linux called Cervix. "I like the idea of Cervix, because it says that girls can do this," he added. "It's like an all-girl band."
The amazing story of childhood prodigy David Hahn, who built a nuclear reactor in his garden shed at age 15.
Of his exposure to radioactivity he says, "I don't believe I took more than five years off my life."
Retrocomputing meets chindogu: Someone in the UK is designing an updated ZX Spectrum compatible, using only off-the-shelf parts. The SpeccyBOB, as he calls it, will be mostly Spectrum compatible, though will have 4Mb of RAM and an IDE hard disk interface. Watch the web site for circuit diagrams and such.
New Scientist tells you how to make slime (via Slashdot).