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RjDj and the rise of ‘reactive’ music.

As our daily interactions are increasingly affected by the use of mobile wireless devices and technologies, new media seems to become more reactive to our actual environment. Is there an attributable value of our environment to the means of cultural production, consumption and distribution through the use of new media technologies?

The futuristic thought by critical media thinker and researcher Rob van Kranenbug in ‘the Internet of Things’ that “iPods will display colours and produce sounds that correspond to your surroundings”[1] has now been actualized with the rise of RjDj, the ‘reactive’ music player.

Last week I attended the Music and Bits conference, where Reality Jockey Ltd. demonstrated their RjDj application and shared their idea of using unique sensory data, generated by the user and the environment as an input for  ‘experiencing’ music. According to the speakers Andy en Martin the experience of music has changed:”Everything is Music”. The application, released in 2008, uses the audible input acquired by the iPhone headset or microphone for the reactive (re)creation of sound.

RjDj directly applies effects to its input, by which a unique piece of audio is created. This piece can be recorded and uploaded to the website, where users can also create a profile and share their recordings. Unique audible moments are captured, stored and shared, by the use of reactive compositions that are called ‘scenes’.

“Scenes have a different musical structure than traditional compositions and they often have no clear beginning and end. Some scenes promote active listener involvement and others promote passive listening. In any case, when listening to RjDj, take care and enjoy your mind twisting hearing sensations.”[2]

There is a variety of free scenes available and there are paid scenes as well. Nonetheless, how these scenes are being created is much more interesting. RjDj gives the opportunity to create scenes by providing a composers pack that contains tools for creating a scene and share it with the RjDj community, which allows composers to experiment with this new ‘reactive’ music genre that RjDj is promoting and advocating.

However, the ‘genre’ is in a clearly in a very early stage. For me, using RjDj indeed is a ‘twisting’ hearing sensation, that went beyond synthesizer plug-ins or simple soundboards. It made me excited to think about music in a much less constrained way. Arguably referring to RjDj as an emerging music experience is much more suiting than calling it a new ‘music’ genre.

As our environment has become more influential to the production, consumption and distribution of culture, it is satisfying to notice a movement in the music ecosystem whereby the issues surrounding ‘intellectual property rights’ simply tend to fade and music experiences that are being created by the use new media technologies can be ‘fun’ again.

“Join the augmented music revolution”!

Visit the Rjdj website
Download the free RjDj iPhone application
Listen to a recording that I’ve uploaded

[1] Rob van Kranenburg. The Internet of Things: A Critique of Ambient Technology and the All-Seeing Network of RFID. Amsterdam: INC, 2007
[2] RjDj, What the heck is RjDj?

The Habermasian implications of the Twittersphere

Blogosphere’, ‘Twittersphere’, ‘Afrosphere’. We’re gradually getting used to a new media terminology whereby we quickly refer to new communication spaces and specified fields as ‘spheres’. As the Twittersphere is still rapidly growing, we might want to look back at Habermas’ classic concept of the ‘public sphere’, which was one of the earliest common ‘spheres’ to refer to.

Twitter, the insanely popular micro-blogging service, which makes it possible to reach every other user in real time with short message of 140 characters, can be seen as a new powerful way of many-to-many communication. It promptly sends out your message to the world, you’re given a voice, others can ‘raise’ your voice by ‘retweeting’, in other words repeating your message in their own user-network  and your messages can reach anyone who enters corresponding words in their Twitter-search query. Twitter is part public, and part private. What does it imply, when we compare the Twittersphere to Habermas’ public sphere?

Public sphere
Jürgen Habermas, is a German philosopher and sociologist that’s well known for his work on the concept of the public sphere in ‘The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere’, which was originally written in 1962. Habermas defined the public sphere itself as a place where the private bourgeoisies come together and form a public to discuss, engage in critical-rational-debate and form a public opinion[1]. In the eighteenth century economical developments had a lot of influence on the (reading) bourgeoisies in Great Britain, France and Germany. They started to come together in coffee houses and salons to reason in rational-critical-debate and moved discussions about literature and art from their private environments to public places. This revealed their importance to the decision making of power state in the eighteenth century, while in the nineteenth century their separate discussions and debates became institutionalized within the European bourgeois constitutional states. The public sphere was important to generate critical discourse that influenced political actions of the state [2].

“In its clash with the arcane and bureaucratic practices of the absolutist state, the emergent bourgeoisie gradually replaced a public sphere in which the ruler’s power was merely represented before the people with a sphere in which state authority was publicly monitored through informed and critical discourse by the people” [3].

Contempory relevance
Although the bourgeois public sphere in its contemporary form wasn’t everlasting, as the state and society became more merged over time [4], the concept of the public sphere still remains a relevant paradigm when looking at new digital spheres were people come together. The twittersphere, for that matter has some interesting similarities to Habermas’ concept of the public sphere. Twitter is a public place that’s outside of the control by the state, it allows individuals to exchange views and knowledge, also allow individuals to share critical points of view, and finally is a space were public-minded rational consensus can be developed.

A very recent example is the quick response to a new policy plan from Buma/Stemra. On the 1st of October Buma/Stemra, two Dutch private organizations that collect and distribute remunerations for Dutch music artist, revealed their plan for fining Dutch bloggers who embed copyrighted music(videos). As a result a lot of users on Twitter started posting furious reactions, which later resulted in a petition, a crowd-sourced letter and ultimately a statement against Buma/Stemra’s plan by the political party CDA [5]. This example shows that the Twittersphere can act as a public sphere where contemporary critical discourse can rapidly emerge and influence political action. However, no final decision to reject or refine the plan has been made.

It’s also important to note that Habermas’ concept of the public sphere also received a lot of criticism. There are people who argue that the public sphere, a place for pure rational independent debate, never really existed [4]. The ‘public’ will never be accessible to ‘everyone’. In that respect, Twitter doesn’t come close. There are still people who don’t use Twitter, people who cannot use it because of the digital divide, and people who keep their tweets private. Then again, the Twittersphere is a unique sphere that surely can remotely influence political actions by users who elaborate their view and knowledge to a large public, and form a public opinion. But is the Twittersphere really a suitable place for debating?

Twitter might quickly pick up public discourses, for example in the Buma/Stemra case, but in terms of debating, Buma/Stemra’s absence on Twitter shows that the real debate on the subject is going to take place elsewhere. Twitter is probably more suited to amplify discourses by any individual who can make aphoristic statements about particular themes: Short original subjective or observational thoughts which are easy to remember [6]. These aphorisms can be retweeted a lot and thereby reach a greater amount of people. This can lead to a community with the same opinion. However, I’d argue that the Twittersphere is actually limited for critical independent debate because of its swift, short messages, which don’t allow greater reasoning. Besides, when a public opinion is formed, it’s fragmented (on Twitter itself) which makes it more difficult to respond centrally if you don’t agree with it.

Twitter marks the digital era where we can all use our voices to reach the (Twitter) public with our views and knowledge and thereby engage in contemporary discourses, which might eventually influence political action. However, not everyone is on Twitter or committed to such endeavors; Twitter obviously can be used in many ways. Then again Twitter does bring together a large amount of people with the same interests and therefore makes it possible to generate a group of people surrounding a particular concern. However, Twitter is more suitable to amplify public debate then hosting the debate itself. The concept of Habermas’ public sphere may seem outdated, but it surely has left its traces in new media spheres like the Twittersphere. It’ll be interesting to keep track of the influence of Twittersphere on contemporary discourses in society and political actions. In the (near) future it might be possible that this spherical influence of Twitter will be applied in a more fixed way.

[3] The structural transformation of the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas, 1991

Review of Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright – Lucas Hilderbrand

In his latest book: Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape (2009) Lucas Hilderbrand explores the analog past of video nostalgically, and shows its importance and relevance to (new) media studies. Hilderbrand mainly focuses on the aesthetic, cultural and legal impact of the analog videotape era to create a refreshing view of the analog past’s heritage to the digital age.

The first chapter describes the industrial, legal and cultural history of videotape. It revolves around the desire of access, what he terms ‘aesthetics of access’. The second chapter offers case three studies, which is followed by an epilogue about YouTube.

The new media ‘revolution’ obviously didn’t start with the Internet; it started a long time ago with video. When analog videotape and VCRs were introduced and marketed to consumers in the seventies, they were able to record every television show they wanted, watch it later (called timeshifting), skip the commercials and more importantly create a bootleg. Although there were a lot of U.S. court cases in which the recording without permission from the rights owner was questioned, analog video had loose regulations.

Hilderbrand often refers to the famous Betamax case, in which Universal and Disney sued Sony for selling copyright infringing technology. Courts’ decision resulted in the existence the Fair Use policy, whereby timeshifting was considered to be a fair use. Sony couldn’t be held responsible for the inappropriate use of their machines.

Hilderbrand argues that the ‘fair use’ policy emerged from the consumers’ right to access, which over time turned into a defense for infringing copyright. Instead, according to Hilderbrand ‘fair use’ should be considered as a way to document history, personalize texts (audio/visual narratives) and distribute rare works. The way the audience accessed, altered and watched analog video should support this idea.

In the eighties Hollywood, bootleggers and the pornographic industry had discovered the potential benefits of VHS. Hollywood founded a new market instead of turning against it, bootleggers copied and distributed rare works and pornography was a widespread phenomenon.

Bootlegging a videotape isn’t just duplicating video. Hilderbrand argues there’s an aesthetic value added. With each bootleg, the audience becomes aware of its degeneration. Lines and glitches appear, the image can become blurred and the sound can change. This contributes to the video experience and can make it more personal. This is what Hilderbrand means by ‘personalizing text’.

Personally, I would have like it if Hilderbrand had addressed ‘remixing’ more clearly, not especially in the context of ‘personalized text’, but rather throughout the whole book. When I read that some VCRs had the possibility (through dubbing) to add a different soundtrack to the videotape, I coulnd’t help to relate it to the personalized music videos that today are everywhere on the web. In the digital age we’re almost constantly personalizing texts. While perhaps not mentioning remixing enough, Hilderbrand does however mention Creative Commons, but not necessarily as a fair alternative to Copyright when it comes to ‘personalizing’ texts.

He does illustrates ‘personalized text’ itself by using two splendid examples: A short experimental movie called Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1989) and Joanie 4 Jackie (Miranda July – 1995), which is a feminist tape-sharing network.

Hayne’s Superstar is a film where the pop star Karen Carpenter is portrayed as a miserable anorectic Barbie doll that is influenced by “the media”, and contains the soundtrack by Richard Carpenter. Consider it a cult classic. It has been popular for being ‘banned’ due to the use of unauthorized material and for the way it circulated in the audience.

In both examples video tapes were being bootlegged, altered and distributed. However, the Joanie 4 Jackie project made it possible to share and deal with interconnected issues. Joanie 4 Jackie was a project in which women distributed chain letter video tapes in their network, adding footage to it when they receive the videotapes. While the Joanie 4 Jackie project ran in a determined social network, Superstar was distributed through personal connections. It could appear anywhere, in any altered version. Both case studies illustrate how the access to video has changed. Viewers turned into users of video.

The third case study (which is the first one in the book) is about the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. The VTNA was founded in 1968 by Paul Simpson. He approached the Vanderbilt University with the idea that he wanted to archive the news from ABC, CBS and NBC. CBS sued him for copyright infringement while the VTNA was part of their organization. However, eventually it was considered as an archive worth to preserve. It is a remarkable initiative that shows need to preserve cultural (video) history. Today the archive digitally still isn’t fully available to everyone.

Digital video as opposed to analog videotape has often more restrictions and more levels of mediation; videos might be locked with a DRM technology or are uploaded to the web from a mobile device and lose quality through compression. In the epilogue Hilderbrand analyses digital video on the post-broadcasting community website YouTube. He thinks YouTube is important for replaying pop-culture memory, but it’s limited, because of its fleeting access; video can disappear fast when the copyright owners has asked to take it down. It remains a matter of time and control.

Hilderbrand concludes that copyright should serve the public good; instead of using copy-prevention strategies for market purposes, we should look for a fair way to archive and preserve media. Copyright namely endangers the preservation of cultural memory.

Inherent Vice is an interesting read for everyone who’s involved with (new) media studies; it reminded me to be aware of mediation, the possible differences in accessing media, the aesthetic value of a format and the importance of the preservation of cultural memory. First I focused more on the music industry when I studied copyright’s survival, but now video tape has opened my eyes to an important history that could possibly change the future access to media content.

Lucas Hilderbrand is Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Irvine.

Hilderbrand, Lucas ‘Inherent Vice: Bootleg Histories of Videotape and Copyright’, Duke University Press, 2009

Official book page at Duke University Press
Interview with Lucas Hilderband by
watch: Superstar: a Karen Carpenter Story
Joanie 4 Jackie
Vanderbilt Television News Archive

About Me

Marc Stumpel is a new media researcher, blogger and producer.

He holds a MA degree in New Media and Culture from the University of Amsterdam (2009-2010).

His main research interest is the antagonism within the political and economic dimensions of digital culture, especially in relation to social media.

Being a privacy/user-control advocate, he is concerned with the development of alternative social networking spaces and techniques. He is involved in the FB Resistance project and has written his master’s dissertation the Politics of Social Media, focussing on control and resistance in relation to Facebook.

He also holds the degree: Bachelor of Communication & Multimedia Design, Business & Organization Interactive Media at the Hogeschool van Amsterdam, specialization project management (2005-2009).

Marc is also a musician and producer under the alias of Zuurstof.