Val Wilmer said an interesting thing...

I heard a program about Val Wilmer, an English jazz journalist who knew all the greats. She made an interesting point: In the last hundred years black music and cinema are the two art forms which changed the world more than any other. Without black music...

...there'd be no Beatles, Kinks, Rolling Stones or Elvis Presely, and all that followed. And maybe without black music there'd be more racism.

What ever Tacita Dean says about how important Cy Twombly's handwriting is for art...

...she's speaking to a navel gazing elite. Neither Dean non Twombli will be remembered in another hundred years. But I bet the musicians above are.

(And the critics gush and fawn on Dean, Twombli, Kapoor, Cross, and their ilk, without ever seeming to understand anything real.)


"You are either the programmer or the programmed" - said the fool.

The Radio Three Documentary often has interesting podcasts which I listen to as I drive to and from work. But sometimes I want to throw my MP3 player out of the car window at the things they say. Such was the case with "Sunday Feature: Select Copy Paste 3 partsConception". It is about using technology in art, and how it affects the artist.

One of the first to be interviewed was Holly Hendon who pointed out something that I've thought for a long time. Traditional blown, plucked, hit, instruments are very limited in the sounds they can make, and it takes ages to learn how to blow pluck and hit them. But the computer has an infinite variety of sounds which you can get to use without having to learn how to blow, pluck and hit. 

Unfortunately, from the extracts in the program, the music (the sounds) Holly creates with the computer are not great. They avoid cliche but they also avoid being listenable music.

She said that she "exposes what is happening in society" like this. Pointless. Waffle.

Another interviewee said: "You have to look at something again and again and again until you find the thing it wants to tell you." What does any inanimate object want to tell us? Nothing. More. Pointless. Waffle.

A lot of the excerpts from electronic music compositions sounded like they were fun to make and horrible and/or boring to listen to. A bit like contemporary poetry or free jazz. 
And here's the fool's idea: "Real artists mix their own paint. It's crucial! If you don't mix your own paint you don't know what the paint is capable of..." James Brydel. "I've been on the internet since I was 12 years old." Well bully for you. "Everything I do is kinda filtered through that lens." So, like, you've already limited yourself by having a filter. "Word is open on top of Firefox, so like the manuscript of the book is literally layered on top of the flows of information on the Internet." WTF is he talking about? And "this is a very digital process of thought." It's not, he thinks in an analog mode like all of us. Such waffle. And by the way he likes to confuse self driving cars. Ah.

Brydel says we cannot understand why AI does what it does. And then contradicts himself to say unless you are engaged in writing that code you can't have a "strong philosphical position on how it works." Eh?

Hmm. One of the features/problems of artificial neural networks is that you cannot analyse them to understand why they come to certain decision. Artificial neural networks are trained, not written.

The presenter was Clemency Burton-Hill, who should have known better than to say some of the things she said. She "has always been fascinated by the creative process". But you need a bit more discipline than "WOW!" when you're making a program about technology and the creative process.

Holly Herndon "We have new emotions and new feelings which weren't possible before this new technology or the new ways we're connected with each other." What an idiotic thing to say. Stupid. Could she name or describe one of these new emotions? Or is it an old emotion? "We need to find new art forms to express that and all those things need to be developed." That's a lot of needyness Holly. 

And then she quoted Doug Rushcroft "Program or be programmed."

"If you are not the programmer you are one of the programmed." Another &%$£ing stupid thing to say. Trump, Putin, Xi Jinping are all computer programmers, otherwise how could they have so much power? So, humm. How can you control the computer if you don't control the compiler? (The compiler is the software which changes human readable text into computer zeroes and ones.) Following Rushcroft's logic you need to write the compiler as well as a write the program. And build the computer. And only then will you be a complete artist.

And Clemency Burton-Hill did not comment on the fact that she did not make her own violin. Blinded by WOW! again?
This is a confedracy of dunces. Do they get paid for this fluff?

Then we hear some piano music composed by AIVA (Artificial Intelligence Virtual Artist) which sounded to me pretty good. It is the first non-human to be given the official status of composer a the leading French publishing association. But Clemensy Burton-Hill  criticises it, almost the only time she criticises anything. "The technology might be terribly clever but I don't know, there's something that sounds just off".

But she knew it was composed by a program before she judged it. She has not done a blind test. The sort of blind test which ends up giving women more of a chance in classical music than they used to have. 

No doubt male orchestra condutctors choose male musicians because, though the women were "terribly clever", they just sounded "off." And that phrase "terribly clever"...talking down to the poor uncultured technicians, they are not intelligent, pushing boundaries, incredibly imaginative, just "terribly clever". 

And of course not one of these ego filled intellectual/tecnological artists commented on what sort of art would come out of an artificial conciousness. They all want to be personally at the center, they want to be the heroes of the artistic revolution. And they reminded me of the bloke 200 years ago who said that hot air balloons would be good for lightning the load of horse drawn carriages, ignorning the fact that you can actaully fly in a baloon.



Death In The Bank (La morte in banca)

I'm reading "La morte in banca"by Giuseppe Pontiggia. It is set in 1950s Italy and is about a 17 year old who gets a job at a bank, but who really wants to study literature at university.

I won't spoil the plot for you, but one scene struck me. A roomful of people all working on mechanical adding machines. And I thought that in some ways not much has changed. As far as I can make out at least 50% of all people in all the offices in all the world are copying columns of numbers from one Excel sheet to another Excel sheet. Excel is silent compared with a mechanical adding machine, but I imagine the expressions on the faces of the operators are much the same.

And how many people use Excel as a database!? They think: "Excel has a lot of tables, databases have a lot of tables, therefore Excel is a database". Excel is a brilliant calculator, but a godawful error-prone inefficient "database." 

The problem with Excel is that you can start using it from day one, no thought required. And the road to hell leads on from there.


There are only two real mysteries.

There are only two real mysteries in the universe.

Mystery Number One: Why is there something and not nothing?
Mystery Number Two: How come we are concious, what is concousness, how come we think?

All the other mysteries are sub-mysteries, and depend on these first two.

Slightly connected,  a poem by the Persian poet Hafez (1326 -1389):

I wish I could show you, 
when you are lonely or in the darkness, 
the astonishing light of your own being.



Come with me, learn the truth.

I used to drink Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey:

Now I drink Bush Mills Irish Whiskey.

For some reason Tullamore Dew is no longer available in one of the biggest supermarkest in Italy. But Bushmills is:

One Summer evening, when it was too too hot to sleep, I stood on the balcony and looked towards the horizon. A few stars were visible, but the horizon was too bright too see many. And to my right, to the south, huge clouds climbed into the sky. The shapely bumpy gigantic clouds which I like and which I could go to sleep on. They were dark, because it was night, but they were not grey. So it was a dark white, not a grey, which piled up hugely into the sky.

And in these clouds were flashes of lightening, but no thunder. Presumably they were so far away, as if constellations, that no sound reached me on the balcony. And since there was no thunder I knew that our cat, outside somewhere, would not be frightened.

I remembered that one evening we came back late from a dinner. The cat was sitting underneath a hedge looking at us, in the dark. And he said to me:

"Come with me, learn them truth."

At least that is what I thought he said, it was hard to understand his speech. He turned and disappeared into the night. I could not follow.

I don't actually drink the whiskey. I sort of let it rest on my tongue and evaporate into my mouth. Then I breathe in.


The jewels in our collections...

I discovered three "old" things which made me think that maybe I should have a careful look at my book and CD collections rather than ordering the latest thing from Amazon.

A few weeks ago I came across a very old CD, "The Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart. I bought it in the 1980s I think. I had a vague idea that he is/was(?) a one hit wonder ("The Year of the Cat" single), but I listened to the whole album, and it is all good. (There were none of the, er, crappy lyrics which pass for songs these days.)

And in the same week, not knowing what to order from Amazon to read, I picked up my old copy of "The Collected Dorothy Parker". The stories seem a bit dated now, but I read with glee her book reviews, which are mostly scathing sideways attacks on poorly written books and bad authors. And it did not matter that I had not heard of the books she mentioned, I just enjoyed her put-downs.

And finally, I re-read a book I'd read about eight years ago, "Yellow Blue Tibia", by Adam Roberts. I remember enjoying it when I first read it, and could very vaguely remember the story. But when I started I was hooked again, within a few pages. It is not just a great and strange novel, but it is also full of laugh out loud passages. For example, two Russians are talking:

  "I suffer from a syndrome..."
  "Syndrome, syndrome, syndrome. Do you know the English name for your syndrome? 'Fuckwittery'."
  "Really? I have come across American studies of my syndrome and have never yet heard it so described. Is Fuckwitter the name perhaps of the doctor who..."

Next time I get the urge to "just browse" on Amazon, maybe I should just browse through the stuff I already own...


What if the shrink is more stupid than you are?

I heard an interview with a British screenwriter a month or so ago (I can't remember his name, the interview was on one of the BBC R4 Front Row podcasts). One of the things he said made me laugh out loud. He suffers from clinical depression. (No it wasn't that that made me laugh.) And he explained that he had tried everything, drugs and talking therapies, the lot. Nothing worked very much.

The problem with talking therapies, he said, was that you have to find a therapist at the very least as intelligent as yourself, and hopefully more intelligent than yourself. Otherwise, how on earth can you take the therapy seriously?

And the problem was that in twenty years he had not found a single good therapist. He was not saying, I think, that he was particularly intelligent, but that with, for example, 165,000 licensed therapists in the USA the average level is going to be pretty average. I mean, are all 165,000 brighter than their patients?

You may find a medical doctor or a mechanic, more or less intelligent than yourself, but if they have experience then they can probably do the job well. But what to do with a stupid therapist? The job is too hard and too delicate to be left to the average intelligence.

I met, not so many years ago, a psychotherapist who said that the "Fridge Mother" theory of autism could be true. As if the person had never heard of Uta Frith's work. If I ever need help in that direction I'll know not to go to that particular doctor.