Sunday, August 30, 2015

Up Periscope

by Drew Martin
A couple years ago I looked into the url availability of periscope for a cartoon I did about a submarine but is used by a creative agency. My favorite social media app now is Periscope at, which uses the .tv domain country code of Tuvalu that the company dotTV operates and is 20% owned by the country.

Periscope, if you have not been on it, is a live video streaming app purchased by Twitter for $100ish million in March 2015. 
Ironically, despite the big purchase @periscope is still the Twitter handle for the agency, with @periscopetv for the app.

My first encounter with Periscope was last week at an app meetup party on the rooftop Monarch in Midtown Manhattan for The Vane fashion/weather app and the TWIP like-minded peple travel app. I was there as the UX/UI designer for another app that is being developed. Covering the scene was Vicki Winters (@MyBigFatMouth), a youthful 58-year-old scoper with unbound energy who never missed a beat.

Later that night I stripped the replay video of us from Periscope and checked out the app. The possibilities and functionality of Periscope make other apps such as Snapchat look like old typewriters. At any moment you can scan the world for who is broadcasting and you can text-comment on the live video and tap the screen of your phone to send hearts to the scoper, which appear in the color of an overlay on your profile picture during the broadcast. There are never more than a couple dozen broadcasts going on from each continent at any one time so it is pretty easy to manage the world view. Additionally, the zoom function is pretty smart by how it shows the number of broadcasts in a region but then splits up into more specific places as you zoom in.

You can follow a scoper, and are alerted when they start their broadcast. The US and Brazil have the most live broadcasts from the Americas (Canada is almost nonexistent) and several countries in Europe are using it. Surprisingly, there is a big turnout in Russia, Turkey and the Arabian Peninsula.

Unfortunately most of the broadcasts from the farther flung regions are just a person, typically a young woman, staring at the screen while men swarm in, like spermatozoa around an unfertilized egg. They text lewd things, the most innocent of which is the hilariously bad English command, open boobs, in hopes that the lady with flash the phone camera. The goodnight broadcasts of young women get the most ogling eyes. One that I watched last night of a naked-ish Swedish woman under her duvet saw viewers go from 0 to 1.6K + in a matter of seconds. That being said, n
o matter how mindless a broadcast, seeing someone's kitchen or bedroom in Baku or Astana is still fascinating.

After watching a lot of crap, I realized that Vicki Winters was really on it and I am glad she introduced me to Periscope. Perhaps the app will wallow in the more senseless broadcasts but there are a few that I watched that caught my eye. One of the more casual broadcasts that I really liked was by Christian Tido, a college student out of Cameroon, who claims the broadcast I tuned in to was the first Periscope feed out of Africa. He and his friend, a cool young lady, fielded questions and endured silly comments as they looked out over his balcony to a nice neighborhood, and gave a brief tour of his house (upon my request). 

Periscope, because it is owned by Twitter, uses your Twitter ID. Christian's profile @tidochrys has the tagline "Hey, let's just all share the same eye!" followed by a little, Africa-prominent world emoji.

By far the scoper that I absolutely love the most and think is the best one out there in terms of the give and take is an early 30's American woman, Lauren, from Scottsdale, Arizona who has been living in Japan for the past 11 years as a high school English teacher. She shares a small flat in Yokohama with her Japanese husband Ryuji, two dogs and a cat. Lauren (JPUS Lauren USJP @starkodama) has been broadcasting regularly for the past month. Sometimes she gives Japanese lessons (her Japanese is excellent) or she might just spend the time talking about a subject such as HULU in Japan. There are also shorter broadcasts where she will take a walk around her neighborhood or let us join her as she walks to meet Ryuji after work. My favorite broadcasts (I have only seen two of this type - the first of which got me hooked) is where Ryuji sits off to the side with a dry erase board while Lauren fields requests from the viewers of what he should draw. Their chemistry is great, and the drawings are laugh-out-loud funny.

Aside from the topics and personality of Lauren's broadcasts, what I like most is her dexterity with the medium and the new talent it requires, which is all about covering her theme while constantly and cheerfully greeting the viewers as they join, and commenting on the rapid-fire texts that pop up. She is a pro at engaging the viewer and diffusing any erotic comments with her quick wit that turns the poke into a joke. That being said, she has the most respectful group of followers I have ever seen. 

On one broadcast Lauren calls Jiro (of Jiro Dreams of Sushian asshat for misogynistic comments he has made (like he does not hire women because their hands are too hot and also they cannot properly taste sushi when they are menstruating - which Lauren jokes that her hands are always cold, and that Jiro's own taste must be affected by his heavy smoking). A minute later she complains that she wants to take off her sweater but that her tank top underneath is too boobiliscious. With a viewer's suggestion, she titles the following broadcast #boobilisciousasshat.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

In the Moog for Electronic Music

by Drew Martin
Earlier today, in a little more than an hour and a half, I got caught up on four decades of electronic music and the history of the modular synthesizer by watching the documentary I Dream of Wires. As a story of differing East Coast vs West Coast approaches to a topic, this is as good as it gets.

The modular synthesizer was born in the sixties on both sides of the United States, and was quickly divided between the East Coast Philosophy and the West Coast Philosophy. The East Coast synthesizer, developed by Bob Moog uses a traditional keyboard, which appealed to the music industry 
because it was familiar, stabile, and could play Western scale notes

The West Coast synthesizer, developed by Don Buchla, was keyboardless and sought to redefine how music was approached and performed. It was based on metric loops in sequence, potentially forever. This experimental approach to music had a broader social context because "nonconformism and music go together" and it sought to avoid "the rules and suits and ties of the East coast." But those rules "listened to the client base of professional musicians and was ultimately able to deliver a relatively reliable product to the marketplace."

This next passage is acoustically over my head, but it sounds great...and maybe that's because the early Buchla has a red panel that was allegedly dipped in LSD so the person using it could lick it to get some inspiration:

With an East Coast Philosophy system you find rich waveforms, like saw, square, pulse, noise - harmonic rich waveforms to start with and then a big fat four pole filter to get rid of harmonics and sweep the resonance around to create the temporal shifts, to make the sounds more interesting.

In a Buchla you find oscillators that have waveshapers, but very simple filters after them. In most patches in a West Coast synthesizer, there isn't even really filtering going on. If you want to create the harmonic interest in the sound, you have to use the waveshaper. You have a sine wave that's been folded over on top of itself a bunch of times to create something really dense. It's like a completely different way at looking at synthesis. It's not subtractive synthesis in the traditional sense. There's a certain sound quality it gets that is totally unique, and it's just not possible to do it on any other system.

The documentary is about the success of the Moog system over the Buchla system, the abandonment of the modular synthesizers due to the introduction/competition of smaller, lighter, cheaper synthesizers with presets, and then the eventual return of these analog electronic systems through Acid House music and continuation in this era of "an explosion of ideas."

The return of the modular synthesizer is met with great optimism as one of the interviewed subjects explains...

I think as human beings we have a lot more fun than we'd like to acknowledge. It is fun. It's fun to make cities, automobiles, musical instruments, and huge sound systems. And we do a lot of things just for the pure pleasure of it. When generations listen to previous generations' manifestions, they want to get involved too. They want to dance with it, use it. And I think every generation ought be be absolutely ruthless about stealing the best of everything from previous generations. It's their duty, they have to do it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Knew Museum

by Drew Martin
If the museums you once knew as unhurried and contemplative spaces now feel overrun by shows for mass appeal and back-to-back events vying for social media attention, then I have a suggestion for how to slow down time and recapture the reflective mood from a bygone era.

When you go to a museum, bring along a drawing pad, some pencils and an eraser, and perhaps pens and markers. Find a work of art on which you would like to fixate, which is not in a high traffic area. Then tune out everyone around you as well as the other works and draw until your heart is content. Not only will this expand your time, but you will get to know the work much more intimately by having to interpret it on your two dimensional white page.

My daughter recently asked that we go to the American Museum of Natural History in New York so she could draw a skeleton of a small bird. While she was busy doing that (actually it was a snake skeleton), I went down to a corner of the South America exhibit and drew designs from the pre-Columbian/pre-Incan Chimu people of the Moche Valley, which is now in Peru. One of the designs, shown here with some added text, is pinned to my sons' bedroom wall and awaits their arrival from a month-long trip abroad.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Art of Peace Versus the Art of Conflict

by Drew Martin
After painting a mural on an outside wall of my house last night, an act which included me toppling off my makeshift scaffolding several times (once with a quart of bright blue paint comically falling down on top of me after I landed on my bum) I washed up and looked for good documentary to watch while I did some ironing.

A movie about murals naturally caught my eye: The Art of Conflict: The Murals of Northern Ireland. It is an excellent documentary, and surprisingly by Vince Vaughn and his sister Valeri Vaughn. I loved this film for its eye-opening look at a conflict I grew up hearing about, which the Vaughns guide us through by taking an upclose look at dozens of murals painted by both protestant unionists/loyalists (to England) and the Irish catholic nationalists/republicans. The endless clashes such as "Bloody Sunday" and "Bloody Friday" embroiled British troops, loyalist paramilitary groups, the Irish nationalist IRA, and many civilians. In total, more than 3,500 people were killed in shootings and bombings.

The republican murals more often than not work as a form of journalism that document their own sufferings through the events (even though they took more lives in Northern Ireland and in England then the combined toll of the British troops and loyalist paramilitary groups), while the loyalists painted their murals as memorials to their own who died as a result of the clashes, or as an aggressive show of force such as the one displayed here that reads, Prepared for Peace, Ready for War.

Whether or not you like the content and style of the artwork, you have to marvel at the ubiquity of the murals, the attention-grabbing colors and themes, and the sheer effort: these are not simply tagged walls with a few cans of spray paint, but well-planned and well-supplied efforts, complete with the proper construction scaffolding I could have used yesterday.

One thing that was really surprising was the detail of internment of the republicans and the arrest and imprisonment of both republicans and loyalists. While the side-by-side communities rarely mixed and kept their ways separate through segregation of schools and all other social functions, those arrested for crimes on both sides were integrated behind bars. This recipe for disaster is actually what led to peace talks.

The imprisonment of IRA-associated republicans led to the "Blanket Protest" and the "Dirty Protest." The Blanket Protest was when the new inmates refused to put on the prison uniform because they claimed they were not criminals but rather political prisoners so they walked around naked, and then started wearing blankets for clothing. This was followed by the Dirty Protest, which is when they smeared the walls of their cells with their own feces. Shown below are two inmates wearing blankets surrounded by such walls.

One of the recurring themes in the loyalist murals is the Red Hand of Ulster, as pictured second from top. It is less-commonly referred to as the Red Hand of O'Neill. More often, it is treated more stylistically as a blood-red, palm-facing-forward open right hand but this example is more telling of the story: back in pagan times the Kingdom of Ulster had no rightful heir so a boat race would determine the next ruler. The first "hand" to touch Ireland would be king. One of the losing contestants decided to cut off his hand and throw it ashore to beat out the leader. It is a myth the loyalist hold dear to in order to stake their claim of the region.

The movie ends on a very interesting note: what to do with the inflammatory images? While they were never meant to be lasting, since even during the conflict they were constantly changing. A final montage shows the before and after shots of the sides of buildings used for the murals with the conflict-based images, painted over with new, benign themes.

A Long Haul for Andy Warhol

by Drew Martin
The Warhol in Pittsburgh is a great collection of paintings, drawings, film and video, and sculpture (Brillo boxes and floating, silver rectangular clouds) by America’s most iconic artist, Andy Warhol. It’s worth the trip; in my case – a three-day, 800-mile road trip through the Appalachian Mountains, which cradle this scenic stretch of Route 80. 

My daughter, Olympia, and I visited The Warhol the weekend before his birthday. I had not given much thought to what the museum building might look like; perhaps a giant tomato soup can, or a big silver factory. It is, in fact, in a semi-ornate Beaux Arts edifice built in 1911 for the Frick and Lindsay Company, which dealt in oil well, mill and mine supplies. 

The kitty-corner parking lot attendant’s booth is more of what I had in mind: decorated in the style of a Brillo box. The seven stories of galleries in the museum house some of Warhol’s largest works but the enormous canvases are nicely balanced by much more intimate drawings. 

The museum and the trip made me think less specifically about pop/modern/contemporary art, and more broadly about the distances we travel to fulfill our cultural needs. It is essential to travel to museums and other countries in order to take in what they have to offer, and as an artist, it is important to make your own life and surroundings a cultural oasis.