Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rock On, John!

In my last post, I mentioned John Lennon in passing, and that reminded me that he was also mentioned in passing in the moving new song by my friend John Watts, aka Fischer-Z, which I thought I'd share here. But first, a warning, there is "strong language" as it's euphemistically stated in parental advisory messages, which is to say that the song contains what is commonly considered a curse word, a fairly common one in the English language, here used to make a strong statement I might add.

Anyway, the video is over on YouTube under the title of L.U.T.W. with love & peace, and obviously the initials were needed because spelling out the "F" word would probably spell doom for the video. So, here it is:

And again, warning, warning (add "Will Robinson" here if you are of a certain age and remember the old Lost in Space TV program), because here are the lyrics which again include strong language:

I've had enough of this
I can't sit back and watch this go on any more
Mothers are crying children are dying people are lying lying and you know what?
Jesus and Mohammed never meant this...

People are so hung up on reporting what they call the news
and sending it in pictures around the world in to get 'views'
They support their position and call it the truth
We are becoming a world of voyeurs and ghouls..
We are becoming a world of voyeurs and ghouls..

No politician no general no army and no multinational party
Can put a stop to the escalation of this desperate situation.
There is no victory... the cost is inhuman
It's an insurmountable problem
Made by them, and with them and of them.
Till the forces of love can amalgam
We must love one another or die-
love one another or die

Once upon a time there was an angry man from Liverpool
Who was prepared to get naked and make himself vulnerable.
Prepared to go on the world's front pages
To hammer home an important message...
‘Love is all we need’ never changes.

The news is rolling in 24-hours a day
it's virtually unavoidable
Searching for the next big big atrocity
Racing International

Fuddy-duddy Old school national news
struggle with the blogger,blogger propaganda views
Vengeance by the smartphone, hatred travels fast -
fascism and fatwas...
All fall down
Down from the mountain

10 years and countin’
Life’s endless fountain

International thought police struggle hopelessly
with the Internet Leviathan
Squeezes all the life out of truth & honesty
Within minutes… sometimes seconds

Governments and nations are knee-jerk to respond
to the fast unfolding media
Losing their perspective, Best interests slide & fall
Political Amnesia

All fall down
Down from the mountain

10 years and countin’
Life’s endless fountain

This is is no answer
Nothing is changing
it’s just rearranging this generation
The culture of self

Beyond everything else
Beyond ideals and dreamers... and innocent screamers
The Message is hatred
The message is terror
The Message is fear

For ever and ever
Fear begets aggression
Aggression begets conflict
Conflict begets pain, suffering and death.

And while I'm on the subject of John Lennon, I have to say that I was really moved by Bob Dylan's song, "Roll on John," from his outstanding 2012 album, Tempest. If you haven't heard it, here, give a listen:

I would assume that many of you have given up on Dylan a long time ago, but Tempest really is one of his best albums, at least of his post-60s work, up there with Blood on the Tracks in my opinion.

And here are the lyrics for "Roll on John":

Doctor, doctor, tell me the time of day
Another bottle's empty
Another penny spent
He turned around and he slowly walked away
They shot him in the back and down he went

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

From the Liverpool docks to the red light Hamburg streets
Down in the quarry with the Quarrymen.
Playing to the big crowds
Playing to the cheap seats
Another day in your life on your way to your journey’s end

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

Sailing through the trade winds bound for the sun
Rags on your back just like any other slave
They tied your hands and they clamped your mouth
Wasn’t no way out of that deep dark cave

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

I heard the news today, oh boy
They hauled your ship up on the shore
Now the city’s gone dark
There is no more joy
They tore the heart right out and cut it to the core

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

Put on your bags and get ‘em packed
Leave right now you won’t be far from wrong
The sooner you go, the quicker you’ll be back
You've been cooped up on an island far too long

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

Slow down you’re moving way too fast
Come together right now over me
Your bones are weary you’re about to breathe your last
Lord, you know how hard that it can be

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

Roll on John, roll through the rain and snow
Take the right hand road and go where the buffalo roam
They’ll trap you in an ambush before you know
Too late now to sail back home

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

Tiger, Tiger burning bright
I pray the lord my soul to keep
In the forest of the night
Cover him over and let him sleep

Shine your light,
Move it on,
You burned so bright,
Roll on John

An interesting side note, at least interesting to me, is that the title of the song is almost the same as the title of a folk song Dylan sang back in 1962, before he went electric, "Roll On, John" (note the older title has a comma, while the John Lennon tribute doesn't, and yes, punctuation does make a difference).

Me, I like the one with the comma better...

So, let's lift a glass to Bob and the two Johns, rock and roll on, with love and peace, and let's repair the world!

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Brief Post About Conceptual Art

So, I don't claim to be an expert on art, but I know what I like, at least some of the time. Now, in my last post, Maelström and Vortex, I mentioned the Vorticism movement in modern art, which Marshall McLuhan was particularly keen on. So, another movement in modern art that also influenced McLuhan, and that he influenced in turn, is called Conceptualism, otherwise known as conceptual art. Its origins can be traced back to Marcel Duchamp's 1917 work, entitled Fountain:

And if you're thinking, that's not art, that a urinal, well, yeah, that's it, you've got the concept. And you know, McLuhan did say that art is anything you can get away with

So, conceptualism is in some ways diametrically opposed to formalism in modern art, formalism being art that is about the form itself, which is to say about the medium itself, for example painting that is all about the paint and the canvas. And formalism would seem to be very much in line with McLuhan and media ecology, as the modern artist Fernand Léger expresses in the essay he wrote for the Explorations journal edited by McLuhan and Edmund Carpenter during the 1950s, entitled "Pure Color" and here are a few excerpts from that piece:

Until the pictorial realization by the painters of the last fifty years, color or tone was fast bound to an object: a dress, body, flower, landscape had the task of wearing color.

To make use of color without reservation, the wall had to be freed to become an experimental field. Color had to be got out, extricated, isolated from the objects in which it had been kept prisoner. ...

Modern publicity first understood the importance of this new value: pure tone ran away from paintings, took possession of roads, and transformed the landscape! New abstract signals—yellow triangles, blue curves, red rectangles—spread around the motorist to guide him on his way.

Color was the new object, color set free, color the new reality.

So anyway,  formalism was all about the medium without the content, which was brought to the fore as the shift from the old typographic/mechanical media environment to the new electronic media environment made at least some individuals (artists and intellectuals) increasingly more aware of media as media. And in some ways, conceptualism further reflects the new electronic consciousness by moving from pure medium to a dematerialized, ethereal sense of the medium, as in performance art.

And um, yeah, Yoko Ono is considered a conceptual artist, and the photo above is from around the time that she and John Lennon met with McLuhan in Toronto. But years earlier, back in 1965, she was a pioneer of conceptual and performance art:

And while they won't let me embed the video here on this post, please take a look at this short BBC report: Yoko Ono's Cut Piece still shocks. Here's the write up that accompanied the video:

Yoko Ono has been known for her conceptual art long before her music. In 1964 she stunned audiences were her Cut Piece where she sat on a stage and allowed people to cut clothing from her.

Now almost 50 years on she talks to The Culture Show's Miranda Sawyer about the public reaction at the time and what she sought to say through her work and what it means in a more modern context.

So, anyway, this brings me to another conceptual artist, John Baldessari, the subject of a fascinating and really well done little video entitled, A Brief History of John Baldessari, which you can view over on YouTube or right here right now:

Special thanks to my graduate student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Anna Zepp, who is doing a blog on art called Art Around Anna for my Writing for the Internet MA course there, for bringing this video to my attention.

So, what do you think? Is it art? And did he get away with it?

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Maelström and Vortex

Edgar Allan Poe's 1841 short story, "A Descent into the Maelström," anticipates the systems concepts of chaos and complexity, and provided Marshall McLuhan with a vivid metaphor for popular culture, technology, and the modern media environment. It was invoked in McLuhan's first book, The Mechanical Bride, originally published in 1951, and McLuhan would make similar references in his later work. The 2002 documentary, McLuhan's Wake, also drew on the narrative and imagery.

The following YouTube video creatively edits together part of Marshall McLuhan's final lecture with animation featuring Eric McLuhan's reading of the Poe story, all taken from McLuhan's Wake:

It's worth noting that McLuhan was also quite taken with the Vorticism movement in modern art, the leading proponent and practitioner being Wyndham Lewis, and which also significantly involved Ezra Pound, and was associated with the publication of two issues of Blast, a literary magazine.

So, we're talking about art and media married to science and technology, all linked to a revolution in our understanding of time and space, a revolution that in science was associated with Albert Einstein, and in art with Pablo Picasso, both of whom, McLuhan argued, were in their own way responding to the new media and technological environment originating with the 19th century invention of Samuel Morse's electro-magnetic telegraph, and Guglielmo Marconi's wireless.

Now, just to make the connection, let me throw in some computer-generated images associated with the more recently developed science and mathematics of chaos and complexity:

I don't want to go into the specifics of the images here, I just think it's pretty clear how these simulacra are related to the real world phenomena of the maelström and vortex. And all this came to mind when I recently came across the DjSadhu's wonderful video, The helical model - our solar system is a vortex. Here, take a look:

Life is vortex! I love it! And it is so very true. We live on the edge of chaos, as bits of emergent order, animated by the vortex. And while the emphasis here is on the relativity of position in space, and understanding motion, underlying it all is an awareness of time as the fundamental factor, the basic dimension, of existence. A vortex or maelström is a timespace phenomenon.

So, even with that understanding, the solar system is taken out of the larger ecology of the galaxy, which is where the follow up video, The helical model - our Galaxy is a vortex, comes in:

The galaxy is a vortex! And this lends new significance to the title of McLuhan's second book, The Gutenberg Galaxy from 1962. And in the introduction to that work he explains that galaxy is synonymous with environment, so the Gutenberg galaxy, and what he also refers to as the Marconi galaxy, and a media environment in general, is a vortex or maelström.

And even with the second DjSadhu video, we miss the larger context of the galaxy itself as a vortex, and it's relation to other galaxies, the supercluster as a vortex as well, and that within the enormity that is the universe. And then, try to relate all that to the full time scale of the big bang, the mother of all maelströms!

Maelström, vortex, galaxy, environment, or if you prefer, dynamic systems characterized by chaos and complexity. And as above, so below, the metapatterns, to use Gregory Bateson's term, follow a fractal logic of self-similarity across macro and micro scale.  This is the kind of thinking, in relation to human existence and our place in the universe, that media ecology is all about. There is no way out of the vortex, but the choices we make will determine whether we sink or swim.