Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Tempo of the Digital Age

Time is sublime

  1. 1.
    of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.

    "Mozart's sublime piano concertos"

...and, since timing is key for musicians, it is something they well understand.

Time, time, it's so sublime 
Well they say it's nonexistent but it's playing with my mind 
- Kirk Kirkwood of the band Meat Puppets from the song Climbing

Watching time go by 

Besides musicians, other artists have also dealt with time in their work, particularly filmmakers. One of these was Andy Warhol. While he is better known now for his pop art, he became better know to the general public through his later films, which were actually directed by Paul Morrissey. Andy's early films

Like most of his art, Andy approached film making from a completely different angle then others. He did not have scripts and used a completely stationary camera. In most of his works, he just put a camera on a tripod and left it running but he did choose his subjects carefully. One of these was the Empire State Building which he filmed for 6 or so hours as the sunset turned into the dark of night. He then slowed the film and presented it as an 8 hour work so people could as he said: "Watch time go by."

In films like Sleep and particularly Empire, Andy appears to be playing with a form of Ideomotor Phenomena where images can be used to bypass the conscious mind and spark unconscious reactions.

Ideomotor Phenomena

The ideomotor response (or "ideomotor reflex"), often abbreviated to IMR, is a concept in hypnosis and psychological research.[1] It is derived from the terms "ideo" (idea, or mental representation) and "motor" (muscular action). The phrase is most commonly used in reference to the process whereby a thought or mental image brings about a seemingly "reflexive" or automatic muscular reaction, often of minuscule degree, and potentially outside of the awareness of the subject.

gerund or present participle: entrancing
  1. fill (someone) with wonder and delight, holding their entire attention.

    "I was entranced by a cluster of trees that were lit up by fireflies"

    • cast a spell on.

      "Orpheus entranced the wild beasts"

      synonyms:cast a spell on, bewitchhexspellbindhypnotizemesmerize
      "Orpheus entranced the wild beasts"

In particular, Empire seems deliberately designed to try induce a trance like state in its viewers with its long running time, slowed speed and the subject, the Empire State Building, with its repetitive flashing lights. As someone who lived in close proximity to it, Andy would have been well aware of its hypnotic effect. I, myself, used to live across the river from the Empire State Building and would often stare at it for long periods of time for the same reason as the dissociated state that it produced was relaxing.

In psychologydissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.[1][2][3][4]
Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum.[5] In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict.[6][7][8] At the nonpathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming while driving a vehicle. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.[5][9][10]

In addition to film, Andy was also managing a band during this time, The Velvet Underground, who also used techniques designed to provoke similar responses, techniques like droning.

  1. 1.
    make a continuous low humming sound.

    "in the far distance a machine droned"

    synonyms:humbuzz, whirr, vibratemurmurrumblepurr
    "a plane droned overhead"

It is curious how the term drone is now used to describe remotely control devices, particularly flying spy planes and helicopters. This is similar to how droning sounds can remotely control humans by inducing hypnotic states and moods along with altering ones sense of time.

This points to the bigger picture, one often hidden from us. That we may not quite be the rational beings that we assume ourselves to be. That we have a whole subsurface of programs running that we are typically unaware of that control us to a greater degree than we would like to believe. Programs that others with a more sophisticated awareness can use to hijack us without us even knowing that it is happening.

Even more important, this hijacking occurs not via the explicit messages of the art but is triggered by the media itself.

"The medium is the message" -Marshall McLuhan 

  1. 1.
    the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet), regarded collectively.

    "their demands were publicized by the media"

    synonyms:the press, the fourth estate, the news, the papers; More
  2. 2.
    plural form of medium.

In his ground breaking work of the early 60's, Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan, argues persuasively that it is often the media itself that conveys a message, that impacts society.   We often believe that we control technology but the opposite is more often true, technology controls us. This message is ever more relevant in our age, an age where technology is taking ever more control over the logic that drives complex society. In this post, we delve into the topic of digital recording and what is being lost with its adoption.

One band that was heavily influenced by these ideas and the Velvet Underground was Galaxie 500. This band included member, Damon Krukowsk, who has recently has written extensively how the digitization of music has impacted its effect on humans.

This post is based on the 99% invisible Podcast Episode #269, Ways of Hearing:

It in turn is based on a postcast being developed by Damon Krukowski, formerly of the band Galaxie 500, dealing with the impact of digital recordings on our sense of time.

What John Berger did to ways of seeing, well-known indie musician Damon Krukowski does to ways of listening in this lively guide to the transition from analog to digital culture 
Having made his name in the late 1980s as a member of the indie band Galaxie 500, Damon Krukowski has watched cultural life lurch from analog to digital. And as an artist who has weathered the transition, he has challenging, urgent questions for both creators and consumers about what we have thrown away in the process: Are our devices leaving us lost in our own headspace even as they pinpoint our location? Does the long reach of digital communication come at the sacrifice of our ability to gauge social distance? Do streaming media discourage us from listening closely? Are we hearing each other fully in this new environment?

  1. 1.
    the temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace.

Damon speaks of his early days in the studio as part of Galaxie 500 in the late 80's when everything was recorded mechanically via analogue equipment and tape. He and his band mates would tend to get excited and speed of the tempo of songs right before they launched into the chorus.

The musical term for this uneven beat is Rubato for the Italian word robbed. In this case, it is referring to the theft of time when one speeds up the beat.

In terms of musical style, it goes by many names:

  • Jazz has swing time.
  • Rock/Funk has grooves.
  • Ragtime has syncopation.

Ripping the Fabric of Time and Space

This is important as one of music's mystical properties is its ability to alter our perception of time and space:

Changes in the representation of space and time while listening to music

Music is known to alter people's ordinary experience of space and time. Not only does this challenge the concept of invariant space and time tacitly assumed in psychology but it may also help us understand how music works and how music can be understood as an embodied experience. 

Embodied cognition is the theory that many features of cognition, whether human or otherwise, are shaped by aspects of the entire body of the organism. The features of cognition include high level mental constructs (such as concepts and categories) and performance on various cognitive tasks (such as reasoning or judgment). The aspects of the body include the motor system, the perceptual system, bodily interactions with the environment (situatedness) and the assumptions about the world that are built into the structure of the organism.

The Elasticity of Time

Humans experience time flexibly. Musical trick like swing time and groove can steal time and give back later. Time is experienced not counted. It is variable to our perceptions


In terms of analogue music, turntable have always allowed users to experience variable speeds/pitches. The early ones were hand cranked and speeds were inconsistent. In more modern times hip hop DJ's have deliberately set out to alter pitches and play with timing. Their favorite instrument for this has been the Technics 1200 turntable:

Technics SL-1200 is a series of direct-drive turntables originally manufactured from October 1972 until 2010, and resumed in 2016, by Matsushita under the brand nameof TechnicsS means "Stereo", L means "Player". Originally released as a high fidelity consumer record player, it quickly became adopted among radio and discoclub disc jockeys, thanks to the direct drive, high torque motor design, making it initially suitable for pushbutton cueing and starting of tracks on radio and in dance clubs.

  1. 1.
    the taking of a sample or samples.
    "routine river sampling is carried out according to a schedule"
  2. 2.
    the technique of digitally encoding music or sound and reusing it as part of a composition or recording.

1990 tribe called quest
ali, tribe, walk on wild
technics 1200 pitch control

Click Track

humans do not play evenly
get nervous
speed up at chorus
this was seen as a flaw
bands started to record to click track

click track is a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recordings, sometimes for synchronization to a moving image. The click track originated in early sound movies, where optical marks were made on the film to indicate precise timings for musical accompaniment. It can also serve a purpose similar to a metronome, as in the music industry, where it is often used during recording sessions and live performances.[1]

  1. an electronic device that alters a sound signal by introducing a cyclically varying phase shift into one of two identical copies of the signal and recombining them, used especially in popular music to alter the sound of an instrument.


machines have different sense of time
midi machine languare 1983
can lock time to a clock
real time is lived time
digital time in not lived, it is machine time
it is more regular

MIDI (/ˈmɪdi/; short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a technical standard that describes a communications protocoldigital interface and electrical connectors and allows a wide variety of electronic musical instrumentscomputers and other related music and audio devices to connect and communicate with one another.[1] 


vocaloid yamaha tracks
adobe voco reads text in own voice

Vocaloid (ボーカロイド Bōkaroido) is a singing voice synthesizer. Its signal processing part was developed through a joint research project led by Kenmochi Hideki at the Pompeu Fabra University in BarcelonaSpain, in 2000 (the same team that later founded Voctro Labs[1]) and originally was not intended to be a full commercial project. Backed by the Yamaha Corporation, it developed the software into the commercial product "Vocaloid".[2][3]


  1. 2.
    the delay before a transfer of data begins following an instruction for its transfer.

    "poor performance due to network latency"

lag in digital communication
it is hard to match up tracks
computers communicate quickly but there is a lag
machine time is constant

analog to digital

could not watch on tv and listend to radio
tv digital conversion caused latency
collective cheer by radio
today staggered
analog time flexes
slower and quicker
latency is blurred
there is not a musical term yet

Digital Cost

digital comes at a cost
give up opportunity to share time together
analog time techniques are used to bring together
it is harder to share moments together
to one another
not locked to a machine
analogue time is flexible but unified

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