Pirates, politics and art.

The world is a strange place. Unsure of what to do about my political frustration, I decided to nominate as a Senate candidate for the Pirate Party Australia in the up coming Australian federal election. I discovered late on Sunday night that I had been elected by the members as the lead candidate.

Coincidentally, last night (Monday) my partner got us tickets to see the Australian Art Orchestra with Nicole Lizée present Hymns to Pareidolia. Knowing nothing before we went in, it turned out to be an almost perfect live music experience for me. And while I was watching and listening, I realized that for some reason I hadn’t been open about my taste in big A Art to the pirates.

So I’ve decided to make a short list of artists that I appreciate for your delectation.

The very first artists this concert made me think of was a band I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing live and most likely never will, even in it’s reduced state – Negativland, a band I first discovered via their album Dispepsi, although were already semi folk heroes because of what I’d heard about their U2 EP which, thanks to the then newly discovered web, I’d downloaded via Napster or Gnutella. Then their EP with Chumbawamba became my jam for a couple of years – The ABCs of Anarchism.

It’s hard to know what came next, but suddenly I was listening to difficult music. The audio equivalent of The Illuminatus! Trilogy – some of it very very listenable, like 2manyDJs Radio Soulwax pt 2, some of it was understandable pop if hard for others to appreciate, like Cassette Boy (some songs available), and some was painful to others, like Buttress O’Kneel, John Oswald‘s Plunderphonics or The Evolution Control Committee. Their Rebel Without a Pause is considered one of, if not the, first mashups. And then there is DJ Food’s Raiding the 20th Century, an unparalleled exploration, history lesson, exposition, on the nature of music and remix – itself a remix of over 190 mash up tracks.

Thankfully, this new remix culture quickly became rampant – the tools were readily available to anyone with a computer, and the mash up was not only born but breaking out. While some went for the decidedly pop route (Girl Talk, Freelance Hellraiser’s A Stroke of Genius), some remained dedicated to the plain strange. It was around this time that DJ Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album – mixing The Beatle’s White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album – became an unofficial hit.

The intrinsic sharing nature of the internet allowed a genre of music called outsider to spread more widely. Associated with the avant garde, mail art, surrealist and underground movements, most notable for it’s intense passion for the artform regardless of actual ability was refreshing for me. The Shaggs are the best example to my mind, and have one of the best back stories to boot, and we see this movement reborn as the Antifolk movement of the late 90s, but also side swiped by other pop weirdos – Singing Sadie (Everyone in town wants you dead), Toxic Lipstick (Slut cunt hairbrush), the unstoppable and ever loved New Waver from Spill records (check out Spill compilation 3), San Jose Cow Muzak’s Mrs Bronson’s favourite remains a….favourite. Also, anything on Dual Plover, including it’s peak moment, The Rebirth of Fool, vol 2.

And there were aficionados and curators that made things easier for us – I would religiously download (by hand! pre-podcast!) and listen to Some Assembly Required, or ABC Radio National’s The Night Air, and the revelation that was the first time I discovered WFMU‘s the 365 Days Project in 2004 (now UbuWeb‘s first 365 Days Project) and downloaded all of the songs over a week…so many of these songs have become better known now, but at the time, they were a revelation. It wasn’t piracy – this was the only place they were documented on the internet. It was curation. My go to piece from this period is the Van Morrison “contractual obligation record” – Ring Worm/You Say France And I Whistle/Want A Danish – although the project is literally littered with passionate brilliance. Louis Farrakhan singing calypso? The Frugal Gormets – Satan’s Blood (“Some kids try really hard to sound evil, these kids succeeded.”)? Bach vs Batman on the moog? Understanding Marx?

These days there are blogs that curate such weirdnesses abound, my favourite being Music for Maniacs, a haven of some of the strangest pop music available. Including  classics like Party Like It’s Only $19.99, the Prince tribute done by The Evolution Control Committee; OUTER SPACE MUSIC FROM OUTER SPACE!; two Sesame St Disco albums; a string of Xmas albums that aren’t really ever appropriate; maybe Halloween is more your thing?; American Standard by Thelonious Moog;  don’t like standards or Moog? What about some experimental bagpipe music?; or maybe your taste are more along the lines of the three album, 62 track compilations of Xanadu covers (More Xanadu)?

I’m going to close with the two stand outs. Vicki Bennett, performing as People Like Us, has been a consistent source of fantastic mind bending music and inspiration. Her Do or DIY with People Like Us radio show on WFMU is a stand out that I can’t recommend highly enough. You’ll never hear Percy Faith’s Summer Place ’76 (Theme From A Summer Place) in the same way again. This show has bought me many, many pleasures, but the top of the list has to be Caroline Bergvall’s Via (48 Dante translations) (mp3).

But sitting on top of all of this is the Australian art duo Soda Jerk‘s Pixel Pirate II: Attack of the Astro Elvis Video Clone. (aka Hollywood Burn). Taking all of these ideas, and doing it coherently, with film. It remains my favourite movie of all time, and I am still in debt to Jean Poole for introducing me to it. From the blurb:

Hollywood Burn is an anti-copyright epic constructed entirely from hundreds of samples pirated from the Hollywood archive. It pits a righteous league of video pirates against the evil tyrant Moses and his Copyright Commandments. Determined to alter the present by changing the past, the pirates travel back to 1955 to construct the ultimate weapon: an Elvis Presley video-clone.

Part sci-fi + rom com + biblical epic + action movie, this remix manifesto adopts the tactical responses of the parasite, feeding off the body of Hollywood and inhabiting its cinematic codes. The unwitting all-star cast includes Elvis Presley, Charlton Heston, Jack Sparrow, Monkey Magic, Bette Davis, Batman, Jaws, Jesus, the Hulk, the Hoff and the Ghostbusters.

What can I say? It’s essential viewing for members of the Pirate Party.

Words and language – the world has changed

It’s been a while between posts, but I have recently come across a number of language related posts that I think are worth sharing.

For a while there lists of hot new words were all over the internet. That’s slowed down significantly, but I found two recently that are worth sharing. I particularly liked the list of 216 non-English words “referring to emotional states from the world’s languages that have no correlate in English”. I think what I like most about this list – hell, it’s the reason anyone finds it interesting – is because the emotional states referred to are states we can all empathize with, and because of that lack of correlate, the translations sound like poetry.

* Aware (哀れ) (Japanese): the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty.
* Sabi (侘寂) (Japanese): aged beauty.
* Mono no aware (物の哀れ) (Japanese): pathos of understanding the transiency of the world and its beauty.

哀れ, pronounced a-wa-rey (I’m not a phonetician, sorry), is something that I feel regularly – reflections in puddles, the graceful elderly (侘寂) , my partner singing quietly while cooking. I’m also fascinated by the racial profiling I give these words – do I find that these words are interesting

* Dadirri (Australian Aboriginal): a deep, spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening.
* Koselig (Norwegian): cosy, warm, intimate, enjoyable.
* Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu): to shed clothes to dance uninhibited.
* On (恩) (Japanese): a feeling of moral indebtedness, relating to a favour or blessing given by others.
* Peiskos (Norwegian): sitting in front of a crackling fireplace enjoying the warmth.

because of what they convey or because they seem to be culturally perfect in a stereotypical understanding of their respective cultures?

* Cafune (Portuguese): tenderly running one’s fingers through a loved one’s hair.
* Desenrascanço (Portuguese): to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation.
* Estrenar (Spanish): to use or wear something for the first time.
* Fernweh (German): the ‘call of faraway places,’ homesickness for the unknown.
* Fingerspitzengefühl (German): ‘fingertip feeling,’ the ability to act with tact and sensitivity.
* Gjensynsglede (Norwegian): (noun) The joy of meeting someone you haven’t seen in a long time.
* Guān xì (關係) (Chinese): building up good social karma.
* Janteloven (Norwegian/Danish): a set of rules which discourages individualism in communities.
* Jugaad (जुगाड) (Hindi): the ability to ‘make do’ or ‘get by’.
* Kvell (Yiddish): to feel pride and joy in someone else’s accomplishment.
* Tîeow (เที่ยว) (Thai): to roam around in a carefree way.
* Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu): being kind to others on account of one’s common humanity.


The Dictionary of Fantastic Vocabulary on the other hand, is a list of completely made up words. By the look of it, the words have been created programmatically (ok, proof: look at the end of section for the letter E/e, just up from H) and meanings have been applied later. The beauty here is the recognition that the words don’t exist for a reason – very few of them are easy to say, they *look* clunky. But you could imagine over time being able to introduce some into everyday usage. The idea is greater than the execution, but I think it’s a noble failure. I really should do some analysis on the distribution across the alphabet… dammit, I just went and did it. As you can see, there are only 15 letters represented at all, and over half start with E, A or S. I presume this is a combination of prevalence in English, prevalence of prefixes starting with those letters, and the author’s internalized biases.

Total 1516 Percent of total
E 334 22.03
A 284 18.73
S 148 9.76
D 142 9.37
I 127 8.38
O 109 7.19
C 108 7.12
P 78 5.15
U 53 3.50
H 52 3.43
R 20 1.32
M 19 1.25
T 16 1.06
B 15 0.99
N 11 0.73

The final explicitly word based interest is Helen Zaltzman‘s The Allusionist podcast – not only is it a great short podcast about words, the latest is actually about dictionary.com’s word of the day – which is a mail out with 13 million subscribers. People really do love words.


The final post is an interesting linguistic article I stumbled across titled Your Ability to Can Even: A Defense of Internet Linguistics that starts with “I can’t even” and a friends recent claim “I have lost all ability to can” as a riff on the former:

Loose translation: “This link is so amazing that I have lost my ability to express my appreciation for it in fully formed sentences. All speech has been reduced to this ill-formed sentence. Thus is the depth of my excitement about this. Click on it. Click on it if you too would like to experience this level of incoherent excitement.”

While the article doesn’t address the contemporary obsession with communication via emoji (and its sometimes miscommunication, depending on OS) it does address the new field of “internet linguistics” and a new wave of conservative backlash from those that would have language stagnate. There is also some great gender analysis of the roles played in language creation:

In short, this dialect results when people who already share a language are given new tools. The result isn’t a butchering of English language but a creative experiment with it. Am I claiming that the Internet as a whole is operating on a level of postmodernism that would make Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut and Thomas Pynchon seem like novices? maybe i am maybe im not u punk wut of it like who r u to tell me otherwise

Dr. Tannen does the interesting work of examining gender and tech language. In studying sample text messages, she found that women were much more likely to use enthusiasm markers like exclamation points and add emphasis via capitalization. Most linguists emphasize the lack of understanding that can take place between men and women as a result of the different value that each gender places on conveying emotions. Supposedly, women perceive men’s lack of enthusiasm markers and capitalization as coldness and men perceive women’s use of them to be unnecessary.

However, what I find most fascinating about the Internet Language is that it is making language less, not more, gendered. Men and women on the Internet use many of the same tropes, enthusiasm markers and emphasizers in order to communicate. In the world of blogging and Internet writing, women are the creators of language. It is a realm in which women are not being socialized with already existing language but are doing the work of socializing and creating a community. Women dominate every important social media platform. Women outnumber men on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and account for 72% of all social media users. On Tumblr, where the number of men and women is roughly equal, women dominate the conversation.