Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Digger Games

Many Years ago, while somewhat fascinated with Reclaim the Streets and enamored of the more festive forms of direct action that had emerged as part of the "Anti-Globalization Movement", I thought up a great action that could disrupt traffic, reclaim public space, and perhaps teach kids how to disobey the rules in a fun way. I imagined making a flier anonymously that would announce a huge game of hopscotch, foursquare, and a few other classic schoolyard games to take place on a specific day (April 1st maybe?) at a major intersection. The night before I would go and spray paint the squares and circles necessary for these games. My hope was that the day-of there would be spontaneous, decentralized play happening in the middle of a city street. Traffic would stop, kids would take over, and perhaps there would be a new style of non-hierarchel direct action theater in the form of public play.

I never made the fliers or helped stage the event. I look back on it now as a good idea whose moment seems to have passed, for the time being. The kind of action that seems to be resonating with autonomy-minded individuals in North America has shifted out of the streets in many ways. What's brought this up for me now, many years later, is considering how Win-Win games can be direct action political practices. I feel like this is a huge can of worms (one I'm excited about digging into), so I'll start with something from the past.

Many years ago, my friend and source of endless inspiration Sharon Cheslow asked if I'd ever heard of "the Diggers". When I admitted I hadn't she exclaimed "Gabe! I can't believe you've never heard of them. They did it all... everything that we do they did it first!" It turns out she was right in more ways than she realized.

The Diggers, in a nutshell, were the near perfect synthesis of two main strains of 60's counter-culture: the Psychedelic post-beatnik Hip scene and the anarchistic upheaval of the new Left. In a way they were a dream come true; the rarely seen avant-garde artist and activist who embraced both selves fully. They appeared right at the start of the Haight/Ashbury scene of 65-67, emerging from the SF Mime Troupe. Schooled in Artaud, Brecht, Macluhan and LSD they created political street theater out of parades, gave away free food every day, opened a Free Store, put on participatory Be-ins, helped create squats, free hotels, free medical and legal clinics ... basically fought for "FREE" in all of its material, political and spiritual manifestations.

They were also a collossal bummer for just about everyone who had a stake in the Haight/Ashbury. The cops hated them because they had no respect for authority and represented a politically engaged hippy, the Left hated them because they had fun while making a political statement often exposing the tedium of the vertically structured events put on by their Berkeley counterparts; and the Hippies hated them because while everyone else was telling them their scene was groovy, the Diggers were reminding them of the Capitalist exploitation, police violence, rape and drug abuse that was part of the ever prevelant dark side of the "Hashbury". Yet most everyone loved them, or at least respected them. Even the business owners who were endlessly harangued by the Diggers for not just giving away stuff for free embraced them as their "collective conscience."

The Summer of Love in 67 essentially destroyed the Hippie movement, in part by its overwhelming success and popularity, and the old-school Diggers gave up their name and became the Free City Collective. They eventually released a publication (for free) called the Digger Papers that acted as a summation of their written work up to '68 and included a piece called "Post-Competitive, Comparative Game of a Free City". In a sense, modern living was a game that was played, and being a Digger meant playing a new game - a Win-Win game.

Our state of awareness demands that we uplift our efforts from competitive game playing in the underground to the comparative roles of free families in free cities.

We must pool our resources and interact our energies to provide the freedom for our individual activities.

In each city of the world there is a loose competitive underground composed of groups whose aims overlap, conflict, and generally enervate the desired goal of autonomy. By now we all have guns, know how to use them, know our enemy, and are ready to defend. We know that we ain't gonna take no more shit. So it's about time we carried ourselves a little heavier and got down to the business of creating free cities within the urban environments of the western world.

Free Cities are composed of Free Families (e.g., in San Francisco: Diggers, Black Panthers, Provos [substitute "Red Guards" in Ringolevio], Mission Rebels and various revolutionist gangs and communes) who establish and maintain services that provide a base of freedom for autonomous groups to carry out their programs without having to hassle for food, printing facilities, trans- portation, mechanics, money, housing, working space, clothes, ma- chinery, trucks, etc.

At this point in our revolution it is demanded that the families, communes, black organizations and gangs of every city in America coordinate and develop Free Cities where everything that is necessary can be obtained for free by those involved in the various activities of the individual clans.

Every brother and sister should have what they need to do whatever needs to be done.

Like a lot of 60's groups that started out public and social, the Diggers/Free City Collective turned inwards, insular and a bit more paranoid (though justifiably). However, much like other artist/activist groups (the Provos, Situationist International, Black Mask, Yippies, etc) the Diggers left their mark and paved the way for generations of new kinds of games (Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, Crimethinc., Really Really Free Market, etc.) It's possible, if not probable, that most people performing these new kinds of Win-Win practices have never heard of the Diggers, or don't know just how much of what they're doing was once part of this groups standard practice. For example, I had never heard of this game until just last week...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

First Ever Win-Win Games event!

Thanks everyone for taking part and especially Kelvin Pittman, h. vergotis, Brandon Conway and Sean Ongley for leading their compositions. Also special thanks to Pauline Oliveros for providing the inspiration for the games and the piece I led which was a half remembered fragment of something I read.

The win-win games compositions-

Entanglement by Kelvin Pittman (phase one):

A piece for two or more (2+) players.
Players start the game by singing/playing the same tone, or the same 'note', independent of octave.
Sing it a few times, perhaps bending the tone upward or downward slightly, or decreasing and increasing the volume.
Players then choose and sing/play two different tones, different from themselves and different from the first tone. If there are more than two players, then players should pair of group-up into different groups, each group singing/playing a different tone than the other group.

Continue until tired or bored

The Telephone Game in 3 Steps by Sean Ongley.

#1. Provide a tone that represents a "dial tone" and play that in the room at a constant. The common American dial tone consists of two sine waves: 350 hz and 440 hz. Dynamics and timing are optional.

#2.a. While the tone is playing, instruct the audience to dial from their cellular phones all their personal acquaintances in the room, using the phone numbers available to them at the time. Dial at random.

#2.b. If the "dial tone" is being amplified by high power instrument cabinets (like a guitar or keyboard amp) have everyone rest their phone on an amp, closest to the electronics of the amp(s).

#3. Sit with the dial tone from step 1 in combination with spontaneous cellular tones, and relax, listening for the sound the cellular signal passing through the electronics of the amplifier and how it interacts with the environment.

The game recalls the old fashioned dial tone which has come out of common occurrence with the advent of cellular telephones. Dialing friends in the room could possibly symbolize the technological barrier-bridge duality inherent in the communication revolution. If this does not strike us at a conscious level, players will at least find spontaneous games and musical experiments utilizing the rings, speakerphones, etc. If step #2.b. is successful, it should become abundantly clear that we are unaware of the tones passing through cellular phones and our brains, and therefore, we are unaware of realities that are passing through us, from day to day.

How many Miles to Babylon:
A Musical Game by Brandon Conway:

Supplies needed:
5 or more players
1-3 flashlights.
A medium to large sized room with the ability to turn all lights off.

Rules of play:

*All players should spread out in the room forming a circle(ish).
*Each person should find something with which to make non-pitched or non-specific sounds
(these sounds may be be produced with objects in the room, with provided instruments(ie shakers), or with the players' mouths).
*Give flashlights or bike lights to Lighter(s).
*Turn off the lights in the room.
*When the lights are turned off, each player begins making sound.
*Lighter(s) begin slowly reciting How Many miles to Babylon verse. (for longer rounds, Lighter(s) may repeat the verse once or thrice)
*While reciting, Lighter turns on their flashlight and points it at one player.
*When a Lighter points their flashlight at a player, that player must stop playing their sound
*When a Lighter points their flashlight at that player again, the player must begin playing again.
(Lighter(s) may not sweep their flashlights-they are only allowed to turn their flashlight on one player before turning it off again)
*When the Lighter(s) is done reciting the verse. A round of the game is over.
*Additional rounds may be played by passing the flashlight(s) to another player until all players have had the chance to be a Lighter.

*Note: for 5ish players, 1 Lighter is appropriate; for 5-10,: 2 Lighters; and for 10 or more, 3 Lighters should work nicely.

Alternative version (Recitation):
*All players recite How many Miles to Babylon.
*When a Lighter points to a player, that player must stop reciting.
*When the player is pointed to again, they must start the verse from the beginning.
*The game is over when all players are allowed to finish reciting the entire verse.
(Players will need to memorize verse or copies of the text need to be provided).

Alternative version for Active Groups (Light Tag):
*This version of the game is to be played in a large space (or out-of-doors at night--if out of doors, physical boundaries should be established).
*Players move around in the dark while a Lighter(s) attempts to catch them with flashlight blasts (again the lighter may not sweep the flashlight).
*If a player is caught in the flashlight beam, they must freeze and recite the verse.
*Game is over when all players have recited the verse.
(For a more robust sound, players may be asked to continuously repeat the verse until all players are 'caught' )


How many miles to Babylon?
Three-score and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, there and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You will get there by candle-light.

*Note: For funsies, 'Babylon' may be replaced by another place-word with three syllables.

Old Chinook by h. vergotis

A conscientious traveler will try to learn and use some words in the language of the place she is traveling. Long ago this region was inhabited by many peoples who spoke many different languages, one of which was Old Chinook. These people were wiped out, killed and relocated, and their languages are extinct. This piece attempts to reanimate the sounds of one of the original languages of this place.


Please warm up by spending a few minutes familiarizing yourself with your word and its pronunciation. Say it enough to be comfortable using it repeatedly during the piece. The order in which these instructions are given is arbitrary. Please chose when in the piece you want to do each them, with the exception of the ending instruction. Please use approximate durations, for example, loosely count “one one-thousand…” in your head for one second.
Say your word 3 times. You may do this as often as you like, and with whatever degree of loudness or softness you wish.
Sing-song your word over and over for about 15 seconds. You may do this as often as you wish.
Insistently shout out your word one time. You may do this a total of 5 times during the piece.
Say your word as quickly as you can. You may do this as often as you wish.
Break your word down into its individual sounds. Spend about 30 seconds playing around with the sounds that make up your word. You may do this whenever you like, but please limit it to maximum of 3 times during the piece.
Please say your word softly once every 3 seconds. You may do this as long as you wish, whenever you wish.
Say your word as slowly as you can. You may do this as often as you wish.
Ending instruction: When you feel the piece should begin to come to a close, softly whisper your word over and over. Do not stop until the whole group is conducted to a close.

Information and words for this piece were found at the excellent web site native-languages.org

Pronounce i like ‘ee’ in ‘feet’

Pronounce ô like nasal ‘on’, as in French ‘bon’

Pronounce Ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce u as in ‘fun’

Pronounce a as in ‘father’

Pronounce a as in ‘father’

Pronounce Ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce a as in ‘father’
Pronounce i like ‘ee’ in ‘feet’

Pronounce Ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce a as in ‘father’
‘ means add a pause, like in ‘oh-oh’
Pronounce i like ‘ee’ in ‘feet’

Pronounce O as in ‘note’
Pronounce ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce a as in ‘father’

Pronounce O as in ‘note’
Pronounce ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce u as in ‘fun’
Pronounce i like ‘ee’ in ‘feet’

Pronounce Ł as ‘hl’ or ‘lh’, like ‘clue’ without the ‘c’
Pronounce u as in ‘fun’

Monday, December 14, 2009

Destroying a Piano pt. 2

I had always intended on following up on this previous post about the communal catharsis of destroying a Piano with an interview featuring Amy Kazymerchyk, the person who organized RECITAL at her home. In the process of interviewing her, many more amazing and inspiring tangents and connections emerged. As it is, the interview alone was much more than I expected. Without further ado, here is that conversation, an interview conducted by email, along with photos of the event taken by Aja Rose Bond (but don't be surprised if this topic comes up again)...

Gabriel: For context sake, describe "Recital" including who participated, how they participated and how the event was structured.

Amy: Recital came out of a conversation between myself and Frederick Brummer, a local organizer and sound artist. I had seen a piece he had made at the Surrey Art Gallery in which he took mechanical parts of different instruments to make a new sound machine. These included the turn table of a record player, piano key mallets, neck and frets of a guitar, bells etc. Part of what I loved about the sound machine was that the piano mallet (which is made of felt) ran along the turn table as it spun. The friction ground down the mallet and it slowly disintegrated into tracks of white dust. I loved this layering of the metamorphosis of the materials and use function of the parts. I suppose its a breaking down or dissecting of functionality that eventually renders them as pure material form.

At the point when I decided to 'destroy' the piano, it was about a note and a half flat and completely untunable. The pegs were in soft wood and wouldn't hold, the bridge was cracked and poorly glued in multiple places and the sound board was also cracked. A few of the keys didn't work and the mallets were off-centered so multiple notes played at once. I was really into learning classical music including Satie and Bach at the time and i was frustrated with not being able to really feel and absorb the music because i wasn't hearing it right. Perhaps it speaks to my conservatism, but I realized that it wasn't the right piano for me. But I could still hear the beauty and resonance in its tones, and I knew that my experimental sound artist friends would be really into them as well. When I ran it by a few people everyone seemed really excited about taking parts of the piano for their practice. It just naturally evolved from there that if artists were going to take parts of it for their practice, then the 'taking' should be part of their practice as well.

Frederick and I put out an open call to sound artists and musicians and about 5 people responded with interest. A few people had a fixed idea of what they wanted to do, and some people just wanted to come and participate on a more spontaneous level. People's intentions ranged from wanting to do quiet 'musical' performances to just smashing the shit of the thing and tearing at it with chainsaws. Some people came who also just contributed to unscrewing parts, ripping out keys, investigating the guts and just witnessing. We didn't make a set list until everyone arrived, and then we just figured out what order made sense (depending on how much of the piano needing to be in tact to make it happen.) Once it started it kind of felt like being in a trance. Time kind of stopped and it was like the room became its own kind of dimension. I'm not sure that anyone really 'knew' how to take apart a piano - but it became intuitive and then before we knew it it was in shreds and tatters and the iron sound board was being launched over the balcony onto the front lawn. It was completely unscripted and undirected- so the tension, energy, process and procedure of the destruction was completely spontaneous and the sum of everyone's contribution who participated.

This is the list of people who participated: Karianne Blank, Aja Rose Bond, Sarah Buchanan, Frederick Brummer, Harold Donnelly, Amy Lynn Kazymerchyk, Willy LeMaitre, Nancy Lisik, Olo J. Milkman, Keenan O'Connor, Isla Roos, Kristen Roos, Harlan Shore, Andrew Short, Kika Thorne.

[Here is an audio recording of Frederick Brummer and Keenan O'Connor's performance...]

G: I see the act of destroying a piano as having this resonance beyond a nihilistic tearing apart of something beautiful, but rather a collective deconstruction of the commodity fetish. We find a greater utility in the deconstruction of the Piano than in its preservation at all costs. It's then liberating because we have done away with concerns of value related to the cost of the object and instead seek only its sensual value. Is this true? Was this true at Recital? Would this have been true if the Piano wasn't permanently out of tune?

A: Actually Its really important to me to preserve commodities/utilities/objects. I tried really hard to work out how to preserve the piano. I had a really astute piano tuner and then a piano technician come in to appraise it. The piano was 80 years old. It had an iron sound board and was screwed together by hand. It had ivory keys. I think the desire to want to destroy or throw out objects is more attached to commodity fetish. To me, being careful with objects; adopting, hunting down, or rescuing quality materials and items; fixing, repairing, mending broken objects; and finding creative ways to reinvent an objects use is counter-capitalist. If I could have tuned the piano I would have, and I would have paid to move it to my new house- absolutely- no doubt about it.

I grew up like that as well. My mother taught piano out of our house for years and we moved the piano around, tuned it, and lent it to people when we couldn't have it with us. Even years later when I was 20 I rescued it from a storage locker and moved it to Galiano Island in the back of a 1970's Ford truck. It's still there at the film school in an old logging camp! Maybe it will be the site of the next Recital. I think its comes from growing up poor and working class. One doesn't take objects and their value for granted. To the same end, it would be tragic to me to just take the piano to the dump or let it rot. Even unceremoniously destroying it would seem like a waste of its spiritual value. Now, absolutely ever part will continue to serve a use. Almost all of the musical mechanics were taken by artists. All the wood is in my yard to be used for ceremonial bonfire when it dries out, and I'd like someone to take the iron harp for a sculpture or sound piece. Maybe they can even restring it!

G: What is the most beautiful part of the Piano? Who got that part after Recital?

A: I think the most beautiful part was the rack of piano hammers. Kristen Roos took that in perfect condition, with only the middle c hammer removed. That was part of Olo's performance. The first element of the piano that was disfigured was the muting of middle C.

I am fascinated by Olo's action, the removing of middle C. It seems like the ultimate castration of the Piano. What was the emotional resonance of that particular performance for you?

A: I thought it was very witty and intelligent, but as a gesture it didn't have that much of an impact on me and definitely not an emotional resonance. The important part of the performance was that he was the first one to disrupt the form of the piano- and opened the flood gates for others to follow from there.

G: In Win-Win games there is a focus on the group play as a process of building relationships, community, trust or mutual understanding. In what way did or didn't Recital succeed as an example of Win-Win?

A: Yeah, there was a number of key moments in this process. The first was Frederick and I organizing something together. We had initiated a conversation about my interest in his work about a year ago when i saw his installation in Surrey. This project was definitely the fruition of that intention- which has established a new friendship for me in the city.

As well, FRONT Magazine really took an interest in the project. Karianne Blank, one of the Artistic Directors in the magazine was there to video tape the Recital, and Sarah Buchanan, one of the contributing writers was there to record it. We wanted to write something on the show for the most recent issue of FRONT which was focused on tools. The show didn't happen in time, but a video of the performance that I am editing as I write this will screen at the magazine's launch, and Frederick and Keenan will perform live as well. A reflective article on the show may appear in the next issue which is focused on social space. It was also just a really lovely way to spend an afternoon with people- sharing our ideas, our visions, and making something together. That's about as humbly Win-Win as it gets. Simply living together. But I mean consciously living.....and maybe realizing that art in its most essential purpose is also about consciously living and being in a dialogue with one's interiority, one's family and community, one's home space, and the materials and affects that we are blessed with.

G: I appreciated the links you made to Raphael Ortiz's work, as it really puts the act of destroying an object in a critical perspective. I feel like his work seems to suggest one of two possibilities - either the Piano is a stand in for we ourselves; a representation that speaks to what our own bodies experience in terms of the violence of society (in his case warfare, genocide, racism); OR the Piano is an effigy, a sacrificial lamb or wicker-man which we destroy so as to know our power to destroy without having to turn it in on ourselves. "The sacrificial process in art is one in which a symbolic act is performed with symbolic objects for symbolic purposes, initiated by the need to maintain unconscious integrity." Do you feel like this connects to the trance like state that you described experiencing at Recital?

A: I really liked the last paragraph:
A displacement and parallel process exists between man and the objects he makes. Man, like the objects he makes, is himself a result of transforming processes. It is therefore not difficult to comprehend how as a mattress or other man-made object [piano] is released from and transcends its logically determined form through destruction, an artist, led by associations and experiences resulting from his destruction of the man-made objects, is also released from and transcends his logical self.
I would say that the two observations you counted above are really the same thing. It's cathartic and it's symbolic. I don't really understand what Ortiz is talking about when he speaks of 'unconscious integrity'. However, earlier in the [Destructivism] manifesto Ortiz says
It's one's sense of death that needs the life-giving nourishment of ritual transcendence.
What I read from these quotes is his readiness and willingness to practice death. We have such a fear in Anglo-christian North America about death, endings, failure, etc. and yet death is so essential- and paradoxically- even for life to exist. I think he's saying that we must practice death! We must create space, time, engagement and process [ritual] to practice death. We are socialized to practice life- to appraise creation and celebrate newness, birth, and beginnings- but we have little space for nourishing death. In practicing death the artist creates room for the essence of her ultimate potential to blossom. In practicing death on material forms, on art forms, and on processes, the artist is creating space for the death of herself to be released - like an effigy. There's definitely trance in that because it's terrifying. Even on subtle levels- to let one's material world or spiritual world die is de-stabilizing.

G: I know you have a deep appreciation for he Northwest and British Columbia in general. I wonder if Recital would have been something else if it had happened somewhere else, even somewhere with a generally similar economic system and ethnic make-up? Would it have been the same in NY? In San Francisco? In Toronto? etc.. To rephrase my question, do you feel like something specific to place shaped the experience of Recital? If I can get even more leading in my questioning, I wonder if you considered the tradition of Potlatch at all in this experience?

A: Yes yes. I see what you're talking about. Ritual. hmm. It didn't actually feel 'ritualized', I'm sorry to say. I would like to imagine it as such. I think perhaps what was unique about it was that it wasn't 'performative' per-se. I mean, people did perform, but only for other performers. It was completely participatory. Not one person simply consumed the experience. For that reason the energy of it was quite kinetic and immersive. I don't think people had the self awareness that they do when they are being watched or 'judged' by an outside gaze. I think I wrote something earlier about time being stretched, and I think that happens when you are completely present and engaged. Now, I don't know if that's unique to the west coast, but I think its unique in the way that I was happy to have the event happen without documentation or dialogue. I was happy to have it fade with our memory of it. Requests for reflection, documentation, and evidence of the event have mostly come from people who weren't directly engaged in the event, which is interesting. This perhaps is the way that it is attached to the potlach. The potlach, and other Coast Salish rituals such as naming ceremonies and sweat lodges are intensely private events for participants only. One of the teachings of the sweat lodge that I attend is that to talk about the lodge and one's experiences in it is to release the potency of the medicine of the lodge. So. Enough said.

G: A standard I use to qualify a Win-Win game is its reproducibility. What I mean by that is it's ability to be replicated, albeit in a different form or context, by the participants. It is the element of Gift that makes the experience not just about witnessing, or laboring for the benefit of another artist, but in some way generative. What aspect of Recital is reproducible? What element would you or will you reproduce in future work? Obviously the Piano can never be returned to its original state, so I wouldn't consider that a possibility.

Two weeks later Frederick Brummer and Keenan O'Connor used recordings of RECITAL and piano keys in a performance at the western front for the FRONT magazine launch. They distorted the recording and complicated it with a percussive performance using the piano keys on the speakers that the recording was being played out of. That night we also screened the video documentation of RECITAL. So that definitely extended the event/activity into another environment and context; and developed its aesthetic into two different forms. I suppose this conversation you and I are having- and the frame of win win games and the online blog are also extensions and reproductions of the event.

As your blog illustrates, I'm not the first to be compelled to destroy a piano... so perhaps RECITAL isn't the origin from which reproducibility will evolve, but a stage of reproduction itself. I know that many of the piano's pieces were taken by artists who know doubt will incorporate them into their own performances, many of which i may never see or know about. I have a lot of the scrap wood at my house which I'm holding onto until it's warm and the wood can dry out. We're doing to take it to the beach and have a bonfire- a kind of extended ceremonial release of the piano's spirit. That would be its metaphysical reproduction. RECITAL has definitely led to a very unique experience of coping with commodity/ form/ material and consumption. I mean, if you can't afford to just throw something away then you don't have to deal with the responsibility of being a consumer. Once we make something its here- no matter in what form or location. Just because it goes to the dump doesn't mean its 'gone' it's just out of one's sight and perhaps consciousness. This project has made materiality very palpable to me. It's made me more conscious of what I bring into my life. It's ultimate recycling. It's beyond recycling. Maybe its beyond reproduction. Meta-Recycling, Meta-Reproduction.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ed Tannenbaum's Mirror

One thing that comes up for me in asking if a piece of art or an event is Win-Win in nature is how heavily mediated is the experience?. I often assume that technology or media leads to alienation and that any artist working with those tools has to constantly battle against this. The post below about Second Life I think speaks to that concern.

Then every once in a while I come across something that reminds me that some technologies actually encourage people's awareness that they ARE participants. In fact, some technologies actually empower people to be participants. I'm sure my Geek friends out there are shaking their heads (and not just at the rudimentary nature of this blog), but for me with my intense Luddite tendencies this can still be a pleasantly shocking epiphany.

Many years ago, as a small child in San Francisco, I probably danced in front of one of Ed Tannenbaum's computers at the Exploritorium. Ed designed these programs to help dancers become painters.

His video art is dated to that juuuuussst right age so that they are now exceptionally beautiful. It's not hard to imagine the pleasure of being able to move in front of one of his monitors and see colors and shapes exploding in unique patterns, each the result of your very own expression. We still see technologies that actually allow us to play and create in new ways, and it's the earnestness of people like Ed's vision that makes these technologies not alienating, but revelatory.

In a sense, Ed's work is just a continuation of this technology.

Hardly novel, but humanity's innate and supposedly unique ability to be Narcissus also means that we are eager to look at ourselves in new ways. As we explore our exterior self, our own interiority is revealed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Le Tennis

Here is another one I totally love but have left dormant for waaaay too long. A couple of summers ago we had an informal group of friends that would get together at local tennis courts (usually at Col. Sumner park). The main focus of the game was fun and the understanding that none of us was particularly good at tennis so we had to have fun in other ways. So we developed a win-win game. Essentially it was a tennis game broken into percentages- this is how I remember them: fashion and style 55%, philosophy 10%, competition 5%, sport 30%. These could be wrong tho. Hopefully someone who was also involved can remember some more details.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What We Already Know

Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.

And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a sceptre shone;
On his brow this mark I saw -

- Percy Shelly, The Mask of Anarchy

Hi JP,

I completely understand your feelings about all this (we are after all doing this blog together). What this reminds me of is the conversation I often have about capital "A" Anarchy with people who don't identify as Anarchists. The common assumption is that Anarchy proposes an every-man-for-himself world with no rules and no system. Social-Darwinism, survival of the fittest, etc. To me, that's already the world that we live in, at least in terms of how Capitalism is structured and ultimately in terms of how a lot of people relate to one another. Obviously there are A LOT of rules and police-like institutions which try to regulate our behavior, but ultimately if you can get away with it, if you don't get caught, or if you have the right amount of privilege, you have no social responsibility to anyone. That's how we as a civilization have gotten into this mess.

Anarchism on the other had actually depends on Order, not chaos, to function. The idea is that everyone is free actor, but has made a consensual agreement to act in a way that is mutually beneficial and does not depend on hierarchies or the oppression of others. I've participated in a lot of anarchist projects that actually work this way, and in fact thrive because of these conditions. In my experience 5 capitalists in the woods means someone is going to go hungry, get lost or be left behind, where as 5 anarchists in the woods means everyone eats, all are being looked after and no one is left behind. One is good for cougars, the other is good for people.

Many years ago I had my mind blown by Percy Shelly's poem, The Mask of Anarchy. At first I assumed that it would be a repudiation of the masses of working class people, the barbarians at the gate. In fact it is a scathing critique of Power, detailing with rigorous condemnation the abuses of Royalty, Government and the Church. Essentially he's saying that those forces which lead to war, poverty, political and spiritual disenfranchisement in fact reflect the kind of horrible chaos that is generally supposed to be called "Anarchy".

I guess what I'm saying is that being free and having structure or systems are not mutually exclusive. I would argue that they have an integral relationship. Consent is key. If all the actors in project consent to their participation, and are not threatened with some kind of punishment or other form of coercion, then I would argue they are no less free than before. Free will never has to be compromised, nor individuality, in order for a group of people to act in their mutual benefit. My own short definition of Anarchy is "Personal liberty with collective responsibility". Again, I view anarchy as being people acting of their free will but for the benefit of everyone, where as Capitalism is people acting of their free will but for the benefit of themselves only, even at the expense of others.

So a traditional symphony is not a win-win situation, but a drum circle is. A drum circle's participation is voluntary, the roles are not rigidly defined, improvisation is possible, but everyone voluntarily playing in mutually beneficial ways (ie: in sync) make a drum circle a success for everyone. A symphony can be a a win-win I suppose, since everyone is collectively acting not as individuals but as part of a whole. Yet between the hierarchical role of the conductor and the composer, the existence of privileged members such as soloists, and the consequences of divergent or non-participation (exclusion from the symphony, a damage to career, etc) there is plenty to differentiate the two.

In the end, we all know from when we were little that sharing and playing together nicely has benefits. It's hard to play most games with other kids when there isn't some sort of agreed upon rules of the game. I'd say that half the game seems to be deciding the rules, inventing rules and breaking rules (tag, wall ball, hot lava monster anyone?). I think there are times when rules of the game give us more freedom because we know in what way we can mutually participate for the collective benefit and because the rules ARE the game. When we talked last October about this very blog you mentioned this particular game. It's maybe one of the simplest win-win games I've encountered but even this game needs some basic rules to be performed. To make it great art we begin adding more conditions and rules. The player is not any more or less free - they'll either participate or not - but for the people who play the game, the rule IS the game.

Keep it up (mutual aide, solidarity and cooperation - a win-win game classic)

An example of how selfish free will succumbs to the better nature of the game...

An example of how sometimes the players decide the rules of the game, and you just have to let them...

For more cooperative "Balloon Games" go here...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

So recently I have been thinking alot about participatory activities that are non-competitive and inclusive and thus this blog. Today I led a group orchestral piece (the first I have ever written) and it gave me even more to think about. One of the primary issues that came up and seems to come up every time I think about win-win situations is the idea of engagement/interest vs inclusiveness/openness. Why "vs"? For instance in the piece I led the less instruction I gave the messier and less focused the piece was and the less interested people appeared. Conversely as the rehearsals went on the more clear my instructions, the more shape it had and seemingly the more involved the people who were playing got. Is that a paradox? --people more involved when they have less freedom? Now obviously there are alot of other factors that are involved in my example and I only use it to illustrate a point. However,this idea has come up in so many ways lately from politics to relationships to arts and even going to the gym!! It makes me think about my plans for this evening. I am going to go out dancing with friends. What better win-win game is there? Its a group activity that involves a facilitator (the DJ) and a non competitive artistic expression. Its funny that I would want to start a blog and a music series about something that seems so new and exciting but given a minute or 2 of thought I realize its something I already do- I DJ and I dance. Here is some more food for thought:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Destroying a Piano pt. 1

Recently my a good friend of mine received an eviction notice. After having tried for months to gift a piano she had inherited to someone in her community, there was now a heightened sense of urgency. A damage deposit hung in the balance. In a demonstration of her remarkable cleverness, and need to avoid hiring piano movers, she decided to not only destroy the piano, but to make it a public performance.
An invitation to a "Recital" was sent out to friends and associates offering an opportunity for people to not only witness the destruction of a piano, but to perform a musical or theatrical act themselves.
In my next post I'll offer some photos and descriptions of what happened, but first I wanted to offer this as yet another example of a Win-Win Game in the arts, one which implies such amazing metaphorical pictures of the proletariat revolting against modernism, the rejection of specialization, the victory of our animal nature over the forces of civilization, and play in all of its childlike force. Actually the piano as an object to be "deconstructed" is nothing new, even predating 20th Century western classical music's forays into prepared piano, but the piano's greater ubiquity was a result of Fordism, and as such it's destruction as a popular art form is much more modern.
Perhaps my favorite example of the abuse of the piano belongs to Lamonte Young's Piano Piece for Terry Riley #1:
Push the piano up to a wall and put the flat side flush against it. Then continue pushing into the wall. Push as hard as you can. If the piano goes through the wall, keep pushing in the same direction regardless of new obstacles and continue to push as hard as you can whether the piano is stopped against an obstacle or moving. The piece is over when you are too exhausted to push any longer.

Though it doesn't really call for the destruction of the Piano explicitly, the implication is there in more ways than one. However, many folks have done away with the formalities and just gone at it. Here below are a few videos of pianos (and perhaps western civilization) falling into entropy the fast way.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Second Life: a response

Well, JP... Second Life is interesting, because in and of itself, it isn't a "Game" - at least not how people think of it. Within it there are these aspects that function like games, and certainly a lot of the interface and aesthetics have developed from Gaming, but it acts more as a pure interactive technological platform like Facebook or Wikipedia. Within that structure there are elements of gaming and within these elements there are ways to discuss "win-win". At least, that's my take on it.

In Second Life, Red76 has done some projects. One of them is "Second Home" which is a virtual space created in the model and as a way of examining a real life anarchist community that formed in Home, WA around the turn of the last century. The idea is to create new models of collaboration in opposition and parallel to the ones that are more commonly found in Second life (capitalist exchange markets, property flipping, anonymous hook-ups). In Second Home participants are encouraged to experiment with communal living, mutual aide and other horizontal forms of exchange.

Another body of work is being done by a group called Ars Virtua. Ars Virtua exists primarily as a New Media Gallery and Arts Space in Second Life. Some of their work is very ironic and seems most interested in fucking with the presumed norms that already exist in spaces such as Second Life and World of Warcraft. In World of Warcraft they've created a "Guild" intended to explore "the potential of this platform to create a new dimension of media art" within its construct. One project that I think is really pertinent to the concept of Win-Win Games is the creation of TAZ within WoW. There seems to be an attempt to explore horizontal structures and free-space within a construct that is uniformly hierarcheal and oriented towards violence. One meeting was described as "a consensus session to set the rules for our cross-factional and self-governing guild association."

A current concern is to create "an NGO – somewhat similar to Red Cross or Red Crescent. [Ars Virtua] see it as an opportunity to reach out to the minority communities ( on Demon Soul realm that would be the Alliance) in order to bring them the support needed to navigate a hostile terrain. Basic Humanoid Rights are the key here, trade the political scaffold for the social scaffold without prejudice."

Besides the obvious humor and potential learning tools made through the creation of a Pacifist, Anarchist group in a game called "World of Warcraft", there is also something very poetic going on. In fact it verges on the mystical. If one considers the notion of "As above, so below" - the Macrocosmos and the Microcosmos - it seems much more meaningful to explore these themes in a Three Dimensional cosmos. Perhaps this work that they do here will manifest in our own multi-dimensional world at war.

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's hard not to love this.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

second life

second life is a huge can of worms...gabe?

some ideas I had while talking to friends

-Is making work in a democratic or non-hierarchical model inherently going to sacrifice the "quality" possible in a singular vision? For example the idea that democracy walks at the pace of the slowest member of the group.

-Is Tradition a way around that? ie Inuit throat games, Sacred Harp, Pygmy songs

-Is the degeneration/fracturing of cultural contexts accelerating to the point where win-win art ideas are too little too late? or, worse, regressive/nostalgic?

-Can things like group sing-alongs, dance for non dancers, co-operative games etc have a space in the world of the individual driven art world?

Man I have more questions but I am super tired.. more later

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Katajjaq is a form of throat singing practiced among the Inuit. It is a game of entertainment and friendly competition traditionally played only among women. Two players face each other holding oneanother's arms and begin singing rhythmic improvised sounds and words fitting each sound within the empty space of the other. The game lasts until one person can no longer keep singing and usually the duet is ended in laughter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Yoko Ono's white chess board

Yoko Ono created her first White Chess Board as a Fluxchess set, but where other disrupted sets (such as "Spice Chess") kept their competitive edge, hers clearly defied the basic assumptions of the game.

Her instructions...
Chess Set for playing as long as you can remember where all your pieces are.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bobby McFerrin win-wins

Conways Game of Life

This guy seems related somehow:
You can play it here and his wiki is here

here is more-

Drum circles and teams

Thinking about some common uses of music to generate community
kinda begs the question... Which is more important, the musical outcome or the social outcome? Are they inherently linked?
This came up while surfing-

Group Games
Drum cafe california
Drum Circle Workshop Video

"We unpack the 200 drums and form a circle of chairs. The delegates are completely unaware that they are about to drum and are by now beginning to arrive at the venue for their annual conference that begins in 1 hour.

We set up the team and as everyone has gathered outside the room we begin playing and they hear the drums calling from inside the conference room. When people walk in, they cannot believe their eyes when they find 200 drums laid out on the seats, and this amazing drumming music filling the room, being played by our team. Slowly, people find their way to their seats, all staring at each other with embarrassed smiles on their faces, not knowing really how to deal with the drum that is now in their lap.

Then, without saying a word, our facilitator gets up and starts to orchestrate the group with a massive repertoire of body language signals, bringing the 200 entry level musicians into perfect harmony." - From Drumcafecalifornia

I like the idea of non-verbal communication... its music, it does not need words

and then there is this...

from the Telematic Drum Circle