MoMA, Multiphonic Sound, Jogging

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Finally made it out to the Museum of Modern Art this afternoon. Yup.

Didn’t stay too long — just an hour-and-a-half or so — but I got the nerdy little art experience I needed. (I sometimes get uncomfortable spending hours and hours in museums… Maybe I should get one of MoMA’s $75 season passes so I can go whenever I want for a few minutes here-and-there when I happen to be in Midtown. Friday evenings are free, though, I suppose…)

The highlight of my brief tour was a forty-channel recording of a choral piece, produced by some British sound artist and installed into its own room. The producer recorded a group of forty choirists, each miced individually. And the resulting experience was luch and uncannily realistic — especially the first few minutes of the playback during which the singers quietly coughed and whispered to one another and did simple vocal warm-ups. If you were to close your eyes, you would’ve thought the room full of quietly jibbering tourists.

It seems like a good way to raise the energy level of any space might be to have a sound-system like that installed with a quiet hum of chatter playing out of it. For example, if you wanted to add some warmth-of-sound to a restaurant without turning up the Muzak hits or the radio you could put in the “Ambeint Chatter Volume 4: Restaurants” and maybe compel your live patrons to talk louder and have a livelier time. Maybe this already happens…

Anyway, I would really like to experiment more with multichannel sound for performance. It seems like there was a moment in the 70s when quadrophonic sound hit a trendy peak, and now we’re kind of in a small Renaissance of 5.1 channel sound composition — but I still haven’t ever gone to an electronic music performance in a club (that wasn’t self-consciously “art”) and heard anything more than old-fashioned stereo coming out of the sound-system. With all of the developments in sound production and performance, I wonder why we haven’t seen much of this.

Otherwise my MoMA experience was good. I just walked around the second floor of the museum for the entire time, looking around by myself. Saw the Pixar 3D Zoetrope and the hi-res video showing off some of the concept work for the five Pixar flicks. And an exhibition of modern photographers. And various other stuff. Media installations seem to be big. Saw several video-based pieces in the collection.

Later I took a refreshing run up the Hudson River from Houston to about 60th street. Very nice. Running in Manhattan is so easy because there’s always distracting stuff to look at and think about while you plod along… All sorts of excitement exists along the Hudson, from a trapeze school to a skate park, an aircraft carrier that’s been converted into a museum, lots of big buildings, a lovely view of Jersey, traffic, helipads, monkey knife-fighting, etc.


Books, Dorkbot, Rose Bowl

Wednesday, January 4, 2006

A couple months ago I picked up Simulacra and Simulation by French media-culture theorist Jean Baudrillard. Someone had made mention of it during an ITP function and I saw it on the shelf near the book I had actually come for, The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil.

So I read Spiritual Machines and enjoyed it despite (or maybe because of) the sort of fervid sci-fi flooffiness of the whole thing. It’s always exciting to read about how in the near-future my toaster will have more brain-power than I do. Don’t like the internet now? Just wait until your fridge has a blog.


Back to S&S… I started reading it today. Got through the first fifteen pages or so while eating (latish) lunch at the Cal-Mex place around the corner on 3rd Street. The idea he seems to be exploring — at first, anyway — is nature of representation in media and the “reality” (or lack of, more likely) that a piece of media refers to. Ugh. I hate writing about this… It’s navel-gazingly nerdy. Oh, but it turns out I have to read it for a class I’m in next semester, so that’s my excuse.

On to more interesting topics, then.

After writing on this-here journal at Tea Spot, I walked down to the dorkbot-nyc presentation in SoHo. Luke DuBois, another ITP prof, gave a talk about his recent sonic time-lapse spectrum-analysis pop-chart experiments. Interesting, but not something you’d, y’know, listen to while jogging.

Then Alyce Santoro presented her sonic fabric project, which was actually the presentation I most wanted to see. She came up with a technique to weave audio cassette tape into cloth in such a way that one could actually run an exposed tape-head over the fabric and get a jittery collage of sound particles from the original cassette recordings. A very cool effect and I’m curious to see (hear) where she goes with it. Someone mentioned making a record head that one could run over the fabric to make sound-lines on the two-dimensional tape-cloth surface. And Jon Fishman also apparently once performed using a dress made out of this sound fabric at a Phish show… Odd.

The third presentation was given by the dreadlocked Mikey Sklar, a guy who has implanted a pill-shaped RFID tag into his hand (which ties nicely into the first couple paragraphs, as he mentioned Spiritual Machines as one of his motivators). So Mikey has an RFID chip in his hand (that a surgeon-friend stuck in one evening in November). What he does with it is unclear, but it does broadcast a unique tag number that he can pick up at short distances with a small USB RFID-reader for his Mac. Mikey ran though the hows and whys (or lack of whys) of putting an RFID chip into yourself, and that was that.

Nice show. (Lots of ITP students in attendance, too.)

So. Dorkbot ended during the Big Game — the Rose Bowl. If you know me well, you might be aware of how football does absolutely nothing for me. (Zero.) But I felt compelled to watch UT vs. USC, so I found a bar a block from the apartment on Bleecker and watched the first half with fellow student Christin Roman and her friend Peter. They went home during the break (Peter a bit earlier — he had to pick up Christin’s sister at the airport) and I went home and watched the exciting conclusion at home with roommate Kevin. Good ending, I have to admit. I’m sure we’re all aware of the results. And those who aren’t, don’t care.

And neither do I anymore.



Tuesday, January 3, 2006

It’s only the second post and I’ve already upset my New Year’s Resolution to make this a truly daily journal. Ack.

I’m still two days behind on my “daily blog.” So I’m writing this on December 5th. So it goes.

Anyway, on Wednesday I had another meeting with the composer Jack Gottlieb at 4pm, so I got a bite to eat and took the C train up to 81st and Central Park West — at the Theodore Roosevelt Park and the Natural History Museum. Lovely area. And with a few small exceptions, we got a bunch of Jack’s audio clips put online and finalized the site. (I put on the last few touches today — Friday — right after I woke up, as well.) So that’s that, then. Good.

I also launched the pre-alpha-total-mess version of a new web project called Skillbot I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. To explain, we need to roll back to November 9th, the day my Applications class group (Charles Pratt, Rocio Barcia, Adam Asarnow, and myself) launched, a silly little site that allowed first year ITPers to tag one another. No real use beyond that. An experiment.

Anyway, we got a huge response to (3,434 tags put into the site in just 60 hours) and the presentation on November 15th got a great response, so I decided to try to take that energy and develop something useful around the core people-tagging idea. Zach Layton suggested a skill-tagging tool and I stewed over that for a few weeks. Then I heard that the Dodgeball guys —Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert — had once tried to develop such a thing while students here and Tikva Morowati arranged a big group gathering to discuss social software and, well, I felt I had to go ahead and make the move if I wanted to try to make my own skill-tagging tool. So I did. So, Skillbot. (I won’t link to it because it only works if you’re an ITP student. Sorry.)

Skillbot works on about three different levels right now (something which may need slimming down). One can tag oneself and others with skills that you have or want to learn about. One can tag others with freeform tags. And one can add to a list of projects currently being worked on. And then one can sift through the pile of information in different (hopefully) useful ways. That’s the angle, to kind of look inside ITP and see what’s going on in students’ minds.

A good idea? I don’t know. Workable? I don’t know. Time-consuming? Yes.

And, just to note, did get into the ITP Winter Show — the first time ever for an Applications class project, according to ITP prof Tom Igoe. I don’t know if that’s a huge accolade, but it’s an interesting bit of trivia. If you’re into collecting interesting ITP-related trivia.


Contract Work

Monday, January 2, 2006

It’s only the second post and I’ve already upset my New Year’s Resolution to make this a truly daily journal. Ack.

So, anyway. I’m actually writing this post on Janaury 4th. But it’s all about Monday, January 2nd — the most 9-to-5-ish workday I’ve had since moving to New York for school.

My first semester out here, I chose to avoid getting too entangled with for-pay projects. I’d saved enough money from working at BMC in Austin to coast through until the end of the year without any worries. I’ve still got a reasonably healthy bank account these days, but I feel settled in enough to be able to pick up a few contracts without losing out on my experiences with ITP or the city. Especially during the winter break.

So this morning at 11 I had my third meeting with Jack Gottlieb, an older composer of Jewish liturgical music, choruses, classical music, and musical comedies. Dan Shiffman, one of the ITP faculty, mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that Jack needed some web assistance, so we hooked up and I’ve been helping him spruce up his site and put some audio clips online (at, if you’re interested). Nothing major, but it’s been neat talking to him and seeing his large Upper West Side apartment just a few blocks from the Natural History Museum. After we met the first time last week I walked along Riverside Park up to 112th Street to grab a late lunch at Tom’s Restaurant (famous both as “Monk’s” from Seinfeld and “Tom’s Diner” from the Suzanne Vega song). Tom’s is just a normal diner. Nothing special, other than all of the Senfeld memorabilia on the walls. But good enough. Afterwards I dipped my head into the largest cathedral in the world, just down 112th — St. John the Divine’s. (This sightseeing occurred last week. Today I went directly to my next appointment in Alphabet City.)

My second appointment of the day was with Michael Jascz, a friend of Adam Asarnow, another ITP student. Michael runs a small web-based business selling books and recordings by spiritual-sexuality mentor David Deida. We chatted for a couple of hours, brainstorming ideas for helping the visibility of his website ( and just talking about improving the whole thing in general. So we’ll see where that leads.

Anyway, I’m happy to be in school and concentrating on my own learning for a couple of years, but switching back into old web-contractor-businessman mode for the day was fun. Hopefully I can keep a steady stream of work coming through during the semester…



Sunday, January 1, 2006

I returned to the apartment a few minutes ago from the Washington Square Diner, the place up on 4th street at 6th “Avenue of the Americas” avenue that I’ve been frequenting since I’ve moved into the neighborhood. I’m still foggy from the festivities last night and it seemed like some greasy diner food and a soda might help clear my brain a bit. But it didn’t really work. Or maybe it did.

At any rate, last night I watched the rather bland new Harry Potter movie before heading out. Frank Lantz, my game design professor, labelled Rowling’s Quidditch a “broken game” because winning relies so heavily on catching the buzzing bandersnatch (or whatever the hell that little thing it called) that it makes all other strategy useless. Which makes the game boring and un-fun. The games in the new movie were all equally broken and tedius and after about the sixth time a Hogwarts professor or someone gave Harry some sneaking piece of advice I found myself simply just not giving a shit anymore and wanting to leave. I agreed with Ron: If I attended school with Harry Potter I’d be pissed off at him, too.


After being blocked from entering the apartment building of a friend on 44th Street (a half-block from Times Square and, it turns out, crowded to the point that the landlord had called the police to come and keep additional revelers out), we headed down to Verlaine to the private party Sean had invited us to. Getting around Manhattan proved remarkably easy and even around 11pm we had no problem hailing a cab in midtown to get the the Lower East Side. The streets just off of Times Square were eerily quiet — a surprise considering the world-class media bedlam occuring right nearby.

I guess there’s not really much to say about what happened at Verlaine except that the night involved tasty complimentary shrimp and friend mushrooms… Otherwise I had the experience approximately a million New Yorker twenty-somethings had, went home late, woke up very late, and did next to nothing today (except watch some television and eat). And now it’s bedtime again. Awesome.


First Thoughts on Tactile Drawing

Sunday, November 6, 2005


Painting with light.

For my final ICM project I think I’ve decided to do a kind of tactile digital drawing program. Meaning, something to allow someone to “paint” (or move color around creatively) on a computer screen (or on a projection of a computer screen) without using the keyboard and the mouse. For example, you drag your hand over the image and it smears the colors on the screen along with your hand. Or you use a stylus to pick out colors and draw lines by actually drawing on the image itself.

One of the key elements would be the ability of the drawn image to evolve on its own as it’s put down. Wriggle. Wobble. Decay. Fade. Etc. A very simple example of a drawing that remains alive after its draw can be found in this simple project I did for ICM a few weeks ago. (See also.)

I don’t know how to do any of this, of course. But it seems like a good challenge.

People enjoy playing with toys and I think there’s a vast open space in the field of creating new tools for creation using digital and interactive media. I’ve seen a few compelling art toys like this, but not many.

It also seems like a good way to learn about richer sources of sensory input for machines than the keyboard, mouse, and maybe the occasional iSight camera.

So. I’ve e-mailed Jeff Han, a researcher at NYU who is responsible for the tech behind the Cycling 74 / JazzMutants Lemur control surface (on C74’s site / on his site). (I think this is what I heard and the Lemur and the object on his page look very, very similar — though I can’t find a direct connection between Jeff and the Lemur on the web right now.) He also has a page about a simple LED touch sensor that looks very cool. Hopefully he’ll get back in contact with me and we’ll get to talk.

I don’t have any solid good ideas at this point, so everything’s kind of on the table. Think physical painting and drawing tools that create images that “live” and fluxuate. That’s the plan.

Don’t you want to touch and play with the two Jeff Han projects? Of course you do — that’s why they’re cool!


Josh’s Socratic Dialogue

Wednesday, November 2, 2005


The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David

So. Our most recent ICM assignment (here at sunny ITP) was to write a Socratic dialogue dissecting some issue involving interactivity and communication. Plato’s Phaedrus was our example.

This isn’t a genius piece, or anything, but I enjoyed writing it. And I’ve so far avoided posting any of my homework to my blog, but since it seems relevent to the blog and internet communication specifically, I figured I’d go ahead and throw it out there for you.

There’s a major logical flaw in the discussion, you’ll probably notice. But I kind of think it’s on the right track.

Without further ado:

Josh’s Socratic Dialogue

[Posted to a fictional weblog…]

So I’m supposed to think about interactivity and authorship and the relationship between the two. And I’m supposed to think about literacy versus orality and the benefits of communication via recorded text and communication via interactive conversation.


We live in a authored world. I get my news from some website, the television, or a newspaper. I read novels written by men and women dead for scores of years. I watch movies featuring stars who would have nothing to do with me in “real life.” Articles and textbooks for school broadcast information at me and expect me to understand and remember.

But I think it has become fashionable to criticize this, to remember back to the “good old days” when men and women delivered information in an interactive form. Conversation. I have a bit of news and I tell you. You want to know more, so you ask a question. Or you think maybe I’ve misinterpreted something, so you tell me why. Or, I have an argument or political criticism of some sort. I tell you. You ask me to explain a finer point, some angle that I may not have previously considered. And I do. And I refine my idea. And then I have a much better argument or criticism to work with. I am better off. And so are you.

So the idea is that interactivity allows one to question and refine piece of thought — a meme. Such a meme grows and evolves and adjusts to the world. It’s always fresh as long as it’s in use. A meme that has been physically recorded, printed as words, remains static, gathers dust.

But I don’t fully buy this. For one thing, a written word can be responded to with another written word. And part of learning to live in an information-flooded culture such as ours is learning how to judge the validity of a piece of information by considering the author or reporter of that information, the way that piece of information was put together or reported, and when that piece of information was recorded. I read Plato, for example, and I know that he was writing around 400BC and that — without diminishing his achievement — I can know that certain ideas of his have been outmoded and refined during the past 2400 years. So many people have responded to Plato’s ideas. And the responses to these ideas are as integral a part of our cultural thought as Plato’s original ideas were — more integral, possibly (if something can, in fact, be “more integral,” anyway).

So that’s a snapshot of my thoughts on the matter. Feel free to respond in the comments.

Posted by Josh Knowles on October 31st, 2005


Sock Radish writes:
So it seems like you consider any form of communication to ultimately be interactive, right? Like, the only difference between having a vocal conversation and writing a series of articles with different points of view is the media (voice versus printed text) and the period of time over which the discussion occurs. Right?

Josh Knowles writes:
Yeah, exactly. Anything can be responded to. You can tell me I’m a fool to my face and I’ll respond right there with words. You can write an article in the newspaper about how I’m a fool and I’ll write a letter to the editor the next day with a response. Which the newspaper would print if they had any sense of fairness.

Sock Radish writes:
You hit on an interesting point when you mention the newspaper. In a conversation two people have equal footing (more-or-less), right? When we both only use our voices we are equal partners in an argument. But when a newspaper prints a piece of information, they broadcast that information out to possibly millions of people. If you know that the piece of information is wrong or could be refined, you can only broadcast your response to those around you (unless you have control over a media outlet of some sort). So, in this scenario, most people will never hear your response. They will never hear any conversation. Effectively, there can be no conversation. And this matter is even worse when a text has been around for thousands of years and read by billions of people. No one person could ever have enough power to respond to that. Especially if the author is long dead. Right?

Josh Knowles writes:
That seems true, but I guess I don’t consider the method of broadcasting a piece of information to be a part of the response. It’s like discussing the record label marketing techniques when reviewing a jazz CD.

Sock Radish writes:
Don’t you get frustrated sometimes when a really good albums goes overlooked because it’s not sold properly? Or because the record label can’t get it out there?

Josh Knowles writes:
Sometimes, yeah. But that’s meta information. The core of any discussion of music is the discussion of the actual sounds themselves.

Sock Radish writes:
Really? Just the sound waves as they hit the ear? That’s the only thing that matters in the discussion of music?

Josh Knowles writes:
Yes. That’s what music is.

Sock Radish writes:
Context doesn’t matter? What happens when you listen to the same song that you really, really like on repeat one hundred times?

Josh Knowles writes:
Of course context matters. I’d get sick and tired of hearing even a really great song on repeat all day.

Sock Radish writes:
So it seems that a piece of music isn’t simply the data contained within a waveform. A piece of musical information carries along with it meta-information — information about context — which communicates enjoyment or boredom or annoyance. Right?

Josh Knowles writes:
I see where you’re taking this. You’re trying to say that a piece of information has a contextual component no matter what. That information can’t be stripped of context. And that an opinion printed in a newspaper carries certain contextual information along with it. And though I can reply to the opinion easily enough by calling my mom and telling her my views or writing about it in on my blog, I can’t respond to the contextual information. That’s too powerful. So, maybe, while responding in a permanent medium to another permanent medium (such as the written word) may be structurally similar to responding in conversation, really they’re quite different because in there’s a vast imbalance of power with the written word (for example) that doesn’t exist when we’re sitting across from a table from each other exchanging words.

Sock Radish writes:
You said it, not me. But now that it’s been said, it does seem like there’s one very popular venue of communication these days that does seem to bridge the gap between conversation and the written word, orality and literacy.

Josh Knowles writes:
Let me guess: the web? Websites? Weblogs with comments? Because even if my weblog gets 1,000,000 visitors a day, if I allow comments then I grant people the ability to respond to both the information and the power with which the information has been communicated.

Sock Radish writes:
Yes, it does seem like this ability to properly respond to permanent communications such as the written word (or even songs or movies) is one of the major benefits of this new interactive global medium.

Josh Knowles writes:
Yeah, and I guess you do see this in the way people have informalized language for conversational venues such as chat rooms. And discussion forums. And personal websites. Spelling, punctuation: all optional. And the language is very compact and streamlined. Like spoken language. But, it’s definitely recorded. What an odd hybrid…

Sock Radish writes:


Photo Licensing

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Ice cream van in SoHo.

I got another request to use one of my travel photos in a professional project. This has happened maybe four times in the past few months — the requesting part — but so far none has panned out. Columbia University wanted to use some of my Potsdamer Platz shots in some presentation and a couple of religious groups have asked about using some of my shots from Jerusalem. And I just got another today from a game company.


In Heliopolis, Egypt.

So this is flattering and all, but I’m more-or-less unsure of how to deal with “licensing” out my images for commercial use. If this trend continues, it would be nice to have some kind of response beyond the extrememly unprofessional: “Yeah, sounds good — will you give me money?” But I’m not sure how to approach this. I’m definitely not a “professional photographer” and I am much more interested in having my shots out there in the world than I am in squeezing money out of people. But if my shots will be used in a commercial product, I want to feel appropriately compensated.


Austin flowers.

Anyway, if anyone comes across this post with some experience in selling photographs, I’d be much obliged if you would give a word or two of advice in the comments to this post.

And if you want to use one of my photos, please e-mail me. All of the photos on this site are mine and available for use.


Christian at the National Design Gallery in NYC.