Just another WordPress.com site

An Ode to an .EXE



The rise of music sharing isn’t a social calamity involving general lawlessness; nor it is the dawn of a new age of human kindness. It’s just new opportunities linked to old motives via the right incentives. When you get that right, you can change the way people interact with one another in fairly fundamental ways, and you can shape people’s behavior around things as simple as sharing music and as complex as civic engagement. – Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (126). 


Audiogalaxy doesn’t exist anymore. The website doesn’t take you anywhere. There is no 404. It is just dead. The official Facebook page is down – only Wikipedia links and fandom pages linger. It is not coming back.

Audiogalaxy has existed in different forms and iterations. Most recently, it functioned as a music streaming service. It was a way to stream your entire mp3 collection (and multiple other file formats) and playlists from a home computer through multiple devices. A small program was installed on your computer with all the music on it, and it streamed it to your smartphone or to any other computer by simply logging into your account on the AG website. You collection stayed in one place and you could take it anywhere and everywhere. Logging into a website gave me access to the thousands of songs I loved. I didn’t need to install anything on an office computer, it didn’t upload my mp3 collection to a company’s cloud, there were no annoying or irrelevant ads, and it was completely ad free. It was, by and far, one of the greatest music-related programs I had ever encountered in my entire life. Its last day of functioning use was January 31, 2013.

Dropbox bought out the technology and the development team. It is unclear what their plans are. The Facebook page was very tight lipped about there being any sort of future for Audiogalaxy, but people speculated on possible music streaming being integrated into Dropbox. But, they work on a cloud system rather than flat-out device to device streaming. They do not exactly match in terms of technology or service. No one seems to know what they plan on doing with the AG technology or development team – not even Dropbox.  Fans were angry. While the page no longer exists, many on the Facebook page vowed to uninstall Dropbox and never use their service again.

For a bit of perspective, iTunes takes up about 200mb of space (for some reason) and comes with multiple invasive programs – some of which I don’t know the function of. Yes, it does a lot, but I’ve never had much use for it beyond playing movie trailers. It is too cumbersome and clunky for me as a music player, takes forever to load, and wants full control over your media experience.

Audiogalaxy is/was just a few megabytes and functioned beautifully – it made you forget that it was there and let you do your own thing, it simply helped.

But, there is more to this story. I had used Audiogalaxy every day for the last couple of years – but I had also used a different version of AG nearly 15 years ago.


The original program and purpose of Audiogalaxy was very different. While it was always a lightweight, mostly web-based service, it started in the post-Napster craze of music sharing that took dial-up internet by storm. Napster allowed us to look for music and files we wanted, but it did little other than to help you find a repeatable file of a song you heard on the radio (and maybe its techno remix). AG was most useful for its ability to help you find the song, album, artist, or genre and link you to related content that you would most likely enjoy. In so, it provided a landscape of musical and artistic exploration. Before Napster exploded, young people either knew about the radio, from friends who happened to know something different, or from monthly mail-order music programs (who one time accidentally sent my older brother Cannibal Corpse instead of Red Hot Chili Peppers. We loved it). These were good ways to find something new that was relatively available, but not a good way to explore unknown aesthetics and possibilities.

As mp3’s became increasingly prominent, so did too the underlying system of labeling files. ID3 tagging helped programs categorize files based on more than file names (which were often wrong, inaccurate, or victim to trolling). You could now search for popular files in the same genre, file ripper, quality, or a variety of things. Lesser known and independent artists benefited from this, as people sharing files could help pass along something to someone else with similar tastes. Audiogalaxy benefited from this cultural process immensely, integrating it into their service. There were comment boards and community groups, allowing people to connect and communicate with each other, rather than blindly sharing. A group based on a genre could link to various artists and someone in that group could sample new music based on recommendations very quickly. I learned not just about new songs or artists, but the stories and histories of these artists and genres, how they connected to other groups, and perhaps most importantly, developed an intense need to explore and learn about the art I was consuming. AG is perhaps singly responsible for where my cultural capital is today.

I used the service rabidly, filling up my parents’ computer’s hard drive with all the weird and extreme music I could get my hands on. And hiding it at the same time, so they couldn’t hear how weird or extreme my tastes were. During a very important part of my teenage years, I found music that I really cared about rather than what corporations expected me to like (and purchase). And there was an aura of excitement to it all – not just listening to different music, but discovering it all. Unearthing the unknown. Perhaps it wasn’t the music that changed me, but the act of discovering it, and Audiogalaxy provided that in my life. It helped me develop my tastes as well as how I thought about culture and art – find my own thing, unafraid to be weird.

And apparently I wasn’t the only one, according to a Facebook fanpage.


While users attempted to block downloads of particular songs and artists in order to extend the legal life of their service, people figured out loopholes around this process by being coy with file names and tag data. But, it was only a matter of time. The service had a relatively brief life (about 3 years) and the whole thing was shut down. The RIAA was particularly brutal and incredibly powerful, proclaiming that an industry was in mortal danger. Audiogalaxy was more than a simple program that let people send things back and forth to each other. It was more of a contemporary music service years ahead of its time – multifaceted communities, encyclopedias of information, and the limitless unknown pushing the limits of dial-up connections across the planet. The community aspect was perhaps what was most terrifying to the RIAA. It wasn’t that people were sharing files, but sharing ideas and aesthetics. Users were not only capable of downloading mainstream music for free, but learning that this music had little purpose in their lives, and to look elsewhere for new and different things.

P2P’s were no longer safe to use. Viruses plagued the unsuspecting  and people began to learn the horror stories of life-crippling lawsuits for downloading a single song. While Audiogalaxy attempted to go legit while teaming up with Rhapsody, the community abandoned ship. In 2002, BitTorrent was just getting on its feet, and people were beginning to get broadband connections as opposed to dial-up. Albums and discographies were able to be downloaded as opposed to single songs and people learned about new music from message boards and newly-developing “social networking” communities.

As a member of these communities, it was interesting to see how Audiogalaxy shaped me in comparison to others. I was able to track down obscure musicians on MySpace or talk about bands people might enjoy while on various boards. I found these artists in local record stores (if possible) and supported them through merch sales. The program, in essence, changed my life in a serious way. It wasn’t just a way to find music, but it taught me the importance of cultural exploration – something I missed out on from my small-town adolescence. I learned to not just be satisfied with what was presented to me, but to go and find things that I actually liked. As a consumer, I learned about why I liked things rather than just simply liking.

Cut to almost a decade later.


In 2010, it took me by surprise that Audiogalaxy still existed, had the same loopy logo, and was providing an incredibly effective and free service, albeit entirely different than its original inception. Instead of downloading music from others, a user was able to stream their library of music to different devices. You could have an extensive collection of music at the touch of a finger on your memory-limited smart phone, or keep your sanity at work by having all of your music to listen to via a web interface. By logging into their website, you could listen to all of your music. Your computer became a cloud rather than paying a large company like Apple or Google to be the cloud for you. You had full control over your files and experience. There were no ads or algorithms competing for your attention.

In grad school I researched, typed, and graded papers in my office through insane A.M. hours while listening to black metal, dark ambient, alternative rock, new wave, comedy, podcasts, or any number of files without lugging around my laptop or needing to constantly update and organize an iPod through the horrors of iTunes. At jobs, I edited boring corporate blog posts and media presentations while comforted by sense of individuality and life outside of office walls.

But, this too was short lived. Audiogalaxy was bought by Dropbox in late 2012 and shut down its service entirely on January 31, 2013. No one knows how Dropbox plans to use the AG technology or development team, but fans are afraid. Again, years ahead of its time, AG fans fear that a company will charge money for simple and effective service that they’ve grown to love and use for free.


I still have Audiogalaxy installed on my computer. Its little logo sits lifeless and gray in my running programs list. I don’t want to uninstall it. I don’t want to kill it. I don’t want it to be gone from my life again. To me, it isn’t simply a program. AG’s essence, its process, its community, its freedom, and its passion became a fundamental aspect of who I am as a consumer, a fan, and as a human being. It feels odd to suggest a personal connection to a program, but I don’t think I was ever more connected to an .exe file.

While Audiogalaxy taught me about new music, it also taught me about myself.

R.I.P. Audiogalaxy 2002/2013.

Planning for Burial – Quietly


[I]t is a relief to have some utterly banal sound pierce the darkness that we lie in, and to jar us out of the hypnagogic terror that would convince us that we are alone with the phantasms of our minds. – Thomas Bey William Bailey (174)


Planning for Burial

Quietly CD reissue (limited, with bonus tracks).

Digital album.

Enemies List Home Recordings

Planning for Burial make an audacious claim – Death to false gloom. The credo firmly asserts the idea that “yes, this is all real.” This is not to be confused with doom. Doom and gloom may go hand-in-hand in some contexts, there are noticeable differences. The former suggests a noticeable reality, a pending and altogether real shift of the inevitable – wide scale and encompassing. Gloom permeates strictly within. A personal melancholy that is experienced by the individual. Though it is something one can identify with, one’s gloom is their own. That is part of the enigma, struggle, and beauty of Planning for Burial.

With contemporaries such as Enemies List artists Have a Nice Life and Giles Corey, or other shoegaze projects such as Sun Devoured Earth, Planning for Burial is a part of a prolific and engaging indie music culture. But, where Giles Corey might eulogize that “No One is Ever Going to Want Me,” the sadness of Planning for Burial seems different. Alfred Tennyson might have proclaimed that “’Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Planning for Burial adamantly denies this proposition.

The metanarrative of the band supports this. One need only follow the band’s tumblr in the twilight hours to catch glimpses of haunting pain. Cryptic posts written in drunken hazes alluding to past events, impossible realities, constant hurt, and lost love. While some may only sympathize, being able to identify with the struggle is perhaps what makes Planning for Burial so mesmerizing. The gloom is real. All of our gloom is real.

It is perhaps an odd comparison to make, but I am reminded of listening to Navicon Torture Technologies while wandering around my college campus. While they sound nothing alike, Lee M. Bartow left the same impression on me – this is real. Songs of such inner-hatred echoed in my headphones as one man attempted a form of artistic and noisey emotional revenge. It seemed like the only way he could deal with heartbreak, loss, betrayal, and pain (his “Personal Apocalypse” series of songs really comes to mind). Listening to him back then helped me process my own gloom. I get the same feeling as I listen to Planning for Burial. As the band stated in a correspondence with me in late 2012, “[gloom] to me is about feeling…it’s a feeling that comes through me best through music, I believe.”

Quietly works differently than most PFB releases. The album Leaving often presents a loud, clashing, distorted drone as a sense of gloom. I have tried to share the beauty of “Oh Pennsylvania, Your Black Clouds Hang Low,” with others, only to have them be immediately turned off by the carnal screams within the first few seconds. Even “Humming Quietly” has a sense of immediacy and synaptic anxiety feedback that the album Quietly contrasts against. Herein lies the rather splendid way in which Planning for Burial is able to capture gloom – in noise, in quietness, and in the noise of the quiet.

A series of guitar notes, brushed up against and plucked, loom over frequencies in the background. Mild feedback oscillates between the delicate balances of here and there. The album itself is quieter than others, but “quietly” is an adverb and means more than the presentation of the music. The albums captures, in a sense, the ways in which those who manage the day-to-day, but suffer in the invisible heartbreak of life. The music is able to haunt rather than intrude, lingering in the listener like a memory. Its quietness is no less powerful, emotive, or deafening. The vocals are just within listenable range – there, but not quiet identifiable. The words are there, but you can’t quiet capture them. They drift, like a dream after you wake up, away from consciousness and into a lingering sensation. This is not to suggest that “quiet” is “nice” or “relaxing” or any number of positive connotations.  There can be a violence of emotion that is singular, personal, and hidden. The album forces a pain, luring in one with an aesthetic of ambience but contrasting with distortions, noises, and emotions. Quietly is an ethereal experience, allowing the listener participate with the quietness around them and the emotions muted inside.





Bailey, Thomas Bey William. Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century. [London]: Creation, 2009. Print.

Stapled Copy – 09/12/2012

Think Tank #2
Matt Hawkins, Rahsan Ekedal
Top Cow

Think Tank has a bold tag line – “Danger: Reading this book will make you smarter.” I really liked the first issue, but was dubious about how that tag line would come into play with the narrative. This issue helps demonstrate that the tag line is, I think, right. This book very well might make you smarter. Not in terms of IQ points, per say, but in terms of awareness. The density of content is surprising, especially for a book whose protagonist just wants to get laid and play video games. While Dr. David Loren contemplates his own role in the death of thousands, it reflects a great reality for scientists to consider their role in global progress after the famous words of Dr. Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project. I found myself considering how the recession, the struggle for employment, and the ways in which one bends their morality in order to pay the bills. The realities of war are always awful, and Hawkins ties the idea to someone just wanting to get paid and being happy with their work. The scariest thing about this book is the fact that Hawkins adds supplemental material in the back to help bring a chilling sense of reality to the goofiness of David’s character and the unsettling violence of the weapons and technology presented in Think Tank’s pages. It’s easy to give a pass on the atrocities of war, as we are not reminded of them on a regular basis, but this book balances grim realities with an engaging and identifiable story. I try to not be definitive with these, but more than just “good” or “readable”, this comic has the potential to go on as being a text of importance – particularly as the discourse of drone-based warfare remains muted from public consciousness.


Harbinger #4
Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa, Ian Hannin

Harbinger is an intensely disturbing book. Not so much in terms of content, but in the realities of the narrative. This is partially the case due to the book’s ingeniously ambiguous representation of truth. The evil is subtle and disturbing. On one side, you have a rather mysterious mega-corporation with seemingly good public intentions who are secretly collecting an army of super-powered people for unknown reason. We learn in this issue the lengths in which these people are collected – preying on and seducing the naive, unconfident, and even delusional young people with latent powers and exploiting their desire to be special. On the other hand, we have a creepy jerk teenager with complex personal trauma and rage issues. Peter is slowly catching on the weirdness of the corporation…but is it weirdness or paranoia? Are our fears founded, or are we as readers simply reading the intentions of the Harada Corporation through the authority issues of the protagonist? The story is complex. The conflict is subtle, but remarkably intense and makes for an absolutely thrilling read.


Hawkeye #2
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Matt Hollingsworth

Hawkeye and Clint Barton represent a stark duality of Apollonian (archer metaphor unintended) and Dionysian dualities. The premise of the comic revolves around what Hawkeye’s life is like when he’s not directly working for the Avengers – the off hours, so to speak. Somewhat mild mannered, and the new owner of the iconic #pizzadog, Clint continues to be a hero, even when he doesn’t “have” to be. But, this emphasizes the somewhat absurd opening sentence to this review – Clint straddles the worlds of the perfect-god-hero (Official, card-carrying Avenger) and the self-made, moral, fragile, human being hero. The motives of the story translate further to the aesthetic. While the heavy use of panels creates a frantic sense of action to the story, noticeably the use of color is lacking. Perhaps consisting no more than 3-5 colors, Clint is humanized in contrast to the bright and infinite superhero spectrum.

CFP: Heavy Metal and Popular Culture


This website is not officially related to the conference. I know a couple of the people in charge of organization and I am passing along this great call for presentations to any potential readers of the site. A link is easier for me to share via Twitter/Facebook than a pdf or e-mail.

If you have any questions about this conference, leave a comment and I will either answer it myself (as I am somewhat in the know) or forward the proper contact information to you.  I hesitate to leave anyone’s email on here without permission (besides where to send your abstract).

Heavy Metal and Popular Culture
April 4 – 7, 2013
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, in collaboration with Heavy Fundametalisms: Metal, Music and Politics and the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), announce the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture. The Program Committee of the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture invites proposals for papers, organized panels of 3-4 papers, and scholarly posters. The online submission deadline for all proposals is 1 December 2012. The conference will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, April 4-7, 2013.

We envision a highly selective conference featuring cutting-edge scholarship on heavy metal’s many facets and forms. Papers will be organized into a single track of programming over four days—there will be no overlapping sessions. Featured at the conference will be keynote lectures by Robert Walser, Laina Dawes, and Keith Kahn-Harris, a screening of the film Motörhead Matters, three roundtables featuring Niall Scott, Steve Waksman, Deena Weinstein and other international metal scholars to be announced, and a special exhibit on facepaint and masks.

We welcome proposals involving all facets of heavy metal musical life throughout the world, with a focus on the intersections, circuits, and mutual imbrications of heavy metal and popular culture, globally and locally. We especially welcome proposals addressing the following themes:

  • Heavy Metal Consumption: In what ways has mainstream popular culture changed, prefigured or reversed the consumption of heavy metal? How has heavy metal, as a subculture, sound or style, affected popular culture? Are there new forms of popular culture for which heavy metal has become an influence? Is the intersection of heavy metal, popular culture and consumption creating new questions about authenticity, aesthetics, and soundscape? (In other words, what does it mean when obscure 1980s thrash metal tracks wind up on Guitar Hero?)
  • Heavy Metal, Popular Culture and New Media: Given the rise of new media for heavy metal (social networking media, music and video systems online, gaming, music downloading technology), how has heavy metal further saturated the landscape of popular culture? Are the sounds of heavy metal changing with new technologies and popular media?
  • Heavy Metal Clothing Style: From the fantastic costumes of bands such as Gwar to the ubiquitous heavy metal t-shirt, the fashion of heavy metal is a vital part of its allure, its popularity, and its criticism. Why is heavy metal style both controversial and popular? Where and how has heavy metal style intersected with fashion locally and globally?
  • American Heavy Metal Popular Culture and Its Circuits: From films such as Heavy Metal Parking Lot to Kiss’ commercialism and the Osbourne family’s reality television programs, mainstream American popular culture has held a particular fascination for heavy metal, fomenting moral panics against it one day and celebrating its integrity and authenticity the next. How did American popular culture and heavy metal become so mutually imbricated? Are American popular culture’s heavy metal appropriations altering the scenes in other countries and cultures? Do local scenes, including those within the United States, seek to resist mainstream popular culture or embrace it?

Research Poster Sessions
The poster format provides an opportunity for conference attendees to meet informally with authors and discuss research. Each author attends her/his respective 60-minute session, distributes abstracts, and answers questions. Supporting sound and/or video examples (on personal computers and utilizing battery, rather than A/C power) will be coordinated with other presenters once the Program Committee has formed sessions.

General Guidelines
Accepted presenters will not be required to pay conference attendance registration fees. The committee encourages proposals from graduate students and independent scholars. An individual may submit only one proposal. All proposals must be submitted through the online electronic submission process.

Proposals must specify whether the proposal is for 1) paper, 2) poster, or 3) either presentation format, the latter to be determined by the Program Committee as it builds sessions. Individual or joint papers should be no longer than twenty minutes. Posters will be organized in block sessions. For complete session proposals, the organizer must include an initial statement of 100 words explaining the rationale for the session, in addition to proposals and abstract files for each paper.
Include the following for all submissions:

  • Proposer’s name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation or city of residence
  • 250-word proposal
  • 100-word version of your proposal suitable for publication in the conference program (.doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf format). Include proposer’s name and email, and the proposal title in this file.
  • Audio and visual needs: CD player, DVD player, digital projector. Please also specify IBM or Mac platforms, and any special needs. Request of special audio and visual needs does not guarantee their availability, but presenters will be notified if their requests cannot be met.
  • Specify whether you are a student.

All materials must be electronically date-stamped by December 1, 2012 at midnight CST and emailed to Clifford (at) ucmo (dot) edu with “HMPC Submission” in the subject line and required documents attached. For further information regarding the submission process: Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Chair, HM&PC 2013 Program Committee, Wood 136B, Department of History and Anthropology, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA.


Giles Corey – Deconstructionist

There is some negativity in deconstruction. I wouldn’t deny this. You have to criticise, to ask questions, to challenge and sometimes to oppose. – Jacques Derrida

The shaman is the great specialist in the human soul; he alone “sees” it, for he knows its “form” and its destiny. – Mircea Eliade


Giles Corey – Deconstructionist
$5 Digital Download
Release Date: 08/24/2012
Enemies List

After an attempted suicide, Dan Barrett recorded Giles Corey’s self titled debut. In 1611, Giles Corey, the person, was crushed to death under stones in an attempt to have him confess to witchcraft. This bleakness – the attempt to force someone to confess something due to moral panic (in effect, being killed for perceived strangeness), and suffering a painful death in protest at the very idea of it, became a figurehead of sorts for the project. The album is, as the press page suggests, “An intensely personal study of depression and the afterlife.” Songs such as “I am Going to Do It” and “No One is Ever Going to Want Me” deliver an expression of deep depression, which for the listener can be identifiably therapeutic. Stylistically, I suppose you could say that this was a “folk” album. Though I’d imagine that most traditional folk fans would find it unlistenable, partially because of its experimentality and partially due to the fact that it dives head first into the sadness that most Americana music tends to be aware of, yet skirt around, in hopes of better times. For Giles Corey, there are no better times.

Barrett enlisted the help of internet to help review his latest Giles Corey album Deconstructionist with the warning that it was “weird.” I jumped at the chance to review this new album not only as a huge fan of Barrett’s work and the artists of his label, but as a dedicated fan of “weird” music.

What I got was something rather unexpected.

In 2005, there were rumors of the black metal band Sigh recording with experimental sonic warfare techniques that were developed by the Nazis during the second World War. The album experienced great delays, according to these rumors, due to the aurally-derived illnesses of Mirai Kawashima, the frontperson of Sigh. This came as a warning to listeners and developed an intense authenticity of the release – a metal album that could actually harm you. Later it was revealed that the delay and the rumors had the same cause – a disappointed record label that dropped the band, causing them to need to find a new home for the release. The dangers were not really there, just a somewhat disappointing album after their critically acclaimed Imaginary Sonicscapes.

In essence, this release is a couple of steps further in a different direction. And it is not simply a rumor.

Many of Barrett’s releases come with paratexts (novella length album booklets, building an additional narrative to each body of work). While Sigh’s Gallows Gallery is an album that came with a warning (though based on a false premise), nothing comes to mind in terms of albums that have come with instruction manuals (besides casual lines about listening to it “really loud”).

A text file came with the zip of the album, reminding us that the “booklet *must* be read before listening to the music. Seriously.” The instructions, 34 pages in total, are an undertaking on their own. Before getting to Barrett’s how-to for listening, we get a treatise on the concept of identity – or, at the very least, the conflicting relationship between the Western concept of identity and cultural relativism. I am who I am versus I am what culture has made me.

This manual is part of the namesake of the album, Deconstructionist, as it is partially an attempt to deconstruct the very nature of identity and our understanding of consciousness. Barrett is correct on many levels with his writing, we are a product of the culture that surrounds us, and that includes our mindsets, our ideologies, and our concepts of truth. Barrett highlights this through various case studies and scientific experiments. His ideas have merit and are grounded in scientific and anthropological studies (though, somewhat ironically, it is a Western science objecting a Western expression of consciousness). He is not making this stuff up, either. The skeptical can easily google any of the names or studies he mentions.

Beyond that, Barrett is touching on something very shamanic, regardless of his lack of addressing the idea from outside the grounded world of tested scientific principles. For example – consider the words of Grant Morrison from his speech at the Disinfo Conference in 2000:

Morrison, a counterculture icon, practicing magician, and self-ascribed shaman, alludes to the same ideas – the idea of the individual is a false one. Though the scientific approach by Barrett may ultimately be a more identifiable one (and thus making his experiment more believable), it (perhaps on purpose) ignores the spiritual and the shamanic, except for in metaphor or example. (If you want to watch the whole thing (and I suggest it), click here).

Regardless of the science and audio technology behind the music, the album is an experiment in the shamanic. As Barrett points out, “This is not really ‘music.’” He uses audio frequencies, chants, drums, and “cultural connections” in order to create a technique of ecstasy (ecstasy, in this spiritual and magical sense, not to be confused with the idea of pleasure). In this creation, he is pushing the very limits of the listener and his fan base by going against the expectations of a Giles Corey album, as it isn’t an album at all. It is an attempt to invoke a trance state in the listener through musical meditation.

What we get is 3 audio tracks. Each track is 20-40 minutes long. Because of this, you will most likely never see it as a vinyl release (sorry fans). And due to Berrett’s insistence that it needs to be listened to in order and as a whole, there is no way it could be a CD release either. Not only that, but it must be listened to with headphones in order to get the desired effects. I can attest to this personally, as I listened to it as an experiment with headphones and as a piece of music through speakers (you have to hear the left and the right directly in each ear, or it just won’t work the way it is intended). So, there are serious limitations for potential listeners. No physical copy, no real music, and required situational context.

As a piece of music, it will read similar to the dark ambient works found on Cold Meat Industries than as a piece of folk music. So, expect something more like Coil’s ANS, Nurse With Wound, or Wolfskin. As it was not intended to be listened to as a piece of music, it is hard to review it as one. If you like dark ambient stuff, as I do, it can be entirely listenable on its own. The songs, though lengthy, are interesting, droning, and have a surprising depth to their sounds. The experience could be rather tedious, if one is unfamiliar with ambient works.

As an experiment, though. That is a little more weird to talk about. I did as the instructions asked, turning out all the lights, blindfolding myself, becoming isolated, and putting on my big stupid headphones. Most importantly though, you need to want to try. Magic will not happen if you are unwilling to allow it to happen. My breathing became scant and a great stillness overcame my body. I can’t necessarily associate this with the music, as opposed to my relaxed state. But, I did experience visions and I was not sleeping/dreaming. In terms of what I experienced, the first song (Awake Now) had very natural, man-made images floating in my mind – statues, machines, political leaders, industry, and art. The second song (Death) was very dark. Black figures and bodies in total blackness. It was not scary, in fact, I think this part was the deepest experience of them all, but it was the most “dark” in terms of aesthetic compared to the other two. The final song, (Epsilon) was very natural. I saw animals and landscapes.

Again, I can’t necessarily connect this to the album or the experience that the album was trying to invoke. As an admitted piece of “not really music” its very essence begs the question of the very nature of music itself. I would image my willingness to be “into it” could have worked regardless of the music, as long as I was consciously working towards that end. But in terms of listening to music, in general I want more of an emotional or mental connection to it (which Enemies List is particularly good at). Deconstructionist purposely tries to connect the aural event to the emotional being of the listener, giving them something more from the experience. This idea of moreness is something Jeremy Wallach describes (in terms of listening to metal music) as affective overdrive. This idea, as Wallach states in Metal Rules the Globe, “can even fill one’s awareness to such an extent that, while listening, it becomes impossible to think about or feel anything else” (Wallach, Berger, Greene 13). Though I haven’t tried, I wonder if I could have a similar “ecstatic” experience listening to just about anything that I find emotionally engaging. At the very least, affective overdrive is used to explain when someone feels so passionately engaged with something that may be aesthetically questionable, challenging, or nontraditional – such as this album. It implies that there is an engagement beyond mere enjoyment – a deeper connection to the musical experience. Deconstructionist works on this same level, I feel. The paratext of the instruction manual adds to the idea of the album, and perhaps makes the experience more probable. (Though, I am entirely willing to try a few more times).

Can I recommend Deconstructionist? I am not entirely sure. But, one is not supposed to listen to this album for its aesthetics, so the idea of a recommendation is a moot point. Dedicated Enemies List fans will want to get it no matter what. Fans wanting another similar Giles Corey album may be disappointed. It is an experiment, something to try.

Does the experiment work? Well, I’ll leave that up to the individual listener.

Stapled Copy – 08/21/2012

Harbinger #3
Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa, Ian Hannin

Every Valiant series is worth reading. Period. Harbinger  is not only my favorite of them, but also perhaps my favorite series out currently. Perhaps because Peter Stanchek is a weird little shit like I was. Peter is a creepy, angry teenager whose childhood has lingering trauma that have deep emotional hooks. While everything new in his life is shiny and perfect, he rightfully is dubious of the intent of the most profitable corporation on the planet, noting that he and his new peers are an “army in training for a corporation.” At the heart of this book is a nature vs. nurture debate – will fate or experience overcome Peter? While a company is hoping they can change fate, they seem oblivious to the fact that they are pacifying the human condition. While thinking they know what is best for an individual or society, few take the time to actually listen to a person or understand their individual situation.


Captain Marvel #2
Kelly Sue Deconnick, Dexter Soy

Continuing to breach the canon of Marvel, issue 2 of Kelly Sue Deconnick’s Captain Marvel further establishes the idea that women have been a prominent and important part of not just Marvel’s history, but the history of human culture within the world of Marvel. In this instance, particularly in war. While the Howling Commandos are the de facto military squad for a Marvel book, Captain Marvel asserts that, yes, there were women at war was well. And smartly so. If the Commandos are in Europe battling the evils of the Axis, who is at the Pacific Rim? This book isn’t about replacing male characters, or women proving themselves as heroes, but demonstrating that they always already have, but without the recognition and acknowledgment that men received from history. I’m thrilled that Marvel and Kelly Sue care so much about the culture and history of the world within Marvel’s pages.


Bloodshot #2
Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia, Arturo Lozzi, Matt Ryan

One thing in particular that I find rather smart about Bloodshot is the way it shifts art styles to deal with conflicting identities and diegetic realities of our silver-skinned hero in question – perhaps most-so because of how the actual reality of the book is the most improbable for both the hero and the reader to comprehend. Therefore, the reader, much like Bloodshot, must try to make sense of the world we are slowing learning about. Bloodshot puts his mind and body through horrors in order to assemble an concept of truth to his humanity – the interesting part of this series is that while the truth may be difficult for him to discover, there may not be one at all. So, while there is great military-industrial-complex action, there is also great mystery and debate. A smart action book.

Victories #1
Michael Avon Oeming
Dark Horse

Early on in Geoffrey Harpham’s Shadow of Ethics, he discusses literature in association with “place” by stating that, “there will very likely be a sense of moving stillness at the core, a ‘place,’…that animates and grounds the imagination itself…[and] take narrative form.” While this idea is easily applicable to the great cities of DC Comics, the moving stillness takes a firm hold in Victories. The dark skyline of dimming infrastructure hint at a political climate. The affluent in a carriage ride through a park hint at struggles of class. The delapitated apartment complex hints at the instability of the protagonist. All of these come together to form a structure of what promises to be an interesting and dark story from Oeming.

Stapled Copy – 08/15/2012

Hi. this is Tim. I’ve been trying to get myself to write regularly, and have gotten back into buying single comics. So, I will be writing these weekly. These have been comics I have been thinking about for the last month that have inspired this series, so this is a bit of a catch-up post. I’ll hopefully have “this weeks” reviews up and online within the next day or so. My reviews (if you can even call them that) are not about whether I think something is “good”. In essence, this will be more micro-analysis of comics as they come out in single issue form. I will try to not let my opinions or enthusiasm lead my critiques and analysis.

Captain Marvel #1
Kelly Sue DeConnick & Dexter Soy

Captain Marvel does several interesting things with its first issue. It analyzes and applies the fluidity of the character’s name/rank to an already-existing Marvel property and by doing so it not only re-launches an old franchise (Captain Marvel), but also revolutionizes another (Ms. Marvel). A previous Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell) introduced a sense of mortality to the Marvel universe and an unwavering sense of courage. Captain America rightfully suggests that Ms. Marvel becomes a part of (and take over) the legacy. This issue has several bold things going on. We have a woman character who is not “Woman” or “Girl” or “Ms.” in namesake – a rarity but also a completely obvious and sensical change that has been seemingly staring Marvel in the face for years. Yes, it takes Captain America to help legitimize her, but that is what he does. In doing so, Marvel creates what potentially could have been stuck as a “girl comic” (which is not necessarily bad, but needlessly limiting and somewhat culturally problematic). This comic simply considers their women readership to be an equal, prominent, and important part of their customer base. This isn’t to say that Marvel masculinized Ms. Marvel or that the only legitimate form of superhero comic is that of a “boy book,” but rather it shifts the idea of the gender-essential superhero canon to something that everyone has always already read. Which is true. Both genders have always read superhero comics, so their very being is not inherently more masculine, but was culturally constructed that way. Captain Marvel tries to shift that mindset in many ways. The comic establishes Carol Danvers as an important hero to the world/universe. It lays the groundwork for a history and development of the character, creating a deep relationship between the reader and a character many Marvel readers may have ignored over the years. This history shows us Danvers’s personal hero, an aged pilot named Helen Cobb. A woman hero with a woman hero. A woman superhero with importance to the Marvel canon with a woman hero who has historical and cultural importance to the diegetic Earth. This gives female readers the potential for the same sense of importance to the character as Danvers has for Cobb – a privilege male readers have had for decades.


Archer & Armstrong #1
Fred van Lente, Clayton Henry, Matt Millia

I have been very impressed with all the Valiant relaunch titles, and the latest #1 had me really tickled. I didn’t read any of the original Valiant books and quite frankly don’t know anything about them. So, each one of these titles has been a rather joyful surprise. What is introduced with this title is a rather absurd yet completely recognizable representation of American Neo-Conservative culture and a rather biting satire at that. The series opens with a flashback – a pre-known humanity culture arguing over whether to turn on a device. A brother vowing its usage and one suggesting more thought. The device is switched on and (seemingly) destroys all life on Earth. Within the first few pages, the series sets up an ideological tone to the comic’s world – Relativism versus Objectivism. Rationality vs. Absolutism. We flash forward to a Biblical Realism amusement park opens the series and we learn of the training of Archer, a perfect image of a blonde hair/blue eyed ubermensch teen. He is set forth on a secret mission to assassinate the source of ultimate evil – who we learn is the whiskey-slugging, broad-chasing, hangover-dodging, poetry-quoting, heavy-hitting, and seemingly immortal Armstrong. To Archer, he represents the sins of Humanity that must be wiped clean of the Earth. But they stumble on a greater conspiracy that will surely cause the boy a great deal of personal conflict. The book’s reality-as-conspiracy theory has a deeply metaphorical representation of how ideology controls and hegemonizes worldviews and lifestyles. I can’t wait to read more.


Harvest #1
A.J. Lieberman & Colin Lorimer

Harvest is a bleak book, particularly in aesthetic. Gray, black, murky greens and blues make up the majority of the color scheme, save for the nostalgia of flashbacks and the viscera of human gore that scatters the pages. A deadbeat playboy surgeon is disbarred and is forced to participate in illegal, underground operations – both to save the unlawful and to generate huge profits from organ harvesting. Deeply tied to America’s current economic crisis, the book shows the desperation of uncertainty and the flexibility of morality – both in the gluttonous over-abundance money and in its horrifying lack.


Think Tank #1
Matt Hawkins, Rahsan Ekedal
Top Cow

There is some interesting stuff going on in Think Tank. Dr. David Loren, young genius, works in research and development for future weapons and technology for the American military. David is famous in the department for creating the technology necessary to make drones a functional and effective tool/weapon/force for the military. Faced with the weight of his inventions – arm-chair killings, the overly-easy justification for military force (ie: person-less battle – zero casualty, zero risk, so why not?), domestic surveillance state, etc.., David reverts to transgression as protest. That is, until the military threatens to ruin his life and the life of the only person close enough to him to be considered a friend. The premise is interesting – a person morally objecting to his own work and creations is forced to continue to invent future technology and future violence. His subversion is comical (using military tech to get laid) – but the story is establishing itself to be more. The fact that the comic is presenting a reality of drone-based warfare serves both as education for the readers and as well as possible protest by the creator. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here.

Where the Horror Lives – Metro 2033

Upon my life, the tracks have vanished,

We’ve lost our way, what shall we do?

It must be a demon’s leading us

This way and that around the fields.

– A. S. Pushkin, “Demons”


Metro 2033 was a relatively unnoticed Xbox360 game that came out in 2010. None of my friends played it or were excited about its release. It was developed by a small video game company (4A Games) in Ukraine that was an offshoot of a more prominent developer. So small, that it seems like their website’s home page has not been updated since 2006 when they had only 10 employees. I did not give it a second thought until about 3 weeks ago when I sought it out on a whim after watching the trailer during a Youtube Suggested Video. The somberness of the music and the narration contrasts beautifully with the intensity of the action. In the second video, Artyom’s description of life is absolutely chilling.

It is one of the more unsettling survival horror games I’ve played, but it is not because it is scary. It is because it is horrifying. I purposely differentiate those two concepts, as they are fundamentally different. I will attempt to explain that as this article progresses, so don’t think I’m just playing that off because it sounds cool.

Based on a series of novels by Dmitry Glukhovsky, the game follows a fairly standard post-apocalyptic mold – nuclear holocaust destroys civilization and humanity survives on the remints of dysfunctional technology. It uses nostalgia and knowledge about the present as a way of making the fictional and fantastical more identifiable. But where the Fallout franchise (in particular, this generation of games) uses the iconoclasm of the 1950s (and, by proxy, an arms race in which its world “won”) to contrast its barren landscapes, Metro 2033 uses the fresh political wounds of the Cold War in order to emphasize the destructive possibilities of historically unjustifiable militarism. To elaborate – Fallout banks on the accidents caused by us having nuclear weapons and Metro demonstrates the horrors of us using them. While the imagery might be more apt for a Russian or Post-Soviet Bloc country, the tension of history is not lost on an American gamer. Even one without conscious memory of previous political administrations can recognize that the environment of the game is one of destruction without reason. One game uses history as a crutch to suggest impossibility, whereas the other shows how it was all too feasible.

The aesthetic of Metro is gray and brown and dark. You live in a subway station with other starving, sickly survivors, and you are constantly under attack by the surges of monsters. Humanity has survived for 20 years underground in Russia’s subway system in isolated pockets and travels between them by pushcart. The surface world has been decimated by missiles, radiation makes the air toxic, and ash clouds have turned it into a tundra wasteland. Monsters roam the surface and bleed into the tunnel systems. The only food available is what is bred for slaughter and only if your station is lucky enough to be able to do so. Children are starving, lonely fires warm the constant cold, people sleep on tightly stacked bunk beds, and defecate into carefully distanced holes. To summarize, the world you live in is miserable, unjust, and in a constant reminder of the constant death that can come from anywhere.

It is a perspective that only a Russian company could take, I think, and Tom Bissell smartly points that out in Slate in what seems to be the only article written with any enthusiasm for this game. The Russianness of the narrative contrasts sharply with the preconceived notion of what a post-apocalyptic video game should be like to an American audience:

What I love about Metro 2033 is that it takes the power fantasy tropes of the first-person shooter and effectively Russianizes them. In Western shooters, typically, you progress through the game, unlocking deadlier and more accurate weapons and cooler and ever-more-neato technology. Metro 2033 says, To hell with all that.

While you do get more deadly weapons throughout the game, it is rather difficult. You have to find them off corpses (which is harder and more rare than it sounds – the best gun in the game is found on a corpse at a point so late you never get to fire it) or buy them. The game itself actually admits that the first gun you get is awful. It takes forever to load, overheats, and has zero accuracy. When you find a different gun, there is no way to know that it is “better” in any conceivable way, other than to try it out. Chances are, it is worse. The odds of survival are grim.

Of particular note is the game’s economic system. Similar to Fallout, it is based on a barter of newly defined currency. But, it does not fall back on the cuteness of overly-abundant soda bottle caps, but rather the very ammunition that you need in order to survive the game. There are two forms of ammunition in the game – bullets made before the apocalypse and bullets made after. Pre-apocalypse ammunition is rare and valuable and can be found throughout areas. Post-bullets are not as deadly, but more abundant, and can be traded in bulk for Pre-bullets – which can be used to buy better guns. Therefore, the easiest way to get a better weapon – buying it- is only feasible in the sense that you are limiting its very use. It might be better, but a gun with no bullets would do you any good. You have to balance the idea of whether you want to kill effectively or be able to kill at all. The idea itself is quit insidious – it forces you to consider your basic needs of survival and made a weapon on par with food and clothing. Though it is perhaps the all too real reminder previous cultural realities of Russia, where one had to balance going hungry with staying warm, the metaphor works similarly to create tension within the gamer about their own survival.

Another devastating inclusion to this game is just how many ways there are to die. You can die because your gun is bad, because your ammo is bad, because your armor is bad. You can die from bullets from other humans or by the claws and teeth of monsters. You can be killed in your own subconscious through some of the game’s supernatural elements. But, all of this takes place in the relative safety of the underground metro tunnel system (where humanity escaped to avoid missiles, and where they must remain due to nuclear winter). Going up to the surface requires a gas mask and air filters. If you run out of filters, you die. So, you can die by standing still. If a monster damages your gas mask, you suffocate and die, regardless of how much health you have. If you stand in too much radiation, you die. Death is omnipresent and creates a sense of dread just to play the very game. You worry about being seen or heard in the face of the most basic fight. You don’t just have to avoid attack in order to survive, but be conscious of your own survival. There is no health meter or oxygen meter; you need to be actually responsible and aware. This idea ties into the above – your basic necessities are against you and your odds of survival. You need to buy more gasmask filters banking on the fact that you might have to go up to the surface before you get to another shop and doing so decreases your available ammunition and your ability to survive the immediate future. The forced awareness that the game thrusts upon the player adds to the very horror of survival.

A question I found myself asking very early on was “What am I playing for?” This wasn’t to question my own action as a player, but my characters actions in the narrative – why was I fighting so hard to save so little? Why was I risking my life just to slow down the deaths of others? The very idea of it is foreign to me. Yes, life is precious and worth fighting for, and this is a trope in storytelling since the beginning of stories, but something felt different this time. There was so little left, and there was no way anything was going to get remotely better. The only glimmer of hope is the idea that I can go to sleep at night and only be worried about bandits, Nazis, or a starving neighbor killing me in my sleep instead of monsters.

I realized soon that this was the horror of the game – the existential struggle of a worthless survival and the narrative disconnect between player and character. My character had hope, but I did not have any for him. This is the horror. It wasn’t that I did not want to play the game – I absolutely did. But, it was that the playable experience one of despair and perhaps the only existential playing experience I can think of. The world is bleak in every conceivable aspect – from everyday life, to basic economics, to the necessities of survival. The aesthetics and structure of life constantly force a wedge between the player and the narrative, making you work not only for your very survival but for the sheer desire to even do so. If the game offered suicide as an option to end the experience, I feel like it would not judge you for choosing so.

Unlike games that make the morals blindingly apparent (Mass Effect, Fallout, et al) Metro doesn’t give you any reason to do anything moral – you have to actively choose to do so if you even notice it is there to begin with. Hiding the morality is an interesting choice. Players’ seem to enjoy the distinct possibilities of play, but by making players choose something without the knowledge that they have to as a part of the ludic experience, the game extends its existentialism to your choices. You might witness the end of the game and ponder “How did it all lead to this?” – well, your actions did. The absence of immorality does not make your choices or actions moral, and thus subtly add to the horrific experience of existence. [Update: Chris Thursten has a great article that better discusses this part of the game: http://exitwarp.blogspot.com/2010/10/novus-homo-thoughts-on-metro-2033.html ]

There are plenty of monsters to shoot, even though you only run into 4-5 different types – many of which you can’t actually kill. They are never particularly scary, but then again, neither is the game itself. You don’t fear the monsters, you fear life itself. And that is not the point. Many survival horror games conflate the concepts of “horror” and “scary” – demons are unpleasant to look at and a zombie can jump from behind an object to startle you, but at least there is (usually) hope. Most survival horror games do not leave you pondering the very futility of your actions, grasping at the very essence of “why”.

Metro 2033 is a game that is dreadful, it is full of despair, it is bleak, it is existential, and it is horrific. The game is very much worth playing, even if the life inside it is not worth living.

PCA/ACA 2012 Author Update

We will all be presenting at this year’s PCA/ACA national conference this week in Boston.

Check out our abstracts and show up if you are interested.


Nicholas Ware:
Pitching the Pitch’s Pitch: The Hyperreal Aesthetics of Sports Video Games

In his Simulacra and Simulation, Jean Baudrillard posits that “the real is no longer what it was,” and that simulation is “a strategy of the real, of the neoreal and the hyperreal.” Sports video games have often been labeled “sports simulations,” but they are hardly games that simply simulate sport–competition with rules played by players. Rather, they are games that simulate sports–institutions of exhibited competition that connect to geography, history, and economy. Sports is a transmedia product for fans in which the game that is played–on a field, in a cage, or on a pitch–is only a single part of the reality of the “game” that becomes the video game.

Sports video games do not—and perhaps should not—simply represent the experience of playing a professional sport at a pro-player-level. Instead, they offer a remediated experience of sports culture consumption. Sports video games rarely place the player fully in an embodied position within the game world, rather the aesthetic elements—largely centered around the television broadcast, but also including the use of pop music and non-diegetic gameplay elements—situate the player as a viewer-god who with control of the outcome of team, yet never taking them out of their comfort zone. In playing a sports video game, a player pays at watching—and controlling—the experiences of consuming “sports.” Using theories from sound, visual, game, and consumer studies, this paper will examine how the sports game genre’s aesthetics affect the player and the innovations of the genre.


Brandi Venable
Failing to Satisfy: Craving Moral Dilemmas in The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, the first book in a trilogy by author Suzanne Collins, is intended to engage the reader in a dialogue about the consequences of war. In order to achieve this end, it is set in the post-apocalyptic landscape of Panem. Though the genre invites discussions of morality and amorality, these issues are only superficially addressed throughout Collins’ novel. In acclamatory reviews, the heroine Katniss Everdeen is lauded as memorable for her attempts to do the right thing in the face of insurmountable opposition; she is inscribed with agentic power. In contrast, I argue that her character relies too heavily on passive inaction and thereby avoids most moral dilemmas that arise, evoking questions about Collins’ choice to set the story in a post-apocalyptic world. By over-emphasizing the reality TV genre, the theme of violence and its relation to morality are weakened in order to accentuate ideas about popular entertainment and romance instead. This positions Katniss not as a strong and self-reliant female lead, but as the all-too-familiar passive heroine who is ultimately saved through her inaction and her lack of engagement with moral conundrums. This presentation seeks to address what kind of childhood is best projected through the character of Katniss, and how a post-apocalyptic landscape plays into that figuration.


Tim Bavlnka
Meta(l)textual Madness – Exploring the Transcendence of H.P. Lovecraft’s Horror in Extreme Music

In a 2004 interview with Arthur magazine, famed comic writer and self-described shaman Grant Morrison suggests other shamanic authors, including H.P. Lovecraft. Morrison states that Lovecraft was too terrified of the visions that he experienced to gain shamanic knowledge. But, this implies an interpretation of Lovecraft as one negotiating with the unknown, perhaps explaining the richness of his texts.

The shaman is one who is connected to both spiritual and natural worlds and thus the narratives produced by them express that duality. Adaptions of Lovecraft’s works have proven difficult to impossible, but many have focused entirely on content, as opposed to his dark aesthetic. Australia’s avant-garde death metal band Portal works with the narratives of Lovecraft, but in non-traditional adaptions.

When seen in public, the band is cloaked in black costumes, obfuscating their human forms. Their music is harsh to the ear, bombarding the listener with lengthy tracks of extremely low tones of monoaural assault. This juxtaposition between representations of human/inhuman are solidified by the music itself – the audience sees that there are instruments present, but noise of the band is wholly unrecognizable. There is immense technicality as we watch the human hands of the black forms manipulate the necks of guitars and basses, but the sound is a deep non-Euclidian blur, causing a rift between visual perceptions of performance, the knowledge of the music’s existence, and the new realities that have been horrifyingly thrust upon witnesses. 

PBS’s Problematic Representation of GIFs, Culture, and Art

Works of art are their own standard of judgement. They themselves stipulate the rules they then follow. – Theodore Adorno (AT 243)

[Before I get into the article, I would first like to thank Douglas Schatz for allowing me to use his art within this post. I first saw the Off Book video on his Tumblr, and his comments inspired my own in a brief Tumblr exchange that became this post. I’m sprinkling in some chosen GIFs at random to help add some color and life to an otherwise long post. While one of my main criticisms about the video in question is the lack of alternative view points, I don’t exactly bring up these alternative points of view myself. His work helps to elaborate a bit on alternative voices, but there are many more types, styles, and aesthetics.]

Recently, PBS put out a short documentary about the animated GIF. This is a part of their Off Book video series that explores contemporary art, artists, and the ways that people share and participate with it. While this is a noble goal, I question the majority of what this video is doing.

This video made some rounds on the internet, partially in thanks to BuzzFeed and Mashable. I saw this video posted several times on my various friend feeds, and felt compelled to comment on it based on what little I know about the history and culture of contemporary GIF art. I have only been following the GIF scene for a year now after I was introduced to dump.fm by a friend of mine, but I have been following peoples’ art and thoughts on GIFs pretty heavily since then. The community is active, creative, but remarkably poorly represented because of this video. The mass exposure online through various content aggregates (like BuzzFeed – the scourge of internet journalism) only makes the problem worse, as the video’s ignorance of history and culture surrounding the GIF, the internet, and its related art scenes only propagates that ignorance to those who are otherwise unaware and watching due to mass exposure. While I know a thing or two about GIFs from being online for the past 15 years and following these new communities, I do not wish to suggest that I am the ultimate expert. I am trying to not put words in the mouths of the artists in the video, but rather focus entirely on its context. I do not speak for the GIF community. In essence, this piece is less about GIFs and more about the removal of art, creation, and expression from artists, communities, and cultures in a capitalist society.

Let me get a few things out of the way – the video at least attempts to explain, on a technical level, what the animated Graphics Interchange Format is (even though it fails to name the creator of the format…), gives a little bit of history about its expansion post-Netscape, and a humorous exchange about pronunciation at the end. It is a bit of a general overview, and not factually accurate in most cases (more on that later), which hurts the legitimacy of what these people are talking about. It does note a bit of historical context regarding the internet’s “abundant” (which is a value judgment I would prefer not to have included) use of flame animations and Under Construction signs in the early days of the web. Browse around on http://www.internetarchaeology.org and you will see what I mean, if you do not remember what the internet was like more than 10 years ago. However, the video is quick to trivialize these examples as lacking purpose and aesthetic.

I am not exactly sure where to start with this criticism, but I think it is important to set up a bit about the artists featured in the video and the production company in charge of the content.

Kornhaber Brown is the company responsible for the Off Book series. Though their website is relatively vague about what they do, they primarily develop brands vis-à-vis content creation for corporate clients (alliteration unintended). There are lots of lists of work, but few samples of what they actually do, but my analysis is leaning towards them being an advertising agency that focuses on content creation that does not call themselves an advertising agency because it makes them sound more hip. While its Youtube page states that PBS is putting out these shorts, I really question this. I have the feeling that PBS had little involvement in this process. Kornhaber Brown’s own website states that they prefer to do all the work, as it would no doubt keep an editorial stance away from their process. What we end up with here is an ad agency who makes content for other companies that ends up serving as advertising for their own work. There is no care in accuracy, need for multiple voices and points of view, or desire to create a product that is anything other than a quick consumable to link around for viral exposure – I notice that their staff page does not feature anyone who focuses on research. The company’s essential mission statement, as taken from their website (which I’d rather not link to, for political reasons, but it is their name dot com) says “We are primarily content creators, so we like to handle the entire production process.” To me, this says that PBS had nothing to do with this video other than that they hired a company to make some slick videos to attract viewers. However, the standards at PBS for research are considerably higher and they should take responsibility for their product.

Douglas Schatz’s blog post about the video points out that all the artists featured in this have major corporate backers: “Mr. GIF works for MTV [Viacom], Toper Chris works for Tumblr, Reed/Radar/Beck/Burg work for major fashion brands, etc.” This point compounds on the previous paragraph in really problematic ways. It seems like an overly careful selection of people – this is perhaps a conscious decision on the filmmakers’ part, but also a benefit of the money put behind these artists. Major corporations and those with financial power have defined these people as experts in their field and masters of their craft and therefore worthy of the attention of others. In doing so, the companies backing these artists have purposely eliminated the voices of others and have carefully controlled an aesthetic, and thus controlled how and where the corporate definition of art and culture is distributed. What a GIF “is”, “means”, is “capable of” is now established by Viacom et al and a form of art is transmogrified into a way to generate profit.

Prominent cultural theorists Theodore Adorno and Max Horkheimer discuss the problems with this in their essay “The Culture Industry” stating:

They [artists] are confined to the apocryphal field of the ‘amateur’, and also have to accept organization from above. But any trace of spontaneity from the public in official broadcasting is controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, studio competitions and official programmes of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in. – Adorno and Horkheimer (407)

Art and culture are victims to “the absolute power of capitalism” (406). This means that it is controlled in terms of production and distribution. Companies select who the artists are and they define what art is. Therefore, to be a “proper” artist, one must have a sponsor – all other artists are merely amateurs and thus offer no legitimacy in the work they produce or their point of view. Originality and uniqueness are spotted and gobbled up quickly by companies and become integrated into the industry of culture and are thus properly contained and controlled. Adorno and Horkheimer also note that artists are always a part of this system suggesting that regardless of having a contract, the desire for success and wealth is so strong that it becomes the ultimate goal, and thus are controlled as well. The final sentiments are perhaps a bit harsh, but speak to the overwhelming power of capitalism. Culture and art become products for sale and profit. Consumers buy culture and art because they are produced and made desirable and the companies profit. Let me just repeat that – companies manufacture abstract concepts and sell it at gigantic profits or use it indirectly as advertising. All of this speaks to the destruction of culture by capitalism, and one could go on and on about that, but I have other points to make.

Taken aside from the economic manipulation of our world around us, this process establishes a destructive hierarchy. Since companies can establish what is art, they thus define what is not, and with binaries comes power and privilege. If the cinemagraph is high art, then the flame GIF is trash. If cinemagraphers are artists, then the dumpers are not. 

The aesthetic is controlled in this instance and thus so is taste. This includes the consumer in the dialectic of power – one should only like what is “art” or thus be subjugated as a luddite. One should buy into Viacom’s GIFs rather than participate and make their own, because theirs will not be art and people will not like them. Capitalism has made liking anything outside of The Culture Industry dangerous to the point of heresy. The video is very clear in defining the flame GIF and Under Construction sign as garbage, rather than a part of the developing tradition of GIF art. If an artist creates something like this, they will be labeled as unsuccessful, unimportant, or simply just BAD at what they do. For the consumer, liking them in any way, shape, or form establishes the individual as a low-class, poorly cultured, misinformed, and uneducated person. They enforce their iron rule so that they only way to be proper is to participate, which means giving MTV money, participating in a capitalism system of standardization and pseudo-individualization. No one wants to be a juggalo.

Adorno is a massive pessimist, though. I think we can all agree that just because capitalism exists, it does not mean that art cannot also exist. However, his message still holds incredible bearing. All of this is just a framework based on the company making the video and the people in it – there is much more to be said, so let us dig in.

Within the very introduction, as we are meeting the artists and learning some brief ideological stances on their art – there are some fairly problematic statements being made. I am going to try to not be too nit-picky in terms of rhetoric (there are some problems with history and technology) and focus more on ideology behind statements. The majority of the creative forces represented here are immediately relating GIFs to photographs. Mathew Reed of Reed+Rader and Jamie Beck open the video by discussing photographic based GIFs, but dangerously balance the mediums they use for their work with the purpose of the work itself. Reed states that “the animated GIF for us was just a photograph that can move” followed by Beck’s statement “this is a photograph that is still alive.” Relating back to Adorno’s points above, what we have in the first 20 seconds of this video is a particular enforcement of what a GIF is and should be. A GIF is being equated to a photograph in order to establish a false sense of legitimacy of their own work, linking it to a historically established art form. In doing so, it is intrinsically linking their particular art with high-brow capital-A Art, as well as creating an importance in terms of political meaning and representation. If a GIF is “like a photograph”, then all of the importance of photography is automatically linked to their own work. In doing so, they are implying that anyone not working in photograph-based GIFs is essentially false and unimportant. Because they are working with photography, there is the implication of being more real, honest, or authentic in terms of their own work, which can carry a sense of legitimacy behind it. However, it also implies that no other form is capable of doing so, that a GIF of a splotch of rotating colors holds no value or purpose, and an artist attempting anything other than photographic GIFs does not know what they are doing.

Patrick Davidson speaks about the differences of GIFs between a Web 1.0 culture and a Web 2.0 culture. Web 2.0 as a distinction rather than a philosophical stance has always bothered me – what is the difference between the two? There is usually an association of socialness associated with Web 2.0, but the internet was always a social space, even before HTTP and browser-based surfing was the standard. BBS cultures were incredibly social, sharing, and had art scenes as well. Therefore, to say that art or images were pragmatically different is a little absurd. The historical notion of Web 1.0 being 30 years old is iffy and inaccurate, and enforces the same shift of power in the work of these artists, “ours is the best, theirs is old and bad.”

I will say, in Davidson’s defense, he is my favorite in this video in terms of his message. He is also been participating in the dialogue against this video in a very respectful and open way, and I really admire that. He also has admitted that the above his comments discussed above were basically due to a lengthy interview and a bit of tired rambling. So, I accept and respect his stance, but I think it is still important to comment within the context of the video.

What is being presented is the idea that GIFs somehow went away, or were deemed a bit silly (IE: not art, not important, not relevant, not profound) until approximately 2007. I think that stance is wholly inaccurate. While it may be true that I see more GIFs on a daily basis now, and that these GIFs are serving different functions than before, to suggest that people were unconscious of their potential is really hard to backup and statements like this. This false distinction make the work of these artists seem more important, cutting edge, and interesting, as if they caught on to something that we were all missing. Going back to Douglas Schatz’s tumblr post, he is quick to remind us that the conscious use of GIFs as art, in a contemporary context, is as early as:

2003-2004 culminating in The GIF Show at the RX Gallery in SF at the beginning of 2006 which featured Cory Archangel (who recently showed at MOMA), Tom Moody (critic/artist published in the New York Times among other major publications), Paper Rad (a collective that’s been killing it in a variety of mediums for the last 10ish years) and other artists who have since become very accomplished.

It also discredits places such as http://ytmnd.com/ – which was one of the first big social content creators. They have consistently used GIFs to demonstrate their work since 2000. Tom Moody adds:

A YouTube commenter made a good point: a successful campaign to discourage GIFs because of lingering patent claims may have put a dent in their use, but the patent lapsed in ’03 in the US. 4chan and YTMND used GIFs all through the ’00s and speaking as a maker/enjoyer of GIFs from ’03 to the present they never seemed the least bit scarce. I think this “return to GIFs” is a juicy-sounding story hook for editor types but has little basis in reality – GIF use has continued throughout the 2.0 era.

YTMND and 4chan are important to add here because they are NOT corporate spaces; they are places of social participation and transgression. The use of GIFs in both of these communities has been a staple for their entire existence, but because it is transgressive, corporations are quick to ignore their significance because they are places that cannot be controlled.

The idea of dating this shift in the purpose of GIFs is minimally important, I think, other than as a factoid that should be accurate. If one wants to look back at the history of the novel, some of the first books of prose narratives are questioned as being novels because of the idea that they were not consciously “writing a novel”. The idea of a novel, as a cultural object, did not exist. It does not devalue their art or how they made it, but simply establishes some historical cultural markers. While people have been making GIFs for quite some time, and some even doing so for the purpose of creating an artistic image, the idea of creating GIFs as art is something that is we don’t really associate with a pre-2000s internet. If I had to stake a claim at why, I would suggest the abundance of Flash during this time period, and how artists and animators were focusing on that, rather than GIFs. There is“bigness” to Flash that perhaps attracted artists with something to say who may have overlooked the minimal idea of a single image file. Because of Flash’s layering and animation system, one could suggest that Photoshop’s similarities made it so the skills of animation translated into the skills of image manipulation. As we adjusted to one form of creation, we applied these skills to others. One could also suggest that piracy was more difficult, and thus the software to make GIFs was more exclusive. There was also a lack of patience in terms of internet bandwidth speeds – no one wanted to wait around for a simple image to load when they could experience more content otherwise.

Nevertheless, going on with Davidson’s inaccurate history, he furthers his interview by stating that “[in 2007-2008] people start to realize that you can use GIFs for tons of different things”. There is a really important point here, but Davidson is not making it. In the open Google document transcription/discussion, Will Brand hints at it when he states “…like attracting attention to an ad, or getting someone to email you, or showing that your website is incomplete or…”. He is making a joke about the practicality of a GIF as an eye-grabbing ad, but there is something more going on. If, as Moody states above, companies were leery of using a GIF for marketing purposes in the earlier 2000’s, and people were “finding new uses for them” due to their lack of corporate attention, we can clearly see how corporations are coming back to the GIF in order to control the art and content created with them. If it is clear that people “saw the possibilities” because it was being ignored by the capitalist system, then it is all the more troubling that almost every artist in this video is describing their work in an advertising and marketing sense and we are not hearing any voices saying that GIFs are capable of anything else.

Davidson’s next point suggests that GIFs are more important now than before because of the ease of access to distribution, where social sites will host images for the user rather than having to track down an FTP or use the space of a message board. I find this a little offensive because it seems to lack a cultural understanding of internet communities and creators before this current decade. Personal sites were common, so was FTP access. Yes, it was expensive, but often communities were able to share through subdomains – this is how the creativity of the E/N scene flourished. Having a place to store an image is not a groundbreaking revelation to the internet, Photobucket was hugely prominent and free to use as early as 2003. While it is easier than ever before, not many people as one might think take advantage of Tumblr or Imgur as a host – these are still fairly specific markets. It suggests that there is something “special” to the now of the internet, and in particular, the established artists, that was not there before. Again, it is discrediting the content, creators, communities, and files of the past.

As far as Davidson’s statement about postmodern GIFs, I will just allow you to read the discussion on the debate page. I just do not see a reason to address it because it seems to be flying out of nowhere.  It is just an inappropriate and misinformed use of the word.

TopherChris’s segment follows, discussing the explosion of Tumblr usage. The focus on Tumblr is interesting to note. Over the last year, brands, ad agencies, and marketing firms have been struggling to figure out how and why to use Tumblr to reach its young audience. Now, connect that back to the idea that an ad agency made this video, and you essentially have a commercial for themselves as being hip enough to understand Tumblr and youth culture. Very subtle.

TopherChris does bring up an interesting point to the ideas of repetition and the ways context and meaning change over time, but it is dropped very quickly. He is, though, one of the few people to discuss ideas of humor, which has always been heavily prevalent in animated GIFs. There is a subtle connection to the creation and distribution of GIFs to personal cultural capital as well, but in a community context such as Tumblr, where it is more about sharing, I question the importance of origin – but perhaps that is the point? It is the idea of collective sharing, distribution, and participation that give GIFs their importance, particularly on Tumblr. I still really question the ways in which GIFs have changed over time as being something that is SO SUDDENLY different. I think it is a lot more subtle and slow than people are giving credence to. GIFs based on TV and movies are not terribly new , they have been around as long as we have had digital versions of shows and movies and imaging software – but, the way Tumblr users has developed this to fit the limitations of the service is more interesting. When Tumblr allowed multiple image posting without making a Flash gallery, which opened up GIFs to be a bit more than what they were before on the site. This is not a fundamental change in the file form, but a change in its delivery. Therefore, the fact that GIFs have changed is a sort of meaningless idea when it is more so the technology and websites that have changed. TopherChris is, at least, speaking about GIFs on a cultural level, but it is still problematically narrow in perspective. 

There is a very radical shift in the video at this point – where GIFs were seen as dorky internet fun becoming more something, we are now seeing GIFs as being declared high art. I have a lot of problems with this.

Pamela Reed and Mathew Rader work for the fashion industry as GIF artists. The artists are very quick to celebrate and discuss their own work with putting down any sort of stance on the development of culture in a greater context. “Douglas LL Cool J” notes this shift in tone and states:

It’s such a weird flip from “hey isn’t Internet Culture great” to “well, we get paid a lot of money to take pictures of clothes that 90% of internet users can’t afford”. If internet memes are meant to showcase the open and democratized spread of cultural ideas (no-technorachy bro), why are we focusing exclusively on production that is funded by one of the most closed industries. Given that the fashion industry has a long and painful history of hardcore IP protection, it’s weird that fashion GIFs are used as the prime example of art in the reddit/Tumblr culture where authorship has next-to-no meaning.

The point is apt. If you are discussing the GIF as a medium, then why are you focusing on exclusivity? There is not anything particularly interesting about what Reed+Rader do, the just throw a bunch of still images into an animation sequence. Where the limitations of GIF as art above focused on ideas of conscious art making versus casual GIF creation, this establishes the dynamic one step further. These two instigate GIF as high art by associating it with both photography and with the fashion industry, thus limiting the perspective of art and the possibility of creation. Because of their connections with other well-established mediums of art, they are able to include themselves in that upper echelon and damn others. More than that, there is a quaintness to how they address their outside influences. It is an admission of commodification of lower forms of art for the inclusion in their work for profit. Adorno addresses this concept as well by stating “if a movement from a Beethoven symphony is crudely ‘adapted’ for a film soundtrack in the same way as a Tolstoy novel is garbled in a film script: then the claim that this is done to satisfy the spontaneous wishes of the public is no more than hot air” (Adorno, Horkheimer 407). The quote does not fit exactly, as Adorno was a bit of a snob when it comes to art and asserted that all mass produced work was garbage. But, if we can suggest that that premise is outdated, and all art regardless of its class associations are equal, then we see a producer of art-for-profit grabbing something from culture that was made to satisfy expression, incorporating it into their own work in order to suggest some sort of appeal or market, and profiting on the works and successes of others under the guise of creativity and art. It is a bit of a mixed metaphor, but I think it works.

However, Reed makes a point asking, “Why put a still picture online now that the image can now move?” Is this not a rather destructive statement to what they actually do? Why put a GIF online if you can just put a on a video? The statements being made by these artists are going nowhere and offer no insight in what they do or how they do it.

Reed does add that there is some unfavorable editing in the video. She states “To us, it’s about creating worlds and characters, clothes just happen to be a part of that. The worlds of fashion, art and commerce are getting more and more blurred and what we are trying to prove is that you can work in all these venues, it doesn’t need to be so black or white.” Again, we see an established difference in terms of their work as high art through the privilege of the fashion industry.

The final segment of the video deals with cinemagraphs. These are quickly established in contrast to GIFs, and it makes me angry. I find many of the statements made by these creators to be somewhat deluded in order to serve their own established personas. Kevin Burg states that “I think there’s opportunities in this kind of hybrid medium to show people something they’ve never seen before. We have these moments that can just exist forever.” There are a few things going on here. First, Burg is quick to mention that their work is a hybrid medium, not the lowly and pathetic GIF. This connects to the statements above about how their work is more closely related to photography than to something else. Not only that, but the music of the video changes to a somber and serious piece. It established this form of GIF as more auteured and separate than those wacky GIF makers we saw previously.

Cinemagraphs focus their animation on a single element of the image, rather than the image as a whole. Why they would instigate that their concept of “a moment” is somehow different than a moment in any other GIF is a little absurd – time is passing in both, it just features selective stillness in one to emphasize that moment. Time is time. Paddy Johnson elaborates on this with a tongue-in-cheek quip by stating “Read: There’s something special about capturing a moment in time, there’s something more special about capturing three seconds of moment in time. No explanation offered as to why a loop is more interesting than a still, a short, or a feature. Not saying there isn’t a conversation to be had, only that one was never started.” The makers of cinemagraphs want to make sure that consumers think that their work is profoundly different from anyone else, but their explanations are hollow.

My main problem with cinemagraphs is the fact that there has been a very careful campaign to give them a new title and to make sure there are distinctions between cinemagraphs and GIFs. The concept of cinemagraphs privilege a specific way of making a file format as “art” when people have been making GIFs for 25 years. It has its own term because it does not want to be associated with animated GIFs – the very thing it actually is. It applies concepts like “beautiful” and “ugly” to be delineated in ways that are illegitimate, forced, and privileged. They get away with this due to careful marketing of their own work and its closeness to photography and the lens rather than digital paintbrushes and computers. They even enforce this idea in a more subtle context by not participating in the humorous discussion at the end of the video of how to pronounce “GIF”. Why? Well, they do not make them, remember?

There is a Tumblr that focuses on displaying the failed cinemagraphs of users in the community, labeling them cinemacraphs. This helps to illustrate the point of privilege. Burg and Beck discuss their work on some sort of elevated plane of existence, where it is a “magical warp of time” that becomes “fascinating” and “emotional”. They are also quick to point to their creative process, as Beck states, “To dream of something and then create it in a camera and share it with people and let them dream with you, just for a moment.” The word choices are elevated, and they associate how their work is created with a camera – a mark of elegance and distinction. While they use photographs (or possibly stills from raw video files), the reality is that it is simply a clever use of Photoshop layers and animation. Yeah, it might be slightly tricky for some (and you cannot just make them out of previously created GIFs, as the Tumblr above mocks), but its simplicity is something that the creators want to hide as much as possible. They want their techniques to be secretive and deceptive in order to secure themselves as achieved artists.

Each of their statements is littered with hyperbole in order to self-aggrandize themselves and their work culminating with the statement that their work is “essentially something you’ve never seen before.” The very idea of that is insulting.

While this is a bit divergent from my main point, I feel it is worth including. Tom Moody has a really interesting discussion about cinemagraphs in a post entitled “Hair GIFs and the Male Gaze”, Hair GIFs being a humorous take (credit to Paddy Johnson for the term) on how cinemagraphs usually seem to animate hair wafting in a nostalgic breeze in an otherwise still frame. He quotes Laura Mulvey’s essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”:

The presence of woman is an indispensable element of spectacle in normal narrative film, yet her visual presence tends to work against the development of a story line, to freeze the flow of action in moments of erotic contemplation. This alien presence then has to be integrated into cohesion with the narrative.

Like the gaze of the privilege of patriarchy, the camera’s gaze enforces a system of power over women. This is an important point to bring up due to some of the statements of the artist involved. Beck states “It’s so voyeuristic. You look but you feel like you should look away, but then you can watch it, and then you can watch it some more and it’s like ooooh.” This is an oddly placed bit in the discussion and forces a sexualized perspective at the consumption of their own work. Voyeurism is that system of power that Mulvey is talking about, where the audience watches over the powerlessness of women and engage in the powerfulness of men. Moody adds “you’re supposed to be staring at her” and thus enforcing power over her. Beck seems somewhat oblivious to this connotation, which I find a bit troubling. They capture forever a moment of a sexualized woman, and she becomes powerless in her GIF form, forever victim to the gaze of the viewer. Its associations with the fashion industry just seems to perpetrate the power of gaze over models and the enforcement of beauty and aesthetics over women because of it.

Granted, this previous thought was more of a tangent. Someone else can go on and elaborate on this concept. It is valid and there is plenty to say, I am only piggy banking off of Moody. Please do not make me write another one of these.

The concluding points are brief, but also worthy of a word or two. Each point seems to suggest that the process of what is going on is “too new” to understand, “is art” because of their new uses in culture, or demonstrating some sort of fundamental change in ideals that are “more than” a simple file format. Nevertheless, the enforcement of this as art is still there, and with that enforcement comes the establishment of hierarchy that we can see demonstrated in this video. Why does it have to be “art” when Davidson seems to be implying something more along the lines of communication, expression, and culture and TopherChris equating it along the lines of cultural participation? The limitations of this video become entirely destructive to what is going on in the culture of GIFs. While I am more inclined to think that Davidson and TopherChris have more to say than the video allowed, the commercialization of art is heavy throughout, even in a meta-context of the company behind the video. It not only fumbles any sense of understanding to an artistic process, it completely misses decades of cultural development that is linking back to anonymous BBS art crews and beyond. This takes the easy road by finding the most noted artists rather than taking the time to research the actual movement and culture. The criticism and developments of the GIF scene, mostly done by the community itself, are entirely lost due to the narrow focus of the filmmakers.

The elitism represented in the video removes the egalitarian ideology of internet creation and participation and enforces a the importance of profit in creation. The fact that an ad agency is behind this video is troubling because it suggests obfuscates the idea that someone would make something without monetary gain in mind, the perspective driving the video is skewing the ideologies of the art and artists represented within. In doing so, they revoked the agency of creators that has been developing online as a way of rejecting the obsequious media industry that has been bombarding consumers for decades. We have seen the media conglomarates running scared about how individuals have been finding other things to do other than consume – mainly create, participate, distribute, and others. This is demonstrating a panicked attempt to bring in that outside creative force back into the capitalist market forces and in doing so, misses the whole point about why this scene is so important and cool in the first place. Technology does not make art – it is a cultural and personal process. A medium may be new, but expression and creation are timeless.

Here are some more links for further reading:

Paddy Johnson: http://www.artfagcity.com/2012/03/14/to-do-annotate-the-pbs-animated-GIF-transcript/


Tom Moody: http://www.tommoody.us/archives/2012/03/07/pbs-does-animated-jifs/







Douglas Schatz: http://whenthennow.tumblr.com/post/18918438259/oh-god-fucking-damnit-why-do-these-uniformed-jerks


Google Transcript:




Adorno, Theodore, and Max Horkheimer. “The Culture Industry.” The Cultural Studies Reader. Ed. Simon During. Third ed. London: Routledge, 2007. 405-15. Print.

Adorno, Theodore. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. C Lenhardt. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Inc., 1984.

My GIF to you.