Seven things…

A few days ago, I was tagged by the lovely Raiha Buchanan, fellow Twitterer and blogger based in Stockholm, in a chain-letter style challenge to write seven facts about myself that I have not already revealed here — then I, in turn, get to choose seven others to do the same. Seeing as I seldom disclose anything more than basic personal specs and general unsensationalized opinion on-site, it comes as the perfect excuse to do something a bit different, especially seeing as I’m now very much obliged… And so, after two months of not having posted despite the initial plan promising otherwise, what follows below is a deviation from the usual — which I hope helps to shed a little light behind the anonymity that so easily surrounds us online.

1 I’ve moved house seventeen times, eight times of which were overseas. I moved to Cairo three months after I was born in Hampstead, London — then came Manama, London, New York, Cairo again, London again, and back to Cairo until I finally landed here in London once more. Contrary to popular belief, neither of my parents are diplomats, but the moves were due to my dad’s work throughout my childhood. The recent bout of chronic relocation, however, is entirely my own fault. And as much as I’d like to settle down in one place and feel what it is to have real roots in one place instead of a dozen, I certainly wouldn’t rule out moving again in the foreseeable future (and might already have a place in mind)…

2 Conventionality is not my forte, although that’s more general consensus than it is fact. The fact is I’ve never been through second grade in elementary school because I was mistakenly put in third grade a year early. I did tenth grade twice,  left high school twice, finished secondary education without having officially graduated, and left university two times over. I originally wanted to be an architect but studied for degrees in Law and International Relations. And after setting out in web design when I was fifteen, starting work as a graphic designer at eighteen and taking a couple of gap years since, it seems it’s taken me forever to realize that what I’ve loved to do part-time is precisely what I should be doing full-time.

3 I’m missing a ligament in my left knee. My anterior cruciate ligament, to be exact, which I tore during a school basketball game when I was fifteen. Because I couldn’t warm up to the prospect of sticking in reallocated tendons with metal screws, I decided not to have the routine reconstructive surgery and opted for physical therapy and life-long conditioning instead. So for a few months I had to wear a brace that looked a lot like this, only mine had tiny flecks of silver on it because at the time I thought it would make an otherwise embarrassing clunk of aircraft aluminium look slightly cooler. A year later, I returned to basketball and started long-distance running at my new school after I moved again to Cairo.

4 I shaved my head when I was eighteen. The reason I did it would require another post of its own, so I’ll spare you the tale of teenage angst. Suffice it to say it involved long hair, a pair of scissors, and a leg razor (until I remembered there was an electric clipper in the bathroom cupboard). I also have seven piercings, none of which would require indecent exposure to view in public. I’ve thought about tattoos, but have too big a fear of commitment to get something done that would require a laser (and more than £100) to remove — which pretty much sums up my personal character when it comes to taking risks with seemingly permanent consequences.

5 I’ve been a vegetarian for ten years, with the exception of seafood. I’ve also been (involuntarily) wheat-free for five. Admittedly I am one of those home-grown, pro-organic, green-thumbed, animal-loving, unprocessed, canvas-bag-toting types who dislikes parabens and will happily wash out and separate all recyclables. But I much rather practice without preaching, and also tend to avoid other associated stereotypes such as meat substitutes and communal living.

6 I often unintentionally collect things. Books, teas, magazine cut-outs, old photographs, photographs of nothing in particular, Chuck Taylors, hard drives, Moleskines, cardboard, tableware, JPEGs in duplicate, more links than I can realistically sift through before we colonize Mars. Things I used to collect: mixtapes, wine, magazines, old ticket stubs, unused SIM cards, PDFs I’d never get around to, domain names, foreign currency before the credit crunch became an entry on Wikipedia. And for the sake of conveniently moving house, at no point may the sum of all things exceed the interior dimensions of a 6-seater van (two suitcases, four medium boxes, a backpack and 10TB).

7 My favourite place is at the summit of Mt Sinai. I’ve done the night climb to watch the sunrise at least once every year (or whenever the available time-to-money ratio has permitted), and the sheer overpowering magnitude of absolute silence whilst up there is worth every effort. In general, I love places without the frills that turn every location into a five-star destination brochure. Other places that I love and enjoy include Hampstead Heath, Djurgården, Massanutten Mt, Jardin des Tuileries, the coral reefs of Dahab, and any place where there’s an evening spent in good company with memorable conversation and great music.

So there you have it, the minutiae of an otherwise ordinary existence. And now next in line for the public dissection challenge, I’ve chosen three people whose posts on design, music, and other cultural miscellany continue to intrigue me on a daily basis: they are @inahill, @Goreki, and @H_C (in whose case a run-down of top 7 albums in a journal entry on would be fine as well!). The rules of the challenge are written out here more clearly than how I described them above… I look forward to reading, and good luck!

Related Posts

Paint by numbers

Love thy neighbour

Sarah Badr © MMIX

Parallel posting

In the wise words of David Ogilvy, ‘Imitation may be the sincerest form of plagiarism, but it is also the mark of an inferior person.’ What better example of this than the recent launch of Skittles’ new website, to the dismay of a public who sees it little more than a rip-off of the novel concept used over at the home of the Modernista! ad agency. With WordPress commentator Lorelle VanFossen having officially declared it ‘The Year of Original Content‘, it’s a relief to see that online creatives are becoming more vocal about the preservation of the integrity of their content. Because let’s be honest — it’s far from pleasant to find that despite taking the risk of appearing anally retentive by plastering your copyright policy in every corner of your site to curb wanton imposters from taking more than their fair share of your time and thought invested without permission or due attribution, there are individuals who persist to steal either directly or through the convenience of creepy crawly spambots. And it is unfortunate that in a world today where blogging provides grounds to help cultivate new and dynamic voices in an arena where politics, the sciences and arts may be explored and discussed freely, the infringement of one’s proprietary rights in relation to their content is as common as it is everywhere else in the media landscape.

And though complex the nature of copyright and ‘originality’ may be by definition, it baffles without fail every time to see that those either callous or inadvertently unaware of content protocol could have otherwise simply sent an e-mail to ask and clear up any doubt if site policy failed to convey the message with a level of clarity that they would appreciate and respect. In writing this, it will fast become obvious that I have dealt with the matter first-hand on numerous occasions, the inaugural moment being that which involved a derivative work of a creative (and personal) piece of mine, about which I was fortunate enough to be notified. But in the past couple of years, it has since continued much to my dismay, spanning all content in surprisingly unique ways that one begins to wonder whether or not content thieves know they would be better off directing their seeming ingenuity into creating their own work instead. In addition to this, the Fair Use and Creative Commons guidelines exist to provide an alternative more conducive to upholding a creative and inspirational forum and flow of information, so that content creators need not be confined only to a full blanket policy requiring the sort of policing that takes a great deal of one’s time.

And let’s not forget the grey area left in the wake of web conventions established amongst online creatives that develop far too quickly for official copyright legislation to instantaneously adapt and reflect real action on the ground. Already there has been considerable discussion regarding the acceptability of deep-linking and the excerpting (at varied lengths) of written content online. It’s not unheard of that trusted sites and bloggers repeatedly attribute content to the wrong individuals or forego on attribution entirely (this applies to video content especially). And yet it’s not much better when adamant bloggers intent on posting daily decide that every little thing they find of interest can be ‘excerpted’ with a sentence of their own tagged at the beginning of it to sell it off as a find worth reading on their page. Of course the incorporation of any advertising or commercial gain into this equation makes it all the more dubious; the same goes for SEO and the mere desire to increase traffic. But even without that, a website claiming to provide ‘news’, ‘thoughts’ and/or ‘opinions’ should not rest solely on what FriendFeed and Facebook Links ultimately amount to.

But equally disconcerting are the bloggers you know personally, who repeatedly dig up your old content to rework into their own, who perhaps believe that your blogging memory only goes as far back as a few weeks and thus they have some sort of licensed access to a smörgåsbord of your work to sell off for personal gain. Although not much can be done about this other than to tolerate it within the confines of non-commercial ShareAlike without attribution, it is when it’s a few words short of full-on plagiarism that it becomes difficult to ignore. Cyber-stalking (or what I like to call ‘parallel posting’) is behaviour more akin to Hirudo medicinalis, reflecting poor judgement on behalf of the parallel poster — though I would gladly stand corrected in the instance it all turns out to be one statistically implausible coincidence, nine times out of ten. Nevertheless, as I can’t emphasize this enough due to previous, more serious experience with having work taken through alteration and wrongful attribution, here is the license under which the written segments of this site operate (unless otherwise stated, i.e. non-applicable to creative non-fiction and original artwork featured, all of which require explicit permission). Internal documentation has also been updated to reflect as much.

But hopefully time spent monitoring suspected trackbacks, scraper sites and copycats will soon be decreased considerably. In celebration of The Year of Original Content, I’m currently beta-testing a fantastic new service called FairShare, which automatically provides a feed that updates in accordance to your site’s content and other content on the web that may have been taken from it. What makes it so convenient apart from sending all of the information to Google Reader is that it provides links to a page showing the exact site it has detected, the percentage of the work used, whether or not it is a derivative, if it complies with your registered license, whether advertising is present, how much traffic it receives, and the list goes on. There is also a content search available through the Copyscape services which have proved useful in the past. And Lorelle VanFossen has written extensively of her insights into how best to deal with one’s blogging and site content — including how to report theft, where to include one’s policy, when to send a cease and desist notice, etc. Most certainly worth checking out (as well as reading the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), regardless of if you’ve ever experienced anything of the above or not.

The important thing to remember in all of this is that it is not often easy to make clear distinction between harmless imitation and more serious plagiarism, theft, scraping, cyber-stalking and downright harassment. Whilst tiring with eyes plastered open through my studies of tort law, constitutional law and most things in-between, the one thing I have to hand to the mind-numbingly dry experience of it all is my respect for some of the well-meaning achievements in the written body of intellectual property law. Its applications are not always correct, consistent, nor apt to every given situation, but the underlying premise aiming to balance between creativity and commercial gain is one worth preserving. To preserve the integrity and relative originality (more on originality in an upcoming post) of one’s ideas, to allow for the recognition and endorsement of such work, all the while motivating the creator and conceiver to continue on with their fruitful endeavours in order to further drive development in the world of science, art, music and writing is no easy feat in an age when exact duplication, wrongly directed advertising, rampant profiteering, unwanted spamming and malicious scraping are all just one easy, mindless click away.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Creative Commons

Prevent Content Theft (WordPress)

10 Copyright Myths

Costs of excess

«Tout s’achète : l’amour, l’art, la planète Terre, vous, moi…»
Frédéric Beigbeder

At last it’s 2009, and the bad economic news continues on like a low-budget sequel with a sorely disappointed audience. The economists and pundits all seem to have morphed into fortune-tellers in the last few weeks, gazing through interest group-affiliated crystal balls to write yet another twenty paragraphs about why the new year is destined to be a terrible hell of a downturn. Or let-down. Or not… So I will join them, because in the midst of the inclement forecasting are the monotone voices of politicians turning over leaves anew with self-contradicting views over neo-liberal capitalism and its unbridled financial institutions bound by the farcical (mis)effect of regulatory bodies formed to prevent precisely the thing that has happened after all. Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of recession so far has been being made to suffer whilst listening to political rivals attempting to one-up each other, trying to gain grounds through capitalizing on the misfortune of their disillusioned electorate. Our born-again leaders and believers of equitable society have conveniently re-remembered the man on the Clapham omnibus by acquiring that prophetic aura about them to impart the wisdom that a gross amount of wealth as be-all and end-all of human existence is, in fact, gross. And though intermittently placed between pleas to spend our way through to salvage the economy as per Keynesian theory would have it at micro-level, the notion of saving money (or at least not spending as much as we did before) is looking more attractive by the day.

So pauvre-chic is back in, and after the recent magnum success of Damien Hirst and ten inflation-adjusted landmark sales for artists such as Rothko, De Kooning, Klimt and Monet since 2006, the post-binge purge has become as increasingly apparent in the art world as it is on the High Street. Through a rising movement advocating the ‘it factor’ of unpretentious frugality, an industry that relies heavily on the pockets of investors most inevitably tied to Bernard Madoff by less than six degrees of separation is finding ways to beat the squeeze. ‘Jack Boul: Then and Now’, an exhibit showcasing work by the Washington-based artist, opened to much acclaim last month at the American University Museum in Katzen Arts Center. With an extra-loving emphasis placed on the intimate simplicity of his oil paintings, many examples of his work measure no more than thirty centimetres in width — a most certainly stark contrast to Pollock’s famed seven-footers. In a similar fashion (or ought that be ‘anti-fashion’?), the sixteenth edition of ‘Small is Beautiful’ which closed show in London’s Flowers East gallery yesterday has always been well-accustomed to rebellion against the ‘bigger is better’ aesthetic, with all featured multimedia pieces constrained by the annual series’ limit of a modest yet creatively stimulating 9×7 inches.

Even the art of speech hasn’t escaped the witch-hunt, with Lake Superior State University’s 34th annual ‘List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’ tut-tutting at 2008’s superfluousness of words such as iconic, maverick, and not in the least bit bail-out. Frugal awareness in this regard may be more difficult to implement, as it’s easy to yield to ornate verbosity as manifested by stunted attention-seeking vocabulary without noticing. But even worse is the shameless hyperbole found on the newswire (‘credit crisis’, anyone?), and more distastefully in the ironically irrelevant and non-distinctive output of account planning. And this indulgent, sometimes sinister nature of advertising is fully demonstrated in a film unbeaten in my recent top-ten roster, 99 francs by French director Jan Kounen (last month featured in CINEMA16 with Gisèle Kérozènea). In his 2007 film starring actor Jean Dujardin playing the snide, self-involved and hyper-materialistic Octave Parango, Kounen has done with 99 F what Spike Jonze, Jason Reitman and Michel Gondry have done before him in terms of laying bare some of man’s most gruesome attributes and then some. Thrilling on so many levels not least because it’s based on writer and critic Frédéric Beigbeder‘s eponymous book,  this VFX spectacle of sex, drugs and copywriting interwoven by one man’s struggle to come to grips with a twisted yet awakening moral conscience is so well-done, I’d be short-changed to find any other film (or book) as good on the topic.

As in Klapisch’s L’auberge espagnole and its successor Les pouppées russes, the French modern narrative style plays in favour of first-person plot propagation, blending a great deal of Parango’s sardonic humour with the dramatic throws in rich ($) character development alongside actors Vahina Giocante and Patrick Mille. The conveying of advertising-on-Viagra is helped quite remarkably by a soundtrack fit for cause, much like the essential Farväl Falkenberg OST. And opening with Amina’s beautiful ‘Bienvenue dans le meilleur des mondes’, the 99 F bande originale offers twenty-three finely calibrated tracks ranging from narrative excerpts from the film to a balance between Parisian techno-house (Etienne De Crécy’s ‘Funky Bloody Beetroot’ is generic, but Garnier’s ‘Crispy Bacon’ is better), a chillout alterna-indie mix (think smooth St.Germain plus slightly annoying though poignant number from CocoRosie), and an enjoyably apt dramatic score. In short, it goes without saying that after viewing the trailer below (if anyone tracks down the English-subbed version, feel free to forward the link), allow for one last additional shopping spree and start off the year with the DVD. Because if it doesn’t give you ample reason to downsize your budget thereafter, then surely not much else will.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Jan Kounen (Official)

‘A prediction that’s a safe bet’ (BBC News)

Paper cut-out snowflakes

Myths Series by Andy Warhol, 1981

As Pat Hackett most invariably came to find whilst transcribing Warhol’s vast collection of tape-recorded audio for the various publications he went on to publish in the 1970s and early 80s, Andy often drew a parallel between life and television — and quite possibly in no other time before could that comparison be more blatantly evident than today. Not all things are as they appear, and 2008 has certainly done very well to demonstrate that. It seems to be that so much of what our present generation has taken for granted (the realities of the social constructs that shape each and every one of our lives) has faced a challenge leading inevitably to the newswire-hooked re-thinking of entire social systems, both great and small, on a global scale. By this I of course make reference to the state of justice and current political affairs, the ebb and flow of cross-cultural dialogue and its associated development, the unscrupulously suspect realms of banking and finance, the institution of art and commercialization of anything that can generate revenue, ad infinitum. As our lives become increasingly downsized, digitized, monetized, mis-sensitized and controversialized, what will 2009, 2010, or even that famed hallmark of 2020 possibly bring for us when one considers the general prevailing trends? Only time will truly tell (my commiserations to George), naturally, as history-in-the-making continues on in its roundabout ways, down the trail thrusting humanity to the edge of the very precipices and watersheds omni-handedly reached by our seemingly good-willed accomplishment and ironical undoing.

Yet on a personal level, it’s  but another 365 days come and gone in a blur curiously resembling the morning after your last amazing night out. Though I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions and such sentimentality and projection of the sort, I always do find a peculiarly momentary state of retrospection unavoidable. Glossing over recent events past as marked by the occasion of a new year appears to me a mechanism through which we may attempt to examine our linear progression of (many) failings and (few) successes — a personal learning-curve audit in the midst of all the gold tinsel, red ribbon and mistletoe clichés. Thinking back now, as it always happens, it is as evident as ever that that which was expected was dwarfed by the unexpected. And it is through the unexpected that I find myself owing the utmost of gratitude: to all friends and family who have made 2008 worthwhile, as well as the many thanks  indebted to all of you who have regularly contributed to my work here, whether be it through your invaluable feedback or being a constant source of inspiration in the realm of  all things art-and-design related. So it is on that note that I wish you a very merry if not snowy Christmas filled with ample joy, relaxation, reflection, pepparkakor and glögg (with extra emphasis on the cognac). Happy holidays, everyone!

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: ‘Paint by numbers’ (pieces at random)

‘Commemoration’ (pieces at random)

Building acoustics

Sound structure I

Cairo is a remarkably concrete city — a single view from the window whilst circling over Cairo International will attest to the fact that there’s no escaping it. Perhaps the root cause of my disliking the skyline once the Nile is out of sight and all that’s truly worth seeing has faded into the distance, the concrete buildings that comprise most apartment blocks in surrounding residential areas are abundant to the extent of a visual monotony that still irks me after twenty-three years. Coated in dusty hues and often dilapidated after a few years of construction, many past summer of mine has been spent residing in such buildings, the sort my late grandfather designed in the great modernist fashion of the 70s and 80s. But even those with distinct architectural merit yield to the unrelenting hydrocarbon and lack of upkeep in the second most populous city on the continent next to Lagos.

What of the romantic legacy of historic relics remaining after French and British rule in the downtown and Garden City areas? Sadly, edifices other than embassies claiming climatic immunity (via cheap local labour whitewashing walls) have started to blend in with the rest. I must however admit that the picture is not all as run-down as I make it out to be, as such dour qualities of Cairo do tend to be exaggerated in my point of view when I speak of particular areas. It is unfair to overlook the glitz of countless five-star hotels scattered about in various constellations throughout the Greater Cairo area, lighting up the night and attracting Cairenes and tourists for some truly world-class sights. All the while, much expansion is ongoing in the surrounding region, drastically transforming the shape of the city in face of the heavy population burden and an increasing albeit limited demand for higher, more refined living standards.

At a glance, it would seem the next chapter of urban development has some positive potential rather than the routine negative if Cairo’s city planners and construction companies do a thorough job of it. Perhaps a prime example of things to come can be seen in the newly constructed Al Azhar Park, spread upon 74 acres in the Al Darassa desert area by the Citadel. For years, the lack of green space equivalent to Hyde Park or similar has been the brunt of many a joke and complaint in Egyptian conversation. Yet this answer to the hopeful populace landed a few years ago in the most unlikely of places: a 500-year-old rubbish dump. And thanks to the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, a team of Egyptian, American, French and Italian architects, engineers and landscape and horticultural specialists (along with a sizable $30 million), the end-result of the transformation today sees thousands of visitors eagerly seeking refuge in the midst of tree-filled courtyards and pavilions overlooking water.

But so far we’ve only covered hotels, fancy homes, a single park and urban sprawl funded by the prospect of new money paid by the country’s new economic middle class. Indeed much to the misfortune of the average Egyptian, the ‘democracy’ of such access to structural rejuvenation of the local built environment falls short when only the few residents who can afford it flock to developments in nearby 6th October City and the Muqattam hills, seeking a habitat far removed from the smog and noise congestion that infiltrate the everyday city life that I myself am used to. Progress, yes, but irrelevant when really we’re talking about an anorexically thin top-tier of society. To ignore the old and focus solely on the new — or disregard the many poor in favour of the few rich — is too foolish in a city where already its very foundations are being tested by the pressure mounting from unwisely chosen construction destinations and profit-hungry commercial and residential engineering.

For long there have been old wives’ tales about the area surrounding the pyramids encroaching upon the Giza plateau and threatening its stability. Bearing true to situational reality, the growth of new settlements at its base such as Nazlet Al Summan and Kafret Al Gabal are all impeding upon what was once deemed to be very stable bedrock (nummulite limestone from the so-called Muqattam formation) by the ancient ancestors. These housing areas are for the nation’s poor, driven to the edges of Giza by unaffordable housing elsewhere. Coupled with traffic, pollution, sewage overflow and the general populace density in many an area not suited for additional physical and environmental exacerbation, many see in it a catastrophe waiting to happen. As if there had ever been any doubt, the tragic and all too common landslide in Muqattam on 6th September led to the breaking off of a portion of the cliff overlooking a shantytown in the Duwayqa district, causing devastation and killing over a hundred residents in Manshayet Nasser down below.

Those who survived — some of the nation’s most poor and alienated — continue to live there beneath the volatile rocky terrain with little aid from the government and even less hope of a future worth living. This case illustrates a scenario that is in no way isolated: landslides in this area are common and believed to be caused by sewage flooding out from those elite luxury developments being built on Muqattam. According to Egyptian geologist Fakhri Labib, ‘[those in government] don’t care about poor people. They are left to build their houses in unsafe areas, and their death is cheap. The government has reached an unprecedented level of corruption. It openly protects the rich, and neglects the poor.’  And despite there being in recent years an effort to revive the old façades that make the Egyptian capitol one of the most architecturally varied in the world, I fear that many sites will be forgotten and left to ruin — along with the very people who live there.

So on the one hand, development continues in so-called ‘New Cairo’,  where one expects nothing short of homogenization in what may have potentially been a renaissance in non-commercial architecture but has fallen prey to quick money and uninspired wholesale design subject to inflation. Meanwhile, the shantytowns continue to pile up, the disparity between the rich and poor becoming evermore evident in a way that the brutal metaphor illustrates: rich fortresses on mountains looming over poor makeshift dwellings prone to instant demolition with no more prior notice than the sheer element of living in constant fear. With that in mind, I return to the most dirty and banal of buildings downtown and the ubiquitous concrete monoliths I so greatly despise in Nasr City and Heliopolis, and I realize that they are actually much better in comparison. They have character in their worn, dusty states of neglect, and the residents with exorbitant amounts of wealth are forced to show off their golden ornaments only inside their homes behind closed doors (or else, on streets in their flashy cars).

That said, as the government does make an extremely slow though gradual effort to clean up the streets, I hope that they also take the opportunity to infuse new life into the older areas, focusing more on the refurbishment of property (hopefully minimizing electrical faults) rather than spreading far and wide in order to build unsustainable, potentially destructive housing that a small fraction of the population can afford. Maybe only then can they realistically tackle that monumental task of finally finding feasible living accommodation solutions in the once-beautiful city where rapid population growth and shortage of affordable housing today is a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode in a nationwide oblivion that will leave neither rich nor poor unscathed.

Habitat 67 is an apartment complex built as part of the housing theme of Montreal’s Expo 67. A design based on the architect’s master’s thesis at McGill University, Moshe Safdie aimed to demonstrate the amalgamation of diversity and variation in residential living, whilst in exploration of built concrete in space. An affordable economic solution to housing with the necessary provisions plus garden, it was expected to set the trend for the modern urban landscape in which an increasing population would call for more architectural creativity. In all irony, however, units in Habitat 67 today are expensive as a result of the very design that pioneered them (owned by tenants in limited partnership, purchasing the development from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1985).

Sound structure II

Back in July, I attended the BFI’s Noise of Art presents: Booka Shade over at the Southbank’s National Film Institute. A combination of sound and video installation in a single night’s performance, I found it thoroughly enjoyable, only I was left half-impressed overall by the coming together of Booka Shade’s latest fantastic work with slightly mediocre visuals (it could have been better, to say the least). What did have a lasting impact, though, was the use of a sequence involving a concrete block of residential buildings mirroring one another in high-contrast green monochrome, skewing and merging in rhythm as the Berlin hallmark minimal electro and glitch resonated throughout the dark theatre. And it made me reflect a while about the impact sound has on the perception of structure, e.g. buildings, and if such structures could impact the way sound actually sounds. Oddly enough in addition, it seemed it was those bland concrete buildings in particular that lent themselves rather well to various musical styles.

Uniform and unremarkable apartment blocks (the Cairo-esque type as mentioned above) used in tangent with music is not exclusive to Booka Shade: take, for example, the audiovisual collaboration between Jan Jelinek & Visiomat Inc. in Modell Stadt Berlin. Or, as I recall now, the German video that most sticks out in mind for an optimally put-together selection of samples from Amon Tobin, featuring ‘Plattenbauten’ (buildings made with pre-cast concrete slabs) amongst the short film’s leading characters. Indeed I’m very much inclined to Tobin; after the tediousness of hearing Radiohead’s ‘Idioteque’ every time my phone rang, my replacement of choice was ‘At the End of the Day’. Now, months later, I have yet to grow tired of the track with which I fell in love on the album Foley Room. And I reckon that this is because Tobin’s music somehow effortlessly serves as a supporting background to various surrounding environments — regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, it always seems to sound right.

It appears I’m not the only one who thinks so, as one takes a look at Tobin’s discography re-manifested in dozens of videos and film shorts produced by avid listeners who appreciate his cinematic musical flare. An ‘audiovisual environment’ populated with sounds sampled from his field recording sessions is enough to transplant you into a foreign world, and the 36 year-old Montreal-based Brazilian musician and producer seems to achieve this in both beautiful and seamless fashion. Impressive, really, to have started out mixing and recording on a twin-cassette deck and now be fully exercising sampling’s potential digitally whilst still maintaining the sense of organic texturization on the channel spectrum. Characterized by ambiences blended with layers of sound pinched from a vast array of musical miscellany, his resonances and reverbs coupled with distorting effects help feed the metamorphosis of his musical composition in a form that’s entirely Tobin’s own.

It comes as no surprise that so many cinematographers should use Tobin’s music as the underlying backdrop to visuals in motion, catapulting his rise as a creator for music featured in films and adverts. Such work is as diverse as his music and much without restriction to a single screenplay niche or product, playing on the uniqueness and complexity of his creative use of sampling that inherently leads to a multi-faceted cross-genre effect. Consider everything from The Italian Job and éS Footwear’s Menikmati to Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory video game and the most recent release of Hungarian film Taxidermia in which Tobin’s entire score was featured. It all comes together in a single superior entity enhanced by old recordings of sounds heard on the average day-to-day, recycled for perception-altering consumption covering everything from motorcycles (Foley Room) to most notably the acoustics of buildings themselves (Out From Out Where).

It was wise of Dessau-based digital artist Jan Schoenwiesner to cut samples of Amon Tobin into the background of his brilliant Plattenbauten short — the one I viewed a while back and still refer to today (shown below).  The music video/graduation film is the product of his master’s thesis, built upon the transportation of abstract animation from the likes of Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren into the pseudo-reality of a man trapped in a dream shaped by concrete buildings that gradually fall apart. The computer graphics elements were modeled, mapped and animated in Cinema 4D, and were governed by the way in which Tobin’s samples equaled units of the buildings in order to propel the clip’s pace. Verily on the technicality of synchrony, it is most definitely spot-on at a level of calibre I’ve seen with few motion graphics designers other than the United Visual Artists.

Like Tobin, Schoenwiesner’s beginnings in his specialized field were quite modest: using a Commodore C64, he wrote code for the start of any given program with each time he turned the machine on. His techniques of story development, storyboarding, and design/build of a 35mm adapter to enable use of SLR lenses on a Sony HD camera in order to avoid the ‘dreaded video look’ go further to show how hands-on Schoenwiesner is. And the outcome is one with an unmistakably human aesthetic, yet again more proof of how imagery can really infuse life into the soundscape and vice-versa whilst translating motion caused by sound into ordinary objects such as the Plattenbauten. Structure and space are tricky things for both video and audio to achieve in the process of trying to maintain a true depth of field; but the marriage of Scheonwiesner and Tobin is a suitable fit.

With Scheonwiesner’s own design cachet of ‘visual music’ in multiple scenes and landscapes melding into Tobin’s own polyrhythms and soundscapes in his quintessential audiovisual environment, bland concrete architecture has never looked — or indeed sounded — better.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

Click to view at higher resolution (Quicktime)

See also: 12 Frames – Motion

Amon Tobin, Field Recording Excursion

‘Egypt’s TV couples compete for a home’ (Video, BBC News)

The Expanding Metropolis – Coping with the Urban Growth of Cairo

At face value

Flash-November 22, 1963 by Andy Warhol
21″ x 21″ screenprint, edition of 200
Colophon and text on white paper, 1968

Here, I generally tend to avoid mention of all things political mostly because that particularly bias-ridden topic of frictional dimensions is best saved for the Express Checkout site next-door. But political art, of course, is not unheard of; and I can’t seem to get a particular series of pieces out of mind whilst being bombarded by sound bites and blips steeped in the current US Presidential Election bickering. To say the least, it’s quite unfortunate that several pundits and soon-to-be voters are so easily caught up in the minutiae of campaign coverage. And whilst forgetting about the pressing issues bound to re-emerge in a few months when the populace is once more reminded of the reason democracy exists, the focus has been turning to candidates’ hair, lipstick, farm animals, and strings of words taken out of context in order to spice up headlines and win over any gullible individual with thirty seconds to spare.

What Andy Warhol himself observed on the American political scene back in the Sixties is aptly demonstrated in his Flash Suite Portfolio. In fourteen color screenprints made from images seen in newspapers and on television from the tragic assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22nd November up until his funeral in 1963, Warhol recounts not only the actual events that took place but also relays the inescapable barrage of broadcast and print media coverage. In Flash, through pieces like the one featured above, his display of the continuous omnipresence of the power of the media sheds light upon a phenomenon that has only become more deeply entrenched in political culture since then: emotion and perception are too easily overcome by the repetition of sound, text and imagery in the news. And that leaves open the question of what that does as a result — enlighten? or embellish?  The stark narrative accompanying Warhol’s portfolio seeks to shed light on such questions; he may not have been at all surprised to see the current state of affairs had he been alive today.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

‘Warhol v Banksy’ (pieces at random)