Onstage at PopTech just now, Brian Eno said that a musical piece by Steven Reich had a huge influence on how he thought about art. He said that Reich’s piece showed him that:
1. You don’t need much.
2. The composer’s role is to set up a system and then let it go.
3. The true composer is actually in the listener’s brain.
I’d never heard of Reich, but the name sounded familiar when Eno mentioned it. I realized I’d seen it yesterday when reading about Cory Arcangel’s show at Team Gallery in reference to his piece, Sweet 16:
Cory applied American avant-garde composer Steven Reich’s concept of phasing to the guitar intro of Guns and Roses’ track Sweet Child O’Mine. Rather than use instruments, Cory took the same two clips from the song’s music video and shortened one clip by a single note. As the videos loop, the two intros grow farther apart until they are back in sync.
He’s veered away from video games, but Cory’s new work is looking really interesting these days.
I recently reread Steven Johnson’s Emergence and was struck by how familar it all seemed, even for a reread. Flipping through the bibliography at the end, I realized why: much of my reading list over the past four years has come directly from those few pages in the back of the book:
The Age of Spiritual Machines by Ray Kurzweil
A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History by Manual De Landa
Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Pattern on the Stone by Danny Hillis
How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Nonzero by Robert Wright
Since reading the book, I’ve also heard talks or read articles by other folks mentioned in the bibliography, like Franz De Waal, Eric Bonabeau, Kevin Kelly, James Howard Kunstler, Marvin Minsky, etc. I’d read a few things on the topic before Emergence, but it was really a catalyst for a area of study I didn’t quite know I was focusing on until much later.
Scientists at Princeton have made a crude computer out of bacteria. Earlier work showed “they could insert DNA into cells to make them behave like digital circuits [and] perform basic mathematical logic. The latest work expands this concept to vast numbers of bacteria responding in concert.”
Stewart Brand interviews Jane Jacobs about cities. “Cities are about the most durable things we have. People think of them as superficial things, but they aren’t. They’re very, very basic. Rural places, which are considered more fundamental and more basic, actually are hangers-on of cities in most cases.”