Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: September 2009

28 September 2009

The Coming Revolution In Audio Design

Design is not merely about changing our objects, but about changing our lives. It is not merely about improving the appearance or utility of our surroundings, but about the way we relate to them, and thus who we are. A revolution in design shakes both inner and outer worlds – and rarely is this more apparent than with new media technologies that reshape the sensory environment of our everyday lives. I recently stumbled across one such innovation – a radical twist in the world of sound engineering – and it immediately spun me into speculation on a bizarrely probable near-future world…

It’s 2015. I’m attending the premiere performance of the Houston Audioplanetarium, a marriage of science and art that guides the audience by the ears on a tour of our night sky’s celestial bodies. Using fantastic new technology, each star and planet’s radio frequencies are detuned to within the range of human hearing, then placed on a virtual speaker within the planetarium’s sophisticated audio software. Sonic qualities of each signal are modulated to trick our brains into assigning a specific, independent position, distance, and velocity for every sound source – animating the simulated sky with a vast choir of outer space’s spooky resonances as if we were actually listening to the night.
The more distant a star, the fainter its humming and moaning. The projectionists isolate constellations one at a time, and we are reacquainted with our familiar myths as they ring out in thick cinematic chords. Our virtual observatory moves through space and there are gasps as the sky comes unhinged and whizzes past everyone, each point of light and its radio howl zooming like a freight train, new stars up ahead announcing themselves with new tones. We have just navigated to the center of the galaxy to catch the opus of the supermassive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way. Then we zip off to listen to the strange beauty of the Crab Nebula, the Cat’s Eye Nebula, the rotary duets of binary stars, the cannonball roar of a supernova.

This virtual voyage is awe-inspiring and terrifying in its scope and realism, opening an entire sense to the realms of astronomy, revealing unexpected relationships between stars and galaxies, restoring us to wonder at the “music of the spheres” ancient science had predicted and modernity had all but forgotten. My mother, blinded by diabetes, cries tears of awe and joy at her first “glimpse” of the night sky in years.

Driving to the airport the next morning, I’m guided by a field of traffic alert signals my car stereo projects into my environment. Developed for pilots, my car’s sensors (in conjunction with a saturating network of handheld electronic devices, mounted civic sensors, and GPS satellites) notify me audibly of approaching vehicles and pedestrians, objects and obstructions in the road, and invisibly-distant traffic jams. Standard issue hardware on the nicer civilian automobiles now creates such a vivid real-time audio environment, every alert placed at actual distance in the virtual sonic sphere, that even the legally blind can drive (they have to pass a hearing exam).

Later, at work, I’m on a trans-Atlantic conference call in which the voices of my European associates seem to come directly from the mouths of their high-resolution holographic projections. I haven’t made a business trip in almost a year, down from two a month just a few years ago. The sense of “there-ness” is so compelling that sometimes I forget we still can’t actually shake on a deal.
If I’m to believe the rumors my friends are circulating, this means a new age for interrogation…a new form of psychological torture to break political prisoners by dangling their loved ones and enemies right in front of them. Fugitives are lured out of hiding by familiar voices (the technology to simulate a person’s unique vocal spectrum has existed for well over a decade). The “fireside chats” of internet media personalities have risen to a whole new level, celebrity spokespeople projected onto the street next to us. Porn stars really whisper in your ear, now.

A few years ago, when the first of these convincing phantasms saturated Hollywood, the surround sound industry disappeared overnight. Now, nobody trusts perception like we used to. Just as Photoshop made us learn to doubt the testimony of our eyes, so too do we now question our hearing. We’re no longer such a naïve culture, but something else has replaced our childlike confidence in the reality of our senses: a rigorous discernment, an eagerness to reach out and touch, a scientific sensibility that – day by day – erodes our assumptions about the nature of “reality” and has created a generation of philosophers.

It’s all due to the innovative work of one company, GenAudio, which in 2008 released a new level of “4D” audio processing software. Founded in Englewood, Colorado in the middle of the 21st Century’s first decade, their AstoundSound technology quickly exploded from its original applications in home theater and music production, rattling and rattled our society to the core, growing a new layer of thought and experience on the scaffold of our wild brains. We live in a new world of sound, and nobody saw it coming. But a few of us had our ears to the ground.
(Written for d/visible magazine.)

17 September 2009

New Work From Burning Man & Trinumeral 999

> Imagery
2009 09 01 Burning Man (Heart Space Sign) - 24"x48"
The entry sign for Entheon Village's Heart Space at this year's Burning Man. The Heart Space was where all of the presentations, discussion panels, and musical performances were at Entheon, and Entheon is one of the most progressive and inspirational theme camps out there. For those of you unfamiliar with Burning Man, here is a fabulous video segment on it by Time Magazine. This sign was adapted (in pseudo-Shepard Fairey style) from the staff patch design they asked me to create, which was unfortunately lost on the way to the printers and so still exists only in digital form:
The tesselated octagons (two kinds – one in which every other point faces inwards) are an Islamic symbol for The Breath of the Compassionate, the endless cycle of creation and destruction of forms within the divine mind. Looking at this pattern brings me great peace by reminding me of the greater context, the infinity in which we all participate...it seemed an appropriate design to contemplate during Burning Man's ritualistic embrace of personal and social transformation. So I went with it while working on the other paintings I made during the music that week:

2009 09 02 Burning Man (Sonic Bloom - Anahata Sound, Beats Antique, Lynx & Janover, Vibesquad, Heyoka, Mimosa) - 20"x30"
Jamie Janover imported Sonic Bloom to Entheon Village this year, organizing a fabulous dance party on Wednesday night. I set up immediately in front of the entrance to the Heart Space and painted shirtless for the first time ever because 1) the weather was incredible, and 2) someone had painted a seven-pointed star with a heart inside of it on my back in henna that afternoon, which I wanted to show off (seven is the number of the virgin, of undivided purity...a cool thing to have emblazoned on one's bod). What an incredible amount of love I felt that night! This piece wrapped itself up at the very last note of the music, just as dawn was stretching over the horizon...you can kind of feel it in the red "window" panels. It was a real trip to be painting for so many familiar artists in such a strange and distant land...

2009 09 07 Burning Man (Hookah Dome - Random Rab, Radiohiro, Eskmo, Welder, Thievery Corporation) - 18"x24"
A lot of nonsense gets spread around as news at Burning Man. One camp put a Kraftwerk & Daft Punk concert in the What/Where/When, which I knew was a prank...but I wasn't so certain about the alleged Thievery Corporation show I'd heard would take place on Sunday night. It ended up being in a different place and at a different time, but sure enough I got to paint for the guy at his first-ever set at Burning Man! (He told us all it had been the best week of his life... The other acts all played excellent sets as well, but I'd painted for them all before so excuse me for not expressing quite as much excitement.) "So I've got that going for me..." (– Bill Murray, Caddyshack, on being granted total consciousness at the moment of death by the Dalai Lama as a caddying gratuity) I got to test out my new battery-powered 20-LED "SquidBrite" lamp, which definitely proved its utility while I painted from a cozy high-traffic spot off to one side of the crowd. And it was an amazing way to end the festival, celebrating after the Temple Burn, squeezing every living volt out of the tail of the week.

2009 09 10 Trinumeral Festival (Pnuma Trio, M80 Dubstation, Conspirator) - 18"x24"
After helping strike camp at Burning Man and driving cross-country with my friends for a day and a half, I repacked in Kansas City, slept three hours, got on a plane to North Carolina, rode out two hours from the airport to the festival site for Trinumeral 999, jumped out of the car, set up my easel, and knocked this one out during my first Pnuma Trio concert. Where the energy came from, I don't know...and in fact, I think this piece betrays how frazzled I must have actually been. But I dig the white-to-purple-to-blue electric glow, and intend to keep working on those tetrahedral surfaces. It has kind of a Navajo blanket vibe.

2009 09 11 Trinumeral Festival (The Sun Ra Arkestra, Béla Fleck/Zakir Hussain/Edgar Meyer, The Glitch Mob) - 18"x24"
What an eclectic festival! To have Sun Ra's old 13-piece band reassemble for this event, followed by the debut performance of a mind-blowing experimental neoclassical supergroup I could scarcely believe, followed by The Glitch Mob? On the same stage, too. I don't even know where to start with that, so I won't. I'll just say that in going for the 999 theme, I tried to work out a pattern based on the Borromean Rings, each of which only interlocks with one other, but together all three are inseparable. Threes and nines (the nines only insinuated by the logarithmic curve of each extended ring). It ended up somewhat messy, but encouraged me to attempt more Celtic braidwork in the future. And I like the snakey green cybertube vibe it ended up with.

2009 09 12 Trinumeral Festival (The Egg, The New Mastersounds, Toubab Krewe) - 18"x24"
At this point, I suppose, I'd given up on the nines. Kind of a petroglyph-circuitboard, weird and dimensionless but nonetheless it still captivates my eyes. Hanging out and painting next to Kris D all weekend must've rubbed off on me, all that abstract geometry.

2008 11 05 & 2009 07 29 Hodi's Half Note (DJ Rootz) & in-studio - 18"x24"
Here, by the way, is an older painting I spent some time updating this summer and haven't yet re-posted in its final form. Radiating bronze lines over gold spraypaint really solarizes this one, although it's hard to fully appreciate from a photograph. It's kind of the counterpart to the Pnuma/M80/Conspirator piece...the hole to its peg. Simple, bold, molten.

> Writing
I'm ultra-proud to announce that my latest epic article, "The Psychedelic Transhumanists," made the cover of H+ Magazine's Fall Issue. It's an adventurous exposition on the common vision of various psychopharmacological visionaries for the future of humanity and consciousness in general...a "virtual conversation" between Timothy Leary, Terence McKenna, Erik Davis, Mark Pesce, and David Pearce, culled mostly from previously un-transcribed video materials and tied together with my own virtual persona as moderator. Topics include emotional machines, the linguistic nature of reality, the illusion of control, the evolving definition of "selfhood," and whether there is even such a thing as "artificial" intelligence. It's one of the more profound things I've ever written and I'm so, SO happy to share it with you. You can read the entire article in the latest issue's free pdf version, or read just the intro on my friend EROCx1's blog, or buy a paper copy at your local newsstand next month. (I highly recommend option #1.)

> Music
Coming soon: my recordings from Entheon Village.

1) My Saturday night pre-burn concert in Entheon's dining hall;
2) My Tuesday and Friday afternoon presentations ("Does Evolution Have A Direction?" and "The Science of 2012: How Geomagnetics Influence Human Consciousness"); and
3) The Friday afternoon discussion panel on "The Evolution Of Consciousness," in which I participated as an "expert" alongside Daniel Pinchbeck, Tony Vigorito, Mark Heley, and Mark Martinez.

These were the most inspiring public presentations and conversations I've ever had, and I can't wait to share them with you. It's an enormous amount of audio material to mix and render, however – some of which is still in the hands of Entheon, so I'm at the mercy of their clock. But I'll have them available for free as soon as I can!

In the meantime, thank you for your time and attention, and feel free to write with any questions or comments! Have a beautiful day...

love
Michael

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