Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: August 2011

25 August 2011

Inducing Synaesthesia, My First Mural, Burning Man Schedule, & More Hats

"Remember to ask the phrase, 'What do you need?' It's a powerful phrase that will allow you to find out what someone else needs and start figuring out who you know that can help this person. And of course, don't be shy in sharing what you need. You never know who that person is connected to, who could help you!"

"Ask not what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive…then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."
- Howard Thurman

In this recent article, techno-optimist and singularity-surfer Jason Silva succinctly outlines my job description:  "the creating and sharing of awe" via novel and evocative media recombination; "performance philosophy" in an age of collapsing boundaries and exponential creativity.  (You have to be in a state of wonder to share it...but luckily, the world provides more than enough wonder.)

This manifests in my work as electronic music for acoustic guitarscientific illustration of psychedelic realities, and using science to challenge materialism...playing hopscotch across illusory divides in the intertidal zone between technology and spirituality, science and art, self and otherindividual and collective.  It's how evolution works!  And it is the finest way to illuminate otherwise invisible connections, opening the mind to the lush poetry of existence.

Every once in a while I'll attempt this through the time-honored medium of the music video.  The brain automatically attempts to align what it sees with what it hears (Ever watch muted kung fu movies to techno?), and using music to accentuate the emotional undercurrents of the small moments in my life (the reflection of light on water, a flock of birds in flight) allows these moments to unfold and evoke the true mystery and grandeur of everything – what William Blake called "the world in a grain of sand."

So here you are...a tour of some small wonders I've witnessed on my journey, scored to apocalyptic solo guitar from this summer's festival bedlam:


• The Road To Burning Man •

My first trip to Burning Man Festival back in 2008 changed my life.  It inspired me to live outside the rules I had inherited...to find better rules, and to treat the world as a playground, lover, adventure.  I wrote "Giving In To Astonishment," one of my most epic essays, there – and during the weeks after, while I was vagabonding around the luminous grit of San Francisco.

THIS year, I'm hitting the playa hard all week with music, live art, and talks on this year's theme, "Rites of Passage."  I'll be camped with an epic all-star line-up of event producers and visionaries at FractalNation Village (Android Jones' camp!), where I'll be heading up a live art team and managing the stage for some truly epic parties.  I'll be playing interlude music for an amazing speaker series featuring cultural icons and personal heroes John Perry Barlow and Cory Doctorow.  I'll be test piloting a new "cultural first responder" emergency music studio designed to be dropped into disaster areas.  I'll be participating in what is now an annual panel discussion with author Daniel Pinchbeck on the subject of art and artists in rites of passage.  And I'll be improvising a cyberacoustic score for this year's aerial fabric dance showcase at the magnificent Center Camp Café...basically, creative potentiation beyond my own wild fantasies, and I'm incredibly humbled and honored to be a part of it all.

If you won't be at Burning Man this year, don't sweat it.  I'll be recording everything to share with you soon.  If you are going to be there, let's meet up!


Whether you make it out or not, audio excerpts from my "Giving In To Astonishment" have been reworked into a Burning Man-themed musical podcast by DiscoPup that you can listen to right here:


• Ladies & Gentlemen, My First Mural •

Yeah, it finally went there.  I am delighted to share with you "Subterranean Windows," my first commissioned mural project for a friend's basement jam room and recording studio.  This was a rite of passage in its own respect: it was an initiation into working VERY LARGE.  Relating to a work of art is completely different when you can stand in front of it and it fills the entire space before you...I was going to go rainbow all over, but after laying down the first white layer I realized that it looked like light splashing on the walls and chose lacey detail over vivid chromatics.

Here is a micro-tour of the work...you can click on any of these images for a better look:

Subterranean Windows

• Custom Hats All Day Long! •

The custom hat thing is rolling right along, with two new designs that will likely become production hats by festival-scene mainstays Grassroots California (again, click for a better look):

for Ryan Connelly of Grassroots California

for Ryan Connelly of Grassroots California

for Sarah Hollington

for Ryan Sandman

If you want a hat like one of these, you know how to get ahold of me.  :)

The last thing I have to share with you before I bounce for the Black Rock Desert is "Atavism: Old is the New 'New'," my new article for trickster/genius/tastemaker RU Sirius' new technology and philosophy magazine, Acceler8or.  I'm a big fan of The Singularity and Transhumanism in general, but I have to poke fun at "nerd rapturists" who think that technological progress is a one-way street to total transcendence.  If you think time is a cyclical (or helical) affair, then you'll get a kick out of this...because sometimes, going forward means going backward.

Enjoy the read, and thanks again so deeply for your time and support!  I'll see you on the other side...

17 August 2011

An Emergent Syntax of Stuff

Originally published in a barely-recognizable edit at Octa.
Technological progress is a double-edged sword. More subtle and pernicious than the threat of disastrous new weapons, rampaging dinosaur clones, and other Science Gone Wrong, our species now faces the exponential growth of stuff – not only endless acres of disposable packaging, but items designed for ludicrously specific applications (and useless in every other way).

Consider the dubious innovation of glove dryers, laser-guided scissors, and the motorized ice cream cone. (Plenty more where those come from...) Items like these – as well as the mounting hours we spend tending to this mountain of over-specialized equipment – are an affront to our long-held belief that the future would make life easier, more streamlined and efficient. Our minimalist visions of gleaming starship bridges are in stark contrast to the rat’s nest of wires and adapters that seem increasingly necessary to connect our devices.

There is hope, however, that this inelegant mess of gear is on the verge of a radical reorganization. In chaos theory, systems on the verge of transformation tend toward wilder, noisier behavior – imagine the wobble in a top right before it leans over, or the parade of random images that flash before our eyes as we pass into sleep. Maybe, all of these shoulder straps for our iPads and battery-powered wi-fi detection t-shirts are the frustrating precursors to a new and saner relationship with design.

One person who would seem to agree is Harvard mathematician and biologist Martin Nowak. In his work on the evolution of syntax in human language, he turned to the science of emergence – how greater levels of order and complexity appear from the interactions of simpler parts. In addition living chemical systems, language itself obeys these rules.

Nowak argues that at some point in human history, the number of situations we needed to describe exceeded our ability to easily remember a new word for each unique scenario. It became easier to develop new parts of speech and combine them for a multiplying effect, than continue creating new distinct calls to mean “lion behind you,” “lion in front of you,” “lion to your side…” Humans were suddenly able to talk about many different kinds of lions, and apply “behind you” to any number of objects, without having to memorize a new term for every situation.

Incidentally, this is what makes written Chinese so much more difficult to learn than written English. Chinese is an older language that uses hundreds pictographs to identify every unique referent, whereas English has only twenty-six letters that can be endlessly reassembled to make new words.

Likewise, the more sensible end of the design community today is dedicated to multiple-function technologies. First came the Swiss-Army Knife…then a screwdriver that fits most sizes of screws. (What took so long?) TV is now online, in case you don’t feel the need to purchase both a desktop and a flatscreen. (But if you do, thank God, more and more of them connect wirelessly.) We no longer need to carry around a discman and a cellular phone and a note pad and a pocket calendar and a flashlight; a single smart phone puts all of these functions and more at our fingertips with computer power beyond what NASA used to reach the Moon.

Admittedly, the modern corporate focus on propriety and profit means many items are still designed with intentional shortcomings that force users to make additional purchases. (Why on Earth did Apple not just add an HDMI port to the MacBook Pro? Do we really need a unique wall charger for every new cell phone?) Fighting the insanity, however, some designers actually accessorize gadgets in ways that expand their utility. Take, for example, how the brilliant minds behind the iWatch made the world just a little lighter. Similarly, gripping tripods have rendered innumerable specialized camera attachments irrelevant.

Nowak’s logic is indisputable. We may not all have tricorders yet, but as our complexifying world demands an emergent syntax of stuff, there will come a day when smart devices interact intelligently to evolve new functions, and planned obsolescence is a thing of the past.

15 August 2011

New Tour Video, Rootwire Paintings, & Four More Hats

“Buy stout shoes, climb the mountains, search the valleys, the deserts, the sea shores, and the deep recesses of the earth…for in this way and in no other will you arrive at a knowledge of the nature and the properties of things.”
– Severinus 

"And so it was I entered the broken world / To trace the visionary company of love."
– Hart Crane

In this few quiet weeks of respite between the bulk of summer festival season and my whirlwind adventure with FractalNation Village at Burning Man (our camp's last all-star fundraiser party is this Friday at Temple Nightclub in San Francisco), I've been musing on why it is I keep throwing myself into these things.  Living on the road on some fool's crusade to inspire the world is definitely not thankless work – in fact, I am deeply nourished by everyone's appreciation and heartfelt criticism – but sometimes I'm almost overwhelmed with the appeal of getting a weekly gig playing music in some hotel and just laying low.  Getting a studio somewhere and letting my car rust in the parking lot.

Then I remember the travel.  The sacred and secret openness that comes from the chronic shock of constant exposure to new places.  The incredible blessing it is to share these journeys with a global web of friends whose lives don't throw them quite so far as mine does...

Made from highway footage taken on last year's Love Without End Tour, this latest video from A Million Anniversaries is an homage to the sense of wonder that simply moving can instill in you.  Life in fast forward is a lot like death in slow motion, incidentally – as my friend David Titterington puts it, we're moving through tunnels of gates:


While you're listening, here's a recap of the art explosion on my end of Papadosio's Rootwire Music & Arts Festival in Logan, Ohio.  Definitely click on each painting to get a full sense of the detail:

Patience
2011 07 03 Electric Forest (Papadosio, SCI, Pretty Lights)
& 2011 08 04, 05 Rootwire Festival
(Govinda, Papadosio Live PA, Octopus Nebula, The Werks, RoeVy, Emancipator)
24"x36" – paint markers on stretched canvas

11"x17" prints – $20/1, $30/2 + $5 s/h – email me to order

Starting with the first layer of improvised (some might say channeled) script during Papadosio's set at Electric Forest Festival, this painting just drilled deeper and deeper into scaly, flowing detail until looking at it made my head twist.  Look closely and you can see the reticello pupil and doily iris; look long enough, and it might actually move.  After completing this piece I started wondering how the rest of this entity's face must look...expect richer, more intricate scapes in this style.



Symbiotes
2011 07 22 Jazzhaus (Future Shock)
& 2011 08 06, 07 Rootwire Festival
(Third Nature, Papadosio, The Malah, Damn Right, Invisible Allies, Bluetech, Kilowatts)
18"x24" – paint markers on stretched canvas

11"x17" prints – $20/1, $30/2 + $5 s/h – email me to order

Something about this one just screams microscopy to me.  Maybe it's the vaguely photosynthetic critters living in the middle of each larger object, or the way everything drifts into each other...an attempt to combine the sensation of earth, fire, air, and water in a single nonrepresentational piece.  A haiku about the elements as they combine in living systems.  Unlike Patience with its strong central locus, Symbiotes doesn't give the eye any obvious place to rest.  Angular, electrical energy leads to the same quivering vitality you get looking into a slide of pond water. 


So yeah, Rootwire was a barnstormer...amazing art, music, and presentations all around.  Huge thanks to Papadosio for inviting me back out there.  In addition to completing those paintings, giving a talk on the future of science, and jamming out a boiler of an afternoon cyber-acoustic set, I somehow found the time to tag a few people and nail out some more custom caps:


For Robbie

For Nate

For Jason & Emma

I have some exciting updates aging in an sherry cask for next week's newsletter...in the meantime, here's an in-depth interview I gave to international design collective Arts Projekt a while back.  They ask me how my training as a scientific illustrator informs my live art; about the evolutionary themes I'm expressing through my work; and about my five year plan (hint: solar-flare induced telepathy).

Many thanks for your continued interest and support.  Have a wonderful day!