The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

Jennifer § Two songs from The Muppet Movie / 2021-02-12 15:53:34
A few notes on daily blogging § Stock and flow / 2017-11-20 19:52:47
El Stock y Flujo de nuestro negocio. – redmasiva § Stock and flow / 2017-03-27 17:35:13
Meet the Attendees – edcampoc § The generative web event / 2017-02-27 10:18:17
Does Your Digital Business Support a Lifestyle You Love? § Stock and flow / 2017-02-09 18:15:22
Daniel § Stock and flow / 2017-02-06 23:47:51
Kanye West, media cyborg – MacDara Conroy § Kanye West, media cyborg / 2017-01-18 10:53:08
Inventing a game – MacDara Conroy § Inventing a game / 2017-01-18 10:52:33
Losing my religion | Mathew Lowry § Stock and flow / 2016-07-11 08:26:59
Facebook is wrong, text is deathless – Sitegreek !nfotech § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2016-06-20 16:42:52

Today I Learned

David Weinberger has a thoughtful look at Reddit as journalism. He calls it “community journalism,” a distinct variant of “citizen journalism.”

Two gems to put in your shoe:

  1. What’s interesting to a community is not enough to make us well informed because our community’s interests tend to be parochial and self-reinforcing. This is not so much a limitation of community as a way that communities constitute themselves.
  2. One of the mistakes we’ve made in journalism and education is to insist that curiosity is a serious business. Perhaps not. Perhaps curiosity needs a sense of humor.

Via Jay Rosen.


The art of working in public

I have two exemplary pieces of 21st-century writing that I want to share with you. Neither is hot off the CMSes; they’ve both aged just a little in their tabbed casks. They have something deeply in common—though it might not be obvious at first. One is from BERG’s Matt Webb, the other from the Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal. This post is going to run a bit long, with a healthy blockquotient, but I think it will end up somewhere interesting.

First: over at the BERG blog, the studio’s director Matt Webb writes weeknote 315. Now, BERG’s weeknotes are always interesting, but this one is a stand-out. It’s long—very long—and transparently written in installments. You can plainly see the rings on the tree, the grain of the writing.

The post begins. Almost immediately there’s a pause, signaled by a section break. Another graf, another pause. Then a section begins like this:

A few hours later – still Saturday – I’m reading an article called A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600-2100 section by section, and interspersing this with reading the monthly Profit and Loss and Balance Sheets of the company from the past year.

And then Matt dives into the details of BERG’s P&L. More sections follow. He touches on sales strategy, supply chain management, even financial stock and flow. (That is, the real kind, not the Snarkmarket kind… but we’re winning the Googlefight, so watch out. Ours might be the real kind soon.)

Later, Matt writes…

I attempt to run the company perpetually at medium-risk, with occasional forays into high-risk to grow – trusting ourselves to surf this tightrope – don’t laugh at the mixed metaphor, that’s what it feels like – and sometimes it takes a while to get my sea legs at a new scale, to discover what a tolerance of “medium” feels like when the numbers themselves change. Your sensitivity and tolerance improve only with practice. I wish I’d been given toy businesses to play with at school, just as playing with crayons taught my body how to let me draw.

I’ve written in these weeknotes before how I manage three budgets: cash, attention, risk. This is my attempt to explain how I feel about risk, and to trace the pathways between risk and cash. Attention, and how it connects, can wait until another day.

…and then of course even later in the post he ends up talking about attention after all.

Got it? Okay.

Next: over at the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal writes up the New York Public Library’s pathbreaking digital projects. Now, on one level, Alexis’s piece is more straightforward than Matt’s. It’s, like, an article. I mean, it even has a nut graf:

With all this change — not to mention a possible $40 million budget cut looming — it would be no surprise if the library was floundering like the music industry, newspapers, or travel agents. (Hey, man, we all get disintermediated sooner or later.) But that’s the wild thing. The library isn’t floundering. Rather, it’s flourishing, putting out some of the most innovative online projects in the country. On the stuff you can measure — library visitors, website visitors, digital gallery images viewed — the numbers are up across the board compared with five years ago. On the stuff you can’t, like conceptual leadership, the NYPL is killing it.

But… look at that nut graf. Look at the voice Alexis is rocking here—the NYPL is killing it—and look at that personal parenthetical: Hey, man, we all get disintermediated sooner or later. Here in the nut, in the very keystone of a long piece ostensibly about the New York Public Library, Alexis is tipping us off: This is actually going to be about me and you and the Atlantic, too.

Then, just a little bit later on, we read this:

I visited the library to see who was behind the excellent work at the library to see how they thought about what they were doing. And maybe I was hoping to pinch some lessons for my own work on how to teach old animals new tricks. The Atlantic was founded in 1857, after all, 54 years older than Patience and Fortitude.

And later, Alexis crosses the streams again…

People love the texture of old stories and the odd solidity of old photos. If you let them use those things for their own purposes, they love them even more. Take the New York Public Library’s stereogram collection. Stereograms were actually publicized by a key member of The Atlantic’s staff at the end of the 19th century, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

…again directly connecting the nominal subject of his piece (the NYPL) to the shadow subject (the Atlantic itself), which is, in fact, the shadow subject of most of his work, on most platforms.

And it’s glorious.

Okay, so now take a step back and consider these two pieces together.

They are written by two very different dudes, in different positions, with different objectives. But I want to argue that both are written in essentially the same style, with common characteristics both superficial—a smart but very informal voice that reads like a long email from your smartest coolest friend ever—and structural:

  • They both conjure a sense that the piece is almost being written as you read it. It feels like they’re just a graf or two ahead, and if you picked up the pace, you could catch them—overtake their blinking cursors. It feels slightly chaotic and totally thrilling.
  • They both let you inside their heads. With Matt you’re not just reading a list of, like, small-business tips. For the span of a few thousand words, you are riding shotgun as co-CEO of BERG. Likewise, with Alexis, you’re not just learning about the NYPL. You’re grabbing hold of the library’s old-made-new strategy and instantly spinning it around, asking yourself: How can I use this here at the Atlantic? It’s palpable, and it’s awesome.
  • But!—they don’t let you all the way inside. There’s plenty withheld here. In fact, here’s the genius of the style: they don’t tell you much at all. What’s BERG’s next big project? Uh, I don’t know. What’s Alexis’s strategy at the Atlantic? We’ll find out when he executes it. Even though their writing feels so revelatory, this isn’t radical transparency at all. It’s, what? Selective transparency? Choir screen transparency? I’m not leveling a criticism—this is a compliment.

I tend to zero in on this kind of writing because I aspire to do more of it myself, and to do it better. Working in public like this can be a lot of fun, for writer and reader alike, but more than that: it can be a powerful public good. The comments on Matt’s post all go something like this: Hey, thank you. I’m running a small studio myself, and this is really instructive. When you let people inside your head, they come away smarter. When you work in public, you create an emissary (media cyborg style) that then walks the earth, teaching others to do your kind of work as well. And that is transcendently cool.

At the same time: surprise is of the essence. And for me, it’s been increasingly difficult to communicate coherently about my day-to-day writing work without either a) being intolerably vague, or b) giving away the good stuff. I just can’t quite find the balance. I’m midway through George R. R. Martin’s latest—these are books famous for their ruthless surprises—and so I’m feeling this really keenly right now. We don’t want radical transparency from George R. R. Martin. We want radical opacity. We want maximum surprise!

But what I see in Matt’s and Alexis’s writing is a growing mastery of this balance. I think it’s an important new skill, maybe even a new liberal art. When you articulate it, it sounds almost like a koan, or part of some samurai code:

Work in public. Reveal nothing.

So what is this post, then? Me working on working in public, in public? Maybe. Actually, I think I might have a shadow subject of my own. As I’ve been writing here, I’ve been thinking (because come on, the scenario is inescapable): Can we get Webb and Madrigal to make something together? BERG and the Atlantic—what’s this going to take?


Social networks, as told by Flight of the Conchords

Joanne McNeil, quoting Farrah Bostic on July 3: 

“so far google+ friending seems to be more about a shared present/future than a shared past” – @farrahbostic (so true)less than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply

So if Facebook quickly became like this:

Google+ right now is more like this:

While Twitter, with its tendency towards zaniness, its frequently misunderstood and embarrassing messages, and inevitable blurring of casual and intimate relationships, feels a bit like this (in all its glory):

Meanwhile, we also have MySpace (“people who hold signs go on to hold many things”):

The original, Friendster (“How did Dave get a hottie like that to a party like this? Good one, Dave”):

And this one, I can’t tell if it’s LinkedIn or Chatroulette (maybe a bit of both):

Soliciting suggestions for Quora, Instagram, Foursquare, et al. (My partner-in-pop-culture-crime Sarah Pavis already nominated “Stay Cool” and “I Told You I Was Freaky” for Tumblr.)

PS: You can find me on Google+ here.


Today’s Tweets, Lightly Annotated

I had an eclectic but perhaps extra-fulfilling day using Twitter today. First, I wrote a lot of tweets: I hand-counted 165, including @-replies but excluding DMs. But it didn’t strike me as all that atypical a day, which might be all the more striking. It was Twitter at its best. I was reading and writing all day, just having a great time carrying on half-overheard conversations in public.

I wanted to hang on to just a few of those conversation nodes here, inspired partly by two tweets in particular:

@robinsloan @amichel @jayrosen_nyu I love how the Stock & Flow post is perennially always both. Like a geyser waiting for a chance to burst.less than a minute ago via YoruFukurou Favorite Retweet Reply

Robin’s “Stock and Flow” post was flowing again today, helped along by Jay Rosen’s plug via — you guessed it — Twitter.

Today was almost entirely a flow day for me. Call it navel-gazing if you want, but I want to hang onto it, mostly for the following reason:

When I was 7-10 years old, if you’d told me there’d be a machine that would let me read new things all day, I’d have fainted from happiness.less than a minute ago via YoruFukurou Favorite Retweet Reply

So here’s a little of what was flowing in my Twitter stream today.
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‘The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me’

Here’s an interesting dialogue between two characters: Teach and Cheat. One’s a philosophy professor; the other writes students’ term papers for a fee.

Teach: Yes, but it is a red flag to me that there is plagiarism elsewhere in the paper. The second one is grammatical. In those cases I was alerted to plagiarism by the sudden appearance, in a paper that is otherwise a morass of grammatical errors, of a series of flawless sentences with complicated structures. The correct use of a semicolon is a big red flag for me. As is the use—and often misuse—of specialized jargon or technical language that I’ve not discussed with them in class. Then I type those sentences into Google, and they all wind up being smoking-gun cases of plagiarism. My favorite case this semester was plagiarism within plagiarism. When I informed this student that I suspected her paper was plagiarized, she said to me, “I got my paper from one of the students who was in your class last semester. How was I to know that she had plagiarized?” Which indicated to me, along with a number of the other email responses I got from students, that many of them don’t even know what plagiarism is.

Cheat: I don’t disagree. But not knowing what plagiarism is isn’t really the problem. It’s unfortunate that right now the university is cracking down so hard on plagiarism. And the reason the university is cracking down so hard on plagiarism is because their product is less and less valuable these days. When students plagiarize, there’s an implicit recognition that “I’m just doing this for the grade.” That’s why they do it. And that’s the way that the majority of students look at the university, and have been for some time now. At my college, the frats had rooms full of file cabinets full of plagiarized papers. Plagiarism is old news. It’s really not just that plagiarism is getting easier to do, with the Internet. The problem is now that the grade doesn’t even get you the job.

You understand where this is going: it’s not even about plagiarism and term papers… it’s about the framework and future of college itself.

But, P.S., thinking about plagiarizing a term paper—even now, so many years removed from college—makes me physically ill. Seriously: a sick little stir in my stomach. But it has more to do with self-conception than core values. The idea of putting my name above somebody else’s words is just… like… inconceivable. The whole point of having a brain (and maybe, having a life) is that my name goes above my words and my words aren’t like anyone else’s words. This was true even back in college, when I thought I was going to be a scientist or an economist, not a journalist or a writer. So for a person like me (and I suspect there are many of you among the Snarkmatrix) plagiarism is way more than just cheating. It’s self-abnegation.


Hacking the story

As you already know by now from Robin and Tim’s posts, DC comics is relaunching the continuity of its primary universe. While I’ll admit that my first reaction as a current collector of a handful of DC titles (Batman, Detective, Red Robin, Batgirl, Batwoman if it ever comes out, and anything with The Question—I’m new here, I have to establish my bona fides), is to geek out over all the details.

Barbara Gordon will be Batgirl again (and even better , written by Gail Simone)! Tim Drake loses his own title, but gets a new costume! Superman won’t be wearing red underwear over his tights anymore! Wonder Woman is keeping the pants! Other details, I’m sure! 

And before I try to make a bigger argument, let’s all focus on the fact that the details are all that really matter here. This isn’t the first time that DC has rebooted its continuity. 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths was arguably DC’s first attempt to bring all of its titles together into a common, consistent universe. Zero Hour followed in 1994, and Infinite Crisis in 2005.

There have been other big crossover storylines like Armageddon: 2001, Identity Crisis, Final Crisis, and Blackest Night, but while these storylines have had greater or smaller impacts of the status quo, they didn’t, for the most part, erase most or all of established storyline history.

In this light what’s really notable is that A.) we’re ahead of schedule (the next reboot shouldn’t be until 2014 or 2015), and B.) all title numbers are being reset to #1.

Which is, of course, a marketing ploy. Industry wisdom is that #1s sell better. If DC’s marketing department had their wish, every issue would be #1, every month. A world of one-shots! Every issue a collector’s item!

But all of this still misses what’s really interesting about the relaunch, and every Elseworlds title, every Crisis, every Age of Apocalypse, House of M, Ultimatum, and on, and on, and on.

Continuity is a storytelling technology. It’s a way of organizing information, conveying character over extended periods of time, giving depth to plot, and communicating history in a way that doesn’t demand retelling with each iteration.

It’s an enormously useful tool, with rewards for both writer and reader, but it also has limitations. It highlights any asymmetry in knowledge between writer and reader. If the story you’re reading demands familiarity with a previous story you missed, you can feel lost. If the writer contradicts a previous story, you can feel that something is wrong. In a medium, like superhero comics, where the suspension of disbelief is critical, a discontinuity can be fatal.

Or not. As the DC Universe in particular illustrates, continuity is nothing if not elastic. Between 1938 and 1985, it wasn’t even seen as particularly necessary. Each corner of the DC Universe largely concerned itself with its own particular space, and, in practice if not editorial principle, that’s largely true today as well. In fact, I’d argue that every new story recreates its own continuity. That is, this big thing that we’re spending all our time worrying about, hyping, ruing the lost of, it doesn’t really exist. Every writer constantly has to decide what to use, what to ignore, and what to re-invent. There’s even a word for changing continuity on the fly— retcon, for “retroactive continuity,” which is now both a noun and a verb.

Robin makes an excellent point that continuity, this depth of character and wealth of story, is the one major attraction that the big comic companies still hold for creators — and that if you have a lottery-ticket idea, the character and story that will be the next Batman, or Harry Potter, or Twilight, then you’d be a fool to sell it to Marvel or DC like Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel, and Joe Shuster did back in the 1930s. It would probably be more accurate to view Marvel and DC as they currently exist not as comic book companies, but intellectual property holding corporations that happen to print a handful of comic books, as just one way in which they manage and profit from their IP. I guarantee you that at the top levels, it’s how they view themselves. They have to.

But at the same time, it’s not really an either-or position. Jim Lee, one of the founding forces behind Image Comics — who may not have created creator-owned comics, but gave the proposition market power like few entities before — is also one of the driving forces behind the DC relaunch, which will introduce a number of his former Image franchises such as Grifter and Stormwatch into DC continuity.

This, of course, isn’t the first time that DC has integrated other universes into its own. Captain Marvel was originally a property competing with (and more popular) than Superman, until DC sued, shut down publication, and eventually acquired the character. Alan Moore’s groundbreaking Watchmen comic originally grew out of DC’s acquisition of Charleton Comics’ characters, but since Moore’s storyline made many of the characters, um, unusable, DC made him create new ones. (Captain Atom became Dr. Manhattan, The Question became Rorschach, etc.)

By rebooting its continuity, DC is, in effect, updating its operating system. We’ll know in a few months whether it’s Linux or Vista.

But rather than thinking of continuity as some sort of sacred history of tradition, let’s remember that it’s a technology. And like any technology, it might be most interesting once we start thinking about how it can be hacked.

The canonical example of a continuity hack may be Watchmen — but I’d also throw in Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, and Steven T. Seagle’s It’s a Bird. All of these stories play with continuity, not in order to retcon, reboot, or reinforce it, but to use that root access for their own idiosyncratic purposes. And it’s these interventions, not the big events, that ultimately bring the stories back to their foundations and move the whole industry forward.


The Cave, The Corps, The League


I’m going to jump in the middle of Robin and Gavin’s exchange on the DC Comics reboot, even though I explicitly told both of them that I didn’t want to read about it and had nothing to say about any of it, because some things Robin just wrote sparked some ideas that I want to follow here.

Today, you don’t go work at Marvel and DC because of what they are; you go because of what they have. It’s almost like a natural resource. Superman and Batman are potent substances. They have this incredible innate energy, this incredible mythic density, built up over decades. They really are like petroleum—a bright eon of individual organic contributions all compressed into this powerful stuff that we can now burn for light, for entertainment, for money… How do you weigh the opportunity to work on an old titan like Superman against the opportunity to create something wholly new, and to potentially profit from that creation? Is it only sentimental or emotional value that draws an artist to the former—or is there more?… Maybe what we’re talking about here is the difference between being an entrepreneur and being a custodian. We tend to think of artists as entrepreneurs, right?—inventors, trailblazers, risk-takers. To make meaningful art is often simply to try something new.

Now before I start, I want to stipulate a few things. First, I want to take seriously Robin’s two primary arguments in his post:

  1. “I want to talk not about Superman’s universe, but our own—because I think this strategy says something interesting about creative economics today.” Let’s call this the explicit argument.
  2. Comic books themselves, as content, not just the strategies of their publishers and artists, have something to say about this. Let’s call this the implicit argument.

And I want to add a third point, that I’ll call the unconscious argument. It’s something I don’t think Robin necessarily intended, but which is entailed in the way he formulates the problem:

Everywhere in Robin’s post where he writes “artists,” you can substitute “journalists“—and probably many other nodes in creative economies, broadly construed.
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Children of Troy

What a thing, this link that’s being passed around, posted on Boing Boing and tweeted all over the place! The letters to the children of Troy: congratulatory messages solicited from writers, politicians, and other famous folk to commemorate the opening of the first stand-alone library in Troy, Michigan, way back in 1971.

Isaac Asimov’s index-card letter has gotten a lot of play:

E. B. White’s speaks more seriously to me, and mostly for his last line:

But it’s the letter from Clifton Wharton, then-president of MSU, that strikes me most deeply. You wouldn’t be able to guess just by reading it, I don’t think—it’s solid, but not soaring:

On the surface, this whole collection is such a cute little thing, so easy to write off: just a bunch of folksy letters sent to a new library in a suburban town. (By the way: who would even send such letters today? Or ask for them?) Lovely. Let’s move on to the next link.

But here’s the thing. I grew up in Troy, Michigan; this library, the subject of all this celebration, was my library. I spent a significant fraction of the mid-80s and early 90s in there, migrating from the Choose Your Own Adventure books on the spinning wire racks to the science fiction and fantasy novels on the long low shelves. I can still draw you a map of the place, and roughly plot Dewey decimal ranges. I can still remember the mechanical swish of the automatic door, the cold AC in the foyer, the lignin smell. I can remember whole sensory macros: my dad pulling the car up to the curb; me hopping out, hustling to the entrance; the whoosh-thunk of books going down the after-hours chute; the turn, the sprint.

And here’s the other thing. I went to school at Michigan State and grew into myself on the campus that Clifton Wharton helped build. I walked past the building marked with his name hundreds of times—maybe more. Maybe a thousand. And I mean, my god: I met Tim Carmody on that campus!

So this little correspondence cracked like lightning in my head. I mean, it’s no big deal; it’s a small thing, it’s a letter, they were both in Michigan, it makes perfect sense. And yet, and yet. Clifton Wharton, president of Michigan State University, and Marguerite Hart, librarian of Troy: a tangible thread connected them. And as soon as you realize that, you can’t help but imagine the other threads, the other connections, that all together make a net, woven before you were born, before you were even dreamed of—a net to catch you, support you, lift you up. Libraries and universities, books and free spaces—all for us, all of us, the children of Troy everywhere.

What fortune. Born at the right time.

So anyway, Wharton’s letter is my favorite. But close on its heels is the long one from then-Hawaii governor John Burns. It’s a little dorky and preachy in parts, but near the end, he writes:

If you are a child reading this, you should go home and make a Hawaiian flower lei—you get a needle and thread and sew the flowers together into a ring—and put it around the neck of the City of Troy librarian. It will tell her that you are grateful for the gift of books and of wisdom and of aloha found in the libraries of the world, and especially—for you—in Troy. And if she laughs and cries at the same time, pay no attention. That’s the way librarians always act when they’re very happy and grateful […]

And it’s not the librarian laughing and crying at the same time here; it’s me. Every time I’ve read these letters, it’s me.


It’s not the echo, it’s the chamber

Eli Pariser’s op-ed in the New York Times, When the Internet Thinks It Knows You:

Democracy depends on the citizen’s ability to engage with multiple viewpoints; the Internet limits such engagement when it offers up only information that reflects your already established point of view. While it’s sometimes convenient to see only what you want to see, it’s critical at other times that you see things that you don’t.

The Times had run an earlier story on Pariser’s The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding From You. It takes the easiest possible reading of this idea, applying it to media choices and political disagreement:

If you want to test your own views on personalization, you could try a party trick Mr. Pariser demonstrated earlier this year during a talk at the TED conference: ask some friends to simultaneously search Google for a controversial term like gun control or abortion. Then compare results…

With television, people can limit their exposure to dissenting opinions simply by flipping the channel, to, say, Fox from MSNBC. And, of course, viewers are aware they’re actively choosing shows. The concern with personalization algorithms is that many consumers don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, the filtering methodology.

Reading Pariser’s op-ed, though, I got the sense that he’s not nearly as concerned about narrowing of opinions on the web as he is about the narrowing of interests.

“[I]f algorithms are taking over the editing function and determining what we see,” he writes, “we need to make sure they weigh variables beyond a narrow ‘relevance.’ They need to show us Afghanistan and Libya as well as Apple and Kanye.”

If you spend much time on the Internet, you know that there’s clearly no shortage of disagreement. But it’s more likely that you spend most of your time and energy disagreeing with people who care deeply about the same things about which you already care deeply.

You’ll argue about whether LeBron James or Derrick Rose should have won the MVP, whether or not Mitt Romney has a shot in the Iowa caucuses, or why Apple decided to pre-release information about the WWDC keynote.

We dive deeply into a range of pre-defined topics, tied to our professions, hobbies, needs, and histories, and sharpen our swords with opponents who do the same.

And on the margins, maybe that’s okay. Mass culture throws a whole lot of stuff at its audience that I, like you, have no intrinsic interest in. The time, energy, and cognitive surplus we once devoted to those things we used to consume only because “they were on” are all much better put to use tackling subjects we actually care about.

But it does mean that we’re often unaware of what’s happening in the next room, where there is frequently plenty of useful stuff that we could port into our own special areas of interest. We need to make sure we’re taking advantage of the web’s built-in ability to move laterally.

More to the point: those of us who produce and share content that other people read — and at this point, that’s almost all of us — need to trust that our readers are lateral movers too, and encourage them to do so.

I’m reminded of this blog post from last year, predicting the death of the niche blog and the rise of the lens blog. The lens blog can tackle any subject, but always from the point of view of a subset of enthusiasms or perspectives that find clever ways to find the same in the different, and vice versa.

Hyper-specialization, like information overload, is an old, old problem. But exactly for that reason, we shouldn’t be surprised to see it pop up as a potential problem with our new tools and new media, too.

In short, if you’re really worried about search engines or social media overfiltering what you see, worry less about your reading being one-sided and more about it being one-dimensional.

(For more smart takes on Pariser’s argument, see also Mat Ingram at GigaOm, Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing)


Mario’s music

An observation from the terrific composer Nico Muhly:

[…] Although my parents had classical music on LP’s in the house, the childhood music I remember the most vividly is fragments from either live performances or, strangely, video games at my friends’ houses1.

For me, living in the country, playing a video game was sort of like music minus one: The actions of my hands informed, in a strange way, the things I heard. Collect a coin, and a delighted glockenspiel sounds. Move from navigating a level above ground to one below ground, and the eager French chromaticism of the score changes to a spare, beat-driven minimal texture. Hit a star, and suddenly the score does a metric modulation. All of these things come to bear in a later musical education; I’m positive I understand how augmented chords change an emotional texture because of Nintendo music.

Don’t miss the clip embedded at the bottom of the post, either: it’s only three minutes long, and exhilarating at precisely 1:50. Oh the glory of the horn.

1. I really think “memories of video games at your friend’s house” are, like, a thing. Very special; very distinct. Maybe such memories are no longer produced; maybe every kid has a video game system nowadays. (But probably not?) All I know is I can remember Ninja Gaiden on Chris Hayes’ NES (he lived down the street) with crystal clarity. Note that I never actually played the game; it was too difficult, and I couldn’t make it past the first screen. So I would just watch Chris play, utterly rapt.