Radical Software: Frequency and form

12 september 2005

Hösten 1970 utkom andra numret av tidskriften Radical Software, som skrev om det elektromagnetiska spektrats användande, reflekterade över estetik och gav handfasta tips kring byggande och manipulation av videoutrustning.
Radical Software, utgiven av en krets konstnärer och akademiker i New York under några av 1970-talets första år, brukar tillmätas ganska stor betydelse för senare konstnärliga riktningars sätt att använda video och internet. Nu finns den arkiverad på www. Det är idéhistoriskt intressant att se hur skribenterna mitt i denna speciella och omvälvande tid reflekterade över nya mediers inverkan, präglade av sin läsning av Marshall McLuhan, Gregory Bateson och Buckminster Fuller.
Med ”mjukvara” menade de faktiskt aldrig datorprogram, utan i bredare bemärkelse de instruktioner som olika slags maskiner opererar efter. (Jämför med tidigare inlägg om ord som blir kött.)

De nya medierna 1970 var videobandet och kassettbandet. Bägge intensifierade drastiskt de möjligheter att återuppspela sina och andras beteenden och tal, som i viss grad hade kommit redan med vaxgrammofonen och filmen. Och oändliga möjligheter till manipulation och subversion såg ut att öppna sig, via feedback, återuppspelning, cut-up…
Samma år skrev William S Burroughs texten The Electronic Revolution. ”Man får reda på mer om nervsystemet genom att använda bandspelare än man får om man sitter 20 år i lotusställning eller kastar bort sin tid på analytikerns divan.
I andra numret av Radical Software, också från 1970, medverkade bland andra Vic Gioscia, filosof, sociolog och psykolog. Jude, likt en större del av Radical software-kretsen. Efter att ha skrivit sin avhandling om tidsfilosofi, började han intressera sig för den då nya videoteknikens möjliga påverkan på människors mentaliteter, på dess terapeutiska, konstnärliga och sociala potential.
Hans förebådande av det kommande internet som en fantastisk singularitet kanske inte kan kallas profetisk, men den sortens tankegångar som här framkommer har sannolikt satt en ganska betydande prägel på konstnärliga förhållningssätt till nya medier, på nätbaserade subkulturer och på diskursen om tillgången till kommunikationsmedel.
Här ett längre utdrag ur Frequency and form av Vic Gioscia, extremt tidstypiskt för året 1970:

What I’m doing with my life is building a set of generalizations comprehending how time works. I call the comprehension of the time laws of any process ”chronetics”.
I’ve been working at it a ”long” time and have done it in som strange places. Like, a dissertation on Plato’s theory of time, which started in ’58 but didn’t come till ’63. Like, in ’65 getting a videotape system installed in a family therapy agency so families and therapists could play back their sessions during their sessions. Like getting headaches trying to transform the laws of general relativity into classroom sociology since 1953, though I hate the math. Like trying to figure out acid time expansion during acid time expansion. Etc.
This rap is about the chronetics of software, in other words, some thoughts on the time forms of current communication events.

As everybody knows, Universe is not av very large expanding balloon with galactic light bulbs intespersed at varying distances. Einstein told us Universe is not a simultaneous assembly of things. Universe isn’t there – in fact – man’s invention of the concept reveals his terror crouching behind a facade of omniscience. Currently, our mythos is that Universe is ”really” atoms, (i.e., waves of energy spiralling at light velocity) arrayed hierarchally (i.e., a few is a gas, a lot is a planet, a very lot a galaxy, etc.) /…/
So, in my view, there is no Universe anywhere, ”at” any instant, for there are no instants. Better – there isn’t. Time is. What seems to be happening is a myriad of energy-rates dyssynchronously modulating. Nobody seems to know why there are different rates, or how they change. /…/
What I’m trying to show, in mosaic, is a Universe of varying frequencies, in which occasional synchronicities are called communication.

Now, some frequencies, after million year evolutionary periods of interacting dyssynchronously, have come into a harmony which we call sensation. Air waves and ear vibrations in synch result in our experience of sound. Light velocities in harmony with retinal photochemistry result in vision. Rates of neural transmission, when exceeded or unreached, do not result in experience since there are limits within and only within which nerver fire. Overload or underload, outside certain limits, result in nothing. No experience. No communication.

Hence, Fuller says, human ”sensory equipment can tune in directly with but one millionth of the thus far discovered physical Universe events. Awareness of all the rest of the millionfold greater than human sense reality can only be relayed to human ken through instruments devised by a handful of though employing individuals anticipating thoughtfully the looming need of otherss.” /…/
is seems to be the case that the human sensory channels are fairly crummy samplers of the range of Universe frequencies. Hence, any software system which sets the outer limits of its responsibility as fostering the synchronicity of present human wavelengths could be guilty of a reactionary nostalgia. /…/

It will be objected – this is visionary – idealistic – there are many more pressing urgencies presently at hand. To which a good reply might be if you’re unaware of the spectrum you’re working in, you’re working with unnecessary blinders. /…/
Software, therefore, results whenever dyssynchronous frequencies are mediated, i.e., related in som form of temporal harmony. It is not very far from the Platonic vision that the music of the plantary spheres is in proportion to the ratio of string lenghts on a lute, to the view which reveals that the fundamental units of software are the chords and rythms of perception. /…/
So, it’s time to ask – what are the chronetic laws of that accelerating process of which electronic software is the current mode? By this I do not mean ”how soon will the matter transmitter be invented” or ”will lunar language finally substitute Einsteinian categories for Aristotelian ones”. /…/ I’m more interested in temporal design and its prerequisites.

For example, sociologists have unwittingly placed at the foundation of their game the notion of ”expectation” /…/ People seem to have to know how long a thing will be what it is to know how likely it will stay what it is so they can expect it to remain what it was so when it comes by again they can say – ah yes–that big–nothing new ”terrifying” here. They want to be able to anticipate recurrence and periodicity, so they can generalize, and say, oh yes, it’s one of those – I’ve seen it before – it won’t hurt me because none of them ever did before. When things (societies, cultures, groups, etc.) change fast, faster than they can be generalized, people experience future shock – they need to experience and generalize faster than they can. When they repeatedly fail, they conclude (generalize) I can’t know what to expect. This hopeless condition is known as despair. Are there ways to accelerate the formation of generalizations which can stave off this despair? Does acid do it? Will videotape? How? /…/ what forms of software (generalization–culture) do we require in this temporal myriad we call home?

Surely, a beginning is the creation of a new global network of communications hardware and software, so those who now dance to vastly different drummers can come together in the first planetary synchronous civilization ever to steer spaceship earth’s evolution consciously deliberated joyously, freed of the fetters of national political (i.e. humanicidal) idiocies.
More important, I think, is the work heretofore left to mathematicians, physicists, philosophers, psychiatrists, and other intellectuals – that is – identifying the waves and frequencies of which our experiences are the result, intuiting the laws which govern them, and designing better freer forms in which to live.
For example, a friend of mine set up his hardware so his five year old son could:

  1. watch Sesame Street broadvast
  2. watch himself eatching Sesame Street on a second live monitor
  3. make a tape of himself, watching his tape while watching himself on a live monitor watching himself on tape
  4. tape himself with a 5 second delay loop on 1 monitor and try to mimic that so that the second monitor was in synch with the first
  5. play with variable delay loops on both monitors (2 decks)
  6. play with multiple variable delay loops and live monitors
  7. varying recording and playvack speeds while doing any/all of the above

Not surprisingly, the boy began asking his father to help him do things that went beyond the design limits of the hardware. To explain why he couldn’t, his father began drawing diagrams of multiple feedback loops with variable time loops, which the kid dug on the basis of his experience. Then, this 5 year old started wondering how to design hardware so he could have the experiences he wanted. He had found the limits of the temporal rhythms built into the hardware available to him, and imagined himself beyond them – i.e., temporal design. He wanted more software than there was in his world. I pass over the obvious corollary that he also immunized himself to the information pollution belching from commercial TV. What interests me about such experiments (which we occasionally do at the Center) is the experimental immersion in complex time pools which are not only exciting but architecturally motivating.

A question whichs bothers everybody in software – Will enough of us get our hands on enoughs hardware to produce enough software to sustain a new (global) culture in time? That is, can we do it well enough fast enough? /…/
there’s an awful lot of good information around which we could share better if onlu those maverick data banks were set up. After all, it’s chronetically silly to shoot tape a light speed then aiur mail it to friends in London. And, since they own the satellites, all they have to do is charge prohibitive rentals so we can’t move our information as fast as we shoot it. So far. They are not gonna rent us time to create alternatives to them.
So, it seems to me, we are going to have to come up with software which is not only good for us but good for them too. That’s what global means. We have no choice but to take them with us – i.e. turn them on to the benefits of our way. /…/ To put it crudely, we have to show the satellite-computer people how our way is better for all of us, that a planetary form is better – for all of us – than a cartel.
I guess my own naturalism is unmasked in the following optimistic statement: Somehow the people always recognize a masterpiece, so that’s what we have to do. Which is not, in the strict sense, a political, but rather a cultural–aesthetic task. /…/
What is that process of which industrialism, then automation, then cybernation are the acceleratively appearing moments? What are the unknown time rules such processes follow? Can we design other frequencies and forms?
I think so. But, as Fuller says: ”This means things are going to move fast.”

Fort gick det. Radical Software utgavs bara i ett par år. Kretsen fortsatte ett tag som Center for Decentralized Television.
För övrigt berättas dramatiska episoder om vad som hände 1970 med de studenter som tog del i praktiska exeriment kring mänsklig interaktion med videofeedback på det institut som Vic Gioscia ledde i New York.
Av sex studenter som alla varit gifta när försöksperioden inleddes, skilde sig samtliga efter att ha på video ha närobserverat vilka sociala bojor som de och andra påför varandra till vardags. Detta emedan försöksledaren för sin del började bli blind och utvecklade en stark misantropi efter att ha kommit till insikt om människans primitivitet. Man undrar ju lite vad de egentligen gjorde på de där experimenten.
Idag är det svårt att tänka sig så dramatiska effekter av videoutrustning på en människas världsbild. Dokusåpor, liksom. Sannolikt kan vi inte riktigt förstå vidden av den förändring i perception, självbild, tidsuppfattning och sociala mönster som vi gått igenom på bara ett tredjedels sekel. Bland annat påverkad av videoteknikens och kassettbandets allmänna tillgänglighet, inklusive digitala efterföljare.

Relaterat inlägg: Florian Cramer om ord som blir kött


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