Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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The end of year wrap 2013

December 19th, 2013 by Seb Chan

Sometimes the bad guys come out on top
Sometimes the good guys lose
We try not to lose our hearts, not to lose our minds
Sometimes the bad days maintain their grip
Sometimes the good days fade
Hurts the brain to think, hurts the hand to drink
(Ohm, Yo La Tengo)

Yeah its been an “interesting” year – in the manner of that Chinese curse (that apparently wasn’t actually Chinese at all). There’s been a lot going on and the “unnecessarily busy” times of New York City do grind you down. As does the general intensity of injustice and disparity. It doesn’t seem to be that much better back home either. Maybe its just seasonal affect disorder.

However.

After a good run of domestic US talks, there were some very enjoyable overseas ones. The year really kicked off with my opening keynote for MuseumNext in Amsterdam. Although there was much that I could only hint at rather than reveal, that talk and slide deck set up a lot of what followed. Jim Richardson’s conference was remarkable and it was great to be part of it, along with catching up with everyone in Amsterdam who continue to be pushing things forward in a humane manner. Then there was the week in Rio delivering one of the keynotes for the MPR Committee of ICOM, spending time with the inimitable Luis Mendes and getting a whirlwind tour of the Rio art scene along with many discussions of the differing impacts of social technologies in Brazil. The graffiti there was great too and its prominence in the city landscape reminded me of my first time in Montreal long ago for Mutek 2003.

Then there was the week in Melbourne doing a keynote for the Circus Oz Living Archive ARC project at RMIT – one of the really exciting digital archive projects in the Southern Hemisphere that has digitised thirty years of Circus Oz performances. A later, separate trip resulted in a week in Sydney helping the Australian National Maritime Museum figure out where they need to be digitally and how to get there, and a few days in Portugal delivering a keynote for the International Council of Maritime Museums and a ‘Directors workshop’.

Slightly further out of usual orbits, I got pulled into some energising roundtable discussions of human-computer-interaction in Alberquerque and the Preserving.EXE digital preservation discussions at the Library of Congress, along with strategy sessions with ArtStor, and an ongoing role on an expert panel with Council of Canadian Humanities.

I went back to Salzburg for another round of the Salzburg Global Seminar, this time helping establish the framework for a very exciting 10-year program called Young Cultural Innovators that promises to hothouse and nurture a select group of cultural sector professionals each year from ten regional hubs across the globe and all continents.

My team won some awards, and, more importantly, made some pretty groundbreaking stuff out of very little. There’s a lot more of that to come as our collaborations with Local Projects will start to reveal themselves in 2014. We got some great press. As I said in a staff profile in September, one of the best things right now is the immediate small circle of people I work with – they are awesome.

The acquisition of Planetary by Aaron Cope and I for the collection was even more of an adventure to watch as its impact rippled out across the web. If anything I was struck by the sheer impact of traditional press coverage – and the great gulf between existing audiences (the few who know) and potential audiences (the many that can be interested) that it reveals. Never did I expect I would I rue using the metaphor of panda breeding programmes . . . or that the tech press could be so interested in museums.

Aaron and I were invited to lead a group of graduate students deep into the wilds and leave them their with only a few supplies and a rudimentary map to survive with. The students did a great job and the future of the field looks a little brighter as a result – even if some fellow old timers like Nate, Koven and Dana went their separate ways in to consulting.

Time on planes has meant more time to finish books. But I’ve continued to resist a Kindle and my book pile grows ever higher – although, having passed many books on to friends in the great move over to NYC, I’ve continued the practice of passing on. This has become especially important as the number of children’s books grows ever greater as we pass deeper into the voracious phase of mythical creatures, mechanical contraptions, space flight and various craft/science projects. These are seemingly supplemented rather than replaced by YouTube instructionals (would the Rainbow Loom craze exist without YouTube?) and Apps. Books, it appears, are far better for communal familial interactions.

“Let’s simulate late century (sensory) amplification

Musically it was a fantastic year. I saw some great live shows – the best being Nils Frahm, Clint Mansell doing his film soundtracks in a church, Pantha du Prince and the Bell Laboratory – helped in no small part by the Red Bull Music Academy setting up its home in NYC for all of May. And, of course, Massive Attack did their thing with Adam Curtis at the Armory. While I miss doing my own gigs and my music friends from Sydney, I’ve finally started to adjust to the rhythm of shows in New York and I’ve made peace with an sense of FOMO.

I bought some amazing records. This year, too, Bandcamp provided me with much fantastic music that I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise, and DripFM continued to be a way to supply some favourite labels with a regular payment. The radical democratising of access certainly makes for a much more diverse musical landscape once you lift the lid and go deep into a genre or sound. Despite this, I keep thinking about the now-5-year-old Spotify and, irrespective of their payments to labels and artists, the more sombre statistic they released was that 20% of their catalogue had never been played. Music discovery, along with general discovery on the web, continues to be a major challenge.

That said, looking back over my Last.FM plays for the year, I dipped back a lot into past memories with my multiple Australian trips each providing the opportunity to bulk digitise more old releases. Fortunately it didn’t feel as nostalgic as it might have because the zeitgeist seems to have finally caught up with the early 90s anyway. Belgian hardcore slowed by a third; early UK breakbeat reimagined by producers too young to remember it as well as those who lived through it; lots of 20th anniversary reissues and remasters of memorable moments of 1993 – it was all happening. It is often said that your music taste hardens and solidifies in your late teens and early 20s, and although I’ve tried to resist that by being involved in the ‘now’, listening back to a lot of techno records from 1992/1993 has revealed a lot of nuance that I definitely only subliminally heard/noticed at the time.

[Update! This Is My Jam has, once again, generated their annual Jam Odyssey so here’s a nice machine-generated mix of my 50 jam selections using the EchoNest algorithms. Go take a listen!]

You might be wondering what music has to do with my work in museums? I talk about it briefly in my interview with Anna Mikhaylova for her Ideas 4 Museums project but like several other museum technologists, music and the social practices that form around sounds and spaces has been a core means for me to understand the opportunities of a museum or other cultural heritage institution to connect people with the unfamiliar. But that is definitely for another post.

I guess that’s the result of finally joining Old Club.

But nothing ever stays the same
Nothing’s explained
The higher we go, the longer we fly
Cause this is it for all we know
So say good night to me
And lose no more time, no time
Resisting the flow

(Ohm, Yo La Tengo)

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