mimetic inquiry @ AFS 2011

I’m heading to the annual American Folklore Society meetings in Bloomington, IN, and will participate in a poster session focused on digital humanities. This will be the test drive for the “mimetic inquiry” concept I’ve been batting around. A JPEG of the poster is above, and here is how I describe the concept on the poster:

Embracing an ethos within digital humanities that positions the “digital” as simultaneously object of study and context of scholarly practice, mimetic inquiry utilizes tools of digital content creation and manipulation to generate interpretative analysis that is both process and product-oriented. As such, it entails ethnographically-grounded interpretation that echoes artistic processes, while proposing a move beyond textual representation as the norm for cultural research.

I’m hoping to get some feedback so that I can continue to refine the ideas I’m working with and push this idea further into the realm of usable.

 

A documentary I’m connected to…

My wife, Dr. Lisa Gilman, finished a documentary film this past spring, and I helped her out with some of the music by recording original pieces and placing a few songs (one by a friend, one by a band I was in…). The film is called Grounds for Resistance, and you can find out all about it here (or here, for you FB people). Basically, it follows the story of a group of young vets of the U.S. Armed Forces who served in Iraq, and, upon discharge, gather together and start an anti-war, G.I. rights coffee house just outside the gates of Joint Base Lewis-McChord (near Olympia, WA). The coffee house is called Coffee Strong (here is their FB page). Should you be inclined, please do support them as the work they do for vets is invaluable!

Check out the trailer to get a sense of the film:

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Deviation: an installation @ OPUS VII

Bio-poster that was part of the exhibition...Click for larger size

In late June, I set up a small exhibit in Eugene’s OPUS VII space, consisting of materials connected to my ongoing research with boutique effects pedal builders. More specifically, the exhibit focused on the work of Devi Ever, a builder who has participated in my research into boutique pedal culture since I started the project back in 2008. This exhibit, titled Deviation: the sonic design-build of Devi Ever, was part of a larger show put together by Cindy Ingram called “Designing Sound: A Visual Exploration into Sound and Music,” and it ran from the end of June until the third week in August.

Putting the show together was quite fun, and I truly appreciated the support that Devi gave. Once she realized that I was going to do all of the work (a relief for her, given the crazy expansion her business has undergone this summer…), she gave me her blessing to pull an installation together as I saw fit. My goal was to showcase her work with electronic circuits by focusing on the aesthetic elements at play: visual, sonic, and technological. Given the number of other artists/participants, I opted not to go with an interactive, sound-producing installation—i.e. one that would have allowed visitors to interact with Devi’s pedals and actually hear what kind of sounds one can make with them. Instead, I sought to build an exhibit that would echo the aesthetic textures and practices of Devi’s pedal building, as well as that of the boutique community as a whole. Ultimately, this approach resulted in an exhibit that privileged the visual, but by incorporating two iPads running video I was able to sneak some sound in; one of the iPads ran a loop of a demo reel I assembled (see vid below), while the other iPad ran a YouTube playlist I curated featuring video demos of Devi Ever and Effector 13 pedals. The playlist had videos produced by Devi herself as well as a diverse set of “fuzz folk” community members from around the world, and you can find it here.

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While I admit it was kind of strange to mostly look at Devi’s creations—many pedals in a jewelry case, photos, and schematics—doing so also foregrounded the ways in which visual and sonic aesthetics co-mingle when it comes to boutique effects pedals. This dynamic between the visual and the sonic is something I’ve been encountering in my research, and have written/thought about a bit (eg. here). Given the wide range of graphic approaches and tastes that boutique builders embrace, the connection between what a box looks like on the outside and what it does on the inside (i.e how the circuit impacts the instrument or audio signal) is never a given. And with a builder such as Devi—who constantly alters the graphics of any given pedal in her product line, including one-off custom paint jobs—the visual flux stands in contrast to the sonic constancy. While a circuit remains the same, the graphics might radically change with her pedals across the years. As such, the pedals I put in the exhibit represent this visual diversity, and in some cases I was able to show a single circuit with a few different graphic manifestations. Here are some images of the installation, documenting the process of putting it up as well as the opening on July 1, 2011:

Getting the exhibit in front of many, many visitors  was quite rewarding (over 200 on the opening, and OPUS VII staff indicated that over the course of the show’s month-long run there was a steady stream of people exploring all components of this innovative show), and represented for me an exercise in presenting aspects of my research to a broader audience. While not necessarily “academic publication,” participating in this show offered me the chance to extract a few key ideas from my ethnographic investigation into boutique pedal culture (what I’ve been calling “fuzz folk“) and interpreting these ideas in an accessible and engaging format. Anecdotal feedback from visitors (and friends!) indicates that I had some success here, and Devi’s enthusiasm at the time pushed us to talk about doing another, more interactive installation up in Portland (maybe @ the White Box?) sometime in the near future.

A final thought on this opportunity to showcase Devi’s work and present my research in a public environment: the process of putting together the installation gave me a chance to further explore a research approach I’ve been calling “mimetic inquiry.” While I’ve not fully fleshed out the concept, I’ve taken to thinking about it as a research method that employs the creative practices, tools, and strategies associated with the artists or individuals I’m exploring. Mimetic inquiry, then, is a representational strategy that generates interpretive understanding through redeployment of artistic strategies found in the work under consideration. As such, mimesis here serves to recontextualize rather than solely represent artists and their creative practices, and forms the basis for dialectical insight rather than straight ahead explanation. More on this in future posts…

Extra special thanks to ILF community members Ganiel Seruru, Tom Bacon, Gunnar Recall, and Pumpkin Pieces for sending images that appeared in the installation!

Random media-ites (or bits of media stuff)

The Flaming Lips, Zoo Amphitheater, Oklahoma C...

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Some things I’ve run across lately, stemming from either my recent trip to the Educause/ELI meetings in Washington D.C. or from people passing things along to me. Likely of interest to students in my Media Management Praxis course, but maybe not.  No annotations, just links:

A DIY Data Manifesto here

Flaming Lips cellphone symphony here

Great PBS series on “Digital Media: New Learners in the 21st Century” here

Visualizing tweets here

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ArtScenes/Beijing installation @JSMA

On the evening of September 29, I was privileged to have an installation in the Ford Lecture Hall at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus. The installation comprised multimedia materials gathered during fieldwork I’ve been a part of for the ChinaVine project, and featured as an “interpretive experience” of sorts during a reception held in honor of the UO Confucius Institute. The event went over quite well, and it was great to have the opportunity to share images, audio, and video capturing some of the rich and rewarding field research I’ve been a part of over the last two years.

Here are some images documenting the installation. Many thanks to Tomas Valladeres (photos, install assist), Josh Chadwick (install brilliance), and Doug Blandy (producing/support)!

Setting up...

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The exhibit in-process, occupying the middle of the JSMA's Ford Lecture Hall

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