Excellent guitar landscapes & drones…with Markus Reuter.
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each other.
I have a theory that much recent tech development and innovation over the last decade or so has an unspoken overarching agenda. It has been about creating the possibility of a world with less human interaction. This tendency is, I suspect, not a bug—it’s a feature. We might think Amazon was about making books available to us that we couldn’t find locally—and it was, and what a brilliant idea—but maybe it was also just as much about eliminating human contact.
The consumer technology I am talking about doesn’t claim or acknowledge that eliminating the need to deal with humans directly is its primary goal, but it is the outcome in a surprising number of cases. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal, even if it was not aimed at consciously. Judging by the evidence, that conclusion seems inescapable.
This then, is the new norm. Most of the tech news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots, and self-driving cars, all of which fit this pattern. I am not saying that such developments are not efficient and convenient; this is not a judgment. I am simply noticing a pattern and wondering if, in recognizing that pattern, we might realize that it is only one trajectory of many. There are other possible roads we could be going down, and the one we’re on is not inevitable or the only one; it has been (possibly unconsciously) chosen.
I’m not saying that many of these tools, apps, and other technologies are not hugely convenient. But in a sense, they run counter to who we are as human beings.
I realize I’m making some wild and crazy assumptions and generalizations with this proposal—but I can claim to be, or to have been, in the camp that would identify with the unacknowledged desire to limit human interaction. I grew up happy but also found many social interactions extremely uncomfortable. I often asked myself if there were rules somewhere that I hadn’t been told, rules that would explain it all to me. I still sometimes have social niceties “explained” to me. I’m often happy going to a restaurant alone and reading. I wouldn’t want to have to do that all the time, but I have no problem with it—though I am sometimes aware of looks that say “Poor man, he has no friends.” So I believe I can claim some insight into where this unspoken urge might come from.
Human interaction is often perceived, from an engineer’s mind-set, as complicated, inefficient, noisy, and slow. Part of making something “frictionless” is getting the human part out of the way. The point is not that making a world to accommodate this mind-set is bad, but that when one has as much power over the rest of the world as the tech sector does over folks who might not share that worldview, there is the risk of a strange imbalance. The tech world is predominantly male—very much so. Testosterone combined with a drive to eliminate as much interaction with real humans as possible for the sake of “simplicity and efficiency”—do the math, and there’s the future.
Here are some examples of fairly ubiquitous consumer technologies that allow for less human interaction.
Online ordering and home delivery: Online ordering is hugely convenient. Amazon, FreshDirect, Instacart, etc. have not just cut out interactions at bookstores and checkout lines; they have eliminated all human interaction from these transactions, barring the (often paid) online recommendations.
Digital music: Downloads and streaming—there is no physical store, of course, so there are no snobby, know-it-all clerks to deal with. Whew, you might say. Some services offer algorithmic recommendations, so you don’t even have to discuss music with your friends to know what they like. The service knows what they like, and you can know, too, without actually talking to them. Is the function of music as a kind of social glue and lubricant also being eliminated?
Ride-hailing apps: There is minimal interaction—one doesn’t have to tell the driver the address or the preferred route, or interact at all if one doesn’t want to.
Driverless cars: In one sense, if you’re out with your friends, not having one of you drive means more time to chat. Or drink. Very nice. But driverless tech is also very much aimed at eliminating taxi drivers, truck drivers, delivery drivers, and many others. There are huge advantages to eliminating humans here—theoretically, machines should drive more safely than humans, so there might be fewer accidents and fatalities. The disadvantages include massive job loss. But that’s another subject. What I’m seeing here is the consistent “eliminating the human” pattern.
Automated checkout:Eatsa is a new version of the Automat, a once-popular “restaurant” with no visible staff. My local CVS has been training staff to help us learn to use the checkout machines that will replace them. At the same time, they are training their customers to do the work of the cashiers.
Amazon has been testing stores—even grocery stores!—with automated shopping. They’re called Amazon Go. The idea is that sensors will know what you’ve picked up. You can simply walk out with purchases that will be charged to your account, without any human contact.
AI: AI is often (though not always) better at decision-making than humans. In some areas, we might expect this. For example, AI will suggest the fastest route on a map, accounting for traffic and distance, while we as humans would be prone to taking our tried-and-true route. But some less-expected areas where AI is better than humans are also opening up. It is getting better at spotting melanomas than many doctors, for example. Much routine legal work will soon be done by computer programs, and financial assessments are now being done by machines.
Robot workforce: Factories increasingly have fewer and fewer human workers, which means no personalities to deal with, no agitating for overtime, and no illnesses. Using robots avoids an employer’s need to think about worker’s comp, health care, Social Security, Medicare taxes, and unemployment benefits.
Personal assistants: With improved speech recognition, one can increasingly talk to a machine like Google Home or Amazon Echo rather than a person. Amusing stories abound as the bugs get worked out. A child says, “Alexa, I want a dollhouse” … and lo and behold, the parents find one in their cart.
Big data: Improvements and innovations in crunching massive amounts of data mean that patterns can be recognized in our behavior where they weren’t seen previously. Data seems objective, so we tend to trust it, and we may very well come to trust the gleanings from data crunching more than we do ourselves and our human colleagues and friends.
Video games (and virtual reality): Yes, some online games are interactive. But most are played in a room by one person jacked into the game. The interaction is virtual.
Automated high-speed stock buying and selling: A machine crunching huge amounts of data can spot trends and patterns quickly and act on them faster than a person can.
MOOCS: Online education with no direct teacher interaction.
“Social” media: This is social interaction that isn’t really social. While Facebook and others frequently claim to offer connection, and do offer the appearance of it, the fact is a lot of social media is a simulation of real connection.
What are the effects of less interaction?
Minimizing interaction has some knock-on effects—some of them good, some not. The externalities of efficiency, one might say.
For us as a society, less contact and interaction—real interaction—would seem to lead to less tolerance and understanding of difference, as well as more envy and antagonism. As has been in evidence recently, social media actually increases divisions by amplifying echo effects and allowing us to live in cognitive bubbles. We are fed what we already like or what our similarly inclined friends like (or, more likely now, what someone has paid for us to see in an ad that mimics content). In this way, we actually become less connected—except to those in our group.
Social networks are also a source of unhappiness. A study earlier this year by two social scientists, Holly Shakya at UC San Diego and Nicholas Christakis at Yale, showed that the more people use Facebook, the worse they feel about their lives. While these technologies claim to connect us, then, the surely unintended effect is that they also drive us apart and make us sad and envious.
I’m not saying that many of these tools, apps, and other technologies are not hugely convenient, clever, and efficient. I use many of them myself. But in a sense, they run counter to who we are as human beings.
We have evolved as social creatures, and our ability to cooperate is one of the big factors in our success. I would argue that social interaction and cooperation, the kind that makes us who we are, is something our tools can augment but not replace.
When interaction becomes a strange and unfamiliar thing, then we will have changed who and what we are as a species. Often our rational thinking convinces us that much of our interaction can be reduced to a series of logical decisions—but we are not even aware of many of the layers and subtleties of those interactions. As behavioral economists will tell us, we don’t behave rationally, even though we think we do. And Bayesians will tell us that interaction is how we revise our picture of what is going on and what will happen next.
I’d argue there is a danger to democracy as well. Less interaction, even casual interaction, means one can live in a tribal bubble—and we know where that leads.
Is it possible that less human interaction might save us?
Humans are capricious, erratic, emotional, irrational, and biased in what sometimes seem like counterproductive ways. It often seems that our quick-thinking and selfish nature will be our downfall. There are, it would seem, lots of reasons why getting humans out of the equation in many aspects of life might be a good thing.
But I’d argue that while our various irrational tendencies might seem like liabilities, many of those attributes actually work in our favor. Many of our emotional responses have evolved over millennia, and they are based on the probability that they will, more likely than not, offer the best way to deal with a situation.
What are we?
Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. Damasio concluded that although we think decision-making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.
With humans being somewhat unpredictable (well, until an algorithm completely removes that illusion), we get the benefit of surprises, happy accidents, and unexpected connections and intuitions. Interaction, cooperation, and collaboration with others multiplies those opportunities.
We’re a social species—we benefit from passing discoveries on, and we benefit from our tendency to cooperate to achieve what we cannot alone. In his book Sapiens, Yuval Harari claims this is what allowed us to be so successful. He also claims that this cooperation was often facilitated by an ability to believe in “fictions” such as nations, money, religions, and legal institutions. Machines don’t believe in fictions—or not yet, anyway. That’s not to say they won’t surpass us, but if machines are designed to be mainly self-interested, they may hit a roadblock. And in the meantime, if less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.
Our random accidents and odd behaviors are fun—they make life enjoyable. I’m wondering what we’re left with when there are fewer and fewer human interactions. Remove humans from the equation, and we are less complete as people and as a society.
“We” do not exist as isolated individuals. We, as individuals, are inhabitants of networks; we are relationships. That is how we prosper and thrive.
David Byrne is a musician and artist who lives in New York City. His most recent book is called How Music Works. A version of this piece originally appeared on his website, davidbyrne.com.
Straying from the Ambient genera is something I do, now & again. Here’s a tribute to the “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack (the way I’d have done it had I been in charge!!) Tag it under #Folk | #Rock | #Americana |#Bluegrass |#Christian_Folk
01 Alison Krauss – Down to the River to Pray
02 Linda Ronstadt – Old Paint
03 Chris Thomas King – Killin’ Floor Blues
04 James Carter & the Prisoners – Po’ Lazurus
05 The Rolling Stones -You Gotta Move
06 Fairfield Four – Lonesome Valley
07 Emmy Lou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch – Didn’t Leave Nobody But the Baby
08 Sandra McCraken – Upon A Life I Did Not Live
09 The Stanley Brothers – Angel Band
10 The Cox Family – I Am Weary, Let Me Rest
11 The Beatles – Rocky Raccoon
12 Alison Krauss & Gillian Welch– I’ll Fly Away
13 Norman Blake – You Are My Sunshine
14 The Soggy Bottom Boys – In the Jailhouse Now
15 The Whites – Keep On the Sunny Side
16 The Allman Brothers Band – Pony Boy
17 The Soggy Bottom Boys – Man of Constant Sorrow
18 Sarah, Hanna & Leah Peasall – In the Highways
19 Johnny Cash – When The Man Comes Around
20 The White Stripes – Ball & Biscuit
21 The Rolling Stones – Dead Flowers
22 Third Day – Slow Down
Part 2 [of 2] – the slightly rougher, audiologically feisty, younger brother of part 1 that closes with a custom landscaped & extended version of the far too short scorcher by ProjeKct Four (Mastelotto, Fripp, Levin & Gunn).
01 Otto Lindholm – Nilindigo
02 King Crimson – Industry
03 Ynos – Tears in the Rain
04 The Cotswold Gnomes – Ringing Beat
05 The Fireman (Paul McCartney) – Bison
06 Brian Eno & Robert Fripp – Dirt Loop
07 Robert Rich – Electric Ladder
08 King Crimson – Discipline
09 The Cotswold Gnomes – Sneering Loop
10 David Bowie w/ Brian Eno – All Saints
11 Robert Fripp – Breathless
12 Fripp & Eno – The Idea of Decline
13 Andy Summers & Robert Fripp – I Advance Masked
14 David Torn – Sink
15 The Cotswold Gnomes – Tripoli 2020
16 ProjeKct Four – Sus Tayn Zee (extended crimson red-exit edit)
original album cover
My brother, Bill, attended King Crimson’s appearance @ Greek Theatre in Los Angeles last night & sent me some pictures from 7 rows from the stage.
Here, Robert Fripp documents the concert series from stage…a “crowdie” (as opposed to a selfie).
The Stick Men are releasing a free digital download companion album to the limited edition promotional CD “KOLLEKTED” (Blue), which is currently available exclusively at King Crimson concerts. For this download version we’ve assembled some other favorites under the name “KONNEKTED” (Red), and included are also some rather odd tracks from the catalogue.
Enter “0” (zero) to download for free. And please tell your friends!
The Ambient Landscape mixological studio crew (Semi-Red) is hard at work remixing this KOLLEKTION as the track selections, though stellar, were not well segued and are merely a kollektion of kompositions…not a well thought out mix.
Thus, we’ve have dragged the composite tracks into our secret studio & have remixed it (and it sounds so much cleaner & smoother without the gaps) and have added a bonus track at the end, Sus_Tayn_Z (ProjeKct Four).
. . .
- Released June 13, 2017
- Written by Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto, except “Breathless” (Fripp) and “Sailor’s Tale” (King Crimson)
- Tony Levin: Stick and Voice
- Markus Reuter: U8 and AU8 Touch Guitars and Voice
- Pat Mastelotto: Acoustic and Electronic Drums and Percussion
- David Cross – violin (on “Shades of Starless”)
- Mel Collins – saxophone (on “Sailor’s Tale”)
- Artwork/illustration by Maria Picassó i Piquer
Produced by Stick Men
by Markus Reuter featuring SONAR and Tobias Reber
Falling For Ascension is the latest album from Germany-based composer and Touch Guitarist, Markus Reuter featuring SONAR & Tobias Reber.
Since the late 1990s Markus Reuter has steadily made a name for himself as a formidable player, a gifted improviser and a a composer for both rock and classical music ensembles. As one third of Stick Men, since 2010 Reuter has toured extensively across Europe, Asia, Australia, and in North and South America alongside with King Crimson’s Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto. In 2013 his large-scale composition for orchestra, Todmorden 513 received its world premiere performed by the Colorado Chamber Orchestra.
Falling For Ascension finds Markus Reuter working with Switzerland’s post-minimal quartet, SONAR and live electronics specialist, Tobias Reber.
Reuter leads this acclaimed ensemble through a series of compositions that are amongst his earliest, having all been written between 1985 and 1987. “For me the striking thing about this album is that the themes and melodies and rhythms that you’re hearing were written when I was 14 years old,” explains Reuter. “I had these little motifs set aside for such a long time and I never knew what to do with them.”
When the opportunity arose to work with SONAR in 2014 these pieces seemed the perfect fit. “I rediscovered the beauty and power in them and also a kind of timelessness in them. It doesn’t matter that I wrote them when I was 14. I would still write the same thing now. Falling For Ascension has this openness to it which is a new discovery for me. It’s interesting that I’m discovering this on very old material,” Reuter explains.
Perhaps sharing similar strands of the kind of polymetrical DNA that informed the interweaving knot-work of King Crimson’s Discipline, the pointillist components with Reuter’s pieces, interacting across the group, resembles a series of interlocking constellations whose orbits and traversals connect to create new variations and associations. Hypnotic and beguiling, the music comes with a guttural punch that’s felt as much as heard.
Recorded in just one day under Reuter’s direction, the pieces were prepared as modules, most of which contain a 12-tone row and assigned to an individual player. “They had the freedom to decide when to move to the next stage within the module, independent of each other,” says Reuter. Within each module a finite number of choices are available. “The choice is limited to the ‘when’, not the ‘what’. There’s a specific thing asked of you but you can decide when to move to the next element in the series.”
The music offers deep explorations between tension and release, between the gravitational pull of grooves and floating freefall in space. There’s contrast between stillness and grace next to the ever-changing motion.
Falling For Ascension appears on Ronin Rhythm Records, the label owned by internationally renowned zen-groove pioneer, pianist, Nik Bärtsch. Working with Reuter is something he’s been looking forward to and perhaps inevitable given the overlapping nature of their respective work.
Of this release Bärtsch comments, “We can hear a sensual performance of the high art of abstract creative thinking played by a real working band like SONAR and by Tobias Reber, a close companion of Markus, and a mastermind himself,” says the ECM recording artist, adding ”What we hear is a mystic materialisation of a visionary abstract mind that can dance.”
Across the 70-minute album these pieces possesses the same metronomic intensity of groups such as Can in full-flight, in which intense, pulsating grooves are strafed by Reuter’s smouldering solos or wreathed in luminous clouds of soundscapes. Without recourse to showy grandstanding, his playing possesses a remarkable, unerring accuracy when it comes to finding the emotional heart of this music. Much like the sparse acuity of a haiku poem, when he plays Reuter understands that less is so often very much more.
The hypnotic quality dominating many of the pieces opens the possibility of trance states, of surrender, of losing yourself in the maze of interconnecting corridors and spaces. That’s as it should be Reuter is careful to leave room for listeners to be able to fill in the both rhythmic and harmonic spaces for themselves. “As you listen you kind of get drawn into it but what is actually happening is that you draw the music into yourself.”
“Reuter institutes Robert Fripp-like steel shredding leads with the Touch Guitar methodology…”
–All About Jazz
“Amazing! One is instantly reminded of Frippertronics…nice one Mr. Reuter!”
Where does the dividing line between cognitive clarity (as a time/space/emotional issue), & cognitive dissonance reside?
I can’t remember the last time I listened to an entire album from start to finish.
I simply don’t do that…anymore. I used to – when I was 16 & had just bought a new Bowie or Robert Fripp album – I’d listen to the whole album – but then one track would remind me of the guitar riff by another artist…or the bass line would be similar to another song…and I began making cassette mixes (non-segued @ that time) on my TEAC double cassette deck. At the time, I’d hand draw the mix cover-art & passengers in my car would marvel at the creativity it took to put everything together in an enjoyable music mix for the road trip we were on.
And I’ve been making mixes, on & off, ever since (Round 1: 1974 ~ 1990). I had taken a break for a few years – when out of the blue, my 10 years younger brother sent me a cassette mix he had made as a way of thanking me for “saving” him from a Village People fate in which his peer group was immersed. That mix, made with a dual turntable & a mixing board, contained songs from his generation (The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Sugar Cubes, Pixies) & mine (David Bowie, Adrian Belew, Robert Fripp, Ian Hunter) and we labeled it P.H.A.C. – Progressive Hits / Alternative Classics. The series went on for 11 more editions (and, as a side note, I’m restoring a few of them by recording the tape to a digital source). Then Eric enrolled in the Peace Corps and shipped off to Nepal (where he eventually met his wife) and I shipped him 3-4 more editions of ‘After the P.H.A.C.’ – adding acts like Monty Python into the music stream as well as narrated portions using a microphone.
That brings us to, roughly, the year 2000…when I mixed one of my all-time favorites, ‘Lanterna‘ (a tribute mix to the Henry Frayne album by the same name): initially onto cassette, then CD-R in 2004 and digitally in 2014. And I’ve never listened to the entire Lanterna album in toto – only by way of its mixed iteration.
Lanterna can be downloaded free here: Ambient Landscape’s Bandcamp, & will give you an entree into my mixing style.
That mixed reignited the art of making mixes within me, purely as a pastime, (Round 2: 2000 ~ Present) and I stumbled across the Art of the Mix website & joined their online community – posting under the moniker ‘g.a.b. l@bs‘. The site got glitchy after several years (though is still up & running), but the core group of elite mixers to which I palled around with began to fall apart. But I had had a nice run of things from 2000 through 2010 & resigned myself to posting purely on my blog & cross posting to Facebook (our FB account is no longer).
In 2015 I found Mixcloud, a streamlined version of Art of the Mix with better categorization & a worldwide membership of world-class mixers…within all the genres I participated & a lot more – and have been posting there ever since.
Mixes are, for me, the ONLY way to listen to music. When I purchase or download a new album – it goes on my phone only long enough to determine what songs I like & which ones I’ll utilize to craft a new mix…usually within the same genre – but not always (my ‘elements‘ series (Jazz) is a border-crossing mixed bag of classic Jazz, European Jazz (a la ECM) & Ambient…even Classical.
Albums are categorized into folders on my hard-drive, from whence I derive my mix play-lists & the final deliverable which is then rendered with cover art & uploaded to my phone & Mixcloud.
To my ears albums are boring – too much of one artist & not enough derivation. In fact, when shopping for music, one requirement is that it be different enough to warrant my listening attention…yet similar enough to garner inclusion for the next mix project. Thus albums, CD’s & digital collections sit idle until the master (that’s, uhm…me ; D ) hand selects compositions from same as the new mix is crafted.
There are, however, 2 albums which do reside on my phone’s hard-drive & will probably never be deleted:
…just because I consider them near perfection (within their respective genres).
Bottom line is: I love these 2 albums in the entirety! And I’m sure the reader also has his or her favorite.
So there you have it. The plastic & waxed shape of one man’s opinion on the topic of listenable forms of music. The mix is the thing: taking the creative input of artists & reshaping them into something better, something finer, something able to be shared without violating the artist’s creative world…AND, at least within the genres I mix…a final product that actually grants increased exposure of the artist & their work.
Thanks for reading and, if you have a differing opinion…please share it with me. I’ll read it…when I’m not tilting my head sideways to peruse the spines of stacks like these; in search of the perfect tune.