Oh dear it’s almost 15 already. Time for my annual lists of memorable media.
We’re heading for a future where it is no longer that boot stamping on a human face forever – it’s those sweet, inviting walls made of cake and confectionary. Who put a cookie house here, shouldn’t there be a server farm?
Convenience is drowning us in our own pacific gyre of data. Data we carelessly sprinkle around, turning up our la-la-la-la to eleven when somebody whispers; pssst, hey, this future, it’s broken, watch your steps.
The cookie crumble trail is leading the wrong way this time.
The most important film of 2014 is Citizenfour by Laura Poitras.
Less fatalistic, equally bleak: I loved the sinister mundane Borgman, which felt like a lovable, mutated offspring of a triangle affair between Lynch, IKEA catalogues and Nordic noir. Evil doesn’t necessarily need a reason, nor a visual effect army. And evil can be seedy, groovy, slick and musically sexy as in Only Lovers Left Alive. Loke and Galadriel, what are you guys doing in Detroit? Where did you get those #shades.
On the opposite scale of our imminent, inevitable collapse of humanity and the future, Her by Spike Jonze was a wonderful horror-movie camouflaged as device romance, in warm pastel hues. The end will BE like this. Comfortable. Soft. You won’t notice. Except maybe everybody suddenly wearing waist-high trousers.
The Grand Budapest Hotel was fantastic on multiple fronts. Finally the epic, dusty, intimate strangeness of The Great Museum was a wonderful, meditative film experience. I could sit in an empty cinema and watch empty museums for hours.
I need books like plants need sunlight. You know, for photosynthesis, so they can grow up and be a tree. And then they die, and become a book, so I can read it. So I am consuming sunlight when I read books. I am the photosynthesis of words, one day I will become a sentence. Except when reading ebooks, because they’re backlight so you don’t need sunlight. Ebooks are made of moonlight. There are two moons in the sky. One of them is made of paper, it could be from a book.
The Rabbit Back Literary Society. This book is a mix of Twin Peaks and the Moomins. Tove Jansson goes Tim Burton without the circus smell. The gnomes are not what they seem.
Consumed, by Cronenberg. New digital nomads, living through devices, brands and browser windows. And it’s icky. It’s like if William Gibson wrote a book set in today but it was written by David Cronenberg. And it is!
The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell. I loved Cloud Atlas so hard, I was even able to appreciate that film they did for “ok, that is certainly ONE way to do it”, pat pat pat. Bone Clocks picks up some of the same fragments of universes and some of the same characters, but it feels larger. The thread is clearer this time, following the life of Holly Sykes, from 80ies punk kid up to post-apocalyptic survivalist. The clock people scared me and the last chapter floored me. I think the reason I love Mitchells stories, is because they have this soft, endless, webbed texture. Like every chapter is a glimpse into something very tangible but you can’t grab it. Like snow.
What I loved the most about this book, was that I had noted in my calendar the release date. And then some weeks before – it was there! Smack in the shelf! Right in front of me, in my favorite store. I nearly fell off the chair, that I wasn’t sitting in.
The End Of Absence. Oh, I suppose you’re too busy to read this. You’ve got things to click. Also note, the obituary of this years Economist’s World in 2015. Not only is abscence dead, escapism is too. Danger, danger.
Atwood’s MaddAddam – or The Stone Mattress. Which one? I don’t know! She just keeps writing incredible books and becoming a great voice and the Handmaid’s Tale keeps growing in size and importance. MaddAddam is the final book of her post-apocalyptic trilogy, this time focusing on Toby. I loved Oryx and Crake, and Year Of The Flood made my first list back in 2009. But actually I found her short story collection Stone Mattress equally wonderful.
Toby in Maddaddam and Holly in Bone Clocks. Hm.
The Miniaturist. Set in Amsterdam in the late 1600s, where a young girl is married off to an older gentleman, into a freezing cauldron of pietism, colonialism, women’s rights. The endless stupidity of conservatism. And nothing is what it seems, except, it’s very much what you think it is, as it always is. And there is a house within the house and the witch comes from my hometown.
I got me a neat record player this year, and I changed my listening habits.
The last few years I’ve lived somewhat nomadic, with all my music as either files on a disk or streams in a cloud. This access to everything always, was wonderful, and it still is. Now I’m trying to be in one place, and to have a physical relationship with reality.
So vinyl records it is. I dusted off my old collection, and I started expanding it. I go shopping record stores in my hood, and buy a few records every month. I listen to the albums multiple times, and I pay attention to them. I love this physical, intimate connection with music. I missed it.
Of course the pixelled waveforms are still there. When touring, travelling or going for walks, I listen to material with Spotify. For reference, research, work, inspiration or simply entertainment, realtime life background soundtrack. It’s a different kind of attention.
And when cooking or hanging out, I tend to listen to radio, usually streaming. These are kind of my three defined major ways of actively listening to music right now, and of course there is the in-active way of listening to the ubiquitous music who always surrounds us in modern society, dark matter music.
So this year I’m mentioning a few LPs that I’ve grown very fond of.
The first LP I got after picking up my player, was Fink’s Hard Believer, which I instantly fell in love with, and this record will definitively be the “summer of 2014” album for ever. My favorite track of the year is Pilgrim.
On the more electronic side I’ve got two albums: First, the super heavy Echogenetic from my all time industrial favorites Front Line Assembly. I’ve seen others commenting that this album is potentially their “modern” Tactical Neural Implant, the classic 90ies cyberpunk industrial release. Maybe. I also actually really liked I.E.D. a few years ago. Another electronic release I appreciated on vinyl, not so much electronics and not so much intricate programming but maybe more wonderful atmospheric, was Psychic by Darkside.
Continuing the introvert dark indie wave, I really loved A New Nature by Esben And The Witch, with their raw guitars and haunted vocals – and continuing this line, I end up with the Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack, also mentioned above as one of my favorite films. This is the album I played the most this year, it’s my going-to-bed LP. And the double LP records are transparent red. It’s SWEET.
And oh I got the Escape From New York reissued soundtrack on vinyl, yum yum yum, Snake Plissken, I though you were dead! There it was one day at my vinyl pusher, I snatched it faster than cobra blinks. Do snakes blink?
Of course there was tons of other new music I really appreciated but I don’t have it on vinyl. And as always a bunch of old hits and forgotten obscure tunes that somehow coloured my year. Here is my Spotify top 33 list of tracks and tunes from my 2014.
Also I will admit. I had a secret love affair with vaporwave this year. Nostalgia for the irony over new age music.
Exhibitions and Museums
The most interesting exhbition I saw in 14 was without doubt The Digital Revolution at the Barbican in London. I was super excited about this one, jumping with joy on the plane on the way in and was at first a bit disappointed – it was more of a retrospective than I wished for, but after a while it made up for it by sheer force and amount of interesting artworks – and also exhibition design. And I find more and interesting to see all the stuff that DOESN’T work. I think interactive artworks have a long way to go. But it’s going.
The second most interesting, and definitively the most magical, was Lost Human Genetic Archive, by Hiroshi Sugimoto, at L Etat Du Ciel, Palais de Tokyo. Given a weak flashlight, you’re thrown into a constructed labyrinth of rooms, corridoors, walls, holes, spaces, hidden nooks, stairs, clues, cellars, all containing a collection of strange objects, letters and clues set in post-apocalyptic context. I was almost alone at Palais De Tokyo, puzzling for hours over Sugimotos mysteries. The rest of the Etat Du Ciel exhibition was equally wonderful.
And third place goes to the massive new media Ars Electronica festival in Linz. It’s impossible to sum up what’s there, except it’s a magical theme park wonderland circus built of fairy pixels for new media, interactive art, digital technology and culture freaks. There was so much to learn, observe, process, be inspired from.
If I would have to mention any of the artworks, it would be the smaller ones. The 96 breathing trash bags, pictured above, is the wall of plastic alive or suffocating? And the unobtruse, quiet Cloud Face installation. Running face recognition algorithms on clouds.
I’m such a nice, concerned person who never ever humble-brags. This year my bitcoin dublons are thrown at:
Medicine Sans Frontiers, Doctors Without Borders. They respond immediately to catastrophes and emergencies, when a situation, a city, an area, a nation or a people cannot help themselves. They are the frontline of catastrophes.
Wikipedia, its an encyclopedia, in case you didn’t know. It provides sourced and crowdsourced information and content disconnected from brands and ads. Or as far as possible. It’s not without flaws but it’s very important to keep it ad free. (Even if “Read in another language…” has made cooking ambitious recipes in a foreign country less hilarious.)
KIVA is a micro-financing organization that enables individual entrepeneurs in developing parts of the world to lend money to realize their ideas. I’ve got my investments in a pharmacy in Uganda, a sewing service in Tajikistan, mobile services in Zambia, farming in Cambodia, retail in Mozambique and electronics in Vietnam.
And finally. Electronic Frontier Foundation is fighting for our fundamental digital and online rights – rights we often didn’t know we needed until it was too late for us to realize. There are people trying to do good, or trying to figure out, what exactly IS good. While we’re munching cookies.
When the witch has got us inside that cookie house, when we’re swallowed by the wolf, stuck in our tower, sleeping for a hundred years, EFF will be the huntswoman coming to kiss us awake. I’m slipping her some funds to keep the axe sharp and some fresh mints for that kiss.