Notes from Transmediale 2015

Transmediale is a festival for new media art and digital culture, held yearly in Berlin. This year’s theme was “Capture All“, dealing with our upcoming life under predictive data capitalism, gamification, algorithmic control. Your correspondent put on his pixel-safe vest to bring you this report.
But first, about books. What was my literary subconscious state? Which books was I reading at the festival?
For Transmediale, I was just finishing The Peripheral by William Gibson, and then reading The Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson.
There is a lot of waiting at Transmediale (why not use those evil algorithms to optimize visitor flow). So I spent maybe half of Transmediale in the Moominvalley. But the other half, once admitted into the precious high castle of gopher, revealed the the following treasures:
The Pirate Cinema Live performance
A live performance of The Pirate Cinema project. It is based on a data interception software, grabbing tiny slices of media currently being torrented in realtime, playing it back on a huge screen with an overlay showing leecher and seeder IP address.  This installation video explains the concept immediately, and there is also the wonderful live web stream. I found the live performance version wonderful and hypnotic, like a global collaborative realtime glitch-stutter-tsunami on speed.
Algorave – live music performed by realtime coding 
Alexandra Cardenas did an algorave performance, which is  “…using interfaces for livecoding, which allows them to improvise a melange of electronic sounds and rhythms in real time with code. ” as the Transmediale blogpost on her show puts it.
I found the performance interesting, mostly because it became a game to me – I loved trying to figure out what was happening, how it worked: Me decoding, her coding, the music edited, in realtime on screen and in sound. Watching code typing and text editing in realtime and connecting details in the music to the textual editing, but with a delicious techno beat and grungy lofi sample-mangling. This was intriguing, the same way watching a huge orchestra or complex band setup, figuring out which sounds and melodies come from which performer, what phrases or devices are used or recycled.
The beauty of this is, that once you realize how a function or statement works – as she is editing in realtime – it means, you can immediately envision all the directions the music COULD take from that moment. Its like looking and listening into a multi-dimensional piece of music – sort of like the stubs of time in William Gibson’s The Peripheral. We are currently listening to one possible reality of this song, but there are endless others, running out from that single line of code. Swap a value, the song goes there. Swap it to another, the song goes to another there.
I found the exhibition room very good this year, my favorite work being Commons by LaTurbo Avedon.
Crowd-sourced videos are interpreted by algorithms to create intricate polygonal forms in digital landscapes, glowing in melancholic hues more flirty than a Grand Theft Auto sunset. The work just had a great tone and life to it. As if somebody mashed Secondlife with Quake and sprinkled some My Little Pony color palettes on top of it, set to a downtempo track from a Vaporwave album.
Scary Future
But in general I found the tone and content of this years Transmediale kind of bleak.
As a panelist said in a discussion, the internet has become a depressive place after the Snowden revelations.
The most horrible realization to me came from Heather Dewey-Hagborg‘s presentation. How far DNA profiling has come, and how easy it is to imagine everybody – for example your favorite opaque government, or a search engine company – collects DNA from the streets as easy as they collect street images. Once our digital profiles has been connected to our geo-tagged DNA profiles, ooops. There goes anonymity and privacy to a farm in the countryside, where it’s happily playing in the fields with Minidiscs and Myspace.
Interestingly, the resistance has started, as Dewey-Hagborg open-sourced her recipes for DNA privacy tools, and launched, a resource for biological privacy.
Favorite Moment
My favorite moment of Transmediale came Saturday night. A massive drum battle of some kind was suddenly taking place on a stage, aggressively booming through the whole open space of Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt. Shockingly loud. All other presentations in the space had to give up, drop dead. This created the sad herd of abandoned plastic chairs above, staring patiently at a disconnected, source-less blue screen.
The future. And no queues to get in.
Final Notes
  • Big data is stale.
  • New media festivals have no gastronomic self-respect.
  • Algorithms are faustian.
  • RGB is my favorite color.
  • Lasers are the new cassette.
  • Atopia.
  • The future is cloudy with a chance of the Groke.

Expedition conclusion: Bleak, but important. Success.


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