Author Archives: Alex J. Mann

Your Job as an Artist

Andrew Keen, the so-called Anti-Christ of Silicon Valley, tackles his common ground of technology and creativity in a piece from the Telegraph where he hopes to discover Why are Artists so Poor? After a bit of Twittering, Andrew found that his:

responses extended to everything from lucid one-worders like “oversupply” to philosophical tweets such as “because they live in the moment” to Clay Shirky’s terse and elliptically authoritative “unequal distribution of talent + supply and demand”.

The shift in the relationship between art and technology, as Andrew continues to explain, is due as much to the lack of gatekeepers (agents, editors, studios) on the Internet as it is to the ease of personal distribution.

With that being said, the (new) job of the artist is more or less strategic self-promotion:

In an age in which the old cultural gatekeepers are being swept away, the most pressing challenge of creative artists is to build their own brands. And it’s the Internet which provides creative talent with easy-to-use and cheap tools for their self-promotion.

This is a guest post from Alex J. Mann.  You can subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

New Literacy Strategies

Seth Roberts recently reflected on the New York Times article The Future of Reading | A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like with his own piece entitled Student Power.  Seth delivers his own constructive criticism regarding the American higher education system (emphasis his):

1.  Students in a class are treated all alike. They’re not. All hear the same lecture, read the same texts, do the same homework assignments, take the same tests. I came to realize that my students differed greatly in their talents and career goals.

2.  Professors teach how to be professors. Most students don’t want to be professors…“Teaching students to think” was a common way to describe teaching students how to be professors.

Seth concludes by stating:

Giving students more power over what they learn solves, or at least reduces, both problems.

I’d add that one of the failures of the education system as a whole is that there is too much time, energy and money spent on forcing assignments and material on stubborn students.  “Student power” is a strategy to smooth these inefficiencies, assuming the students learning willingly.

This is a guest post from Alex J. Mann.  You can subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

In Defense of Sampling: Why Stealing is Inspiring

Audio sampling in contemporary music is a form of budding innovation that proves not only the evolution of the industry, but a method to build on creative works that inspire us.  The practice of sampling is common in most creative industries, but often less obvious than it is in music.  Music sampling happens to receive a poor, distasteful reputation simply because of how it’s perceived in popular culture, rather than understanding why it is a creative tool.  The critics and intellectuals bash the sample for its lack of originality. I praise it for its inspirational tangibility.

My unique argument is that we all, especially those in creative fields, sample like music producers.  Sampling, as it’s embraced in music, just happens to be a more concrete citation of inspiration.  It’s a nod, an ode or respectful glance to those that did it before we did.  The sample is why we do what we do.

The sample is observed in a variety of shapes, forms and frequencies.  Typically, a snippet of another song is cut out, sped up, slowed down or looped, and finally mashed, forced or hammered into new, original sound bite.  Occasionally, the sample is obvious, even identifiable at first listen.  Other times, the sample is indistinguishable, taking on a new creative life form of its own.

The hip-hop music industry has embraced the audio sample, and has subsequently become an easy target for the so-called critics.  The critics yell that it’s stealing.  My response is that it’s sharing.  The critics cry that it’s not creative.  I respond that it’s a new type of creative.  Sampling is simply fair use of the available technology to build and advance previous works of art, displaying little difference to how we embrace the same technologies in other industries.

My only personal, and admittedly obnoxious issue with sampling is the expected public ignorance it promotes.  For instance, Kanye West (who samples in nearly every one of his songs, sometimes distastefully) rapped on the monster, Just Blaze produced, smash hit “Touch the Sky,” which borrowed nearly the entire background instrumentation of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”  Likewise, the Grammy nominated song “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. pulled the retro punk-rock introduction from the Clash’s “Straight to Hell,” while adding stylistic gunshots and heavy drums for flavor.  Overall, this is healthy for the industry.  But, while these songs have become mainstream hits, the references are ignored by most listeners.

Sampling has and continues to expand past hip-hop.  Led Zeppelin, arguably the most innovative rock outfit in blues rock and heavy metal history, were actually samplers of their time.  They borrowed rifts, covered jams and even transferred lyrics into their own original music for the recording of their second album.  And, twenty-five years later, the Beastie Boys sampled the brave drum introduction from “When the Levee Breaks” into a aggressive, break beat for their song “Rhymin’ and Stealin.”  Led Zeppelin, the innovators, have been re-innovated.  The old folks scream blasphemy.  To me, it is a slight confirmation that the Beastie Boys have good taste in rock ‘n roll.

Sampling is prominent everywhere.  The Blue Note has a compilation of heavily sampled jazz tunes, most of which you will recognize.  Girl Talk developed his entire album, Feed the Animals, around snippets of samples, producing entirely new songs from pieces of others.  When you watch a Quentin Tarantino film, notice his samples of classic Kung Fu flicks.  Or, when you observe a painting by Salvador Dali, attempt to understand his influence from Sigmund Freud.  The sample is relative in all forms of art and science.

My experience as an entrepreneur, specifically in managing software development, has been sample driven.  Although I do more reacting than planning, large aspects of my job are sampling what has worked in the past with hopes that it will work again in the future.  The team I work with began our design process by reviewing numerous software dashboards that had pieces relevant to our vision.  We then pulled and sampled these elements into our sketches, and finally implemented the puzzle pieces into an original design.

The goal of recognizing samples in any form is to have an open, but defensive mind, and question not only the music, but how it is consumed.  Who are the artist’s influences?  Who is sampled, deliberately or unconsciously?  Recognizing sampled inspiration is more than being aware or knowledgeable of history.  It allows you to be a true, critical observer of artistic foundation.

This is a guest post from Alex J. Mann.  You can subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

Seeing with Tongues

A new breakthrough device, recently covered in Scientific American, restores partial eyesight to the blind by using sensors in the tongue to send sign signals to the brain.  The research comes from neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita.

Experiments have shown that:

within 15 minutes of using the device, blind people can begin interpreting spatial information via the BrainPort, says William Seiple, research director at the nonprofit vision healthcare and research organization Lighthouse International. The electrodes spatially correlate with the pixels so that if the camera detects light fixtures in the middle of a dark hallway, electrical stimulations will occur along the center of the tongue.

The thesis behind the the device, known as the Brainport, is that we see with our brains, not our eyes.  It comes down to how we learn, not what we learn.

“It becomes a task of learning, no different than learning to ride a bike,” Arnoldussen says, adding that the “process is similar to how a baby learns to see. Things may be strange at first, but over time they become familiar.”

This is a guest post from Alex J. Mann.  You can subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.

To Invest is to Aim

In the land of financial markets, the phrase too big to fail has been brought into a new light.  Two physicists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich did a physics-based analysis of the world economy, finding in numerous cases that 80% of a country’s market capital consisted of only a few shareholders.

The research continued to explain that:

The most pared-down backbones exist in Anglo-Saxon countries, including the U.S., Australia, and the U.K. Paradoxically; these same countries are considered by economists to have the most widely-held stocks in the world, with ownership of companies tending to be spread out among many investors. But while each American company may link to many owners, Glattfelder and Battiston’s analysis found that the owners varied little from stock to stock, meaning that comparatively few hands are holding the reins of the entire market.

The investment takeaway is to target investor influence rather than market timing

“In this kind of science, complex systems, you’re not aiming at making predictions [like] … where the tennis ball will be at given place in given time,” Battiston said. “What you’re trying to estimate is … the potential influence that [an investor] has.”

The final results from the study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Physical Review E.

This is a guest post from Alex J. Mann.  You can subscribe to his blog here and follow him on Twitter here.