October 10th, 2007


Wild card at the think tank

Okay, so tonight I play Joe's Pub on New York's Lafayette Street, whose page about the show says: "This singing author, beamed straight in from the Analog Renaissance... whispers pseudo-shy Casiotone enka for quick-thinking omnivores, Jap girls in synthesis, twitchy-fingered 8-bit kids, cosmopolitan sophisticates, postmaterialist sexpots and art students who wear frocks and over-knee socks, get laid but never get the pox, hate rock, and throw pots." Who writes this stuff? Oh, I do. Carry on!

I also have a three-song session and interview on WNYC (New York public radio) show Fair Game this evening at 8pm. I'll be speaking to host Faith Salie and singing three biographical songs, "Erostratus", "Robin Hood" and "Beowulf (I Am Deformed)". It looks as if the show will appear as a podcast on their site from tomorrow.

On Thursday I head off to Denver Colorado, where I'm addressing the AIGA Next conference on the subject of the digitization of culture. Which, incidentally, is the same theme as my next "wild card at the think tank" engagement -- a two-day brainstorming session next week in London with the Institute for the Future of the Book for their Really Modern Library. I'm rather terrified, because I'll be an amateur amongst professionals at these events. But perhaps the synergies will make my outsights useful. In both cases the question is how to tackle the interplay between the tactile and the digital. But it's far bigger than that -- it's basically a big conversation about form and content; about whether the "soul" of a cultural item can be detached from its "body" (in the form of the technology available at any given time to transmit it).

For instance, I think tonight at Joe's Pub (and at my Brussels shows the week after next) I may well do something new. I'll have all the music coming off my iPod and put it in shuffle mode, then just sing whatever songs come up. If the song is one I don't know (for instance, there's a very odd version of "7000 BC" on there, or some bizarre Momus karaoke tracks made with new vocal-cancelling software which removes all the central bits of the mix) I'll improvise new lyrics on the spot, thereby blending a very ancient folk tradition with the latest randomizing digital technology. Does this change the "soul" of my live show? Is it live or is it Memorex? Is the medium the message? Is this "the post-bit atom" or the post-atomic bit? And what happens if I sing Handheld and have to replace the computer vocal in verse 2 with a real voice? Because after a computer sang that song, another computer erased the first one.

Plenty of brain-ticklers there for a think tank wild card!