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World-viewing city walking - click opera
February 2010
Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 10:28 am
World-viewing city walking

Let's attempt an axiom. The person who really loves life is wary, in general, of edited highlights -- "the best bits, with all the boring bits edited out". Someone who loves football isn't going to be satisfied with a Best Goals compilation, and someone who loves sex won't settle for a tape of cum shots. It's the indirection, the boring stuff, that makes the highlights, when they arrive, high. If you bypass the boring bits, the exciting bits ultimately get boring too.

For a long time I've been interested in ambient TV, and by that I mean, essentially, TV with all the boring and random and awkward bits -- the bits excluded in the edited highlights -- put back in. Because the television we normally see on television just has too much clutter, too much chatter, too much going on. It's all too interesting, and in the end that gets incredibly boring.

Exactly two years ago I made a DVD of ambient video loops. These were boring but evocative scenes -- an open fire, a plant twitched by the wind -- looped so that they became constants, solid states. In a way, of course, these were edited highlights; the best bits of reality, selected and then looped. Not a goals compilation, perhaps, but the same goal played over and over again until it becomes something calm, formal, a backdrop.

That backdrop idea reminds me of something Eno quoted from Satie on the sleeve of Discreet Music, his first ambient record. Satie had said that he wanted his "furniture music" to mingle with the sounds of cutlery and chatter, the sounds of other activities. That's "backdrop" music, a music self-effacing (and dull) enough to take its place as just one element amongst many in a landscape, and share the space with other sounds, other activities. Eno said such music should be "as ignorable as it's interesting".

Two years ago, blogging about my ambient TV loops, I said "The reason that television and music have become "ground" or "field" in this way is that only the internet can be figure." Older media like music and TV just had to take their place in the background; I was too busy clicking through web pages to pay them much attention. The internet had become the place where I searched for "edited highlights".

But two years on, I find I'm expecting the internet, too, to start falling into the background. I want the internet (and perhaps this is a mark of its mellowing maturity as a medium; it lost its teenage stridency, its me-me-me quality) to get ambient, to get dull. I'm not talking about those 2007 buzz terms "the internet of things" or "everyware" or "pervasive computing" or "ubiquitous computing" or "ambient intelligence". I suppose I'm thinking more of the internet as a medium in which you can go for a daily walk, without really doing, or expecting to do, anything significant. I like the Japanese word hibisanpo, "an everyday walk".

The exemplary 2009 version of online hibisanpo is "going for a walk in Google Streetview". It's something I do almost daily now. I'll drop the little yellow Google flaneur somewhere random and just walk around, with the images bled right to the edges of my screen and the screen turned up bright. It's like a virtual holiday; you really do have a sense of being somewhere and strolling around, and what gives it that feel is the fact that not much happens, and the scenery is altered by your decisions.

The closest old-fashioned TV got to Google Streetview hibisanpo may be the NHK show Sekaimachi (世界ふれあい街歩き), which translates as something like "World-Viewing City Walking". The show airs once a week, from 11.35pm to midnight twenty on Sunday nights. Each week it shows a different city. Last week they were in Singapore. Here (it's the only online video of Sekaimachi I was able to find) is an episode set in New Zealand.

The Sekaimachi formula is that the camera literally walks around a town, encountering interesting things along the way. It's Steadicam, and there's a voice over, a narrator who asks people what they're doing, or apologizes when the camera intrudes or takes too long climbing the stairs, following someone up to an attic filled with whisky barrels. Sometimes Google-type maps appear on the screen, showing the camera's current location and tying the sequences together spatially. Unlike Streetview, though, human faces aren't blurred. And you're on the sidewalk, not out in the road in a car.

Now, Sekaimachi is deceptive. In fact it's a series of "edited highlights" -- setpiece interviews, tours of sites of interest -- strung together by some sequences of seemingly-random live action. I was "walking around New Zealand" in Streetview the other day, and I mostly saw suburban streets that looked like the worst bits of the UK and US put together. If the Sekaimachi team found something more interesting, it's because what they always do is fly into a location, research it for a week, bring back photos and Handicam recordings to Tokyo, discuss it with NHK producers, then fly back to the location with a shooting schedule and all the necessary permissions and interviews set up.

There's something weird about the way this unwieldy Steadicam thing -- you glimpse it ("yourself") in reflections sometimes -- walks into a crowded restaurant and the people there don't really react. There's also something weird about the way this monstrosity approaches an interviewee and "your" voice is just a voice over, whereas the interviewee's voice is there in the actual environment. It's as if you're just thinking your lines, and the other person is somehow reading your mind and responding. It's also weird that "your" voice is in Japanese, whereas the interviewee's voice is in the language of the country you're visiting.

Sekaimachi isn't quite "locative TV", nor "ambient TV", nor "Andy Warhol's Nothing Special". There's too much happening for it to be any of those. It is, though, the closest TV ever came (before being dethroned by the internet) to hibisanpo: a nice, peaceful, relatively random daily walk. As such, it might be the closest TV ever came to loving life.


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)

Your brother has something to say about this idea of edited highlights vs ambient narrative in About Time.


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 10:32 am (UTC)

"But two years on, I find I'm expecting the internet, too, to start falling into the background. I want the internet (and perhaps this is a mark of its mellowing maturity as a medium; it lost its teenage stridency, its me-me-me quality) to get ambient, to get dull. "

Perhaps stop writing so much "Interesting stuff". it seems to me that it is endless mundane blogging and tedious social network sites that are making the Internet a magnet for the me me me bores. Where are all the genuine creatives, I'm sure they are out there on the net, any links would be much appreciated. And Brian Eno ultimately failed in his making background music as it was aways more about him and his persona than the music. Still is probably I have long since lost interest in him. I imagine Coldplay are boring enough for you to like now though.


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 10:47 am (UTC)

"Those who can, do. Those who can't, blog."

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Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 11:25 am (UTC)

Why is Sekaimachi "deceptive" and Google Street View not? Why should New Zealand be better defined by its boring suburbs than anything else? Everywhere, even Rome, Paris and Berlin, have their boring bog standard suburbs that you'd likely alight upon if you fired up Google Street View and randomly plugged in an address. Whereas if you were to actually visit Auckland, those are not the areas you'd go to or judge the city on, are they? You'd find the funky downtown gay/hipster/art gallery area and see how that compared with other funky downtown gay/hipster/art gallery areas of other cities you know. Or you'd experience some of the wilderness that New Zealand is better known and admired for, rather than its urban areas.


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 11:57 am (UTC)

being an experienced tv watcher by now
i can assure you that nothing beats
sturm der liebe
that ard (german Television) transmits
five days a week at 15.00
can't explain it in a few words
every now and then while watching it
i contemplate on writing a study on it

as for interesting blogs in which the dullness of days is overruled by those moments that make life so pleasurable i can recommend harsmedia.com, reports from the ultra margins of alter egoism

greetings from snowwhite wuppertal


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 02:37 pm (UTC)
Re: tv

mein gott, that is hilarious!

....plenty of that sort of thing here. we had 'geminis-venganza de amor', 'pasion de galvanes' and even bits of 'perro amor'. (For UK readers, they make 'Sunset beach' or 'Neighbours' seem like Kubrick in comparison!)

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Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)

Momus doesn't really blog, though, does he? He's too old for the genre. What he writes is more like an old-fashioned newspaper think piece. He professes to like those blogs by Japanese ingénues who post stuff like "I like this flower" under a picture of a flower, but he couldn't actually do that kind of thing.

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Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
Tuned out

Maybe we should all take to heart the old, old John Denver (? !) song, "Blow Up Your TV." And our computers. And maybe all the audio equipment, too. Go for a walk in the real world. Look. Listen. Love.

Sure, I know we're not going to. But we can spend more time with all those things off (reduces the ol' carbon footprint, too) and maybe even get lost in a good, quiet, old-fashioned, self-propelled and recyclable book, instead (no e-reading, please!).

Of course, I'm saying this all as a complete hypocrite. I've spent most of the past six weeks bedridden with a lovely ambient view through the window opposite me of the woods and stream and clouds, alternately flickering and suffused with light, which I should be enjoying more in silence--but of course I'm on my netbook, on the phone, on the Kindle, watching movies, watching dumb TV, listening to internet streams, listening to mp3s and CDs and DVDs, reading Click Opera, etc.--and not really resting at all. How I've been undone by the twenty-first century!

The sad fact is that my brain can do almost all of these things (even talking on the phone!) and still move the fore to the aft, the figure to the ground, and not really be paying attention at all. Perhaps I can blame this "talent" on growing up in an environment where television was already ambient to a large extent--almost everyone I knew kept the tube on all the time, rarely paying attention except when it screamed like a baby. You could go visit a friend or relative and have a long conversation and you'd be lucky if the volume were turned down. Television eventually protested with multi-cams, continuous scrolls, and all kinds of icons and frames and meters, not to mention more hysteric content, so I found rest in the World Wide Web for a while--though now it, too, has become largely a squalling baby, albeit one I have to feed more often.

It's hard to escape television or music either in public or private in the modern world, and that might have already driven me crazy or at least too irritable; I recently read of one man's mission of finding just one square inch of "silence" with no man-made noise in the United States--he finally found one, in the Pacific rain forest, only to be foiled by commercial airlines.

I want to be out there, in the woods, by the purling stream, under the warm sun and passing clouds with a book of lyric poetry in my hand--but I suppose I could find that ideal situation if I search Streetview long enough...

The Extinct Mascarene


Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 01:34 pm (UTC)
Re: Tuned out

By the way, you can now get those ambient video (including a crackling hearth) and audio loops as various iPhone/touch "relaxation" apps--though as a post-Waholvian I'm far too fascinated by the monotony to truly relax!

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Re: Tuned out - (Anonymous) Expand
Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)

the first part of this entry is quite a case for the binary view. i.e there can be no good without bad, no interesting without dull, as the two are mutually defining.

it's interesting how interesting and dull are fluid concepts, culturally defined - what's dull for someone growing up in one neighbourhood can be fascinating for someone from the other side of the town. Familiarity breeds contempt?

Ssme with music, we're surrounded by commercial rock and pop , which for me has become the new muzak - it's on tv, it's in shopping centres, bars etc. And as such, has been effectively emasculated as a rebellious or revolutionary artform. I'm personally much more drawn towards what was for years considered muzak - such as what you can listen to[URL="http://www1.playkpmmusic.com/pages/category_search/browse.cfm?auto"]here[/URL](1000 series , guest login to listen.

Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)

what's dull for someone growing up in one neighbourhood can be fascinating for someone from the other side of the town. Familiarity breeds contempt?

Yes, this paradox comes up a lot in our discussions here. When I was dismissing Streatham the other day (Kuma brings it up again today, though he doesn't disagree with my characterization) I joked that nowhere I've lived better incarnated the virtues I'm always going on about, ostranenie and otherness.

But that's the same paradox as the charge conservative art reviewers regularly make in UK press art reviews: that progressive art institutions should subvert their own radical audiences with something conservative for a change, and that the most "radical" gesture you could make in a show like Altermodern would be to put a watercolour there.

Which takes us, in turn, to Siding with Cage against Branca, and Cage's statement "If I can't say "non-goal" and mean non-goal instead of goal, then the language is of no use." There's no point (apart from an attempt at humour, or an interest in "hypocrisy") in redefining "suburban blandness" as "exotic otherness", radicalism as conservatism, or non-goals as a new set of goals. You just condemn yourself to endless slippage.

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Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
morning in Richmond, Va

Hello, thanks for this. I would love to watch the goings-on of places...such as Cambodia, etc. on Sekaimachi. Is it possible to watch any of these? ---> http://www.nhk.or.jp/sekaimachi/detail/machiaruki/mao.html I remember liking the video of people walking through cities, like in Tokyo, with nothing special happening. Opening umbrellas. Do you remember what that was? Ben

Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 04:04 pm (UTC)
Re: morning in Richmond, Va

There are some Region 2 DVD Box Sets of past episodes of Sekaimachi available through Amazon Japan. You can watch current episodes as they go out on Sunday nights (Japanese time) via Keyhole TV.

ReplyThread Parent
Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 06:49 pm (UTC)
Just so you know

and in case you don't already, Momus is a Mechanic:

"The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like/seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters."

He is also motivated by stability, by the "desire to feel safe and in control." The archetypes he fits are these:

Caregiver - "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Creator - "If it can be imagined, it can be created."
Ruler - "Power isn't everything. It's the only thing."

There can be no disputing these scientific findings. See for yourselves here:



Wed, Mar. 25th, 2009 11:11 pm (UTC)

in reference to the examples set forth in the first paragraph, what about 'greatest hits 'albums? I've never been a fan, until I discovered Brian Joseph Davis. This is the only way to hear 'em in my view! http://ubu.com/sound/davis_greatest.html


Thu, Mar. 26th, 2009 12:45 am (UTC)

Even if you get bored of the internet, don't get bored of Click Oprea! I read it almost daily!


Thu, Mar. 26th, 2009 02:03 am (UTC)
don't let's attempt the axiom

It seems as if Momus' internet-aided life has become so saturated with music, images, ideas and video (excitement) that life outside it needs to be "boredom saturated". And ambient is all about creating "boredom saturated" material (finding a level of sound and visual stimulation that we perceive as "neutral" in a way we, animals that we are, don't perceive emptiness and silence as "neutral").

But boredom and excitement exist in a system of balances, and the facts that we all have different propensities for them and can balance them out across time make it difficult to attempt any axiom beyond: "We need both boredom and excitement", which is the same as saying "We need narrative structure". Any narrative structure beyond "Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal! Goal!" that is.


Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 11:22 am (UTC)
thank you!

i absolutely love sekaimachi! thank you so much for the pointer. it reminds me of a show i used to watch while living in okinawa in 1994. now i'm fearful of the chronic levels of otaku-ness that finding a steady stream of these shows would take me to. i need to get out more as it is, heh.
aww.. nick, what would i do w/o you!
muá muá



Mon, Apr. 6th, 2009 11:55 pm (UTC)

On that note, I've been doing something similar for a few years now with Flickr -- search 'tokyo cafe', sorted by most recent, every few days.

This is very much a stroll for me, something I do at then end of a day to unwind and refresh. Any search with sufficient daily density would do. This one has regulars, popular locations, new finds, shifting fashions. You see seasons and the economy reflected, start to pick up detail like noting the 2CV-based cafe 'Madeline' is still in business (and just joined by a VW Westfalia cafe). It becomes personal, a walk through 'your' neighbourhood.