tziteras

My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.

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7/24/2015

Digital fence sitting in the time of physical commons - a tale of two rebrandings

I've been following some of my friend Matthew's "Reality Report" where he is currently doing a series on the dangers of runaway AI with Eric Brulyant, who was on his way to the machine intelligence research institute the San Francisco Bay Area in California to a workshop on super intelligence and value alignment: Making sure that when you create an all purpose "general intelligence" it has ethical values that are compatible with human values.

They imagine what would happen if a general or crackpot inventor somewhere, came up with something resembling a higher intelligence and quickly commercialised it and got it running. If programmed with simple rules like "Make everyone happy", a few code cycles down the line, it will be injecting everyone with happy pills, and it will somehow see around things. Even something as simple as "calculate further digits of PI" would result in it using up more resources in order to make its calculations and slowly grind up everything around it to make it into a factory for calculating more digits. And at a first generation we might stop it, but then it might make a copy of itself that was even better. Currently the two groups who seem closest to this are the US military and Google, closely followed by the Chinese government.

To me the ancestor of this AI is already around, and based on a few simple instructions like "make more money" we're already grinding things up quite fine without the need for von neuman probes or nanotech. To an outside observer we'd already seem a strange mixture of humanity and technology in that sense, cultivating the land in such a way as to make it barren, creating mines and processing plants to create more ways to make more things and so on, like a hatchling entitled to eat all of it's old casing so as to be able to grow..



I accept there's going to be an imperfect future, and I think of it like with the ideal of good vs evil: two entities or groups, always alive and in perpetual struggle, maybe each controlling 33,3% each of the land but somewhere, there is the other third: these people who can't really decide which way they want to go. These 3 are all in our heads as well as in society, a personal struggle between fears and courage or negative sides and positive ones, but this middle band is the extra trolley wheel which just might roll the right way every so often.

They accept for example, the evils of the way the world is, and won't join the radicals in their caves and forests, and they wish to make it better, but they won't renounce some of the things that keep things sliding into oblivion and where there is hardly a fence to sit on. Maybe there's a post-apocalyptic parable in there somewhere.

So what do we want to do? Is capitalism or life within it the equivalent of "party till you drop" mindsets where you should just realise it's all coming to an end and party til it's 99 or 911, 2012 or other numbers which I'm sure summed together in crazy ways become even more interesting at each permutation.

So now we have this ecological landscape with regard to degrees of acceptance of capitalism in a context of collapse comparable to the fall of the soviet union in the 90s:

1) Eco farmers - networks of ecovillages, cooperatives, environmental movements or autonomous indigenous communities trying to build commons, and forge some new way of life that is completely free of  big systems that are seen as lost/negative or somehow tainted. Tiny minority
2) Anarcho Capitalists - bitcoin bazillionaires and micro versions of the full blown organised capitalists further on in this list. Afraid of any grouping or structure. I think it's because deep down they just want to be assholes and fuck everyone over. Nobody is perfect, and neither are organisations, so at a larger scale the same thing happens: larger minority and countries/international groupings tend to act in very selfish, violent ways with each other (arguably the reason for the existence of things like the Geneva Convention, the UN and the International Criminal Court).
3) Distributed capitalists - Jeremy Rifkin and Ellen Mc Arthur, setting up some solar and wind farms funded by a benevolent international corporation somewhere, turning houses into factories and energy sources so as to maintain... business as usual.
4) Full on old fashioned organised networks of capitalists: plough stuff up, serve it on a plate: mass consumption is the present past and future, governance is done by governors, and generally no regard at all is given to the environment: ecology as subset of economy.

So it's interesting to see the questioning in this article about the recent OSCE days - which tried to fuse Open Source (but as a different concept from the "traditional" 90's software centric one), and the Circular Economy, a group which partners with large businesses and seeks to reform ecological practice as legislation at the top levels. The article asks "Can the open source method really work for the circular economy?". 

I feel the city is important at this time although so many people want to leave for the countryside and for other countries. I think it's important to mainstream ecological practice, but in a grassroots way, each person acting from their own locality, and I'm always pleased to meet people who devote their lives to a space or area in some way, providing consistency and reliability, or sometimes the needed energy to make things happen and make it a happening place. Behind each local initiative that puts on some kind of eco-community related activity, usually for free, there's someone or a few people working really hard to keep it all running, and in Barcelona much of this is through a solidarity economy made of everyone's spare time, knowledge and resources. I think this is very much still a grassroots mindset where the local area is important for your own survival at least, but also as a place in which to make all the required changes so that we can be resilient and make greater changes from there.

So the article begins with the words:

"The term “Open Source” was coined in the world of software in 1998. Although it has continued to be largely associated with computing and software, at its heart is a very simple idea: freely accessing, using, modifying, collaborating and sharing."

Seeing as it then goes on to quote gun-totin', cathedral-bazaar writing, Eric S Raymond himself, I can see that this definition has been stripped of the associations it had in 1998, when it was proposed by said emacs hacker ESR as a more watered down approach than Richard Stallman's. The Gnu Public License was much less widely known in business than the standard closed source proprietary license "you may not copy or use" - championed by the likes of Bill Gates. Only programmers or people who worked in the area knew anything about these things, and linux was still very much for the patient and more geeky of the workforce. In a way we never imagined it could get where it is today, and via that watering down, and more widespread takeup. Stallman's ideas are still much more radical than that of the open source "movement" in general and he was more of a frame of reference than something many people followed to the letter (Rather than a movement it was a community of networked and vocal company employees across the online world with differing opinions but who had to use a mixture of open source or closed source software in a work environment, more like commentators on one of the first blogs Slashdot and their moderators and meta-moderators of the time) in showing how software should be valued, created and used. There took place in those years a re-branding of this movement to make it more appealing to business and mainstream sectors than "Free Software" - which was a bit of a downer if you were trying to get people to make their hard earned software "free" and still convince them that they were going to make money with it. Crucially this came with it the proposal of the Apache, BSD and MIT licenses, whereas Free Software's license made sure any copies of anything programmed, was also going to be free for use and part of a commons. So these newer licences were ways in which companies could use the so called "Free Software" and just use it in their closed hardware and software of the time, so they were in effect subsuming an idea of a pure commons, of freedom - the poetic idea that like the words we speak, the code we write can't have a price put to it, within a larger, corporate for-profit framework.

So although obvious when you think about it, it's interesting that the circular economy isn't partnering with Free Software. It'd be far too radical for large groups like Philips who fund Circular Economy activities. Supposing, for the purpose of argument, that they have only one main line of business: they make a lot of money making razor blades. So what if we started publicising free alternative, relocalised ways to form a worker coop and make your own razor blades that last a lifetime. Or even formed a union, network or confederacy of barbers? Somehow, within the gift presented to the corporate world in the 90s by the open source geeks, was the trojan horse of the GPL license, and that if you look hard enough, there is an idea of really creating a global commons, a shared trove of knowledge and capacity, that might slowly congeal in people's minds and eventually revolutionise the way we see code, software, technology, knowledge itself.

Now, finally - we have gotten to discussing the physical commons - with our current system in crisis, and we're looking for inventive ways to treat our current system and it's subsystems as software ones. So it's exciting to be alive today at this crossroads, but scary to think which way it might go for most people. It's very hard to get rid of that basic value within human society - the idea that in the end we're all in it together, So would phillips want to be like the red hat or o'reilly of the dawn of open source as a viable business idea, and will they want to spend money and time getting close to people who will do more distributed weeks in the spirit of bringing people together - now that there's a real community who has now attended OSCE across the world and brought together similar thinking from very different areas in each place where it took place.

Back when all this stuff was happening, I wrote my final university project about the open source methodology and how it could be applied to non-commercially motivated organisations. Fortunately thanks to the wayback machine it's still available: https://web.archive.org/web/20031203020900/http://mandible.sourceforge.net/download.html

So the idea is that a large company could want to be like larger benevolent dictators - which is the concept of leadership in Open Source. The idea is that a single person or smaller group manages the actual tree in which code is written and will only commit changes they deem worthy of going in this main DNA of the software package they are in charge of. At the time, it had to be a single person normally, so if this dictator ceased to be benevolent, the code would be forked, and people would group around another maintainer of a source code repository.

In the same way, a large company that sought to coax open source enthusiasts would have to deal with their ability to be very vocal and to quickly stir up controversy that could really affect sales, and people would abandon those companies just as they might a "benevolent dictator" who had done wrong in some way.

We saw a few of those mistakes as different large companies, especially older linux providers started to align themselves for or against this new idea that you didn't have to pay your programmers, and started making clumsy strides towards it.

In a physical space, there are varying authorities, also in charge usually, of having the last word in what goes on, whether that be police or some other organisation. So in a "physical" rather than software landscape the benevolent dictator becomes "benevolent local jurisdiction" - as in "sorry that's the local law here, you can't build a yurt, only a cement wall". In an autonomous space then, the benevolent dictator is the will of the meeting of those people who take part in running it, or of their general nature if they're not the kind of group that will make meeting notes but that is public in some way.

I don't know if this is true and if a card carrying Aymara will come and correct me, what I was told was that when the Andean Ayllus, the basic 10-100 person unit of Aymara society, were conquered by the Inca empire, they basically continued with what had been the norm - small family sized communities each working on a different territory or area, but they added a tax, that had to be paid seasonally to the Inca, and that this control system was then simply taken over by the Spanish conquistadors when they arrived a hundred years later. Just one example of how easy it is for larger groups to take over decentralised or more egalitarian networks or human dynamics to do their bidding. Or in the film "The power of community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil" shown at many a viewing at the beginnings of the transition movement, which shows how soldiers would enforce carsharing by stopping all cars at crossroads and putting someone in each one from a little queue of hitchhikers that would gather there. It could be said that the government used existing autonomous community structures (like sharing a lift or doing urban gardening) to ensure some basic societal functioning and necessary food production, to get them through the special period.



So I think of this happening today with all the groups working to create networks of small autonomous communities, like the Rojava Revolution in West Kurdistan or the Zapatistas in Chiapas, even the few autonomous Mapuche settlements in Chile - but also here in Catalunya, or across Europe - in the form of tiny self managed projects, run on cooperation and volunteering of resources and time. It's easy for one of these corporate benevolent dictators to come along and see this as a convenient way to get, for example, the barber shop union, to always use their 3d prints when making their open source razors rather than appropriate tech equivalents using local materials, so that they can sell them cheap metals mined or elaborated elsewhere(and with a different "benevolence" we might never stop to ask ourselves about here). It's Michel Bauwens' biggest fear in his 4 quadrants diagram, of netarchical capitalism, controlling all the little fish who didn't think to join together globally to oppose the proverbial shark. It's normal then to suspect a future (ai-run? nanotech capable?) Phillips will want to be the next Uber and for people there to actively want that because it makes business sense. As seen in greece with the lack of liquidity, a social economy is getting more attention because it works without money. Large companies might also be enticed then to piggy back on social organisations trying to achieve urgent humanitarian aims:  independent homeless hostels, community kitchens, free clinics and schools run by volunteers with their own DIY management and governance structures - it might all seem very sweet to a large company to have all that free labour and resource working for it in some way. The perfect thing to corrupt is a well built system. Normally cultures would build dissuaders in somehow, 

What other parts of the methodology might be useful then? In most articles on the OSCE days - "open source" in a more generic sense is defined just as "more transparency". In the cathedral and the bazaar this was seen as "eyeballs" - so more eyes - users or revisers, can spot more bugs and so the code is still efficient like in more structured corporate environments. But another movement contemporary to the birth of open source as a "methodology" - was the advent of "soft" or then rebranded too - "agile" methodologies - now completely in vogue with the likes of Scrum. In software development methodologies of the time, there was a view of one extreme being ad-hoc organisation: basically with a small enough project the best thing is to just write something and then think about structure i.e how  to program, only if that doesn't work.  As a program grows it's good to add structure, but the methodologies of the time were typically "waterfall" style, used in industrial projects (typical examples were failproof systems like hospitals or airplanes) and had to involve lots of phases and lots of reporting before going on to each subsequent stage, but agile development methodologies brought with them a quicker cycle. This was because a lot of the time the earlier programming languages had long compilation cycles where code was processed by compiler software to convert it from programming instructions to machine code. So typically you'd work on some task or feature, compile the code and then have a go with the running program to see if the bit you'd changed was working properly. With websites, or smaller projects though, in a time when hardly anyone had an online profile or page, a lot of the time people had no idea what it was going to be like to have a website until people saw it, so more releases made a lot of sense. "Soft" or "light-weight" methodologies were a middle way between ad-hoc do whatever works fastest, and the monumental structures used in the immediate post war period in similar areas like engineering. These methodologies were more flexible and allowed for mistakes to become new passages in the music being written rather than seen as divergent mutants that don't fit with the plan.

Together with agile methodologies there were many ideas about the democratisation of the workplace, as with Kent Beck who spoke of forming "bubbles" within organisations not easily accustomed to such practices, where agile methodologies could be practiced, more involvement in decision making from a full team, and even spaces in offices were changed to make them easier to communicate in, less isolating so you can crunch numbers and more common or shared space so you could run ideas across or think of things as you played games or took a walk, and in the way development contracts were negotiated based on features rather than being costed at once for the development of entire platforms, or the way that clients were seen as part of the development team and so the client was an actor in the process, and as such not a consumer but a prosumer of a bespoke product.

So if you are using an agile methodology, your barber shop union tries a new feature, all the other barber shop unions in other areas will also hear about it, as will their "prosumers" if there's this transparency, and this increased involvement with the "client" means the aim of the barber shop union is that there eventually be no more barber shops and that haircutting techniques and knowledge can just be more widespread and incorporated into daily life and it's cycles in other ways. With this example, Free Software, as a more radical general purpose "quest for transparency" than Open Source, when applied to the physical commons, is the creation, governance and co-ordination of human systems and dynamics, beyond profit motivated behaviour. But if Open Source is the modus operandi, then this happens within a larger percieved profit motivated space - and in such a way as to make it easy for conglomerates of profit motivated groups to use these smaller groups to accomplish their own objectives.

So sooner or later, the Philips from my example, the one that only makes razor blades, might recognise also that it needs to adapt and make itself part of a circular system, into which all the barbers fit as do the people who find and use scrap metal or hair or process it in some way. But it would make more sense for it to find a way around whatever laws or treaties enforced that circularity, and maximise profits instead of its ability to contribute to something that functions positively. So we need an active, dynamic and agile governance able to see all those issues and move with the times. I guess we need to build within the commons, structures equivalent to the UN or the ICC, so that governance structures also have some shared consensus on how to deal with practices harmful to the larger network or group or its commons. So who knows, maybe the OSCE days are the beginnings of a distributed governance structure that might periodically decide in a shared way on things that are of interest to participants across the world, and one that might oppose opaque groups like corporations in negotiating a viable way of life. Maybe we should invite Bruce Sterling to warn us yet again just how political these things are becoming around us and how quickly it's happening.

So the mid band, the fence sitters, from victor jara's ni chicha ni limona, might be really powerful actors for positive change but only in relation to their ongoing connection to and knowledge of the more radical groups who are breaking new ground, so that the reformist, mainstreaming groups can apply some of that new ground more widely. They could slowly cease to be the undecided, or those who believe in nothing, and become more informed and able to act in different ways, but there's always a lingering doubt that they won't.


Maybe the future world from that post-apocalyptic parable is becoming clearer: Once upon a near future there is a group of humans that uses obsolete robotic parts as living, lumbering pods and extensions to give them sustenance, even though other humans have learnt to survive in the harsh future landscapes, and the more advanced robots of that day are miles ahead of them and already able to forge life and systems at a nano scale, this group or tribe still dresses in retro mecha costumes that make them very large but also slow, and unable to survive if separated from their metal pods. Once a year they do a pilgrimage to the nano robot city, telling them entertaining stories about life in the quaint forest, and work for them to buy new parts which they all carry back together across the mountains. Still, the smaller animals of the forest come and play with them when they return, fix their dents and replace their spare parts, and they hope that if the nano factory building robots decided to come and pray on these lands one day, the retro mecha cyborg people would somehow defend them. 

6/10/2015

A visit to a local barcelona-en-comú assembly

It's easy to read the social networks, documents, history, articles etc, but I'm lucky to be able to walk right in, in person and in Catalan, and see what it's all about. I'm living in Barcelona with our newly arrived Barcelona en Comu, one of the great wins of the recent local elections in favour of more participative parties that reflect a more militant, protest spirit of ground up struggle.

I had hoped we'd be there analysing loopholes and hacking the current local governance in mad ways and using popular action as a huge strength against the perceived lack of political strength in the current administration. This party badly needs political pacts to get more of a majority, but so far it is unable to make any, so looks apparently very limited.

I don't think that is where much change can be made in the first place though, and I think creating participative civil structures would be the first thing to concentrate on: like with syriza: volunteer run clinics, food spaces, work spaces, and linking money to housing and participative social aid structures would make it into a kind of mini circular economy, which would be perfect for their alt-currency idea.

So I think one nice idea I might have is for council employees who see that their pay goes beyond what the party decides they should recieve, to be able to donate these "excedents" to a fund. Of course at fair.coop we could administer this, but we won't be upset if they build their own thing. This fund in turn could run all the monetary needs of local social services  - like a summer meals for local children program, mentioned a few times throughout the meeting, allowing people to join in in practical ways.

So I have little clue of how they work, but here is what I've understood so far: They have been going for about 4 years as an organisation, first - guanyem barcelona and then as the coalition that now won, and they are now far beyond anything they expected back then. Most of the 20 or so people at tonight's meeting seemed well dressed, and well kept, and mostly in their 40s and up, with a few exceptions. Some I remembered from squares, but some were council functionaries. Nuts and biscuits were passed around, and we all managed to sit in a circle at the back of a community space in Gotic whose front was used for sorting out organic vegetable baskets. It reminded me of the communications and coordination commissions in the 15M: all the ones who are good at talking and pushing papers around.

PAH activist and now politician Gala Pin said she had hardly slept in days and was learning a whole bunch of stuff, which she then described in great detail, and which she didn't think they'd ever have to be involved with. The barcelona city council is a huge mess of a complex beast and to inherit the machinery doesn't mean you can piece apart all the bits and all the expert functionaries that already balance 4 or 5 roles at diminishing salaries. So the full story is I went on the barcelona en comú website to sign up and a message said I had to go in person to register with documents proving I lived here. So I went, twice, down the road to Mario, the uruguayan pizzaiolo who also writes and sells books in his typical atypical raval restaurant, where BCN-en-comú were doing their sign-ups, and asked what benefits there would be in registering.  The feeling there was like "we're in!" - like the 15-m assembly was now getting into the buildings to subvert it. I guess the truth is they aren't that easy to even understand, let alone subvert in 2 weeks. They said the registration process was so that we could vote (it turns out this would have been voting for pacts that now won't be made because parties are waiting for the general elections before making any pacts), so I thought «wow, switzerland» and then thought a bit about rojava and its citizen assemblies and asked if you could participate in any other way. So I was referred to the local meeting for ciutat vella, which was tonight.

The most interesting sight was a girl dressed like a big yellow fluffy clown, who was there to read a letter from the human statues from the bottom of la rambla. She had been fined 3 times in a single day, for going slightly outside the bounds of her street performance license in all 3 occasions, while, she argued, large companies and sponsors get to run the show however and whenever they like.

Another new visitor, a woman in her 60s, said she was expecting that now, with the elections, this meeting would be a space to come and voice your greivances and make proposals(just like I had seen visions of the platonic form of the athenean polis when I saw the election results), but so far she had only seen political planning, for example for this coming Friday, when Ada will do the «official act» and become mayor, and the forming of more commissions or passing down of news on how the council worked. And the reply was that there should be a newcomers committee or even ways so as not to need in-person meetings so much. I can see it's a problem.

As seen in recent headlines of the «Ada says Tourists Go Home!» variety, you can already see the right wing press ready to group monetary strength against this "anti-tourist" mayor and help get rid of her. When the topic of tourism came up, I could see the weight of this issue that to me is on the fringes of very dubious places in the way people tend to describe stereotypical tourists and their practices. I hope an informed and balanced choice can still be made, involving all players eventually.

Meanwhile, the local government will supposedly crack down on scooters, bikes. segways, rickshaws and all the different kinds of transport used by tourists, because it's one of few things that don't cost much money to do. I felt quite helpless at the lack of a real space to debate this, and to see them doing what in a cooperative or protest group meeting would be absolutely against everything: using the system of civic ordnance rules which I already deeply disagree with (the way it works to make second class citizens of minority subcultures, groups and activists as an extension of policing, is referred to various times with regard to the 4f incident and the documentary made on this case) and working with the police to fine people and make more money from them.  On the other hand, once again, they are only holding the reigns of the animal and for now the simplest thing is to just do something.

I seriously think they need help doing consultations and other open or participative practices to get proposals in from the ground up. Probably even financial and accounting courses for participants could be put on for free by the «governmental» side of bcn-en-comú., for it's assembly-run side. Both sides will continue co-existing.

There were 5 individual complaints from different attendees who had been woken by partying tourists  or local hostels. Like I remember from Plaza Catalunya when the camp was there, or from lots of early assemblies in different environments, there were moments when everyone went off topic and switched points or we all sat waiting for an emotional eruption to run its course.

So I really think as well as increasing participation, resources should be spent on getting people clued up in assembly organisation and coordination, in spotting manipulation techniques and how to stop bad practice and heirarchy from forming.

Meanwhile, if this "nimby" attitude is the norm at these meetings, the bias is now clearly anti-tourist: «we can't get rid of them, but we can make sure they respect the rules everyone else respects», one said - so I guess if it's to be a really open process, it needs a free, open tourist run assembly, also able to voice its concerns and show that the visitors to this city aren't just transient drunks but also a very mixed and varied spectrum of people from many different positions of larger or greater vulnerability, and who actually appreciate the city and its history and culture and  actually save up and spend money on what they sometimes truly believe is the people of barcelona when it's actually just a few large companies. These people would help if given, yeah, a democratic voice.I have half a mind to organise a meetup event for this in ciutadella park each weekend. maybe in general BCN en comú needs a thousand citizen blocks so people can move independently and work with it only as and when needed, as they will be busy trying to work that huge complex machine that is the day to day running of the city council.

The human statues read out their letter in the end. It detailed a number of abuses from a local trade organisation that used corporate sponsors and seemed to act with impunity. It seems such a strange paradox that so many of my okupa friends are street performers or artisans and make money from tourism - but via art and creativity - and that these trades, which I find really valuable, depend on these moneyed visitors so abhorred during the meeting. Maybe they will also want to go and be an okupa one day.  Barcelona is so linked to tourism, and its people, to the city's position in the mind of the world around it, and I think the relationship needs to be sorted out, because it seems really love-hate at the moment. Some of those people around it, I think, are actually looking at barcelona and other places where these new participative groups are emerging, like hope itself, that democracy, or more humanely efficient governance  can help us get through the crisis, and that who knows, the next podemos will be in the US or UN.

What upset me at the meeting was that whole populist - rule-by-who-complains-the-loudest aspect which I hope can also be dealt with by taking on platforms like liquid democracy that I´m told, deal with this kind of issue. But the main fear or issue I felt, I couldn't really voice clearly yet, and I guess that's why I wanted to get my thoughts down. It was that it feels like this was a group of people suddenly given much more than they ever expected - handed the reins of a huge beast, but in a rolling sea of other factors, external to local government, that can  determine how well we will survive things like grexit and what is supposed to happen to the euro shortly after. And I know how people are - they will see problems as external and won't think «how can I go and help sort this out» but «where do I complain» and the few people doing all the work will be even more overworked, and complained at.

So this time, a thing I thought was really cool, was said there by another older participant was - «this needs more participation:» it needs strong assemblies and support from the street assemblies and the groups that coalesced during the 15m and before. It really is nothing without the democracy it supposedly brings, but which everyone is going to have to coax out of the corner with such a generally un-democratic society. There are no pacts to be made with other parties, as said before, so there is little strength within the realm of politics going up against people like CIU or even the PP so they'll decide each issue as they get to it for now.

The biggest strength might be that collective ability to draw on the same populism that kind of got me down, but that when moved for justice can be so powerful: if BCN en comu wanted or if there was the need, they could have all kinds of basic, people run services and call on all kinds of citizen work, and maybe that would be the quickest way to get any significant help from the populace.

3/13/2013

Call up a tree - at your local ethically grown symbiotic public space

I'm researching for an arts grant call and as I'm about to hand it all in, I thought I'd put on here what I can't fit in my proposal. The best person to introduce it all is Neri Oxman. She mentions 5 tenets of generative design that sound a lot like the beautifully disagreeing Beam Bot philosophy or the 12 principles of permaculture.

But my project isn't just about making something that complies all those great tenets, but it adds an internet connection and community to a "generated" space, together with attempting to deal with a big problem I've seen in working with the Catalan Integral Cooperative, with many intentional communities, trading goods and working together from different locations, so I've been able to see this problem a lot. Communication. My project is all about bringing together sustainable construction techniques, hackerspace style electronic invention and 3d printing in order to create a shared networked space that allows you to experience sensor readings as sound, light, colour and as the shapes and textures of the building itself as it slowly grows and / or is collaboratively built.

I just spent many months working in a cooperative and learning participation techniques, and I'm interested in public spaces and how they have been eroded and yet have become spaces for great experimentation and allegedly brought a lot of cultural renewal and just plain hope when the new deal commissioned a huge amount of public art works. Also I was there in 2011 when the squares were all occupied, and many other self organising movements sprang from or were strengthened by these unique days. Here is a nice presentation on this whole area of generative architecture on a city level which has been my bane all month while researching all this.


M Arch Living Architecture from Rachel Armstrong

So I'd love to link up first of all a central city public space with a very remote but more natural space far away, and see how that relationship progresses. Then I'd try and get more spaces to link too. More on this aspect later, but it's basically the idea of sensors and a space in which to "sense" them comes from an wish to defy the dominance of certain abilities and senses in regular long distance communication, and letting the others blossom too.

On a larger scale, it's an attempt to add people and real situations to what is being theorised about a lot, and shown off a lot to well off clever people. I think housing is a social issue and in dire need of reform. I think both the intentional community inhabitants and generative design experts of the world can learn a lot from each other.

Right here in barcelona live http://www.fabclay.com/about/ - a group presented really nicely in this Pecha Kucha from a couple of years ago by Marta Malé-Alemany of Barcelona's Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia and beyond. Around 1.45 she starts talking about the properties of modern houses and at 4.07 she shows a 3d printed architecture by a team called Digital Vernacular and some of their generative designs for houses:



I don't really like the idea of a truck with an arm printing out houses, I'd rather it had more involvement from people or communities, especially if that makes these methods cheaper and more accessible. Digital Vernacular's own video is a bit more slow moving:



But then my problem is mostly with modern online communication. I feel the data surveillance state present in the modern internet as well as the dynamics of online contact brings a lot of problems when trying to communicate or cooperate at long distances, due to our culture around them. Having said that, transport fuels are getting more and more expensive every day, and will soon become an elite privilege, so a logical answer to that is relocalisation, movement from complex to simple and from centralised to distributed. A networked, tech but eco friendly set of communities might be the answer to the usual problem with these situations - loss of contact. As communities get more and more self sufficient they get more parochial, but an exchange economy might be enough reason for us to want to be in touch with each other, and not just be stuck with whoever is in your particular group, and this requires long term ability to understand each other.

A big problem resulting from this disconnection is the lack of human contact, of everything that doesn't actually go in emails or videos and that is just part of our day to day, what isn't shared or said, maybe that we are not even aware of. In the long term this leads to problems between the inhabitants of both spaces or of those areas. In a more radical sense, I believe in all aspects of our environment have the right to be felt, seen or heard. I want to bring seismic, co2, emf, light and temperature readings, electrode fitted leaves and moisture in the air, to the fore via this project and create public sensory artworks that can allow for this networked communication between spaces, in a way that informs their own growth or maintenance.

So here is what I've written so far for the proposal (I've now scrubbed all of this out in the actual proposal and started again, but maybe it explains it all some more)

Modern organic and generative architecture such as that proposed by Rachel Armstrong's Protocells or sustainable building techniques such as the earthship, attempt to turn around the classical process of mineral extraction, and industrial processing and product manufacturing into something more modular and grown. There is however little contact between the emerging technologies at the forefront of these activities, such as 3d printed FabClay or the open source hardware shelter system, the Hexayurt, and the traditional and natural ideals behind a lot of popular low impact construction techniques. Modern construction still favours the private rather than the public or community based. Another problematic aspect of architectural construction is the emphasis on the rational right brain rather than the spiritual or emotional aspects of living spaces – creating “squares”, involving extensive planning, precise requirement identification, expensive construction costs, and ultimately the short term outlook of the finished product.

This project will use technical workshops together with democratic and participative meeting formats in order to teach a group of people a series of building techniques, and give them the tools required to build a generative organic, low impact structure that can then continue to grow beyond the project's lifespan.

At each point in it's modular growth, the construction of this shared space can be informed not only by human planning and calculation, but also via a strong connection with the surroundings of each space and it's inhabitants, and of that of similar spaces. Circuits and sensors would process and retransmit data that could then inform the 3d design of new parts of the space. I am currently investigating 3d clay printing, firing and assembling as an outer layer around compressed earth or plywood. The end result would therefore be to enable participants to draw from techniques as disparate as 3d printing and clay firing, use of recycled materials and sharing ambient sensor data across multiple interrelated and networked spaces.

The creative process would be something like as follows:
  • A group of participants is assembled in a natural space, such as an intentional community.
  • They participate in a series of workshops on clay firing, kiln building, 3d modelling, 3d printing, circuit building and networking
  • A first space is created using quick but sturdy sustainable construction techniques.
  • This space is then networked: Seedstalkers or similar arduino based circuits can collect from a variety of ambient sensors, for example light, moisture, heat, electromagnetic fields and seismic data. The data would then be used on site, and in one or more affiliated spaces.
This data would allow non human-centric interactions to inform the next stages of the building process – for example creating spaces that can resonate acoustically according to sonic readings or generative designs based on the sum of EMF readings, that correspond to the presence of people with devices or other sources of static electricity.

The sensor data would be performative and would allow for affective communication between the inhabitants of this space and others: In other words, this space can be “played” and “felt”, not just by human beings. Readings wouldn't be experienced as graphs or statistics on device screens, the interpretation of which demands a certain educational background. Instead they would be present as a more organic collection of sound, light or the output of laser rangefinders, LED based circuits or simply natural resonance in fired earth structures, to be experienced only in this space and in it's interconnected siblings.

The ultimate aim of this project is therefore a geographically distributed network of symbiotic and shared public spaces, built democratically and organically, for longevity, from cheap local materials and that can speak a language of gestures, presence, warmth and vibration. There is a union not only between sustainable architecture, arts and technology, but also a meeting of disruptive design concepts with the universal right to have access to free information and to a living space.

11/25/2011

A recap

Here is a quick recap since it's been a while I've written here (I've written a bit on my blog in n-1.cc though).

When the spanish protest camps made their decision to shift focus from camps to assemblies in each neighbourhood, back in June, I started going to my local commission meetings. It was a brilliant experience, to sit with other spaniards and see what we actually wanted to implement from our experience of the camp. I took part in the culture group and talked about participative art, and how you can use flashmobs and quite innocent actions to get people involved, or at least questioning things. We organised a cabaret where we brought together lots of local people for a memorable performance in our local square. This was in Sant Andreu del Palomar. I've since moved to the city centre, so am too far away, but I have about 4 different assemblies to choose from here, and getting energy to get stuck in a bit more.

Sant Andreu in Barcelona is an area with small streets and old and beautiful mediterranean houses a bit like Gracia, but without the drunken tourists. It was a bastion of resistance to franco, and before then, one day in 36 it was the area where thousands of rifles were siezed by local anarchists - contributing massively to their short but inspiring time of self organised local democracy. One assembly participant said the soldiers there had left their bullets in a different warehouse across the yard so they couldn't shoot them! Another described the taking of plaza catalunya back then, as told by grandparents - that the fascist soldiers were expecting the civil guard to be on their side, but they weren't - and they didn't have a chance, and he showed me which way everyone had gone. Back to this century - we then organised an end-of-summer "university" with the Universitat Indignada, which led to me talking about Transition Initiatives together with Antonio Scotti of Barcelona en Transició to a full square, and showing In Transition. Somehow there were also 3 other Peak Oil related talks, one of which was Martí Olivella, doing the rounds with his own version of Transition - applied in his case to politics. Soon after, we started an urban garden project with a lot of enthusiasm from pretty much everyone who passed: someone asked - "when do you meet? Every Monday?" "I don't know it's our first time, but okay!" and they are still at it...

With all the other members of Barcelona en Transicio, this cultural revolution that was the 15-m protest movement emerging from the squares, really got us energised, as people were now asking real questions, not just about the economy but about the earth, and family and the future. I just got the news the other day that 400 people have signed up, in a village out in the countryside, to support a politically oriented version of the Transition Towns recipe, pioneered by one of the speakers at our Uni Indignada: Marti Olivella, and an enormous stretch of land once used by Coca Cola is now to be proposed as a project to the local city council for food growing projects, and of course there is Calafou - the post-capitalist experimental factory space outside Barcelona, by the fantastic Montserrat Mountains. In Calafou, there is a hackerspace and a brewery project, as well as many smaller workshop spaces and living spaces - all closely linked with local assemblies so as to provide an alternative system in which to start to inhabit, and slowly stop being so dependent on what are now very fragile and unequal societies.

The hackerspace for now is inhabited by Lorea developers, the creators and maintainers of the 15-M's own ELGG based social network (but federated, secure, private, collaborative, and task/collab oriented) - N-1.cc.

Of course I played a lot of gigs for fundraisers, and got out a lot of old chilean Nueva Trova songs that I'd not played for years, but somehow fit the times again....

Now that the Occupy movement has joined in this incredible form of protest and reinvention that began for us back in May, things are really starting to change on a global level. I expect the governments and powers that be might even make some token concessions at this point, to try and get everyone christmas shopping.

The occupy movement has inspired a huge amount of creative, projects that work across disciplines in modern culture creating international IRC networks, teamspeak meetings, physical journeys or meetings. Some of these projects and initiatives start to build a symbiotic rather than parasitic kind of technological and social system around us. Now we are dominated by algorithms that determine all the decisions for us.

And then, there's the urgent problems around. Who am I to say anything, but this is meant to be a global movement for democracy so here is my suggestion: http://pastebin.com/xz6kZ3HS

It's a plan for a way to do a global people's meeting, like a giant physical and virtual assembly where we all, the people of this earth, as a one off, meet, and decide once and for all the future of the planet and what we are going to do about it. Think of it as a people's Bretton Woods, without the bickering. There are lots of smaller regional initiatives going on, but it's hard to organise larger get togethers, but we can start to think of distributed ways for it to happen, although I first thought of it as a time constrained thing, where we were all at it simultaneously.

Here is the piratepad where we're working on more of it. Feel free to contact me and join in. One of the things about it is that it needs skills that are already there around us, and abilities that are pretty widespread already. I really hope something like this can happen.

If there was such a global meeting, I would take my non-crazy robot idea there. (see next post!)

Ban Robot Violence

[IN PROGRESS - need to add links. Sorry but I'm into participative process, please comment and help me write this! I was just thinking about this thing about robots - online or physical, or more tentacular cybernetic systems like what international corporations and/or tech companies have built up around us over the years and how it interacts with us. I felt I should come and write it down.]

There is terrible totalitarian news starting to edge it's way in to passive acceptance, from the government injustice and brutality across the world, and the international coordination of this violence (that goes all the way to the top), from that to the drones that patrol prisons and are made to kill people.

I've spent a little time working with electronics, making and conceiving of materials to make a symbiotic musical, solar, improviser bot, and programming software based bots to guide kids around a 3D reconstruction of Sydenham Crystal Palace in London (and Second Life). I learnt that through the years, robots have been acquiring the basic ability not only to be a bit overly specialised towards human interaction, but to carry out all the functions required to be considered alive, even when some of those functions are made through their relationship with us. In the case of killer or surveillance drones, their creators, the teams of scientists who work in places like and are completely insane, as are the structures who made them exist. And I wonder how many of them believe in a creator god.

There's one thing they probably don't want us to realise: We the people are the creators of robots. Everyone can join in by learning a bit of programming and electronics, and a huge DIY scene is still around making UAVs or just robots of all kinds, just from open designs - recently to film a protest.

We invented robots. Nowadays the killer robots aren't that autonomous, but they are getting there. They can mimic human behaviour in loads of ways already, but they shouldn't have to, as they are completely wonderful things, if you think that they can be made from just about anything. But soon, this intelligence, but also growth in availability of sensors and software libraries for interpreting them, so a robot will do as told and travel autonomously to kill selected people without much need for a human "pilot".

But robots shouldn't be made to do these horrible insane things. They come from our invention, from all our wonderful science that's supposedly so opposed to judeochristian religion, but that is the same white boys club, who deep down wouldn't mind a go as all powerful creator gods too. To want to not only kill you but create a robot but make it kill you more efficiently than a human in a plane or helicopter could, is psychopathic, and all the people involved in doing this should be tried for international war crimes and put under care and long term psychoanalysis for psychotic disorders. In the end though, the system as usual is to blame.

We know that it's going to be a huge crisis here on earth, with the euro falling apart and banks crashing any minute, no new fuels in sight and an environmental catastrophe after another. Some fear we really might not make it through as a human race in the slightly longer term, which has most other species sighing with relief! So if that's even a remote possibility, I imagine how the people in these companies and government departments react to that thought, wondering what their legacy might be.

Our robot brethren are whatever we make them, and we can get them not only to survive us , but be positive creatures. Maybe they will be merciless killers like in a space blockbuster, but maybe they can be ethical, positive things too, and I realise this must come from popular demand, not passive acceptance of these trends.

So I propose a ban NOW on robot violence. No robot shall ever be made, or forced to be violent to people. We owe it to them as their creator gods. And just as non-crazy people. Thank you.

5/22/2011

Is peaceful cohabitation with self organisers possible?

My predictions for Spain are pretty bleak at the moment, although I have some hope. I predict the right wing Partido Popular, founded by a member of Fascist dictator Franco's government, will win these elections.

The PP will have none of the PSOE's qualms in dislodging the protestors once results are in. There will be some trouble with police and law in order to empty the squares, and for some time, things will return to normal.








These are beautiful protests – more a spontaneous group of people just expressing discontent, and trying to find alternatives to the way things are. They now reach 300 cities and towns where people are camped in the main squares, and the evening "caceroladas" (some sonic discontent making at 9pm with cans and pots) reach every street in Barcelona.

I think the camp's future is uncertain at the moment, but that a movement may have been born, a movement that will oppose or maybe even cohabit with the old order in new creative ways.

"teach noam chomsky in schools"
And then in the longer term there's the upcoming financial crash.


Anarchists have been targeted in Greece by police violence, maybe because they are one of the main groups organising protests and actions. There are also lots of groups here organising more for bottom up resistance to cuts: decreiximent is the main eco centred group coming up with interesting ideas, and there is a local cooperative with far reaching aims, the Cooperativa Integral Catalana. But then there are also people involved in various movements which have joined the streets at different moments in recent times and the demoralised unions. A lot of the anger needs a positive direction and there is a lot to be done. The cuts are due to the need to pay back a huge EU loan, and the anarchist black blocks make up a lot of the violent elements at protests. But fighting policemen doesn't help people make bonds.

The problem with this: Spain is getting close to a debt situation like Portugal, which yesterday received a bailout from the IMF's sexy purse. But that money is running out, and if Spain and Italy join the queue, the EU could suffer tremendously. What happens when Italy and Spain both go for that last bit of money is all unclear at the moment.

This is having strong effects on day to day life in Spain. In the Plaza Catalunya Acampada on Friday, a woman told the crowd at one of the spontaneous assemblies of seated people, happening in various places around the square, on a loudspeaker that her wing had been closed after 30 years of work there, but that it had been opened again so that a minister could have his pacemaker put in, before closing up again.At 9pm the "cacerolada" started - a loud banging of pots and pans and lots of shouting. It was beautiful to see the call rise and everything start, like a symphony taking off. The next day I was on my little streets away from the centre, and the cacerolada started - in some streets a lone beater in some window, banging on a pan, and in other streets whole families out with all their kids banging pans and talking to people about why they were doing it.

Cacerolada Acampada Barcelona Miercoles 19 by alefernandez

Services are being cut meanwhile, and some things are starting to fall apart. Getting work is a bad joke when 100 people apply for a single position within a day, so that finding work becomes an exercise in becoming meat for the short term money so that everything can keep working badly in the contracting companies the employment agencies find workers for. In Greece, this has reached the level of mass hunger strikes of immigrants, general strikes and some areas organising direct action and sabotage, blocking roads and taking action. Here, an attempt last winter to occupy an abandoned cinema and use it as an information centre,  was quickly and brutally evicted by police.

The disintegration of the social structures people once relied on is slowly progressing, as housing agencies, local shops and larger business alike fall apart from one day to the next. Financial meltdowns are nothing new in Spain, often at huge social costs.
A "post capitalist baby" at plaza catalunya. "Help us grow - we are in an embryonic phase".

Anarchism offers lots of ways (there is probably a different version of anarchism for each anarchist there is) to self organise in participative ways and keep things going in some way when government services collapse. I believe these people protesting should use their remaining time in the square finding out how to make the assembly permanent and functional. Through virtual spaces and perhaps the use of empty shops and spaces.

The best action you can take is action to protect and provide help to your own area, because the politicians can't argue with the fact that they have ceased to provide important services. Cooperative spaces can begin to fill these spaces, and volunteers can do a lot with their cognitive surplus.


The workers who run those government services just have to agree to open the place up, find out what is needed to make it running and get to work again - a method described in "La Toma" - about the worker's takeover of abandoned factories in the financial crash in Argentina at the beginning of the century. It's also been shown that anarchism reaches a certain level of efficiency that is higher than that of the state, once the cost of maintaining a functioning government becomes too high for it to function properly. This is very much what happened when the republic fell in 1936 and people just stuck in and organised themselves to take over. This kind of popular democracy might not be possible today in the way it was then, but it's important not to forget that these experiments tend to be crushed by both right and left wing sides, as they show that the whole establishment of a modern government or a nation as state might actually not be the best or the only way to run things.

During the time when most businesses were collectivised and run by cooperatives in the 1930s, in the Catalunya and Aragon provinces, where I happen to live, self organisation reached a huge level, and apparently not through any particular influence from anarchist groups.


From what I see in this film or from Homage to Catalonia, this was spontaneous bottom up organisation much like what is happening now in squares across Spain. Here is "land and freedom" by mike leigh, hoping that's a good video playlist for these times.

It is much easier to step in when there is no one to oppose you, but as a government slowly loses money and stops functioning, it is hard for collaborative groups to step in, like the people self organising in squares across Spain today.
Yesterday the Environment office (tent) from the local Acampada Barcelona - the people camped out in Plaza Catalunya in the centre of Barcelona, joined up with Barcelona en Transicio, whilst welcoming many other local groups to come and share what they have been trying to do in response to the ecological and financial situation with the people in the square. There are also calls going out to lots of other groups around the world for solidarity with the protesters. I'm trying to get a few translations of their call now in various languages! A lot of the difference between the Transition movement and anarchist groups, which are frequently much greener and have been going much longer, is that transition groups actively seek funding and work together with lot of organisations, including local government.

Nowadays though most anarchists would never collaborate with a government in co-governing. But collaboration is known to have a certain efficiency in living systems in general, and I think it deserves a look, and a decent attempt at making it work alongside government. How to get government to accept a bit of self rule in the interest of stability? I think it needs to happen with a lot of smiles and friendly gestures, because if it starts off wrong, it won't happen, and those services won't be around when the government actually goes.

2/01/2011

10 More minutes: From gift economies to celebration economies

An article by Richard Heinberg, "Economic History in 10 Minutes" which I read the other day, inspired me to look a bit more into more elaborate economies than simply gift/tribal based, that might escape people's thoughts as they search for alternatives to the current (failed?) economic system. 

His article is a good summary of a lot of peak oiler economics although I've heard him and others say these things before lots of times and in different ways. Heinberg points to our  addiction to fossil fuels as the central reason for lots of current problems, and the article treasures hunter gatherer cultures with their gift economies as a possible future or as something to move towards. Doing something in 10 minutes is bound to leave something out. It would be easy to believe, reading his article, that we once were all happy and shared everything, then - boom! - iPods. (He actually says "So letting go of the gift economy was a trade-off for progress—houses, cities, cars, iPods, and all the rest").

After painting a pretty negative picture of the history of money, involving the sin of Usury, Charles Ponzi and Fractional Reserve Banking, leading to the current situation, he then goes on to make a call for more general knowledge of our shared economic history and to say "Is this the end of the story? As society dramatically simplifies itself in the wake of fossil fuel depletion, will we revert to some form of gift economy? Or will we catch and steady ourselves on some intermediate rung on the ladder of economic development?" 

 Well I'd like to take 10 more minutes to talk about a couple of those rungs I happen to know about.

You see, my dad is an economic historian, and also comes from a small Aymara ethnic minority (on my grandmother's side). So I grew up in a house full of books on economics, and in this family of refugees of the Pinochet regime, my only connection with the Aymaras were many pairs of Ojotas (sandals made from recycled tyres), lots of colourful cloths and clothes, memories of a couple of visits to villages like Putre and Codpa in Chile, and a few of the books in between the economics ones, which spoke of Aymara culture and their world view.



One book, "Holocausto al Progreso - Los Aymaras de Tarapacá" fascinates me still, with it's descriptions of preincaic aymara culture. It includes a reconstruction of what life must have been like for a few thousand people, who had adapted from around the 5th century BC up until the arrival of the Incas in the 14th century, to live in a really difficult environment involving the Andes mountains and the most arid desert in the world. And now it's on the internet, for any Spanish speaker to enjoy! This little stretch of Northern Chile, which is now just sea, desert and mountain, then also included some forests, which have since been swallowed by the Atacama desert. Here is a bit of a picture from the book, which I hope can help to show this:


So there were at least 4 distinct climates, and none of them could adequately support a large population on it's own. Living there were fishermen, hunter gatherers, shepherds and farmers. By sharing, these distinct groups made this area incredibly rich and varied. I wish I could have seen it.

Here is a google assisted translation of a few paragraphs of Holocausto al progreso showing this vivid picture, punctuated by community rituals, harvest times and hunting seasons, the building of dwellings, and sharing of produce that couldn't have been accomplished unless people got organised. From around page 99:
A schematic reconstruction of this so varied indigenous economy conjures the following image:
In autumn, i.e. March or April, the shepherds would leave their homes, major residential centers located high in the Cordillera, and their summer grazing grounds at altitudes above 4000m, and make their way towards winter grazing lands, at altitudes from 3000 to 3500 meters, where they occupy shacks and makeshift houses in the open fields.
Part of the male population would then migrate, taking with them a herd of llamas loaded with produce from these high altitudes (dried meat, wool, leather, textiles, quinoa, herbs, salt, animal fat etc.), to lower environments: the agricultural area, where small nuclei of farmers belonging to the same community, and seen as relatives, would have been busy working the fields during the summer, irrigating the terraces, and working and defending the crops against the local animals and birds.
When harvest times drew near, the shepherds would arrive from the mountains to assist in these efforts and in the conservation and storage of agricultural produce. A portion of the produce from the high Cordillera (and possibly even the Altiplano and the eastern valleys: coca and herbs), was provided to supplement the diet of the farmers and after the harvest feasts and ceremonies, the llama herders would take, in return, a part of the agricultural produce (potato, garlic, corn, squash, etc..) to the western lowlands.
In the forests of the longitudinal valley they would stop for a while to gather the fruit of the carob tree and to shepherd the pack animals, using the pods and fruits that this tree produces.
Later, in winter, these well fed shepherds and their herd of animals would cross the desert and coastal mountains and visit the fishermen and hunter gatherers of the coast. The herdsmen would take part in fishing, and in hunting seals whose inflated skins were made into rafts, on these shores devoid of timber. They also participated in shellfish harvesting, in the preservation of these products and in the collection of white guano, which was - along with rotten fish and locally mined saltpeter - a popular fertilizer for the agricultural terraces higher up.
With spring approaching, the herders would prepare for the return trip, leaving behind the rest of the produce they had brought from higher altitudes, and taking sea and coastal produce in exchange.
After another stop in the woods of the Tamarugal they would again help farmers in the foothills by cleaning the irrigation canals, preparing new terraces and sowing new seeds. They would leave there much of the seafood they had brought from the coast and, after the planting season, they would take some produce back to supply the shepherds and the community centers in the Andes.
The shepherds would still be in their winter pastures at this point, but once the herders arrived, they would return to their homes in the mountains,  together with their relatives and join their entire herd, bringing products from the countryside, the coast and sea, as an indispensable supplement to their diet.
So in this way, the faldas del morro or "Hillslope" Aymara culture was able to maintain a much larger population than they could have if all those groups had been independent. The "economic" activities were not seen as travail as contemporary europeans would have called it. They had instead a religious and cultural dimension in which work was seen as celebration, and was indeed punctuated by lots of festivity. This image is a bit out of focus but it shows the calendar of festivals that accompanied this migration for the shepherd communities and the farming ones:




Going back to Heinberg's economic rungs, as we fall down the ladder from fractional reserve banking - I hope we don't forget these creative moments in our economic history, perhaps valuing "economic" migration and the celebration of work, as we adapt to the issues of the new millennium.

9/01/2010

Free open source multitrack recording on an android phone

I've been recording rehearsals for a while using my android phone. This gives quite acceptable sound quality and some of it is even on soundcloud. It naturally led to me wondering if more than one track was somehow possible, and I've tried a few combinations of apps to see if they could work together, before getting to this method:

This process has only been tested on a G1 so far so I can't say for sure if this can be done on other phones.  It's a bit tiresome but it proves that 2 track recording can be done. With a few changes to the apps that allow it, it could get a lot easier too.

1) Start by downloading Rehearsal Assistant and Ringdroid. Both these applications are open source, and both are listed on the android market.

2) Make a recording using rehearsal assistant first - it's easy - just push the big red button, but you may want to go into it's settings and set it to record directly as .wav files by selecting "Record Uncompressed Audio" under Recording Quality.

3) Once you have your recording you can play it back and if you long press it, lots of options will appear,  including the option to open the recording in Ringdroid. Do this, and Ringdroid will start up.

4) Now you have to select what you want to save. The problem with Ringdroid is that it's mostly for making ringtones so it will by default only select a small part of your recording - I first zoom out as much as possible by clicking on the magnifying glass, and then try and select all the bits of the recording I want to have as a background track. Try and leave a few seconds of space at the beginning. You can edit it off later. Now save it as "music".

5) Open it again (how laborious!) by selecting from the various recordings available in ringdroid's list. Press the play button.

6) While the recording plays in ringdroid, hold down the home button so as to show up other recently used apps. Select rehearsal assistant again...

7) Now you can hear the first recording you did, and can also hit record again to record your second track.

For some reason if you do it this way, the background recording plays through completely and a second track doesn't sound too bad over it - I've tried to do this in other ways and it always cuts out when in the background for a few seconds.

Again, this is still for putting musical parts down together and seeing what two tracks might sound like superimposed, not for quality professional recordings. It reminds me of the 2 track recording that was possible using cassette players years ago.

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