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The Virtual Is Real – Just Follow the Eye Movements or the Music

For folks who don’t want to follow the physics or the money or George Clinton, here’s more “evidence” …

After all, when you’re in Second Life, you’re just looking at computer-animated figures on a screen– how could it possibly matter where they’re sitting, or how long they’re looking into each other’s eyes?

The researchers being referenced concluded that …

… many patterns of physical interaction in the real world carry over into the virtual world. In other words, our insistence on embodiment in virtual environments structures social interactions in these worlds in ways that we may not consciously be aware of. On the other hand, this implies that virtual worlds may be useful platforms for studying things even as visceral as the rules of physical interaction.

Terra Nova: The Prison of Embodiment

The post also mentions a book coming out this fall which says:

Shedding new light on how our networked culture came to be, this fascinating book reminds us that the distance between the Grateful Dead and Google, between Ken Kesey and the computer itself, is not as great as we might think.

From Counterculture to Cyberculture

One can shrink the distance between the music and the technology even further by examining the relationship between the Dead and Funkadelic, and more significantly the influence jazz had on those two particular bands and counterculture movement in general.

Weir, too, was not a traditional rhythm guitarist, but tended to play jazz-influenced, unique inversions at the upper end of the Dead’s sound. The two drummers, Hart and Kreutzman, developed a unique, complex interplay, balancing Hart’s cleaner, more structured drumming with Kreutzman’s interest in jazz and swing percussion.

One key leader of the counterculture movement, John Sinclair

The John and Leni Sinclair papers (1957-79) provide a rich and unique source for the study of America’s radical movement in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Beginning with a remarkable series of correspondence that includes letters from Abbie Hoffman, Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, and Jerry Rubin, and continuing on through extensive subject files, the collection details the cultural, political, and business activities of a man whose energy and charisma made him a local and national leader of the counterculture.
John Sinclair Papers

saw jazz as a central influence as documented in the book Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra:

As the protests agains the Vietnam War developed alongside the civil rights movement and various branches of the student movement, they each adoped some form of music to identify themselves with – spirituals, folk songs, rock and roll and each choice told a lot about the group’s ideology and history. One of the most interesting was the White Panther Party, an offshoot of the yippies, which attempted to unify free jazz with the hardest forms of white rock and roll.

Their manifesto, the “Statement for the White Panther Arm of the Youth International party,” argued that their program derived and extended the the Black Panther Party’s program, “just as our music contains and extends the power and feeling of the black magic music that originally informed our bodies and told us we could be free””(they offered as models James Brown, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Sun Ra). The central message of the White Panther Party was freedom – in every aspect of life …

One can also trace this influence further back to the Beat poets such as Ginsberg

H: The effect of jazz on your generation has been much remarked.

AG: We were listening to old blues and new jazz.


and Kaufman

Modeled on the rich tones and structures of jazz, Kaufman’s poems were built on melodic assurance and vibrant sonics. He claimed close friendship with many of the pioneering figures of be-bop, including Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, and Charlie Parker (for whom Kaufman named his only son, Parker). Calling Kaufman “the quintessential jazz poet,” Foye pointed to his ability to adapt “the harmonic complexities and spontaneous invention of be-bop to poetic euphony and meter.”

This understanding of jazz, of its adherence to tight compositional structures that made possible freeform improvisation, shaped Kaufman’s essential ideas about poetry, namely that invention and recitation were of supreme importance, and the sound of the poem is as much the subject of the poem as any observation or story it contained. In the short poem “Cocoa Morning,” Kaufman created a pattern that matches words to sounds in a jazz-inspired manner, as in the second stanza:

Drummer, hummer, on the floor,
Dreaming of wild beats, softer still,
Yet free of violent city noise,
Please, sweet morning,
Stay here forever.

This jazz influence sparked the Beat generation in significant ways. Following Kaufman’s example, many of the Beats desired to free the poem from the printed page to bring it directly to the audience. Embracing this bardic tradition of orality, the Beats borrowed from jazz the qualites of improvisation, muscular musicality, and direct transmission. The performance of the poem became the reason for the poem, explaining, in part, the significance attached to the first public readings of Ginsberg’s “Howl”.Bob Kaufman: The Enigmatic Beat Poet(emphasis mine)

Jazz changed the intellectual landscape for all sorts of thinking people from poets to engineers:

John Markoff, a senior writer for The New York Times who covers technology, makes a convincing case that for the swarming ubergeeks assembling in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960’s, approaching drugs as they might any other potentially helpful tool or device – from a soldering iron to a computer chip – was only natural. The goals were broad in the 60’s: the world would be remade, the natural order of things reconfigured, human potential amplified to infinity. Anything that could help was to be cherished, studied and improved.

It is no accident, then, that the same patch of land on the peninsula south of San Francisco that gave birth to the Grateful Dead was also the site of groundbreaking research leading the way to the personal computer. That the two cultural impulses were linked – positively – is a provocative thesis.

Revisionist histories of the 60’s often make an attempt to separate the “excess” of the era from the politics. In this view, all those acid-gobbling, pot-smoking, tie-dyed renegades were a distraction from the real work of stopping the Vietnam War and achieving social justice. But Mr. Markoff makes a surprisingly sympathetic case that it was all of a piece: the drugs, the antiauthoritarianism, the messianic belief that computing power should be spread throughout the land.

“It is not a coincidence,” he writes, “that, during the 60’s and early 70’s, at the height of the protest against the war in Vietnam, the civil rights movement and widespread experimentation with psychedelic drugs, personal computing emerged from a handful of government- and corporate-funded laboratories, as well as from the work of a small group of hobbyists who were desperate to get their hands on computers they could personally control and decide to what uses they should be put.”

Judging by the record presented in “What the Dormouse Said,” it is indisputable that many of the engineers and programmers who contributed to the birth of personal computing were fans of LSD, draft resisters, commune sympathizers and, to put it bluntly, long-haired hippie freaks.
Jazz Houston

This connection between music and computing is frequently noted in commentatary on Markoff’s “Dormouse” book. Although such commentary tends to lack the depth and specificity of the comments on Kaufman’s techniques above, some do touch on more specific connections:

There is of course a huge literature on the birth of computing but such is the dominance of figures like Bill Gates and Steven Jobs, young men who emerged at the beginning of the hobbyist era when the first kits to build your own computer were available, that perhaps most people believe this to be the true starting point of the modern world.

For those more deeply informed, the roots go back to Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Centre in the early 1970s, from which came a computer called Alto – the forerunner of today’s desktops and portables.

In fact, as documented in ‘What the Dormouse Said ‘, a remarkable book by the New York Times science writer John Markoff [Viking Books. 2005], the roots of it all lie some ten to twenty years before that, in a California in which early computing labs and engineers were deeply intertwined and influenced by the ‘counter-culture’ activities swirling through American society at that time.

The straight forward technical side of the story is gripping enough but perhaps of interest to a fairly technically-minded readership. What makes Markoff’s story of interest to the broader audience is how intrinsically this world was suffused with the social experimentation and political dissent of the time and the effect that this had on the direction the world of computing would take. For instance, open-source programming and software is just one fruit of this particular loom.

What The Dormouse Said: Counter-Culture and Computing
(emphasis mine)

Online community pioneer Lisa Kimball’s Group Jazz draws upon the jazz paradigm

I’ve always loved JAZZ as a metaphor for collaboration. To me, it represents a system that is purposeful and structured yet provides a lot of degrees of freedom for individual creativity and room for surprise as it’s never the same twice. The relationship of members of a jazz ensemble is interesting to me because, on the one hand, it is very much a group of peers … yet, on the other hand, individuals have responsibility at different times for taking leadership, allowing their own talent and creativity to come forward, and determining the direction and flow of the performance.

Group Jazz – The Story

Her slide entitled “Programming” is really worth noting!

Though not technology specific Jazz Impact provides an excellent, complimentary perspective on the role of jazz in organizational behavior. My Rhythmeering paper entitled Jazz and the Future of Global E-Commerce goes a few steps further and articulates a role for the jazz paradigm in successfully managing the collaborative, group dynamics being driven by the internet.

Now, a shift in the way commerce is conducted is occurring. Some of the first steps have been taken by the Internet. Although the Internet has brought to light the power of standards, it is as though these standards are only for a portion of the octave range of one instrument. Today’s standards are mostly structural and/or low-level, computer-oriented protocols.

These standards approaches are all structural. What’s missing is the ability to coordinate the different rhythms while providing a means for individual (persons and companies) goals to be met. To accomplish this and many other important goals, any new system must be adaptive, intelligent and inherently able to support commerce.

This system is called XOBI –eXchange Oriented Bionomic Intelligence. Unlike its predecessors – centralized mainframe, client-server computing and today’s emerging web services — the XOBI system is being Rhythmeered to directly address and integrate the needs of all types of participants from executives, artists, knowledge-workers, and consumers, to technicians and engineers. XOBI integrates tools for strategic planning, business modeling, storytelling, media production, architecture (physical and information), programming, user interface and application development. Major communications and computing paradigms are not implemented by a single company at a single point in time, but are the result of collaborations among multiple organizations and evolve incrementally over time.

This is why the jazz metaphor is so important. Consumers and employees of different companies, in different industries, must find a way to engage in that “swinging dialogue” jazz expresses so eloquently.

One key to the growing virtual world paradigm is the incorporation of more time-based capabilities such as found in Croquet’s TeaTime and in a very different manner Second Life’s scripting language.


2 Responses to “The Virtual Is Real – Just Follow the Eye Movements or the Music”

  1. “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.” — Charlie Parker

    From Macintosh Folklore

  2. […] interesting given the musical relationship between the counterculture of the 1960’s and technology – Apple was born out of that […]

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