• "So much of design culture is occupied by people that take themselves so very seriously. When thinking about our conversations in the Newsbar about magical realism and surrealism, it became apparent to me that the level of imaginative freedom allowed in the world of experimental fiction, would struggle to exist in contemporary design culture (and academia) because there’d be some form of backlash about how it wasn’t ‘real’… that the work didn’t address the world’s real issues or problems… that it would never succeed in the ‘real world’. We are a discipline that is reliant on our creativity and imagination, but have become terrified of the imaginary."

I’ve greatly been enjoying A History of Music And Technology from the BBC World Service. It’s an eight-part series in conjunction with the Open University, available through the World Service’s “Documentary Podcast” (which syndicates recent documentary programmes). My friend Andy tipped me off to it, and it’s just wonderful.

Presented by Nick Mason, it casts an eye over the role of technology in 20th century music. To do so, it doesn’t just focus on the technical or artistic angles; it also takes time to look at economies of manufacturing, the nature of innovation, and the role business plays; lots of overlaps into STS in the best possible way.

It also manages go deep enough into all its topic areas to be satisfying, picking interesting interviewees – especially from the archive – and telling good stories. The Telharmonium pops up in both Electronic Music Pioneers and The Hammond Organ, for instance, and I enjoy the focus it places on ‘recording’ and ‘the studio’ as topic areas.

Episode 2, Electronic Music Pioneers, is particularly striking. It looks at early electronic music – covering the Theremin, the WDR, and so forth – but manages to retain focused by announcing early that The Synthesizer and The Hammond Organ are going to get their own 50-minute programmes – so it’s freed up to talk about the foundations for later innovation, rather than ramming it all together. (The show on the Hammond is a particularly fine one, looking at the way that instrument developed life and culture outside and contrary to what Laurens Hammond had intended for it).

Yes, there’s a bit in the episode on the electric guitar about the role of the guitar in a culture of increasingly electronic music that has a familiar, wooden clang… but by and large it’s a self-aware series that acknowledges the biases implicit through musical history.

Deep, meaty, and rewarding; I recommend listening before it goes off air. Individual episodes are here to be listened to:

  • "A one-person business is an exercise in long-term anxiety management, so I would say if you are already an anxious person, go ahead and start a business. You're not going to feel any worse. You've already got the main skill set of staying up and worrying, so you might as well make some money.

    Running an online service solo puts one in the coffin corner between the Dunning Kruger effect and impostor syndrome. On some days you feel the correct but paralyzing sense that you are in way over your head. On other days, you'll feel like you're surfing on waves of liquid competence, doing flips, until you destroy something important.

    In between the two is a zone of narrow, focused productivity that I hope one day to find."

    Happy birthday to my favourite software as a service.

  • A magical, brilliant teaching tool. Ableton's education/explanation team have always been top-notch, but this is great, and I am envious of it and them. I love how it starts with sound, and abstract explorations, before breaking those apart into components – amplitude, pitch, timbre – and only later mapping those to synthesizer components – all of which will work with a keyboard plugged in, thanks to webmidi. Grand stuff, and so great to see them investing in this sort of thing.
  • "…"there is no parallel here. Richter was a genius. He worked tirelessly for many years to perfect his piano playing. The lobster was some aberration. But what if it was not? What if the lobster was *essential*? What if every pianist needs a lobster? What if everyone needs a lobster for something?"

    So much in this huge essay by Errol Morris – on anxiety, on performance, on the piano, on consciousness, and how we offload our consciousness to small advisors – what a programmer knows as rubberducking. There is so much in here to love, and I probably need to reread it at least once.

  • "In this way, Dynamic Yield is part of a generation of companies whose core technology, while extremely useful, is powered by artificial intelligence that is roughly as good as a 24-year-old analyst at Goldman Sachs with a big dataset and a few lines of Adderall."

    This is good – and largely well written, bar an unnecessary cheap shot at one point. It overlaps with lots of what I have to teach students about AI: namely, those letter have become this huge suitcase concept for anything from gnarly machine learning problems and recurrent neural networks down to applied statistics and a splash of arithmetic. And meanwhile, everyone just keeps adding to this cyclone of nonsense as they try to out-claim one another. It's exhausting, and it pollutes the public sphere, such that inexperts – politicians, policymakers – get themselves tangled up about all the wrong things. Sigh.

  • "The things we love create us if we get to them early enough, but when we get to them a little bit later, they show us who we’ve already become, what we’ve accumulated, what we’ve chosen to discard and what we’ve clutched so close to ourselves for so long that its material has leaked into our own." More wonderful writing about The National from Helena Fitzgerald. Wonderfully written, and so on the nose about what loving bands, or people, or things, feels like.

Don’t leave writing to writers. Don’t delegate your area of interest and knowledge to people with stronger rhetorical resources. You’ll find your voice as you make your way. There is, however, one thing to learn from writers that non-writers don’t always understand. Most writers don’t write to express what they think. They write to figure out what they think. Writing is a process of discovery. Blogging is an essential tool toward meditating over an extended period of time on a subject you consider to be important.

Marc Weidenbaum on the value of straight-up blogging, in a place you own yourself. All of this. I’ve been quiet here – less quiet at my work site – but not absent, and knowing that this is mine, and that slowly, what I’m thinking about was always present – even in the Pinboard links – has value.