Qaswa : Ammon Haggerty 44a9f4 en-us Sun, 14 Apr 2024 01:19:53 -0700 Sun, 14 Apr 2024 01:19:53 -0700 The Duality of AI Tue, 09 Apr 2024 18:19:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

We must stop the machine before it destroys the world! Billion Dollar Brain, 1967

The notion of a gift, that is both a blessing and a curse, is well-trodden parable fodder. I’ve been reflecting on this duality while looking back on the past year of building AI-powered tools. Talking AI with friends and colleagues often leads to polarized views: solution accelerator vs doombringer, superpower enabler vs job killer, etc. Some of my thoughts about these two sides of AI and my current stance, follows...

Creativity replacement vs creativity tool

BTW, a GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer) did not write this. I believe no one really wants to ready articles written by AI. As no one wants to listen to music created by AI. Or watch movies or TV shows generated by AI. Beyond the novelty, as soon is there’s no person to connect with, and relate to, it’s dead. AI is a mirror of ourselves, so the life in it we see is the remnant of the human spirit.

Content creation is a core function of the creative class. Generative AI has threatened creative jobs since day one. It didn’t have to be this way. While OpenAI initially tried to promote AI as creative augmentation, the replacement narrative dominated. Fear drives the narrative. Our opportunity is synergy. Cycles repeat, technologies unlock step changes in ability (for better or worse).

Hype Cycle vs Hype Train

The former happens because of the latter. We’re social creatures and want to flock together. Hype Trains inflate egos and ideas. Hype often (not always) leads to disappointment, resentment, reassessment, improvement, resurrection, then back to hype—that’s the Hype Cycle. Hype Cycles are generational, because it takes that long to forget, although “overwhelm” is quickly replacing “forget.”

"A.I. will probably most likely lead to the end of the world, but in the meantime, there’ll be great companies.” — Sam Altman, 2024

The Hype Train isn’t just about engagement, it’s about driving the narrative. What we believe is what we will manifest. We can manifest a tool for the people, or we can manifest a windfall for the few. Hype Trains are the fuel for “get rich quick.” Hype Trains have learned a lot from social media and American politics. Without falling into despair, I’m on the side of social benefit.

Linear vs Exponential?

The past year has had no shortage of armchair AI quarterbacks predicting when AGI (Artificial General Intelligence) would arrive and what would happen if/when it does. It doesn’t help that the experts can’t agree. My old boss, Blaise Agüera y Arcas, pronounced that AGI is already here last year — embracing a very pragmatic definition of “general intelligence.” Then there’s Jaron Lanier and others, who think sentient machines are a silly fantasy. Like many, the drama of OpenAI’s “imminent AGI emergence” sucked me in, but I then realized it was really just a PAS (Problem, Agitate, Solution)—a dark persuasion marketing tactic.

It turns out the belief in AGI is based on an expectation for exponential learning. The reality is the pyramid needs exponential data. Two opposing exponential systems sort of cancel each other out. I say “sort of” because machines can generate their own training data, to the detriment of its exponential potential.

Lately I’ve been leaning more towards Jaron’s view. It’s not that Large Language Models and Generative AI aren’t amazing—they truly are. But as the fog clears, the picture that’s emerging is really just a reflection of ourselves, nothing transcendent. That sentience could emerge from a neuromorphic architecture raises more questions about what constitutes human consciousness than the ability for machines to awaken. It’s not AGI that we should worry about, it’s people.

Agentic Agents vs Personal Agents

Agents — the next Hype Train building up steam. Two symbiotic parts, one needs data, and the other needs trust. It’s a little personal conflict within the larger AI story. Agentic Agents, like Rabbit’s LAMs (Large Action Models) and Cognition’s “Devin”, are service agents with agency, that learned to “hack” human UIs. Personal Agents, are a lot like the role of people who represent famous and important people — they negotiate on your behalf. This has yet to be unlocked, in large part due to the "trust problem," but I'm starting to see some interesting solutions. Both sides unlock the world of “digital twins.” And as you might imagine, all sorts of funny (not funny) stuff is bound to happen.

Like augmentation, my bias here is human empowerment. YES to delegating a support call (they're bots now anyway). NO to letting your digital twin have all the fun.

Is it worth it?

Let me work it. Let us work it. Let it not work us. -Missy

I'm often asked if AI is actually delivering value to anyone other than the AI companies. When sharing success examples, I’ll exclude the ones that create value by replacing humans. I’d say, true value is when individuals or teams increase their efficiency AND satisfaction in what they do. My next post will share details of true value creation — this one is about duality.

I’ve been lucky to work on a couple amazing projects in the past year that have shown true value—a significant bump in efficiency and satisfaction. I also found another benefit, unlocking capabilities that didn’t exist before—reach. My favorite example is access to a vast, dynamic knowledge graph-like data source, which in itself is a remarkable tool. This is not about generating words, as much as it’s about building knowledge systems and finding patterns in our collective consciousness. More of that later, but my music discovery prototype scratches the surface.

I think OpenAI initially understood that AI belongs to everyone—a common good. What happens when you extract value the many, then turn around and let the few sell it? Eventually, there are only two sides.

Jaron's video below is a collection of important reframing tips. He also has some stories about finding true value in AI.

SNDOUT Fri, 16 Feb 2024 12:37:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty SNDOUT (sound out) is a generative AI music discovery tool that gives you the power to wander the globe and explore music history.

The intersection of music, discovery and storytelling has been a personal obsession of mine since the early 90s. Multimedia tools like Hypercard and Director unlocked the idea of storytelling as an interactive journey — the ultimate choose your own adventure. Over the years, I've tried to build experiences, imagine new paradigms, and advise companies that would capture the joy of music discovery. Limited content and resources have always been a barrier.

The rapid advancements in generative AI, powered by transformer architectures and large language models (LLMs), have been impressive, yet I approach these developments with some caution. While the leap in capabilities is undeniable, it remains to be seen if AI can transcend mere imitation of human intellect. Nevertheless, I’m enamored by the profound capabilities these innovations unlock.

What excites me the most is large language models as a reflection of the human experience — an encapsulation of global collective knowledge and experience. There are many flaws and challenges with AI, but one thing it’s great at is connecting dots. When interrogating the AI service to find paths that connect, and then asking it to articulate and visualize those connections, we witness the true beauty of LLMs emerging. And since these connections simply result from probability, the AI service can surface weak ties, sometimes as hallucinations, as probable stories and insights from history. This is the closest I’ve felt to AI as being a creative contributor.

Incorporating AI into products and startups presents significant challenges. The cost of AI services, such as generating images with DALL-E 3 or processing complex GPT-4 prompts, can quickly accumulate, making the simple act of sharing an idea a potential financial burden. To manage these expenses for SNDOUT, I’ve devised a token-based system aligned with AI service costs. Concerns around content rights, bias, and the diminishing benefits for musicians, among other issues, pose significant challenges. Addressing these fundamental concerns is crucial for the sustainable future of AI services.

This project is a prototype — it’s the best I could do with my limited time. Additionally, Spotify has not sanctioned it, so I suspect they will shut it down at some point. The core intent for the experience is to connect context between two points (time, place, artist, genre). Features like the “random” button, which generate unexpected musical discoveries, and the ability to explore music based on your current location, are surprising highlights of the experience. I had a blast building this tool. Enjoy!

Foxes in the Henhouse Mon, 23 Oct 2023 17:32:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

DALL-E 3 - A fox entering a henhouse, its gaze fixed on oblivious hens that are engrossed in a luminous vision of a better world.

This past year has seen a lot of hype around AI and the perceived dangers. Much of the fear is being driven by the unknown. People who know better than most have propagated some of the fear. I’ve been sharing my concerns for a while, but a couple of recent articles (How a billionaire-backed network of AI advisers took over Washington and Snoop Dogg, sentient AI and the ‘Arrival Mind Paradox’) have compelled me to offer some related context. Also, both those articles are worth reading!

When I joined Microsoft in 2012, AI and the coming revolution of intelligent agents were all the rage. Cortana had yet to be released, but the promise of AI-powered agents was clear as day. Our team, under the leadership of Blaise Agüera y Arcas, was central to this mission. The problem was that AI wasn’t good enough yet. AI was still primarily task-specific, rule-based, and built around narrowly focused machine learning models. Many of our grand visions fell short.

Given the palpable sense of AI’s impending impact, I frequently found myself engaged in discussions about its ethical deployment. A compelling point of debate centered on who possesses the “right”—or the ethical integrity—to develop this potent technology. We were particularly focused on AI’s role as a go-between or personal agent in our interactions with the broader world. The prevailing sentiment was that, absent robust ethics and regulation, AI’s role—and the dynamics between such agents—would devolve into a competitive arms race.

At Microsoft, we believed we were uniquely positioned to serve as responsible stewards of AI. Unlike many other tech giants, we, along with Apple, didn’t monetize user data. This distinction is critical: when AI is used to monetize attention and influence, manipulation can easily become a central business objective. Such a path could slide us into a dystopian scenario where human agency is severely compromised.

Post-Microsoft, I co-founded Formation, an AI-driven loyalty platform leveraging personalization and gamification. We powered the loyalty programs for Starbucks, United Airlines, and other global brands. To our delight, our product drove an average of a 300% increase in incremental spend/engagement. The combination of clever reward and nudging mechanics, plus pastpurchase behavior unlocked unprecedented engagement. And we were only getting started with the power of AI and personalized experiences.

Seeing the power of AI, and how it could easily be abused, I began to amplify my concerns about its potential pitfalls. In 2019, I joined a panel on AI ethics at an AILA event. Though I felt the other panelists had deeper qualifications, I had a distinct message to convey: a cautionary note on letting business objectives dictate AI success criteria without moral guardrails. My experiences at Microsoft and my observations at my startup underscored this. Given the chance, many business leaders will prioritize short-term gains in customer value extraction, even at the risk of losing the customer.

I believe the real, near term danger ahead is the potency of AI as a behavioral driver, and the power it will almost certainly wield globally. Right now, as a global society, we’re deciding who crafts the rules and who falls under their purview. Unfortunately, lobbyists from the tech giants are pushing sci-fi fears of AI sentience as a distraction to avoid the important actions. This is because the regulations we really need would bring rapid progress to a standstill. They argue China will "win" if we slow down. But this is a global concern. We need global regulation.

My key concerns not being addressed are:

  1. Source and Intellectual Property Attribution: If more than 1% (maybe less) of content generated originates from a single source—be it an author, artist, etc.—there should be attribution and royalties.
  2. Digital Identity: All AI-generated content and AI personas should be required to carry a unique digital “fingerprint” for easy detection and sourcing.
  3. Anti-Manipulation Laws: Clear guidelines should prohibit the manipulation or coercion of both humans and other AI agents by AI services or agents.
  4. Eco-Footprint Disclosure: Every AI service should be required to reveal its environmental impact (it's estimated AI will draw more than 20% of global power consumption by 2030).

We’ve got foxes in the henhouse, and they’re biding their time. While we might overlook them in the short term, distracted by the allure of hyper-personalized AI companions and games, these foxes will seize their opportunity come winter.

The Rhythm Society: Oasis Mon, 28 Aug 2023 17:23:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The Rhythm Society is a unique community that embodies the San Francisco spirit — a spirit of imagination, activism and liberation. For the past 27 years, we've held dance celebrations on the solstices and equinoxes as a way to reflect on the changes to ourselves, our community, and our world. Once a year we also dance under the stars at a beautiful outdoor retreat.

Quite a few songs from this mix were inspired by a deep dive into the Romanian Deep Tech (sometimes called RoMinimal) scene. It's always fun to dig a little deeper into a specific genre and place to learn more about the producers and DJs energized by a sound. I listed the countries in the track listing below.

The Rhythm Society: Sunday Funday Mon, 14 Aug 2023 21:10:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty In the foggy city, sunny days are cherished, and on this beautiful summer day next to the bay, we were one in the dance. As the Rhythm Society celebrates its 27th year, the spirit remains strong. Betty Ray, Jackspace and Nurse Noise shared the decks.

Sunday Sundowns 6/4/23 Mon, 05 Jun 2023 15:56:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Until I heard Phaeleh and Boxcutter in 2010, I had largely dismissed dubstep as angsty and dark, and without much of a soul that I could connect with. Phaeleh elevated the dubstep sound with trip hop and ambient downtempo — a sound that felt fresh at the time.

Phaeleh's latest album, A New Day, was released earlier this year, and once again reminded me of a side of dubstep I love. Some call it "chillstep", but when I go looking in that genre I don't usually find much to my liking. This mix is inspired by the track "Resolve" off this new album.

The end of the mix drops into some dubstep inspired, pop-laden dub. Enjoy!

Animal House 2023 Wed, 24 May 2023 11:21:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The 3rd annual Animal House party — daytime furry rave in the woods, which took place Saturday, May 20, 2023. Nestled under the redwoods in Joaquin Miller Park (Oakland CA), party animals come from all around to celebrate life. Ah, the joy, the splendor, the wonder — to be a care-free animal in the bosom of nature. ❤️

"a large group of dancing animals wearing animal costumes, in the redwoods, a squirrel is djing in the far background, god light, detailed costumes, photo-realistic techniques, ue5, forestpunk"

The Rhythm Society: Paradise Sat, 21 May 2022 23:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Back to Sarasota Springs for "Paradise," our theme for this year's annual retreat. A perfect evening under the stars with my Rhythm Society family. For Saturday night's program, I opened with an African and Middle East infused house and world bass set, ending in some deep tech house to segue into Betty Ray's amazing set. Enjoy!

Maeve wings
My luminous rainbow fairy

Formation Thu, 19 May 2022 13:26:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty In 2015, I had the opportunity to pitch Starbucks on a new type of loyalty platform. One that would leverage AI to deliver individualized gamified offers designed to nudge valuable new behaviors. Starbucks loved our vision and committed $25m — we raised another $5m from an institutional investor.

Over the next 6 years, we deliver more than $1b of incremental value to Starbucks, productized an AI-powered loyalty platform, and brought on additional Fortune 100 companies, including United Airlines. We grew the team to 130 employees and hit $25m in revenue (ARR). Along with my role on the executive leadership team, I led a 10 person design team across product, marketing and R&D.

In August 2022, Formation was acquired by BCG.

Origin Story

The vision for an AI behavioral nudging product began while I was consulting for Kaiser Permanente. They brought me in to help a Kaiser innovation team develop new ways to address the problem of patient adherence. More than 50% of patients prescribed a medication or health regime do no adhere, representing almost 10% of health care costs in the United States. I worked with their team to develop a gamified reward system for establishing and reinforcing new healthy habits.

I led the personalization practice at BCG and presented insights from the Kaiser work to the executive team at Starbucks. Partnering with the BCG data science team, we pitched a new type of AI-driven behavioral nudging program. I brought together a small team to build a working prototype, which led to securing an investment from Starbucks.

Early thinking about components of behavior influence.

A Platform For Behavioral Change

The work at Kaiser formed the core of our product thesis. But it was insights from BJ Fogg, director of the Stanford Behavior Design Lab, that gave us clear, actionable tools for driving new behaviors. The Fogg Behavior Model is the cornerstone of Formation platform, and serves as a core optimization framework.

The core Formation construct:

  1. Use past purchase behavior to determine high probability actions
  2. Use probable actions to construct a gamified offering rewarding their current actions, along with incentive to try a new behavior
  3. Reinforce new behavior using less and less reward until it becomes a habit
  4. Move to the next new behavior

The Fog Behavior Model was central to our product thesis.

Product Philosophy

We quickly ran into a challenging problem: humans. In particular, the operational users, business strategists, and data scientist that were responsible for customer engagement strategies. While we could show that automation delivers better outcomes, people want credit for the results. A bridge was needed to move people from what they understood (manual experimentation) to the promise land — an AI-driven system creating a variant cohort of one.

For the operational UX, we build the product to serve three primary operations:

  1. Strategy and creative translation
  2. Configuration and experimentation
  3. Measurement

An end-to-end solution for loyalty execution was a game changer for our customers.

Dashboard to manage experimentations and the allocation of total population to experimental RL vs. hypothesis-driven optimization.

Effective offer constructs were saved in an offer library for future use and evolution.

Manual segmentation criteria could be configured. Giving operators control, even when automated optimization was delivering far better results, was important for the teams running loyalty programs.

The Art of Sales

A brand like Starbucks as a first customer was both a blessing and a curse. What we built for Starbucks was over-engineered for their specific needs, scale and budget. No other company in the world spends as much on customer retention. The marketing side of my design team continuously iterated on ways to tell our story outside Starbucks, while also trying to capitalize on the success of the program. In the last couple of years, we developed an effective sales strategy using design research as a way to target loyalty managers at fortune 100 companies. This translated into a number of sales.

Our Starbucks offer constructs created a new category of personalization dubbed "Hyper-Personalization."

United Airlines emulated our Starbucks offering and realized similar results of 3x lift in incremental spend.

The Formation brand was not your typical enterprise SAAS offering. We created the brand to convey the premium offering and personal nature of loyalty.

Future Focus - Motivation Alignment Platform (MAP)

The next phase of innovation we identified centered on the alignment of offers to individuals’ intrinsic motivations. We built working prototypes to show the added value of a system that understands the underlying motivations that activate customers. The exploration began by interviewing customers, behavioral psychologists, and academics studying human motivation. The functional prototype showed that we could realize up to a 50% savings in reward spend, and a 25% engagement lift. We did not implement the capability prior to acquisition.

Our goal was to provide support for motivation cohorts — allowing brands to tune rewards to individual intrinsic motivations.

We mapped existing motivation frameworks to reward behaviors.

An overview of cohort motivation gives businesses a clear view of how to optimize reward spend.


In the 5 years prior to acquisition, Formation delivered more than $1b of incremental value to each Starbucks and United Airlines. We also proved the model with other business verticals including grocery, retail and hospitality.

The Formation team and product is now a part of BCG's loyalty and personalization offering.

I wrote about the growth journey of Formation and the lessons I learned as a venture leader at BCG, startup founder, and operational leader of an enterprise SAAS company.

Sunday Sundowns 5/15/22 Sun, 15 May 2022 18:11:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Another sweet Sunday Sundowns with the Ambient Mafia. For this session I played a number of tracks that skirt the edge of minimal Drum & Bass — sometimes called Microfunk or Chill Atmospheric. What I love about Drum & Bass is the tension between fast and slow, quiet and loud. Stillhead, Bluetech and Keerd are part of DJ Maggie Moon's crew, who was playing with us on this fine evening. Enjoy!

The Ambient Mafia: Cinco Di Midtempo Thu, 05 May 2022 20:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The mid-tempo Ambient Mafia sessions are always a treat. The folks who share my love of chillout and downtempo music also share a passion for the chill side of dance music. This session coincided with my birthday, so it was a treat to share music and visuals for friends and family.

I always love playing my friends music, so for this mix, I included songs from Df Tram and Jonah Sharp, as well as acquaintances Move D, John Tejada, and Tom Middleton. I also included a little "edit" of my own in this mix. I found a lovely new track by Nkom Bivoué, a musician/producer from Cameroon, but at under 3 minutes, the song felt too short. I stretched it out to 6 minutes and added Ursula Rucker's poem "The Journey," so we can dwell on the beauty of Nkom's track without getting lost in repetition.


Formation retrospective Wed, 04 May 2022 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty This story is about my experience joining a corporate innovation incubator, pitching a successful venture, raising corporate venture capital, and scaling an enterprise software company. The lessons in this story are my reflections from the orientation of a design executive navigating startup challenges—some unique to this corporate venture, and others universal. The clarity of hindsight masks the messy business of creating and running a startup, and calling out any individuals is not my intent—decisions are often the result of many points of influence. That said, here we go!

Team Formation circa 2019 — as we hit 130 team members. Offsite on Angel Island.

In 2014, I joined BCGDV, an acronym for Boston Consulting Group Digital Ventures—we’ll call the group DV hence forth. DV was born from an unlikely alliance between some renegade business strategists and design thinkers who successfully turned around Sports Authority (before it failed again). The DV founders could see that many corporations were failing to innovate in the face of existential threat and, even with all their access to capital, couldn’t successfully compete simultaneously with the tech giants moving into their space and the stream of VC-backed startups looking to disrupt them. They set out to prove a business thesis that corporate investment in external, independent startup teams, in which they own a meaningful stake, would be more effective than internal innovation efforts. The end goal being the startup disrupting their corporate owner on their own terms. Many at DV were so bullish about this thesis that they’d often refer to the opportunity as an “unfair advantage.”

When I first heard the term “unfair advantage” I thought it sounded shady and wasn’t sure why it was being tossed around as a winning opportunity. I was new to the world of business consulting and still naïve to business as a competitive sport. Even then, I always felt an unfair game wasn’t fun to play—stacking the decks is cheating, and crosses my moral line. I came to realize this term was really about hyping an unproven idea that business management consultants and creative/tech consultants can out-perform startup founders funded by VCs.

Prior to joining DV, I worked at Microsoft—my first large company experience. I was fortunate to join a high-performing team with a fantastic leader, Blaise Agüera y Arcas. It seemed every project I worked on was destined to change the paradigm of computing or disrupt established global business models. Yet every six months, we would see massive re-orgs, priority shifts, and projects cancelled. As a principle design lead, I was close enough to the executive team to glimpse the corporate game. I could see that decisions were being made not on the promise of an idea or product, but on the risk tolerance of the project sponsor (which was often low). The complete lack of product-centric decision-making was disheartening. It was also disappointing to see the general risk-averse nature of the executive team.

I was increasingly curious about how and why business leaders make their decisions, which led to an enlightening conversation with Rick Chavez — an exec at Microsoft leading innovation. We talked about left and right-brain thinking of business and design, and how valuable design/business hybrids are. He nearly convinced me to enroll in a business school for a coveted Design MBA degree. But the seed was planted, and I set the intention to learn more about business strategy. I wasn’t long after when I received a call from a friend who was working at BCGDV.

I met with a DV co-founder who shared the vision of corporate innovation as external and independent—an incubator of disruptive, well-funded startups, financed by corporate’s deep pockets, and supported by the esteemed business prowess of BCG. Coming from my experience at Microsoft, and hearing from friends about dismal attempts at corporate innovation, this sounded like a fantastic idea. I accepted an offer to join DV and build the San Francisco design cohort, primarily focused on healthcare and med tech innovation. Dream job!

Articulating the DV thesis as BCG-powered accelerator. Takt was the prior company name.

A thesis is not a contract, and I quickly realized the promise of this win-win model was neither universally understood nor supported. Part of the theory was that BCG, as our parent company, would introduce us to their trusted clients—usually the senior C-Suite of Fortune 500 companies—and support our pitch to disrupt their companies from within.

Lesson #1: Management Consulting is a business built on trusted relationships—often fostered over many years. Inviting a group of disruptive design thinkers to the table is a big box of unknown.

My introduction to BCG was very memorable. I flew to Chicago for a multi-day leadership orientation workshop. This was a mix of partner-level BCG consultants and DV leadership, but geared toward BCG leaders. Apparently, this type of lateral hire into BCG’s organization is rare, as the expected path is to join as an intern, then grow gradually into a leadership role. One of my favorite insights from the orientation was learning about the founder Bruce Henderson’s philosophy that “organizations should grow like an oak tree”—slow and steady, with deep roots for a solid foundation. This philosophy applies to the BCG organization itself, with the requirement that the business and each employee grow at a steady rate—not too slow and not too fast. This insight will become more relevant a little later.

As our DV team built trust with our BCG counterparts, we found our chance to apply our methodology—a mix of classic IDEO-style design thinking with business-oriented design research, which we called “Strategic Design.” We also had a vague notion of rapid ideation and prototyping, but that step was theoretical for many in the room. The invitation to engage with BCG’s corporate client came with a catch—we had to work under the direction of BCG consultants—often acting as “Venture Architect.” If you’re familiar with management consulting, then you might see some potential for conflict here.

Lesson #2: Business consultants are from Mars and designers are from Venus—rare is the bird that bridges both worlds. Research seems an obvious place to find a bridge, but when the stakeholders are business-thinkers, deep empathy and qualitative meta-synthesis have little chance against cold, hard actionable quantitative result delivered in a vanilla Excel file.

After several “trial and error” ventures, we finally found one with the right balance of corporate sponsorship, meaningful opportunity, and harmonious team makeup. In 2015, I joined a BCG delegation speaking to the senior executive team at Starbucks about personalization. Where we struggled with friction between consultants and design thinking, there was suddenly a crystal clear vision delivered succinctly to the Starbucks team. Not only did we sell the idea of a new type of loyalty program, we also sold our vision of a corporate-backed venture.

Until this DV venture, we had sold all the prior opportunities by pitching an “ideation sprint”, a try-before-you-buy approach involving some design-led brainstorming and joint concept evaluation—typically giving DV 3-4 months to pull a team together and figure out how “real” the opportunity really was. The Starbucks team loved our loyalty program vision, but wanted assurances we had the team to build an enterprise-grade product. Our team consisted mostly of consultants and business strategists, and we built DV’s small development team for supporting innovation sprints, not enterprise software development. We had just a few weeks to prove we had the team.

Lesson #3: Pitching innovation ideation ≠ building enterprise software.

I’ve never met a problem that I couldn’t solve with a small rockstar team and a passion for the mission. Here, the opportunity and mission were clear—we just needed the rockstar team. I pulled the best design/engineering team I knew, Ryan and Jason Hickner—a brother duo who live in on an island in Washington. Rather than prove we had the experience to build our vision (since we didn’t), we returned with a mockup of the product we intended to build, and a promise that we could build a functional demonstration of it in 6 weeks. And if we had alignment, we would deliver an enterprise ready version of the product within six months.

From an early pitch describing our AI powered, 1:1 offer engine. 2015

In our next meeting with the senior leadership of Starbucks, we shared the vision with a working prototype. The question of our experience and ability were no longer the focus, but how quickly we could bring the product to market.

Lesson #4: Often the best way to build trust is by quickly showing value. People can pontificate about their accomplishments, but a bias for action with solid results speaks volumes about one’s abilities.

We’re off to the races with six months to deliver a real-time, 1:1, end-to-end, marketing automation platform using advanced machine learning for 20m+ users. While the story of how we built the product is exciting, this story is about lessons learned from creating a startup funded by corporate VC, so on we go.

The commitment by Starbucks to support the product development also triggered the investment conversation. Starbucks is usually a roll-your-own type of organization, which isn’t known for investing in startups, so we were in uncharted territory. Our DV corporate venture thesis intrigued the team, and the idea of an “owned” venture that sits outside the siloed internal structure potentially solved sluggish innovation efforts. There was also the promise of network effects from additional customers that could amplify optimization efficiency and influence engagement tactics. The BCG and DV team’s charm didn’t hurt either. In the end, we landed on a $25m series-A investment from Starbucks.

We took another $5m investment from B Capital, a BCG-affiliated venture fund, at a $120m valuation. The two investments represented a venture wholly owned by BCG and Starbucks. The deal team promoted the tight control over ownership and accountability as a win-win, but this became one of my future lessons.

As BCG employee co-founders, we carved out a small minority stake, a fraction of a traditional founder equity. I don’t yet have a strong position on this approach—on one hand, BCG took all the risk and our role extended our BCG employment, but the founder’s stake in the success of a startup is clearly an important factor in outcome of a venture. BCG’s controlling stake is evident in the cap tables, where future investment valuation may deem BCG’s stake as exceedingly expensive—time will tell.

Our $30m investment came with a couple of clear expectations:

  1. Deliver $1b of added value to Starbucks
  2. Reach $1b valuation (unicorn status) in less than 5 years

While these goals are standard-issue these days, I feel the second expectation became my hardest lesson learned. Much of this story will revolve around that expectation.

So we now have a 5-person team, $30m and six months to deliver our product promise to Starbucks. Along the way, we probably made some excellent decisions, some poor ones, and everything in between. We ultimately delivered the product experience as expected. Our first deployment with live customers was with 10% of their total loyalty population (still a very large user pool), and we immediately saw a 300% increase in engagement. Starbucks questioned our measurement methodology since it sounded too good to be true. We let them build their own calculations—turned out ours was conservative. Follow on deployments with new offer constructs were showing 5x-7x engagement. Completely off the charts.

Our Lens feature circa 2016 — a simple, yet powerful audience segmentation tool that unlocked a step change in experimentation speed and efficacy.

An exciting benefit of applying machine learning at scale is rapidly training and validation of the models. In my past, several efforts to leverage machine intelligence lost support before they could see the impact of the automation. The conventional startup approach of validating the product’s value and market fit, then scaling up, runs into a chicken/egg problem with the speed of training.

Lesson #5: Of all the benefits from the corporate venture model, leveraging machine learning at scale out of the gate is likely the greatest upside—an immediate step change in value and efficiency.

Over the next couple of months, we scaled up to the full loyalty population and added additional features to address some immediate operational pain stemming from the complexity of the overall operation. Even though we reduced the time it took for Starbucks to deploy an offer from 12 weeks to less than one week, the effort still required upwards of 150 person hours per offer.

From a design perspective, we were just beginning to understand the operational dynamics of how our product was being used, and where we could add more value. The team coordination between executives, business strategists, data scientists, copywriters, visual designers, and operational managers was complex and rife with friction. We were lucky to have such a dynamic test case to push the refinement and evolution of our product vision.

Examples of the 1:1 gamified offers we created for Starbucks. These offers nudge and reinforce new behaviors by mapping the steps to expected behaviors.

Then, just a few months after delivering the operational prototype to Starbucks, we received a mandate to sell our “product” to additional customers. This wasn’t a debate, it was a requirement, and reflected our commitment to achieving a $1b valuation. We discussed this requirement among the product and engineering teams, and there was a consensus that such a shift of focus would be a huge mistake. We built the solution for Starbucks’ unique business and operational needs, and there was significant work to be done before we would be ready to productize the platform.

As we started thinking about our sales and marketing efforts, we had an interesting realization that Starbucks was possibly unique in their focus on retention—as they’ve effectively saturated the entire planet and no longer had a need for acquisition-based marketing. There were no other companies in the world with as aggressive a loyalty marketing effort. The monthly operational cost of our solution, which included $500k/month in AWS compute costs, was about $3m, which delivered about $15m/month of incremental value—a great deal for Starbucks, but likely far too costly for the next customer.

The push towards new customers created the first major fission in our team. At the time we were growing fast, so we had new leadership joining with a clear mandate to prioritize productization. We went from proving the hypothesis of an entirely new type of loyalty marketing product to a mandate to scale it overnight. While we knew we’d need to shift towards scaling, the timing caught us by surprise.

Lesson #6: The process for realizing novel product ideas, and the team required to bring such ideas to life, differ greatly from the goals and team needed to build scalable, multi-tenant, hardened enterprise software.

The initial makeup of our board of directors included our CEO (ex-BCG consultant), three BCG partners, and one ex-BCG consultant (at the time running a leading enterprise software company) and a board observer from Starbucks. While the collective business acumen of the group was impressive, the lack of startup experience was also notable. This quickly became clear as the board focus usually emphasized our progress towards growth targets without a deeper understanding of product value and readiness.

We ran into some trouble when our mandate to scale didn’t align with our stage in our product journey. The problem-space of loyalty marketing is complex and multi-faceted, and our initial product hypothesis tried to solve this pain holistically. Looking at the end-to-end operational journey, we realized that by solving only part of the problem, we’d push the complexity elsewhere. We faced a complex product that was very difficult to scale. We made choices based on a clear path to scale rather than a clear product vision.

Lesson #7: A clear product mission and vision (which we lacked, but not for a lack of trying) helps anchor decision-making during challenging phases in the company’s growth.

One of many attempts to align on a product vision.

We were delivering more than $200m of incremental revenue annually to Starbucks—their largest single source of revenue growth. The success of our product was the star of shareholder meetings and helped bolster their stagnant share price. Word of our success travelled, and we began receiving some inbound inquiries. This came when there was an extensive debate about the product offering and how to scale quickly. We offered our next customer a small portion of the offering provided to Starbucks, which was heavily subsidized by our engineering and data science teams to make up for the lack of tooling. Their willingness to adopt the simplified offering became the rationale for a new product offering.

Lesson #8: A sample size of one is not statistically significant. Captain obvious ;)

User research had been an important part of decision-making to date. The original ideas we proposed to Starbucks came out of extensive research. I believe the most efficient path towards validating a product hypothesis is through design research and rapid prototyping. I found myself in a challenging position where our second customer unintentionally validated a “headless” version of our product, and where the key customer stake-holders were not the operators. Our product strategy pivoted to building a black box AI solution.

“To satisfy the customer is the mission and purpose of every business.”
- Peter Drucker

The decision to simplify the product offering was driven by a requirement to scale, but was justified by our vision for a product primarily managed by machine intelligence. Reinforcement learning (RL) was how we envisioned managing the complexity of multi-variate optimization for 1:1 personalization. Implementation of an RL approach was already underway for Starbucks, so it wasn’t unreasonable to think we could promote the approach for our core offering. Part of the problems comes back to the stake-holders not being the operators (the people whose job it was to use our product).

Lesson #9: People want to claim credit for their work. If they can’t explain how the tools they use work, it becomes difficult for them to claim responsibility for the value created by the tool.

My design team tried to support the black box direction by building “explainability” tools, which are meant to illustrate ML decisioning, attribution, and cost/benefit analysis. But these insights only expose half the picture, if that, because the insights result from opaque and highly complex decision-making, and customer experience is abstracted into short-term, quantitative decisioning.

When you take operational control away from the strategic decisioning, human impact is abstracted into simple, short-term cost/benefit decisions. Where there was once an ethical concern for the long-term happiness of the customer, now sits the operator receiving dopamine hits from successful exploits.

I channelled my learnings about the ethical challenges of reinforcement learning and other AI automation practices into several public talks, including a talk at IXDA’s annual design conference and a fascinating roundtable discussion on AI and ethics, where I was the resident practitioner.

Ultimately, the black box direction failed. In part because savvy customers don’t trust black box solutions, and because the solution didn’t solve the holistic problem—it just shifted the pain to the other parts of the process. It’s easy to become seduced by the magic of intelligent automation and forget that humans are also intelligent and highly capable decision-makers. It’s easy to see the ultimate vision of a fully automated, end-to-end, intelligent solution, but we were not yet there.

So, the thing about most startups is that you eventually run out of money and need to raise more. Our story was impressive—we powered the two largest loyalty programs (Starbucks and United Airlines), our product was reliably delivering above customer expectations, and we were bringing in more than $20m/year in revenue. We imagined we’d get at least 50/250 ($50m investment on a $250m valuation).

Lesson #10: Starting off with a big Series A and a high valuation raises the stakes for subsequent investments.

As startups mature and become worth more, the cost to invest in them goes up. The scrutiny of indicators goes way up. Apparently, when 80% of your revenue comes from one customer, and your company is worth $250m, investors see this as an enormous risk. Investors also like to see familiar patterns—hockey-stick growth and a healthy TAM (total addressable market). We were unlike anything anyone had seen before, thanks to our DV strategy and the massive first customers.

We could not raise more money at any reasonable valuation. The knee-jerk reaction from our board was to pour fuel on the marketing efforts—if two customers are too risky, then we needed 20 ASAP. The black-box approach wasn’t finding any market fit, so we pivoted back to the initial product we built for Starbucks—a holistic, end-to-end beast-of-a-product. We still hadn’t productized this offering—we were starting again from scratch.

Lesson #11: Agree and commit. We second-guessed our initial product offering and chased after a shortcut without validating the approach with market research.

Our initial offering, one that landed our investment from Starbucks and drove $1b of value, was visionary and ambitious. While we were heads-down, analysts were taking notice and named our new category of loyalty offering "hyper-personalization" — not the words I would have used, but proud to be recognized.

What we had built from scratch in 6 months, five years prior, was where our team finally returned five years later. But the window of opportunity was nearly closed — our competitors were catching up and our offering in the market was confused. It's difficult to understand the decisions made in the moment, but our lack of commitment to our initial vision derailed the opportunity. And this is almost entirely due to #12.

Lesson #12: A leadership team with shared purpose and vision is paramount.

There were early signs of divergent vision among the founders and board members. Choosing to ignore the dissonance is one of those mistakes I will never make again. I' believe that even more important than aligned vision is a shared sense of purpose, not only company purpose, also human purpose — what we here to accomplish.

Historically, creating companies were multi-generational endeavors tied to community, and even societal, prosperity and pride. The idea of incubating companies for rapid growth and a quick exit is a very American idea, and I'm not sure it's one that fosters a deep sense of inner purpose.

Lesson #13: An exit doesn't always mean success

Formation wasn't able to raise more money. Our high valuation, high-risk profile, and growing competition created a story that sent warning signs to VCs. In addition, our unconventional corporate investment from Starbucks and lack of any prior reputable VC investments turned our "unfair advantage" into a cautionary tale. We were ultimately acquired by BCG as part of their growing AI and data services division under "BCG X" — a bitter-sweet end to a billion dollar aspiration.

Failure is a cruel, but important teacher. My experience with BCG and Formation was an incredible opportunity for personal growth and learning first-hand about some of the most cliche lessons in the startup founder's journey. If I had to choose one lesson to guide my future choices, it would be the importance of alignment among the founding team.

As a 30 year veteran of startups and product design, I hold companies and their products to a very high standard. Alan Cooper is one of my design heroes and I’ve long subscribed to his framework for building a successful product: finding the right balance of viability, capability and desirability. These three “legs of the stool” translate into the roles of business, engineering and product/design. Without finding balance, which means shared vision, ownership, priority, etc., the stool will not stand. Most of the lessons in this story result from our team not finding balance.

I hope these insights help you along your journey, and thanks for reading. If you'd like to keep up with my infrequent writing, consider subscribing to my Substack feed.

Sunday Sundowns 4/10/22 Sun, 10 Apr 2022 20:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Chillout with the Ambient Mafia ( ever Sunday evening! This mix mostly taps into the early 90s trip hop vibe. Lots of tracks we used play at Mushroom Jazz Mondays back in the day. Enjoy!

The Rhythm Society: The Rumpus Sat, 25 Sep 2021 16:20:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty A return to the sweetness of Sarasota Springs for our annual Rhythm Society retreat. The theme this year was an ode to the Wild Things. Music poolside by day, and dancing under the stars by night. Enjoy!

Sunday Sundowns 8/22/21 Sun, 22 Aug 2021 17:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Sunday Sundown sessions with the Ambient Mafia crew. This mix is little a bit strange. Starts off with a 1969 bit of soul psychedelia from Minnie Riperton and the Rotary Connection. We quickly bounce into the present day with some Lo-Fi Hip Hop mixed with Vaporware weirdness. There's an interesting connection between Vaporware and Dubstep — digging into the micro-genres we find Vaportrap, which then gives way to Chillstep. Confused? Every Noise at Once is a fun place to dive into micro-genres. We finish off with a cut from my favorite electronic album of 2020 from Auscultation.

I also had fun with some new virtual projection mapping mixed with video feedback. I hadn't tested to see that video feedback doesn't work when I'm using Rekordbox (this mix was all digital, except the last track). So the video feedback is intermittent, but still a success I think!


Sunday Sundowns 5/23/21 Sun, 23 May 2021 20:55:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Sunday Sundown sessions with the Ambient Mafia crew. Mix of mostly early 90s chill downtempo and dub.


Unison 7 Fri, 16 Apr 2021 08:11:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty For the 7th Unison — a collective of FnF, Space Cowboys and Ambient Mafia DJ crews — we raised money for the Bay Area non-profit Asian Pacific Fund. It's our collective responsibility to take a stand against anti-Asian hate — injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The mix features downtempo chillout spanning almost 30 years! A quiet journey of blissed beats. Thank you Jeff Cross for the tip on the beautiful Neutral track! Projection mapping show made for the chill vibes. Enjoy!

Sunday Sundowns 4/11/21 Sun, 11 Apr 2021 16:49:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Sunday Sundown sessions with the Ambient Mafia crew. Mix of music from the late-90s heyday of the Asian Underground scene with some new downtempo Asian/Indian-influenced jams.

Also my first successful attempt overlaying faux projection mapping :) Anyone interested, I'm using MadMapper which can publish a Desktop Window using NDI (projector tab). I'm also using an NDI OBS plugin which brings the live MM window into OBS.


    Reggae Covers & Mashups Fri, 19 Mar 2021 10:44:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 364, March 19th, 2021—installment 53 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Marking one year since the first Shelter in Sonance livestream, and just over a year since California put restrictions in place that ended our ability to physically gather in groups to listen to music. Music has always been my warm blanket, my big hug when I'm down. Entering into the unknown is always a bit scary, so this little practice of sharing music has been a healing process for me. I'm grateful to all of you who have dropped in, commented, downloaded and shared — the feedback loop amplifies the love and connection.

    This mix features Reggae covers and mashups of popular Soul, Disco and Pop songs from the past — a little sunshine for the first day of Spring! Enjoy!

    March Midtempo Fri, 05 Mar 2021 22:32:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty The Ambient Mafia crew is known for playing, well, Ambient of course, as well as Chillout, Trip Hop, Dub, and many other genres of the chill spectrum. Every once in a while, we play musics of a slightly faster tempo. The "Midtempo" sessions typically explore the chill side of the less chill tempo spectrum, which is where this mix lives—Jazz-influenced House music with a little edge. Some of my favorite dance and listening music. Enjoy!

    HipLife Fri, 26 Feb 2021 09:36:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 343, February 26th, 2021—installment 52 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Hiplife has become a catch-all genre for Ghanan vocoder-laden West African Pop and Hip Hop, but it was originally all about the spirit of Highlife music infused with Hip Hop. Similar to how Hip Hop first emerged from spoken word over Disco and Funk, HipLife began as a semi-rap spoken form of Ghanan and Nigerian Highlife music. Gyedu Blay Ambolley, a popular Highlife artist, is considered the father of HipLife, and potentially the original influence for Hip Hop with his 1973 song Simigua-do. Most of the songs in this mix are sung in Akan — the dominant language of Ghana. Enjoy!

    Highlife Fri, 19 Feb 2021 08:05:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 336, February 19th, 2021—installment 51 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    West African Highlife is one of my all time favorite music genres. Joyous and carefree, yet deep and layered — the music is created for dance, but is also intellectually rewarding. The music style originated in 19th century Ghana when under colonial rule — local, traditional music influenced by European sounds and ideas. In the early 20th century, the music was again infused by "the west", this time coming from the Swing and Calypso sounds of the Caribbean and the US — coming full circle as much of the music comes from the slaves of Ghanan heritage. Listen to SIS 29 - Routes of Slavery for more on the musical influence of the slave trade.

    Most of the music in this mix is considered Igbo Highlife and blends the traditional Nigerian Igbo music with Ghanan Highlife. One of the key characteristics of Igbo Highlife is the 2/3 clave rhythm, a signature of Afro-Cuban music.

    SIS 52 chronicles the HipLife genre — the next evolution of Highlife as contemporary pop music of the region.


    Unison 6 Sat, 13 Feb 2021 10:26:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty I was invited back to join Unison — a collective of FnF, Space Cowboys and Ambient Mafia DJ crews. More than 50 DJs played across three "stages" for three days. We raised more than $10,000 for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

    This mix features some classic chillout tunes from The Irresistible Force, Spacetime Continuum and others. The inspiration for the mix came from a new "Vagus Mix" of an old Pub track — Pub is one of my favorite under-the-radar chillout artists. Enjoy!

    Sunday Sundowns 2/7/21 Sun, 07 Feb 2021 10:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Sunday Sundown sessions with the Ambient Mafia crew. Downtempo and Trip Hop jams. Inspired by a couple of tracks off the new Wagon Christ album "Reception". Enjoy!

    James Brown Thu, 04 Feb 2021 10:42:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 315, January 29th, 2021—installment 50 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix features songs by "The Godfather of Soul" Mr. James Brown, the musicians he played with, and the bands he inspired. He's the world's most sampled artist and it's hard not to hear pop and hip hop songs as you listen to his music.

    Early Night Tales Fri, 22 Jan 2021 13:33:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Los Angeles based DJ EKRK and Ambient Mafia musician Give In (Cubik & Origami, DJ2) ask me to join them for an early evening chill stream session. This loosely coupled "event" idea is an interesting byproduct of the pandemic and event streaming—complete with Twitch "raids" and multi-platform "re-streams." Technology aside, it's always fun to connect with new folks and this evening introduced me to some kindred spirits.

    The mix is a chill, jazz-infused, mid-tempo (110 bpm), electronica flavor, with hints of deep house and techno. Enjoy!

    Sunday Sundowns 1/17/21 Sun, 17 Jan 2021 22:57:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Another sweet session with the Ambient Mafia crew. Nice to find folks who love the 90s trip hop vibe! The mix features new and old; trip hop, downtempo, lo-fi and hip hop—all on the chill tip. Enjoy!

    Downtempo 2 Sat, 09 Jan 2021 17:44:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty
    Shelter day 294, January 8th, 2021—installment 49 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Digging into the archives this week. Some nuggets from the 90s heyday of chilled downtempo. A recent listen to Nightmares On Wax's seminal album "Smoker's Delight" inspired the mix. Enjoy!

    Greatest Hits Fri, 01 Jan 2021 16:49:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 287, January 1st, 2021—installment 48 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    After a 5 week hiatus from playing virtual parties (feels strange saying that), I'm back in Santa Cruz for a little holiday with the family. This week's mix was for Laura and the kids—a little family dance party. While the kids don't love pop music from my youth, they also don't hate it. And I can stomach it much better than new pop music. A few mashups thrown in for good measure. Happy 2021!

    Chillits Sat, 26 Dec 2020 22:47:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Chillits, and the greater Cloud Factory crew, is a sister community to the Rhythm Society (community I co-created)—overlapping for a time at Camp and Sons campground in Willits, California (hence the name chill + Willits). Many of my favorite chillout and ambient DJs/musicians (Mixmaster Morris, Jonah Sharp, DFTram, to name a few) have played at their annual campout, and it's long been a dream to play with the Chillits crew. I guess it took a pandemic and a virtual event for that to come true. Hopefully a physical cuddle pile at Chillits is in my future :)

    This mix is a collection of some of my favorite chillout tracks from the past 45 years. What I like about many of these tracks is the underlying complexity, rhythmic tension, or unexpected tonality. These qualities make mixing them more challenging. While I'm happy with the outcome of the mix, it was not without a lot of frustration and heartache. Perhaps that's why this mix feels more melancholy than my typical fare—hope you enjoy!

    The Rhythm Society: Hope Mon, 21 Dec 2020 12:03:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty As we reach the darkest day of arguably the darkest year in my lifetime, The Rhythm Society came together to celebrate HOPE. My buddhist upbringing has always influenced my perception of life as an unchangeable force of balance and harmony—however dark one moment is, an equally bright moment will follow. At this moment, I'm almost giddy in anticipation of the coming joy and celebration to balance our past year.

    This mix was the opening "warm up" for our "smooth" room—an evening of deep beats, techno and tech house. My goal was to start from zero and slowly create a head space for some deep introspection and collective healing.

    Unison Holirave Mon, 14 Dec 2020 15:22:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty I was invited back to play with the Ambient Mafia crew for the Unison "Holirave" party. Honored to once again play alongside all the amazingly talented DJs.

    This mix meanders through various chilled house-tempo tracks that span from the early 80s through 2020. Great music is timeless! Some holiday-themed projection mapping to spread the cheer. Enjoy!

    Deep Pop Fri, 27 Nov 2020 07:55:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    West Cliff, Santa Cruz, California

    Shelter day 252, November 27th, 2020—installment 47 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This week I'm on vacation in beautiful Santa Cruz, California, so an all-digital mix. Blissed-out, chill dance mix—perfect for small pandemic-friendly sunset dance parties (solo is perfectly acceptable). Deep house and pop-infused house. Enjoy!

    Sunday Sundowns 11/22/20 Mon, 23 Nov 2020 18:43:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty The Ambient Mafia collective have been purveyors of quality chill music in the SF Bay Area for the past 20 years. The crew has long been on my radar, but I guess it took a pandemic to finally connect us. I had a blast playing with them for the recent Unison event. Similar to my Friday weekly, the Ambient Mafia plays music every Sunday and invited me to join as their guest DJ.

    I used the opportunity to update my projection mapping show—this time trying to simplify it a little more, and add more audio reactive elements. The music is what I call half-tempo electronica—curious what other people call it. Dub and drum & bass-like beats at ~70/140 BPM. Starts off with one of my favorite Sly & Robbie tracks and ends with a favorite ear worm, "Your Consciousness Goes Bip" by Snooze. Enjoy!

    Indie Electronica 2 Fri, 13 Nov 2020 17:40:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 238, November 13th, 2020—installment 46 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Indie has always been a confusing genre—no clear orientation outside rock, but it serves a purpose as a space that's open to many forms. The intersection of electronic and live improvisational music (jazz, indie, rock, etc.) has long been an idiosyncratic niche that, for me, strikes a curious chord. Indie Electronica is a strange catch-all, no-mans-land of quirky, sweet, strange, introspective music—most often created by bands (as opposed to solo electronic musicians). This mix was a good reflection of my mood on this particular day: introspective, relieved, and a bit moody.

    Ambient Bionics Wed, 11 Nov 2020 14:26:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    The etymology of the word “bionic” is a beautifully simple construct—the blending of bio, Latin for life, and electronic. The term hasn’t been in fashion for some time, likely because of the 1970s obsession with cyborgs, resulting in the kitschy TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man, and followup The Bionic Woman. The term bionic became synonymous with the idea that technology could give normal people superpowers—super speed, super strength, super vision, super intellect. Bionics, along with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), have always had a strong association with the enabling hardware and/or its interface.

    In the spirit of design thinking, of a less > more philosophy, and a response to tech fatigue, I’d like to share some thinking about an idea I’ll call Ambient Bionics (AmB), which borrows from the term Ambient Intelligence (AmI)—environments that adapt intelligently to human needs and interests. Ambient Bionics is an inside-out view of AmI, the person is enhanced, rather than the environment. Besides its elegance, I chose the word bionic to highlight the nature of endowed superpowers.

    The evolution of modern computers, and in particular the web, has created an accelerated reflection and re-evaluation of our transition from modernism to postmodernism that unfolded through the latter half of the 20th century. The shift from a foundation of absolute truth and objectivity towards the disillusionment of seeing ourselves, with all its complexity in our creation, speaks to the value and importance of addressing complexity as we dive deeper into our relationship with technology. The "less is more" ethos is a coupled function of technology’s potential. We are moving away from an operator/machine relationship towards a model that more closely resembles co-working. This shift represents a fundamental change in our perception of what technology is and how it’s used. More on the value of reductionist thinking a bit later.

    Where we once were rational animals, now we are feeling computers, emotional machines.

    - Sherry Turkle, 1983, The Second Self: Computers & the Human Spirit

    In 2011 I joined a floating R&D team at Microsoft under the wing of Blaise Agüera y Arcas. My first assignment was working with the Cortana team (Siri/Alexa competitor), where we developed the language and rules for conversational interaction design and explored the value of natural user interface (NUI) design. Through exploring the long game of virtual assistants, ideas emerged for intelligent agents whose roles expand far beyond the invocation and command modality. The notion of a digital proxy that encapsulates an ever evolving awareness of your needs and expectations emerged.

    Around the same time, I was working on gaze-based interaction research with the HoloLens team (when it was still an awkward pile of sensors and headache inducing laser projectors). The HoloLens work, along with my experience with VR, left me unconvinced in the value of wearable displays. I was pretty sure a decent form factor for immersive AR wearables (that I’d wear in public) were at least a decade away—I now feel it will be another decade. The entire pursuit felt very “more is more.”

    While still at Microsoft, I developed an idea with a co-worker that led to a project we affectionately called “Clippy”—an idea exploring pure audio-based augmented reality. The visual part of AR is often a distraction or a disappointment (or both), and audio felt like a superior choice over screens for many applications. Audio is highly nuanced and filterable, with the ability to control the mix of natural vs. augmented sound reaching the inner ear. Stereo audio can also be highly spatial, with the ability to project a fully three-dimensional sound stage. Audio can also move between conscious and unconscious stimuli—activating awareness without triggering active engagement. With a talented team of audio engineers, immersive audio can be a deeply profound journey. Best of all, the hardware was already available and fairly discrete.

    While this concept may seem mundane today, keep in mind this was 2013 and the movie “Her” had not come out yet. I intended this proof of concept to show the immediate value of a conversation agent like Cortana, along with some enhancements around contextual understanding and spatial awareness. The value I was excited about is something I describe in my Sixth Sense project—where interaction becomes nuanced and unobtrusive. The result being an additive layer of contextual insight rather than a call and response search tool. Part of what I was trying to solve for was the clear evolution of intelligent agents—shifting the interface from responsive to preemptive.

    Another project I intersected, called “The Personal Cloud,” had been active for nearly a decade. The goal of the project at a high level was to invert the ownership of data to its rightful state as the property of the user and provide infrastructure to manage the exchange of data between users and services—thus cutting out the middleman (Google, Facebook, et al.). At its core they built the concept around a foundation of trust and empowerment, as the project would never work without the buy-in from the end-user. The challenge then was building the intelligent and secure “agents” that could adapt to the nuanced expectations of each individual user, plus service endpoints the agents would engage with—all without risk of exploitation.

    The Personal Cloud project heavily influenced my thinking about the role intelligent agents will play in our future. Virtual assistants, such as Google Assistant, can already manage more complex real-world tasks like navigating a reservation or negotiating a product purchase. As we navigate an increasingly complex and consequential technology landscape, people will get more comfortable offloading progressively more complex tasks. At the same time, technology will become opaque to most due to many factors related to ubiquitous endpoints with baked-in intelligence. While abstraction will always provide a simple user interface, the underlying complexity will unintelligible. It’s here that the notion of a personal intelligent agent becomes the enabler of personal choice and representation within a highly complex framework. As a cornerstone of ambient intelligence, the personal agent extends far beyond virtual engagement, providing guidance for complex, real-world activities such as augmenting your professional responsibilities or helping you achieve long-term goals.

    This notion of an intelligent personal agent that adapts to your needs, represents your deeply held beliefs, and protects you from digital threats, is the foundation of ambient bionics. The power of the agent comes from the combination of deep contextual awareness, enabled by a trusted ecosystem of worn and ambient device access, along with broad access to personal services, which give the agent highly relevant data. Along with an intimate understanding of your needs, a clear understanding of engagement etiquette, and an appropriate level of escalation, the agent can act on your behalf, alert you when needed, or subtly nudge you in "the right" direction. Superpowers could manifest as extra-sensory, where one can sense danger, or have a "feeling" about someone that leads to an unexpected moment of serendipity.

    This idea of being endowed with an extra or enhanced sense is something I explored in my Sixth Sense and Serendipity Watch projects. It’s also an idea that potentially transcends the ego-centric technology relationship, and embodies an external and expanded awareness. In early video games, a “God view” gave you an expanded world-view, allowing you to see behind walls or map a path to a successful completion. When this extra sense provides guidance to avoid harm, it takes on a new role—as a personal guardian angel. Awareness between personal agents adds even another layer of perception—allowing the network of perception to expand awareness, although this is fraught with privacy issues. This notion of AI as a guardian angel is one of the more optimistic use cases in the march towards general AI.

    Several critical challenges will need addressing in order to create this vision of a proxy agent as guardian angel. The AI needed for these agents (personal and service) is likely within our grasp now. But I don’t believe the technology can be effective without an ethical foundation that’s grounded in trust and user empowerment. We need an ethical framework to scale care as deeper access unlocks more sensitive an nuanced data. Users of these agents could be deeply vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation. Looking at the analog of a trusted human delegate, perhaps a spouse or parent, we can clearly see some of the requirements related to trust, familiarity, ethical intent, and more. I speak about some of these ideas in my IxDA talk at Interaction19.

    Levels of Engagement Framework — ethical framework for considering data access

    We’re already seeing the dangers of exploitation today with our free-for-all, ad-driven, data harvesting approach to creating business value—and we’re still in a predominantly influence-driven modality. Delegating decision making puts a spotlight on ethics, and for many organizations, trust surrounding data use is already severely damaged. In 2020, I see Apple vying for the tech privacy throne, and I still see Microsoft as well positioned to be a trusted arbiter of sensitive data. For all the companies that built their business on the monetization of customer data, the path of rebuilding customer trust is steep.

    In the end, my vision of ambient bionics is more about ambience, in the quiet, minimalist and surrounding sense, than bionics. I see the true superpower is the enablement to unplug without tuning out. As a parent, I also see this idea as an alternative to the uber-connected, screen-addicted, always on Gen Z. I worry technology may ultimately have a net-negative effect on humanity, but feel my role while I’m on this earth is to help guide it in a positive direction.

    Hope Fri, 06 Nov 2020 21:18:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 231, November 6th, 2020—installment 45 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Broadcast the day before networks called the election for Biden and Harris, this mix was an musical message of hope and unity—a transmission of love through soulful music. A little trip through 70s and 80s soul funk, boogie and disco—the common theme is the uplifting message of peace, love and understanding.

    Unison 5 Mon, 26 Oct 2020 12:56:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The global pandemic has had a devastating impact on nightlife and the lives of working DJs. Many friends who are full-time working DJs and performers have had their lives turned upside-down. As a technology innovator and DJ, I've seen digital transformation and acceleration caused by the pandemic across most industries, including entertainment. While virtual music events are a far cry from the real thing, innovation has been noteworthy.

    Unison was created by a number of prominent Bay Area DJs as a way to continue community events, but has also focused on raising money for many who have been most greatly impacted by the pandemic. The Unison crew involves many technologist who have experimented with the bleeding edges of streaming and virtualization—such as hyperverse VR experiences and high-end event streaming services.

    I was invited to play with the "Blue Stage", which is affiliated with The Ambient Mafia crew. For this set, I was excited to share some of my recent projection mapping work. I first started working on projection mapping when I was the XD Director at Obscura, and love the potential of audio/visual harmony.

    The mix features classic chillout cuts, from the early 90s to the present. All vinyl and, as always, mixed with love. Enjoy!

    Latin Beats Sat, 17 Oct 2020 09:52:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 210, October 16th, 2020—installment 44 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    I've always felt Latin rhythms decouple the body and mind. The dominant "clave" rhythm, the foundation of Salsa and Rhumba, is the underlying driver of this mix. House Music and Salsa have always felt connected, where the rhythms and dance entwine. The genre "Latin House" has unfortunately become a catch-all for cheesy Latin pop dance music, but the influence of Latin music in early 90s House Music brough a healthy dose of rhythmic complexity and soul. This mix brings together edits of classic Salsa and Rhumba songs, early Latin House and contemporary Latin electronica. Enjoy!

    Dub House Sat, 10 Oct 2020 07:30:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 203, October 9th, 2020—installment 43 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Dub emerged from Jamaican recording studios in the 1960s as "versions" to isolate the drums and bass of popular reggae songs. Dub has had an outsized influence on contemporary music ever since—pushing repetition and reverb into the mainstream. Dub is the original proto-house music and was the key influence for disco "versions" that inspired early house music. The majority of dub music falls into two temp ranges: downtempo (70-80 bpm) and uptempo (120-130 bpm - often at half-time). This mix features a few uptempo dub tracks from contemporary dub artists (1990s-2000s), where the dub rhythms feel similar to deep house drums and bass. The mix moves from uptempo dub to dub techno, and then to dub-inspired house. Dub house has taken on a new meaning in the past decade—mostly referring to a more pop orientation of dub techno, but this dub house tracks more towards the original spirit of dub music mixed with the lovely vibes of deep house. Enjoy!

    Afro Boogie 3 Sat, 03 Oct 2020 16:14:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The third installment in the SIS series of African Boogie. The music spans from 1980 to 1986 and represents an unusual moment in African music history—an influence of electronic and pop music coming out of Europe and the US. The US boogie sound, disco-infused early hip hop, was particularly popular in Lagos, Nigeria and influenced a wave of African artist to embrace an unusually western sound. The transition from analog to digital changed music globally, but African music in the early 80s seems more drastic than most. Where early 80s pop in the US often felt stiff and mechanical, the African counterpart incorporates the soulful spirit of their culture. Enjoy!

    Rave Hop Sat, 26 Sep 2020 07:43:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Some imagined nostalgia—inspired by Luke Vibert's recent album "Rave Hop". Occasionally I find downtempo versions of O.G. rave tracks or rave/hip hop mashups, but Luke's album gave me the ammunition. In the latter half of this mix, old school hip hop and dancehall acapellas overlay breakbeat tracks slowed to 33rpm. I ended with a mashup of two favorite chill out tracks from my youth—The Orb w/Eric B. & Rakim. Enjoy!

    Acid Jazz Fri, 18 Sep 2020 13:43:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 182, September 18th, 2020—installment 40 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    My time as a resident DJ at the Mushroom Jazz weekly (91-94) was a truly foundational journey. Acid Jazz was part rave culture, part San Francisco Jazz Funk culture (Blackbirds/JBs/Herbie), and part hip hop/dancehall culture — all swirled together into a melting pot of fresh spacey dance funk. Acid Jazz quickly evolved in many direction: Trip Hop, Broken Beat, Downtempo, Hip Hop, Future Jazz, etc. — leaving the original sound hard to pin down. This mix meanders through some of the early sounds from late 80s trailblazers like The Brand New Heavies and Diana Brown & Barrie K. Sharpe, to the point where the Trip Hop sound began to dominate. A trip down memory lane from 30 years ago. Enjoy!

    Mo' Wax Fri, 11 Sep 2020 00:04:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 175, September 11th, 2020—installment 39 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In this mix we'll shelter in some of my favorite cuts from the Mo' Wax record label. The Mo' Wax sound was a foundation of our Mushroom Jazz weekly I did with Mark Farina in the early 90s. The label introduced me to many amazing artists I still follow today, including: Luke Vibert, DJ Shadow, DJ Krush, Air, and many others. Also the designers of the early records, Ian Swift "Swifty" and Futura 2000, were a huge influence on me as a designer at the time.

    Nu African Fri, 04 Sep 2020 17:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 168, September 4th, 2020—installment 38 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    African electronic sounds from pop to left-field/experimental. Chill or dance, the rhythms shake the hips :) Enjoy!

    Luke Vibert Fri, 28 Aug 2020 23:56:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 161, August 28th, 2020—installment 37 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A mix of tracks from one of my favorite producers: Luke Vibert, aka Wagon Christ, aka The Ace of Clubs, aka Plug, aka Bluke, aka Luke Warm. His many AKAs speak to his range of styles. Trip hop, downtempo, broken beat, drum & bass, breaks, leftfield electronica, chillout, house, acid, techno—he does it all... with style. Enjoy!

    IDM Fri, 21 Aug 2020 23:51:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 154, August 21st, 2020—installment 36 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Some music from that space between chillout, deep house, microhouse, minimal — chill dance! Or a label I've never loved, but will use here: IDM. Enjoy!

    The Irresistible Force Fri, 14 Aug 2020 23:47:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 147, August 14th, 2020—installment 35 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Music from one of my favorite electronic composers and DJs: Mixmaster Morris, aka The Irresistible Force. A bit of chill, a wallop of ambient, some trip hip, a tidge of IDM, and a whole lot of bliss. Enjoy!

    Beats 4 Camping Fri, 07 Aug 2020 23:43:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 140, August 7th, 2020—installment 34 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Coming back from a week of camping in the redwood, I recorded this mix on the road. Chill, downtempo goodies inspired by the great outdoors. Enjoy!

    Afro Disco Fri, 31 Jul 2020 23:39:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 133, July 31th, 2020—installment 33 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Another dive back into West African Disco and Boogie. This time with more escapist lyrics and laser sounds! Enjoy :)

    Indie Electronica Fri, 17 Jul 2020 23:35:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 119, July 17th, 2020—installment 32 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The mix features some 90s indie electronica classics, along with some recent moody downtempo gems. Enjoy!

    Mashups 4 Solomon Fri, 10 Jul 2020 23:31:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 112, July 10th, 2020—installment 31 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    My brother, DJ Solomon, was a pioneer of mashup/cut-up style mixing, playing alongside DJs Jazzy Jeff, Invisibl Skratch Piklz, DJ AM and many others. For what would have been his 43rd birthday, I’m playing one of his favorite genres: Mashups.

    Soul Edits Fri, 03 Jul 2020 23:26:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 105, July 3rd, 2020—installment 30 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Deep soul edits for your body, mind and spirit. Enjoy!

    Acid House Fri, 26 Jun 2020 23:20:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 98, June 26th, 2020—installment 29 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    An eclectic selection of chilled out Acid House—from old-school classics to new acid dubbed reworks. A little tribute to the mighty little 303. Enjoy!

    Routes of Slavery Fri, 19 Jun 2020 23:15:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 91, June 19th, 2020—installment 28 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    In recognition of Juneteenth, this mix features music from the slave routes—from West Africa to the West Indies and into the Deep South.

    The Rhythm Society: Alter Ego Mon, 15 Jun 2020 12:11:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The Rhythm Society has gathered every solstice and equinox since 1995 to celebrate community, diversity and spirit. For the first 10 years our community gathered in Episcopal and Unitarian churches, where we both incorporated and challenged the function of religion as a vehicle for connecting with higher spirit. In the early days we called ourselves The Divine Rhythm Society, and adopted the motto "we welcome all faiths or no faith at all."

    Fast forward to 2020, we've had to rethink how we celebrate as a community in the grips of the global pandemic. Our Spring Equinox celebration, called Alter Ego, looked to address our duality and internal conflict as we come to grips with isolation and the awakening of our role in perpetuating racism and discrimination.

    For Alter Ego, DJs were asked to play music they don't usually play, and some of us took on an alter ego DJ name — mine was "DJ Amen." This mix of Gospel House connects us to our church roots and celebrates the power and beauty of the divine. Enjoy!

    Protest Songs Sat, 06 Jun 2020 23:10:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 77, June 6th, 2020—installment 27s of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The global uprising initiated by the killing of George Floyd brought the plight of black Americans into sharp focus. While the BLM movement and power of social media have initiated a powerful awakening, the scars of racism run deep. This mix looks back at civil rights and black power songs from the 60s-70s—music of protest and hope. Enjoy!

    O.G. Deep House Fri, 29 May 2020 23:05:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 70, May 29th, 2020—installment 26 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    When I first started collecting house music I was attracted to a deeper and more melodic sound than I was hearing in clubs. Here's a sampling of laid back, soulful and deep house sounds from the 90s. Enjoy!

    Atmospheric Drum & Bass Fri, 22 May 2020 23:01:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 67, May 22nd, 2020—installment 25 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Continuing on the Drum & Bass journey, this mix explores the early innovators of chilled out D&B. Enjoy!

    Jungle Mon, 18 May 2020 22:57:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 63, May 18th, 2020—installment 24 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Exploring my own introduction to Jungle music in the early 1990s through dancehall and dub. Enjoy!

    Latin Jazz Fri, 15 May 2020 22:53:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 60, May 15th, 2020—installment 23 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix wanders though Afro Cuban, Salsa, Rumba and other latin rhythms. Enjoy!

    Roots Reggae Wed, 13 May 2020 22:49:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 58, May 13th, 2020—installment 22 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The spiritual side of reggae coming your way. Jah Rastafari!

    Dub Round 2 Mon, 11 May 2020 22:45:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 56, May 11th, 2020—installment 21 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Second round of dub, this time sticking to the roots. Enjoy!

    Kraftwerk Fri, 08 May 2020 22:40:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 53, May 8th, 2020—installment 20 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A Kraftwerk tribute mix following the loss of founding member Florian Schneider. Enjoy!

    Afro Boogie 2 Wed, 06 May 2020 22:36:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 51, May 6th, 2020—installment 19 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    African boogie, funk and disco from the late 70s to early 80s. Enjoy!

    Tony Allen Mon, 04 May 2020 22:31:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 49, May 4th, 2020—installment 18 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A tribute to the late Fela Kuti drummer and creator of the Afrobeat rhythm—Tony Allen's musical innovation never stopped. A small sampling of his range—from early Fela days to his recent afro house productions and remixes. Enjoy!

    Dub Techno Fri, 01 May 2020 22:26:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 46, May 1st, 2020—installment 17 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Some dub for you — a mix of older dub with dub techno from Rhythm & Sound + others. Enjoy!

    Microhouse Wed, 29 Apr 2020 22:22:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 44, April 29th, 2020—installment 16 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Chill and minimal Microhouse jams for your enjoyment!

    Ambient House Mon, 27 Apr 2020 22:22:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 42, April 27th, 2020—installment 15 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Floating between chillout electronica and micro house is ambient house. Enjoy!

    World Beats Fri, 24 Apr 2020 22:10:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 39, April 24th, 2020—installment 14 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    On the road for this one, so this is a digital mix. A global wander through chilled out beats and vibes. Enjoy!

    Rocksteady Wed, 22 Apr 2020 22:06:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 37, April 22nd, 2020—installment 13 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Roots and Rocksteady vibes - enjoy!

    Dancehall Mon, 20 Apr 2020 22:02:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 35, April 20th, 2020—installment 12 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Jamaican dancehall vibes - enjoy!

    Funk Fri, 17 Apr 2020 21:58:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 32, April 17th, 2020—installment 11 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Funk and soul — classics and reworks. Enjoy!

    Boogie Wed, 15 Apr 2020 21:52:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 30, April 15th, 2020—installment 10 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    80s boogie, disco rap and funk for your enjoyment!

    Brazil Mon, 13 Apr 2020 21:48:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 28, April 13th, 2020—installment 9 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    A wander through old and new Brazilian music. Enjoy!

    Jazz House Fri, 10 Apr 2020 21:43:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 25, April 10th, 2020—installment 8 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The mix starts with an early 90s jazz garage house classic, then meanders through jazz-influenced house music. Enjoy!

    Gospel & Soul Mon, 06 Apr 2020 21:38:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 21, April 6th, 2020—installment 7 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    I was out of town for this mix, so this was a digital mix. The mix begins with early Staples Singers and other gospel tracks, then moves into soul rarities, R&B and re-edits. Enjoy!

    Chillhop Fri, 03 Apr 2020 21:34:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 18, April 3rd, 2020—installment 6 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    I was out of town for this mix, so this was a digital mix. A mix of chillout, chillhop, psy-chill, and trip hop. Enjoy!

    Downtempo Wed, 01 Apr 2020 21:29:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 16, April 1st, 2020—installment 5 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix is a throwback to Mushroom Jazz days with early 90s chill downtempo and trip hop. Enjoy!

    Midtempo Mon, 30 Mar 2020 21:23:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 14, March 30th, 2020—installment 4 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix meanders through new and early 90s trip hop, midtempo electronic, chillout and indie electronica. Enjoy!

    Afro House Fri, 27 Mar 2020 21:18:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 11, March 27rd, 2020—installment 3 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix starts off with some older African Electronica tracks, moves towards Afro House dance tracks and ends with some African Boogie and Funk. Enjoy!

    African Jazz & Highlife Wed, 25 Mar 2020 21:10:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 9, March 25rd, 2020—installment 2 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    This mix explores the African Jazz and West African Highlife. Opening with Manu Dibango's New Bell, may he rest in peace.

    Afro Boogie Mon, 23 Mar 2020 19:07:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Shelter day 7, March 23rd, 2020—installment #1 of live-streamed, all-vinyl DJ sets while we're sheltering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    All-vinyl West African disco and boogie mix to shake your booty!

    About Wed, 23 Oct 2019 14:16:00 -0700

    Hi, my name is Ammon Haggerty. I'm a multi-disciplinary design leader and technologist (code + design) working at the forefront of interaction design and machine intelligence. For more than a decade, I've built products and experiences for the emerging field of AI.

    While at Microsoft, under the leadership of Blaise Agüera y Arcas, I was a part of the early Cortana and HoloLens teams, and developed concepts and prototypes for the coming revolution of intelligent agents.

    I led the AI and personalization practice for BCG's venture incubation group (BCG X), co-founding the first successful, corporate backed venture to emerge from the group. Formation, was an AI-powered (specifically, reinforcement learning) loyalty optimization SAAS that powered the renowned Starbucks loyalty program.

    I'm currently guiding several companies and startups in shaping their AI strategies, alongside working on launching my own venture, Joinable. In my spare time (ha!), I'm exploring ways to harness generative AI for personal and creative projects.

    I have extensive experience building and managing creative and technical product teams across all stages of the creation process. My entrepreneurial journey continually offers new opportunities for learning and personal development, affirming my commitment to lifelong learning. I am passionate about applying exceptional design to exceptionally hard problems.

    Over the years, I've been fortunate to work with many amazing people at BCG X, Microsoft, Obscura Digital, Odopod, Quokka, and countless agencies and independent collaborators. I've always loved wearing many hats and have held roles like VP Product Design, Resident DJ, Creative Technologist, Design Director, Lead Developer, and Founder.

    Occasionally my work is recognized, and over the years I've collected more than 50 prestigious honors, including multiple Communication Arts Annuals, Cannes Lion Awards, and Webbie Awards nominations. I also love exploring novel design solutions and have received eight UX design patents.

    My personal mission is to leverage design and innovation to amplify human connection.

    Outside my work, I love music and enjoy sequencing songs with energetic intention—successful attempts go here. My wife Laura introduced me to photography of the larger format film variety—I occasional post photos on Instagram. In my free time I spend as much time as I can with Laura and our two amazing daughters.

    The Rhythm Society: Homecoming Tue, 01 Oct 2019 15:38:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The term “chill” entered my lexicon following EPMD's 1988 debut album Strictly Business. Their blockbuster track “You Gots to Chill” firmly secured the word “chill” into the minds of the masses. My introduction to the term “chill out” surfaced two years later from electronic/rave act The KLF, with their seminal album Chill Out — a dreamy, meandering soundscape with mixed spoken word, ambient music, soundscapes, and popular music samples. While The KLF may have been responsible for ushering in my generation of chill out rooms, it's worth recognizing the pioneers such as Terry Riley, John Cage, Iannis Xenakis, Brian Eno, Pink Floyd, and many others who have experimented with the quieter side of experiential performance.

    Chill out music has always been more a state-of-mind than a specific musical genre. As someone who struggles to put music in a box, playing music in chill rooms has always been liberating. This mix was recorded in the chill room of the 2019 Fall Equinox Rhythm Society event “Homecoming”. The mix is on the upper end of the Chill Out Energy Spectrum (COES®) — appropriate for keeping folks awake at 3am 😉. The mix is anchored in electronic downtempo, moments of exploring double-time from the Microfunk genre, a brief dip into the quieter side of the PsyChill genre, then back into some folksy chill electronics. Featuring a track by one of my newfound fav artist Tree Theater, a new track by my friend Random Rab, a couple by the mesmerizing Finish artist Aleksi Perälä, and many others.


    Cover image from Iannis Xenakis, Polytope de Cluny, 1972

    IxDA // Interaction 19 Sun, 01 Sep 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty IxDA is the largest and most respected interaction design organization in the world. So I was deeply honored when they asked me to speak at their annual conference along side my design heroes John Maeda and Bill Buxton.

    For the past eight years, since my time at Microsoft, much of my focus has been on leveraging design to enable machine intelligence (machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.). I quickly recognized that we’re at a critical juncture for consumer AI applications: the use of personal data as fuel has led to the emergence of powerful intelligent services, but people are waking up to the privacy and social implications of broad data sharing.

    In this talk I discussed the role of the interaction designer as the gate keeper of customer data, and the challenges we face building trust and the engagement that’s needed to enable meaningful experiences. I also demonstrated how playfulness, as a design tactic, can unlock reinforcement learning in new and exciting ways. Lastly, I shared my Serendipity Watch project that leverages user empowerment and playfulness to create a deeply intimate experience that learns playfully.

    Sufi Camp 2019 Thu, 18 Jul 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty When I was two years old, my mother met my step-father Shabda Kahn. At the time he was an esoteric instrument builder (making drums for Micky Hart of the Grateful Dead), a member of the Bay Area Sufi Choir (the image for this mix is from one of their albums), a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath (a famous North Indian classical vocalist), and a recent transplant from New York City. Within the following couple of years, Shabda, along with other members of the Bay Area Sufi community started an annual Sufi campout in Mendocino. The week-long campout revolves around the “Dances of Universal Peace”, a spiritual practice that employs singing and dancing the sacred phrases of the world's mystic traditions. Some of my earliest memories are from climbing the giant redwood stumps and playing in the streams.

    Fast forward 25 years, as a DJ I spent some time traveling with a very interesting man named Matthew Fox, an ex-catholic priest who preaches about the world's mystic traditions and throws "Cosmic Mass" raves. My parents loved the idea of mixing DJ culture with their Sufi retreat, so they asked if I would come and do one of these Cosmic Masses at Sufi Camp. I've long recognized similarities between Sufi dhikr and peak DJ experiences, where a guide can take a group on a collective transcendent journey, so connecting these two worlds was a natural evolution.

    Over the past 25 years I’ve been invited to play at many of their “rave night” parties, which is always an ecstatic and love-filled affair — this evening was no exception! This year was the first year my two daughters could stay up and enjoy the dancing, so it felt like a new generation stepping into the lineage of dancing as a community.

    The music in this mix meanders through all four corners of the African diaspora through Afro House and remixes, dips into some Tribal Tech House, and explores other world music influences. Enjoy!

    AILA // AI, Ethics + Fairness Thu, 20 Jun 2019 11:35:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty I was invited to discuss the ethical implication of machine intelligence from a product practitioner perspective. I joined a stellar panel, which included Peter Eckersley, Director of Research for Partnership on AI, Brian Green, Director of Technology Ethics at Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and Aaina Agarwal, is a Project Specialist on the AI/Machine Learning team at the World Economic Forum.

    Interaction 19 - SF // Redux Fri, 05 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The San Francisco chapter of IxDA asked me to share the talk I gave at Interaction 19 for a local audience. For a second time this year I was thrilled to share the stage with one of my design heroes Bill Buxton. The sold out event focused on two topics: Designing for and with AI, and Designing for Life, Death, and Eternity — heady topics that did not disappoint.

    I was also invited to a panel discussion on the ethics of AI along with Hannah Maddy (from the Netflix AI team) and Kristian Simsarian (head of Humans for AI and professor at CCA). Video below.

    Hunting Mushrooms Wed, 20 Mar 2019 15:29:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    Likely before I uttered my first coherent words I was crawling around in the dirt looking for gourmet edible mushrooms. A story my aunt likes to share, which I have absolutely no memory, is when I found the “biggie” — a Boletus Edulis nearly the size of my three-year-old torso. My father is a passionate mushroom nerd — a mycologist is what the academics call them. He’s a walking encyclopedia of mushroom names and characteristics, nearly always knowing the Latin names, common names, identification characteristics, and edibility.

    Boletes are upwards of 50 pounds and can stand at two feet tall. They are the inspiration for giant toad stool mushrooms in fairy tales. They’re also delicious — a rich, steak-like flavor that can stand on its own as a meal or enhance an egg breakfast or pasta dinner.

    My father comes from a family of mushroom hunters. Mushroom nerds call foraging for mushrooms "mushroom hunting" because it’s often hard to find the good ones, and potentially fatal to find the bad ones. Finding them often requires wandering off-trail and heading deep into the woods, looking for traces or evidence of their presence, and often return home empty-handed — foiled by the elusive creatures. Just because they don’t move doesn’t make them less tricky to track and find. My father claims he can "hear" the vibration of certain mushroom species — with my understanding that mycelium (vegetative part of a fungus) permeates the ground below our feet, I don't doubt his claim, although I've never "heard" them myself.

    I now understand that mushrooms are complex organisms with particular habitat needs. There seems to be a direct correlation between how tasty a mushroom is and their habitat fastidiousness. For example, boletes likes thick ground cover from pine trees, where they can grow a foot tall before breaking through the surface. Boletes also like a perfect mix of dryness and moisture, so they often grow in coastal areas where fog gives them steady moisture, and like the south-west side of a hill or large tree where the ground dries out a bit. The chanterelle prefers older oak trees, where a deep mulch has had time to develop, and likes the cooler north-east facing side of a hill. Morels often propagate under pine trees, and just below the melting snow line in the Sierra foothills in the springtime.

    Another factor in finding mushrooms is the fierce competition. Gourmet mushrooms are a favorite food of wild pigs/boars, and with their keen sense of smell and low visual perspective, they usually find them long before they push through the forest floor (duff). Deer and other forest animals also love mushrooms. If the animals don’t get them, a small army of professional foragers often clean up in the more accessible areas. The most sought after mushrooms (Chanterelles, Boletus, Morels, Truffles) have all evaded commercialized cultivation at scale — a testament to the mysterious and complex nature of fruiting fungus.

    From June 2018 issue of National Geographic

    I recently read the book "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World" by Peter Wohlleben, which goes into great detail about how fungus facilitates communication between trees and are a required ingredient in the health of a forest. Mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus, is the largest organism on the planet — potentially stretching for miles underground. The mushrooms we see are just fruiting body of the mycelium. The mycelium becomes intertwined with tree roots, and from Wohlleben's book and recent studies, we now know that mycelium is both a conduit for food and a communication medium for the trees. The trees can literally talk to each other through the fungus network. One critical communication they enable is early warnings about disease and invasive insects — giving neighboring trees a formula for defense. Trees, in return, give the mycelium salt and water. Fascinating!

    Oona finding chanterelles in the Oakland Hills

    My interest in mushrooms has been cultivated from a young age, and I’m trying to do the same for my two daughters. Since they were old enough to walk I’ve been bringing them to look for mushrooms. We have random mushroom chachkies throughout the house — mushroom pillows, salt shakers, t-shirts. I’m not obsessed — I only keep the good stuff 😉

    So, this story isn’t only about the mushrooms in the woods. It’s also about the mushrooms in my mind — when you have a strong association with an object or idea, you see it wherever you go. My mind is clearly attuned to mushrooms and reminds me of my father telling me he could spot a mushroom in the woods out of the corner of his eye while driving 50 miles per hour — it wasn’t a visual identification exactly — more of an awareness.

    In my early 20s I was excited about new music coming out of England called Acid Jazz. The name invoked both psychedelia and musical sophistication — two qualities I enjoy in music. My father being an incredible jazz musician, I grew up listening to some of the jazz greats and would go see people like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter play live. I was also listening to a lot of House Music so Acid Jazz hit a sweet spot for me — jazz, funk, soul, electronic, dance — all mixed together. And by having the word “acid” in the name, people naturally put psychedelic references, including mushrooms, on album artwork and other promotional material.

    In 1990, I started making mix tapes of my favorite Acid Jazz music. Some of the tapes were new music and some were mixes of music from the 60s and 70s that inspired Acid Jazz. I called my mix tapes “Mushroom Jazz” — it just made sense. Most of the tapes were one-offs for my own listening pleasure or a special gift for friend. I believe it was my 3rd or 4th tape that I gave to a friend of mine Eric who, along with my friend Charlie, worked at Anarchic, a notorious streetwear clothing company of the time.

    Eric and Charlie went on a trip to Chicago some time in late 91 or early 92 for a clothing trade show. They ended up staying with Mark Farina and Patty Smith — there was a music connection in there somewhere. Eric brought my tape and shared it with Mark and Patty. Mark was also fascinated with the growing Acid Jazz movement and was making his own mix tapes which, by coincidence, were also called Mushroom Jazz. Eric returned with Mark's tape and shared the serendipitous connection, which happened to be the best mix of Acid Jazz I had ever heard.

    Playing at Mushroom Jazz with Thomas Bullock, aka Mammal - 1993

    I was working at a tech startup called Colorscape, a CDRom development shop. My boss, Eric Kalabacos, was a fellow music lover and shared my passion for the music and culture that was flourishing in San Francisco. We were talking about creating a party where we could share music like Acid Jazz and downtempo — at the time all the parties were purely house or techno. He offered to bankroll the effort. At the same time Mark and Patty moved from Chicago to San Francisco and were looking for new opportunities — Mark was a full time DJ and Patty was an event promoter. We teamed up with the other Eric and formed a plan for our inaugural event.

    In the summer of 1992 we held our first event, dubbed Jazzid Up!, at the Oasis nightclub in SF's SOMA. We had the idea of a space with great music, delicious food, socializing and dancing. Patty convinced us we should have the party weekly to build a following, and within a few weeks we were seeing a fairly full house. The event continued to grow in both size and reputation. We began attracting DJs and artists outside our community, such as DJ Shadow, Marques Wyatt, and bands such as the RAD and Slide Five.

    While the official name of our weekly was Jazzid Up!, most people referred to the event as Mushroom Jazz, and there were plenty of mushrooms present on promotional materials and decorations. Mark continued to use the moniker as he became a globally recognized DJ and musician.

    I’ll wrap up this meandering mushroom journey with a short film titled “Looking for Mushrøøms" by Brucə Connər (creative mis-spelling to delay the removal of the video). He shot the film while Connər was living in Mexico in the early 1960s. The film chronicles Connər, Timothy Leary and other friends as they attempt to find the psychedelic variety of mushrooms in rural Mexico. Set to my favorite Terry Riley track “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band”, the film is a meditation on the act of getting lost.

    My Year In Music Mon, 31 Dec 2018 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Favorite Album

    Brian Eno ‎– Music For Installations

    Brian Eno's Music for Airports was one of my first ambient albums and a staple of early 90s chill room sessions. As I’ve collected and explored the vast world of Eno, I marvel at the range and impact he's made on so much of the music I love. From Roxy Music to Grace Jones, Robert Fripp to David Bowie — he’s the wizard behind the curtain for some of the most interesting moments of contemporary music.

    Music For Installations, released in 2018, is a collection of music pieces created by Eno for site-specific installations as early as 1985. It’s a trove of conceptually deep, blissful soundscapes—each with a backstory that greatly expands the listening experience.

    I can't say I've given this album enough listening time to pull out the very best track, but a song called "Kazakhstan" is lovely and one of the most recent tracks on the album—created for the Astana Expo 2017 in Kazakhstan. The video below shows the setting for the piece within Asif Khan’s installation "We Are Energy."

    Favorite Song

    Kalaha - Dragon Jenny

    It's difficult to pick one favorite song among the many genres and moods that can change from day to day. This past year has been dominated by three musical themes: African Highlife, Deep House, and Future Funk. Dragon Jenny, by Kalaha, seems to be a nearly perfect hybrid of all three (well maybe just the first two).

    Kalaha is a four-piece afro-electronic jazz band from Denmark. I've enjoyed all three of Kalaha's past albums, but this single is my favorite of theirs so far—and my song pick of the year.

    Favorite Re-issued Album

    Dizzy K. Falola ‎– Sweet Music Volume I

    The past few years have been a golden age for reissues of extremely hard-to-find African music. Many of the albums I’ve spent the past 20+ years looking for are suddenly available as pristine re-pressings—sans the 40+ years of wear and tear found in most original pressings. I’m not a purist when it comes to which edition I own—it’s the music, in all it’s sonic glory, that brings me joy.

    Ever since William Onyeabor’s documentary and album reissue a couple of years ago, there’s been growing interest in 80s African pop music —dubbed African bubblegum pop or afro synth. Like many other popular genres from “the west”, African musicians assimilate and re-create a uniquely African analog. For African musicians, this cultural borrowing is circular, with many of these western genres originally borrowing from traditional African music. However, 80s pop music seems to be uniquely western—born from technological innovations and a rejection of disco and soul music—influences closely associated with African music. The juxtaposition of 80s pop and African music makes for a wonderfully quirky sound that's both familiar and completely new to my ears.

    Over the past couple years I've been introduced to a number of African bubblegum pop albums that have perked my ears. But the reissue of Dizzy K.'s Sweet Music Volume 1 is the first one I've been genuinely excited about since William Onyeabor. Dizzy K. also seems to have opened a window into wonderful albums by artists Esbee Family, Christy Essien Igbokwe, and many others.

    Favorite Vinyl Purchase

    Ugbo and His Philosophers Band

    A couple decades ago I was introduced to the album Lyesogie by Ugbo and His Philosophers Band—a mesmerizing early 80s Nigerian Highlife album. The title track (listen below) is a 16 minute blissfully repetitive slow chug that almost sounds latin or South American in parts. What I found fascinating about this track was the wonky syncopation that gives almost a drunken swagger, but remains perfectly in sync for the full duration. Ever since hearing that song I've been on a mission to buy all of Ugbo's albums (about 14 of them). As of today I've found five of them.

    The self titled album "Ugbo and His Philosophers Band" has been one of the top albums on my wishlist, and this year I finally found a copy that was both in good shape and reasonably priced. I can't find a date on the album or from any online source, but I'm guessing it's from between 1979 and 1981. The track Eyuya (listen below) stands out with its seductive disco shuffle and heavy percussion. Like most of Ugbo's music, the song is repetitive and mesmerizing as it chugs along. Have a listen.

    Favorite DJ Mix (that I made)

    Joy & Happiness

    Every summer I look forward to my dear friend Joy's annual backyard party—a block party of sorts, bringing together multiple households who share a big, beautiful yard. A magical treehouse sits in the center of the yard with a lawn that flows around gardens and a shed. Joy is a fantastic DJ and has made it a tradition to bring her DJ friends together to share music.

    This mix follows a year of finding a constant stream of quality African-influenced dance music coming from around the world. Some featured artists on this mix include Canadian/African artist Pierre Kwenders, South African artists John Wizards and Felix Laband, Italian artist Clap! Clap!, and many others.

    The sunny afternoon with good friends, in a beautiful setting, and on a wonderful sound system, likely all contributed to the final product—a mix that feels about as good as I'm able to create with these mortal skills.

    Listen below or download for later ;)

    Favorite DJ Mix (that someone else made)

    Jazzcat - Afro Disco Beat

    Jazzcat, AKA Massimiliano Conti, is an Italian DJ and prolific mix machine. He's one of the people I follow religiously on Mixcloud. He's a digger of mighty gems and freely shares his finds for us all to enjoy. He's up there with Gilles Peterson as someone who continually introduces me to wonderful music across many genres. His specialties are Jazz, Soul, Funk, Latin, African and Brazilian—no complaints there.

    To be honest, this is a somewhat random mix of his and didn't have time to dig through them all. They're all good and remember liking this one quite a bit :)

    Favorite Live DJ Performance

    DF Tram w/Video Dub Poobah

    This past November, DF Tram (Dylan Yanez) opened for The Orb at the Independent. I've heard Dylan play many times before, so I knew the music would be spot on. What was unexpected was his accompaniment with Video Dub Poobah, who provided a realtime video narrative—the combination transcended the audio/visual experience into immersive storytelling. I also hadn't heard Dylan play in a large venue before, something that elevated the normally quiet and subtle sounds he procures. One sign of DJ mastery is the ability to take the listener on both an emotional and energetic journey—one with peaks and valleys, lightness and darkness. On this night Dylan took us all on a fantastic voyage.

    Dylan's new album Serenitay Infinitay is also high on my list of chillout albums for 2018. A wonderful debut for a passionate and talented artist.

    Favorite Newly Discovered Artist

    Felix Laband

    Somehow I missed this South African artist over the past 18 years since his debut album African Dope. In many ways Felix feel like my long lost musical soulmate—he's a graphic designer-turned musician, heavily influenced by both African music and electronic bands like Boards of Canada, then weaves these influences together like a masterful storyteller. In the past year I've acquired all of Felix's albums, both digital and vinyl—every one of them wonderful.

    Probably my favorite album is Deaf Safari from 2015—a sublime, deep, electronic album that skirts the line between dance music and electronica. With heavy African and blues music influence throughout, there are layers upon layers of rich textures and rhythms. 4/4 Down the Stairs from 2002 is another great album by Felix that was recently reissued on South Africa's Roastin' Records.

    Favorite Newly Discovered Music Genre

    Future Funk

    I’ve never been one to follow the latest musical trends (or memes), which is why I completely missed the Vaporware music genre/meme when it rose to popularity in 2012/2013. Originally, Vaporware was an appropriation of really awful 80s and 90s elevator music and self-help/porn soundtracks—then chopped up, re-edited, and often dropped into a psychedelic video that makes the crap music appear somehow interesting again. While the subject and process both appeal to me, my tolerance for bad music likely steered me away from this music when it was at its peak.

    Eight years later, Vaporware is still going strong (in an Reddit underground sort of way), and has mutated into numerous sub-genres such as Eccojams, Faux-Utopian, VHS Pop, MallSoft, Hypnagogic Drift, and Future Funk (aka Vaporboogie). 2018 was the year I dipped my toes into this strange and murky sonic swamp to discover some wonderfully talented producers and remix artist. Some would argue the varieties of Vaporware I find interesting, in particular Future Funk, have become too main stream and no longer represent the conceptual intent of the genre—which is fair. Personally I don’t care much about Vaporware critics, I’m just here to find good music!

    Future Funk breaks down into a few different (unofficial) genres I’d describe as: 1) J-Pop/K-Pop reworks, 2) 80s Japanese disco reworks, 3) 70s/80s popular disco reworks, 4) 80s pop music reworks, 5) obscure funk and soul reworks. For those unfamiliar with the term “reworks”, it’s basically taking a song, chopping it up and putting it back together—often with new/contemporary layers of rhythm or instrumentation, along with modern production. Future Funk seems to be on a collision coarse with one of my longer-term obsessions, Nu-Disco, which uses many of the same source materials and ideas.

    Some standout Future Funk artists include Flamingosis, Yung Bae, Night Tempo, and マクロスMACROSS 82-99, each capturing a different corner of the genre. Here are a few samples:

    That's all folks. I hope 2019 bring exciting new adventures in music! For more music listening, jump to my mix archive or join me on Mixcloud.

    Finding Center Fri, 02 Nov 2018 16:29:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    I was first introduced to the idea of "being centered” through Aikido when I was 10. My aunt Wendy Palmer was the sensei (teacher) and owner of the dojo (place to practice) — she's a 6th degree blackbelt and a legendary badass in our family lore. In one of my first classes she claimed that, with proper technique, one could walk away unharmed from a 30 foot fall on to cement — my superhero fantasies ran wild. Falling without injury is one of the wonderful practices in Aikido.

    As a core practice in Aikido, we were introduced to being centered as a visualization technique — imagine roots extending from your feet and penetrating deep into the floor below. From this place of being deeply “grounded” you find the natural center of balance for each part of the body: head, arms, torso, hips, legs, feet and so on. Once centered, the goal is to retain this balance and grounding as you move through your practice — and through life.

    I discovered skateboarding around the same time and quickly became obsessed with all things skateboarding. There was an immediate application of my Aikido skills — both staying on and falling off the skateboard. Skateboarding introduced me to skate parks and ramps, where the ground becomes fluid and unpredictable. Skateboarding led to snowboarding, where movement became much more three dimensional — again stretching the relative awareness of my body in space. It was while snowboarding that I found a visceral feeling of being centered and could feel myself snap in and out of center like a steel ball rolling into a divot.

    Rocket air, Donner Ski Ranch, 1988

    I’ve long subscribed to the notion that everything in the universe is always in perfect harmony — light and dark, birth and death, good and bad, war and peace, happy and sad. Some argue that this faith in immutable balance is a cop-out — an excuse to accept life as predestined. But I see it more as symbiosis, where one side cannot exist without the other, where harmony is an unwavering force. This belief in inevitable balance sometimes leads to personal anxiety where I might feel a positive life event will eventually be offset by a countering negative one, but being raised Buddhist, I can easily stretch the opposing forces into previous or future lifetimes to quell my fears. While harmony is not synonymous with being centered, I feel the recognition of the extremes as states of a continuum comes from centered perspective.

    At this moment in time I feel, as a culture, we’ve lost our connection to a centered mindset. My mom’s uncle, William Proxmire, was the Senator of Wisconsin for 32 years. He was known as a centrist and pragmatist, and largely respected by his constituency — save for some space enthusiasts and science fiction fans, but that’s another story. He was a huge proponent to campaign finance reform and, through his annual Golden Fleece Award, often called politicians out on both sides of the isle for unnecessary government spending. He lived in the center of our country and embodied a centrist philosophy in life.

    Crappy photo I took from the top of the Capitol Rotunda, 1983

    In 1983, when I was 12 years old, my mom and I went to Washington D.C. to spent the week with “Uncle Willie”. He took us on a D.C. insider tour — though secret underground tunnels and to the top of the Capitol Rotunda under the Statue of Freedom. We walked through the halls of the Senate Chamber and had lunch in the Senate dining room. As we sat, Uncle Willie pointed to a table of men having lunch and said “those are the bad guys”. I remember one of their names — Newt Gingrich. I asked why they were "bad" and he said “they don’t believe in working together, and that’s very dangerous.” This was the first time I felt a sense of ideological discord.

    As I grew older I realized I had some ideological discord closer to home between my dad and grandfather. My dad was, and still is, a hippie, through and through. To this day, he lives the hippie ethos of peace and love, with a Buddhist flare of detachment and selflessness. I’d say politically he’s somewhere in the socialist spectrum. His father, on the other hand, was a far-right republican/libertarian who spent his later years writing conspiracy theories about how the liberals and hippies would destroy the world. At first glance one would see these two people on opposite ends of the spectrum. But knowing them both, I realized they were actually more similar than different. I felt that the ideological spectrum was not linear, but probably more circular.

    One of the dangers of people with extremist ideologies is that they loose the ability to empathize with other points of view. The views of others become unreasonable, and even unimaginable. A recent study by More in Common, called Hidden Tribes maps how polarized we’ve become as a society. In this study, they identify “The Wings”, two cohorts that represent 14 percent of society and are both the most vocal and most radical — often their beliefs are the polar opposite.

    From "Hidden Tribes" - More In Common research, 2018

    The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”, and it’s something I practice every day for my job as an interaction designer. It’s a moral value we use in our direct relations and workplace. But it seems to be something that’s in short supply in politics and cross-cultural issues, such as immigration.

    I return to the thesis of this article, about being centered, as a proposition for improving our current approach to solving political and social problems. Perhaps the greatest barrier to making meaningful changes is our lack of empathy and understanding of others’ values and beliefs. I would argue that, as a society, we’ve been loosing our ability to focus on the center — our middle class, our moderate representation, and our universal values. From my experience with Aikido and snowboarding, power comes from being centered.

    In the end, change begins at the individual, and every person is responsible for the trail of influence they leave. We may think we’re rooting for a revolution, but what we may be doing instead is amplifying a polarized society which is increasingly unable to focus on ideas that could unify and strengthen us all. I encourage anyone willing to listen — find the center point in all of the extreme perspectives and spend some time there, then try to empathize with every perspective. From there, you may have some leverage to initiate meaningful change.

    Rotation Mon, 08 Oct 2018 10:50:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty I was not a sophisticated photographer growing up. Granted, this was before everyone had a decent camera in their pockets. I had some friends who took photography classes in High School and donned fancy cameras with interchangeable lenses. I was generally satisfied with the results of a disposable camera from the drug store. My naiveté was passed down from my parents.

    This all changed in the mid-90s when a friend introduced me to the Yashica T4, a $50 plastic Japanese camera with a wonderful Carl Zeiss lens. Around that time I was coming into my own as a designer and my camera was becoming an important trade tool. While the T4 took wonderful photos, it was still a cheap product and would occasionally fail to advance the film fully between shots. The result was my introduction to multiple-exposure photography.

    After touting the brilliance of the T4 to some friends who knew more than myself, I was introduced to the world of "exotic" cameras — Leica, Hasselblad, and others. The maker of the T4, Yashica, made an affordable exotic — the Contax G2, a beautiful camera that rivaled Leica, and with stunning glass by Zeiss. The G2 was a natural evolution for me, and with one feature that blew my mind — a multiple-exposure button!

    I loved the accidental multiple-exposures from my T4, and now with the G2 I was trying to intentionally find those moments of serendipity. I quickly realized it was more difficult than I thought — many of my multiple-exposure attempts felt forced and contrived, not the happy-accident feelings I'd had. I considered whether there was a psychological difference between "discovering" an accidental overlap and intentionally composing overlapping images, where the brain creates an optimistic expectation of the result — only to be let down in the end.

    Multiples of Laura and Joy - 2002

    An early experiment in intentional multiple-exposure was rotating the camera on the same subject, which created the effect of the ground being "removed" by the over-exposure from the bright sky. The result was a central subject left floating in space, and with kaleidoscopic patterns from the inverted overlapping images. Taking it one step further, I tried rotating the camera at 90 degree turns — overlaying four shots in one

    My first successful shot — one that satisfied both my aesthetic ambitions and a feeling of natural happenstance — was the "Baker Hamilton Building Rotation". At the time, this building was being renovated to house the headquarters for software company Macromedia (they were later acquired by Adobe and is now the SF Adobe office). The history of Baker Hamilton is also fascinating — they made a fortune providing gold digging equipment during the California gold rush.

    Baker Hamilton Building Rotation - 2002

    Following my initial success, I became obsessed — shooting hundreds of "rotation" shots. Again I quickly realized there was no easy formula — most shots looked like a bad kaleidoscope Photoshop filter. At one point I questioned if the images would be perceived as simply Photoshop-created images, and set out to see if I could recreate the effect without in-camera multiple-exposures. As a Photoshop expert, I figured it wouldn't be too hard, but after many hours of playing with filters, blending modes, channel stacking, and more, I came to the conclusion that the quality and feeling of what came out of the camera was something special.

    The series of "rotation" images culminated in a group art show in Berkeley, California. After a couple of years seeing my collection of favorite Rotation images at 4x6 inches, printing them at 20x30 inches was an unexpected thrill. While this remains my first and last art exhibit, it marks a moment in my life where my fascination with photography blossomed into art.

    Joy & Happiness Sat, 11 Aug 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Summertime jams. Blends new African electronic music, afro pop, afro house, deep house and some old school african funk/disco. Recorded at Joy's - Oakland, CA 2018

    The Rhythm Society: Retreat Sat, 19 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Dancing under the stars at a Rhythm Society campout event. Fusion of african and world tech house, breakbeat and bass.

    Drifting Into The Valley Thu, 10 May 2018 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    At the I/O 2018 conference, Google shared a demo of Duplex, their artificial intelligence service (bot) "for accomplishing real-world tasks over the phone". Their demonstration gives examples of a bot making reservations to a hair salon and restaurant. The unsuspecting recipient converses with the bot as they negotiate times and details. This is an impressive advancement in conversational bots and clearly demonstrates the power of AI as a tool for task augmentation. It’s also a clear indicator that we’re entering a new relationship phase with this technology, one where the line between humans and AI become blurred.

    While we’re still technically in the Narrow/Weak AI (context constrained) phase of artificial intelligence, the nuance and sophistication of natural language synthesis is now almost indistinguishable from a human. The ability for an AI to track multiple topics throughout a conversation is also contributing to a more human-like capability. While chatbots have been around for more than 50 years, often creating momentary illusions of sentience, we’re now entering a new era of conversational bots that can pass as human over the phone.

    After listening to Google's demo, I was immediately struck by the use of “um” as a conversational filler. I’m guessing the presence of a filler tested well—providing a more human-like feeling, but um is annoying to me. It’s taken me years to reduce the use of um from my vocabulary, and now it seems it's being adopted as a part of Google's bot lexicon. A few years ago I was researching “bot etiquette” and I hadn’t anticipated we’d be perpetuating speech disfluency, but here we are. I'm sure the future of this technology will quickly adapt to a diction appropriate for each “owner”.

    I was also struck by the idea that the human recipient of the call was unaware that they were conversing with a bot. While I was working on AI-related projects at Microsoft, we looked at the effects of perceived deception from AI—the results of your brain realizing it's been fooled. This is a primary principle in the Uncanny Valley hypothesis—the “feeling” that something perceived as real actually isn’t, which leads to a dip in the human observer's affinity for the humanoid or experience. In our research, the only way to reliably avoid a deception event is to be transparent—fully disclosing the hidden truth. While some may feel requiring a bot to self-disclose at this point is being overcautious, but the negative impact of a perceived deception should not be underestimated.

    Extrapolating the use case into slightly more sensitive topics can also give us a sense of near-term moral and privacy dilemmas. For example, if the human were to ask the bot that they need a credit card to hold the reservation, the bot would need to understand the nature of the business trustworthiness and the user's intent regarding privacy. The user’s home address, family details, social security, work details, etc. could all be readily available to the bot, but when and why to share these details require a nuanced evaluation of each situation. When your bot answers a call from another bot, will it have the training to prevent a malicious phishing attack? There's also a good chance a bot would have better tools than most humans to recognize malicious behavior. Will we soon see a AI bot arms race, where we're damned if we adopt them and more so if we don't?

    There’s an exciting side to to all of this, and it’s where Google’s Duplex product is surely headed—it’s about the creation of our personal digital proxies which will help us navigate the brave new AI-driven world. There’s even a chance these “AI proxy agents" will empower us to take back control of our data and leverage its true value. A well trained digital agent could negotiate an exchange of personal data—data not even Google has access to—for deep discounts at a retailer, instantly negotiate great insurance rates, perhaps even negotiate a new job salary. How much will we entrust in these intelligent agents? And who will act in our best interests? Personally I don’t have faith that Google will build my AI proxy agent with my best interests in mind—they have clearly shown their propensity for monetizing user data.

    While we still live in the Wild West of AI, there’s a growing interest in avoiding major missteps that could result in widespread mistrust in AI and related fields. Last year, a group of leading AI and Robotics researchers got together at the Asilomar Conference Center in California and wrote an initial set of principles to help guide new developments—it’s a good start, but in my opinion misses some thinking around disclosure and transparency. For the next couple of years we’ll likely stumble our way along as we figure out how to cohabit with our new digital friends.

    Formation Wed, 07 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Formation team - early 2018

    In May of 2015 I met with the executive team at Starbucks to share my perspectives on personalization—an assemblage of ideas from my experience in digital marketing, work with digital agents and intelligent services at Microsoft, and envisioning the future of health care for Kaiser Permanente. I was joined by an all-star delegation from BCG and Digital Ventures to pitch a unique working relationship and business opportunity. The thesis of the BCG/DV approach is to leverage BCG's business network with corporate backed venture funding—ensuring both healthy financial incentives and a solid first customer for the new startup. The Starbucks team valued our approach and could see the potential of being both the customer and investor. We secured our Series A funding round in February of 2016, led by BCG and Starbucks.

    Our team began as a collaboration between our CEO Christian Selchau-Hansen and myself. I brought in two of the most capable innovators I've had the pleasure to work with, Jason and Ryan Hickner—brothers who form the mythical unicorn unity of world-class design and deep engineering skills. The four of us became the founding team and set off to build a scalable, enterprise-grade software platform that could deliver individualized, gamified offers designed to drive new and beneficial customer behaviors.

    Formation team - late 2015

    Operating as code name "Fractal", we leveraged BCG's data science team Gamma, engineering vendors and contractors to bootstrap the platform development. We were able to move from concept to a fully operational product in less than 6 months—engaging with millions of Starbucks' customers and far exceeding the predicted impact.

    In June of 2016 we changed our name to Takt, a word that means "rhythm" in German. It's also the name for the conductor's baton—a metaphor we found congruous with customer orchestration and driving behavioral outcomes. The single syllable, four-letter .com domain was also a prized acquisition, cementing our legitimacy as a player in the San Francisco startup community.

    Formation team - late 2016

    Perched atop one of the Embarcadero Center towers, Takt grew to 35 full time team members by the end of 2016. Our growth strategy was to replace all the contractors and vendors with FTEs. We also began looking for our new headquarters, ideally in the SOMA neighborhood near Caltrain and South Park (the epicenter of SF startup culture).

    In February of 2017, at our one year anniversary, we moved into a beautiful standalone building a block from South Park (and two blocks from my first tech job back in 1990). Our space is a light-filled, brick and timber, four-story warehouse built in 1924.

    Formation Headquarters

    On our two year anniversary we announced that we've changed our name to Formation, a name we feel reflects our mission to empower organizations to deepen relationships with their customers as individuals. We're also using this transition as an opportunity to share more details about our Motivation Alignment Platform, or Formation MAP.

    Our team is now approaching 120 (FTE's + contractors) and we're seeing success with our second large customer. It feels like a good moment to reflect, and recognize the incredible team effort and journey so far. We're expecting another year of rapid growth, so please visit our careers page or reach out to me if you're looking for new opportunities ;)

    For more information about Formation and our MAP platform, please visit

    Little Hip Hop Thu, 14 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty A mix of chilled out instrumental hip hop and downtempo songs. A few different genres of hip hop-style downtempo have caught my attention in the past few years, with artists like Onra and Knxwledge blending Trip Hop and R&B sounds, or Folamour, a french house producer who also creates killer downtempo, or sounds coming out of the Future Funk genre from folks like Flamingosis.

    Gia's Birthday Sat, 10 Sep 2016 23:17:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty On a warm Indian Summer night in San Quentin Village, friends gathered to celebrate the birthday of Gia. Tristan shared is Batiste Rhum concoctions and I shared some music. The mix opens with a recent Tony Allen (drummer for Fela Kuti) track, then drifts through upbeat afro-caribbean and west african dance tracks -- eventually transitioning into percussive deep house tracks. Enjoy!

    The Rhythm Society: Portal Fri, 20 Mar 2015 23:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Recorded at Rhythm Society’s “Portal” event on March 20th, 2015 in Oakland, California.

    Tangents Wed, 30 Apr 2014 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty While at Microsoft I worked on a number of exciting projects dealing with "Intelligent Agents" (personalized AI services). For this project I was looking for a way to playfully engage with users to explore and discover unexpected connections between different topics or media. An initiative for the company at the time was to build Natural User Interface experience, or NUI, that would drive more interest and engagement for tablets, phones and touch enabled laptops.

    The project began a study of aggregating all relevant data from across application into a single representational space that could show relevance and relational associations. We called this project "Ego" and could see the power of breaking the silos that fragment our computing experience. While the concept was exciting, it wasn't feasible. But this led to some very interesting conceptual ideas which led to a patent.

    Fluid Dynamics

    The primary mechanism driving the action and reaction of the interface is a fluid dynamic model. This approach suggests a physicality of data representation through both scale and buoyancy as a representation of relevancy.

    Scaling, Composition and Decomposition

    One of the core principals of the EGO interface is the reflection of relevance in the scale of tiles. A clear opportunity is to capture clear semantic meaning in every tile, regardless of scale. To do this and maintain the organic nature proposed, a method for fluidly scaling the semantic language of the tiles is needed. The following are illustrations of fluid semantic zoom at both a single tile level as well as nested content within a tile.

    Spatial Representation and Experience Boundaries

    The experience is either in a walled box where the user is able to see the complete world in a single view (God view), or the experience extends beyond the edges. The former implies that content generally displaces other content in order to gain visibility. There is also an opportunity for a hybrid view, which uses the single view, but momentarily zooms in to content. If the experience extends, there will be a need to represent wayfinding and spatial navigation.

    Engaging and Disengaging

    The system is living and dynamic, reflecting the aggregate activity surrounding the user. Ideally the experience presents a view of this data in a way that intuitively and clearly reflects relevance and meaning. But what happens when the user influences the presentation? On one hand, the interest in data should change its relationship and possibly make it more relevant, but on the other, it seems problematic to alter the natural state of the relationship. Can we drag an object? Rub it? Tap on it repeatedly? If the goal is to influence relevancy, is there a way to do so that is not confused with looking at it to better understand what it is?

    Beyond simply expressing interest, the act of engaging (consumption, clarification, correction, etc.) needs to be an intuitive and primary interaction model. If touching an object fully engages it, which would be the most intuitive approach, then secondary forms of engagement become difficult. Zooming (pinch/zoom) seems to be the obvious secondary choice for engaging in content, but it can also be challenging to target specific items within an organic UI.

    Mapping Analog

    The ability to scale, and navigate an information “landscape” could be seen as an analog to map-based interaction. Some of the opportunities and challenges for this include:

    • Maps and data can be interchangeable/merged
    • Wayfinding becomes critical in understanding context

    3rd Party Content Modeling

    One danger of content aggregation is the expectation for experience parity with the 3rd party services. For example, if we aggregate Facebook, to what extent do we display content or allow the user to interface with the services. Replicating services can become a large development effort both up front and ongoing. Setting parity expectations low is a recommended approach since it will allow more upfront development for the interaction and intelligence components.

    On to Tangents

    When we realized the vision — basically a replacement/augmentation of the Windows desktop — would be impossible for our team to prototype, we took the most compelling ideas an applied them to a subject I love: discovery. We started with the subject of movies and thought about what we could learn if we aggregated all known data into a fluid experience and surfaced the data points with the highest relevance. Then, if we looked at multiple movies or actors together, we could see where relevance would intersect.

    The result was a playful and addictive experience that surfaced delightful and unexpected insights. We leveraged some interesting data sources including: Microsoft's Knowledge Graph, Watchwith (a startup logging frame-by-frame contextual data on movies), Wikipedia, IMDB, IMCDB (Internet Movie Car Database), IMFDB (Internet Movie Firearms Database), and many others. We unified all the data against the IMDB ID (since all sources referenced IMDB).

    This is probably the most difficult project I've ever worked on — because every time I run a test, I get lost in the experience for a half an hour.

    - Chris Miles (software developer on my team)

    We built a fully working prototype and proved the value of the concept. We looked at other subjects to explore, such as music, books, travel, social, and more — they were all compelling experiences. The project joined the countless other visionary software ideas in Microsoft's own Hanger 51.

    Drum Machine Jam Band Fri, 07 Feb 2014 10:15:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    A wonky mix of balearic and left-field underground jams. Inspired by some lovely music coming from Claremont 56 records. Recorded in 2014.

    The Art of Discovery Sat, 01 Feb 2014 14:17:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.

    - Marcel Proust

    As the quotation above suggests, the allure of true discovery is the potential of being awakened to new experiences. During the “Age of Discovery”, ships didn’t sail to new worlds simply to see them - they went to expand their influence and understanding of the world. If we deconstruct discovery as an intention, rather than an outcome, there’s an interesting contradiction to the experience - to discover something means there wasn’t a complete awareness of its existence before it was found.

    I’m interested in the question of how technology can be used to enhance or facilitate discovery. The term discovery has long been a buzzword that remains largely unfulfilled. In most cases the term is used to describe a filtered search, a recommendation system, or a non-linear data structure such as a word cloud or semantic graph. More on those ideas later.

    Discovery as an interaction model is analogous to a slight-of-hand trick. You need both the illusion of magic and a willing participant. If the trick is too easy, there is no illusion and the user loses faith. But if trick is complex and impressive, the participant is willing to suspend belief and open themselves to a new reality.

    Nearly everyone has experienced magic moments while simply searching the web. It’s possible you’re reading this because of a happy accident. Accidentally reaching an unexpected and fulfilling outcome can be a true discovery experience. But this is discovery by chance and curiosity, rather than discovery as a facilitated experience. While curiosity is a key ingredient in unlocking discovery, my interest here is in how the experience can be intentionally induced.

    Trust is important ingredient of discovery; without trust there’s little chance that the destination will be recognized as anything meaningful. The relationship between the guide and the participant is a delicate game of building trust, while at the same time the guide pushes deeper into the unknown. The early explorers of the New World often failed because of mutiny - the loss of faith in the journey.

    The role of guides, or “experts”, have long been used to direct us toward what we want and need. Prior to the internet, most people heavily leveraged the knowledge of the expert. The doctor would diagnose your ailment. Your grandmother would instruct you on how to bake the best cake. The travel agent would negotiate and book your vacation. We relied on a network of specialists to guide us through an increasingly complex world. While all these resources are still available, there has been a tremendous shift towards online self service and crowd-sourced knowledge.

    The commoditization of expertise in the digital world is one of the key drivers of innovation. The ability to replace an expensive knowledge service with a seemingly free one of equal or greater value seems like a win-win. And in many ways it is. Crowd-sourced expertise is one of the great democratic benefits of the internet. But with algorithms and queries replacing the role of the expert, our knowledge is converging and contrary and nuanced points of view are diminishing.

    A machine learning algorithm that generates recommendations from the observation of users’ decision patterns is often called a recommender system, and most popular online shopping services leverage these systems. Without getting too deep, it’s fair to say that these system are effective in surfacing relevancy and driving sales.

    A pet peeves of mine is when services promote a discovery tool that’s really just a recommender system in disguise. Returning to our original definition of true discovery, I’d like to argue that the goal of discovery is to introduce the user to something truly new or unexpected, and do so in a way that opens their minds to the experience. The problem with the recommender system approach is that you easily create a feedback loop problem - reinforcing behaviors because most users are making decisions based on recommendations. This isn’t a new problem - business marketers have long taken advantage of the “blockbuster effect”, where consumers flock to “popular” products.

    Many companies are pushing personalization to address recommendation and push service offerings. Complex algorithms and machine learning are leading to better predictions what users want. Google Now is beginning to form a more personal and anticipatory relationship with the user. Startups like Noowit are trying to employ novel filtering and learning models to predict what you might like. But these efforts have to walk a fine line in order to stay on good graces with their users. Also personalization is more likely to reinforce what’s known, rather than attempt to introduce something new.

    While it’s clear intelligent systems will play a major role in how we experience our world in the future, I’m left with a longing for the trusted expert, the older brother, or the wise sage, who can introduce me to something new in a way that potentially changes my mind about what I believe.

    Affinity Networks are an attempt to leverage “thought leaders” around a specific topic domain (e.g., science). This approach to curated content from domain experts is interesting because it puts expertise ahead of trends and memes. It opens the user to ideas and experiences that may have been unexpected.

    The word “curator” is derived from the latin word curare meaning “take care” - a sentiment I feel is missing in the race towards delivering personalized experiences. An early curation experience of mine was in creating music mixtapes. Whether quickly scribbled or carefully illustrated, the cassette J-card was a canvas waiting to be adorned in multiple dimensions. The effort to record a full 90 minutes of carefully curated and sequenced music, broken into two parts, is clearly an act of love. Then the additional 90 minutes of real-time duplication embodied a certain amount of blood, sweat and tears into each copy. Even if the J-card was photocopied, there was probably a trip to the local copy shop.

    The result of receiving a mixtape was often one of appreciation, and even if the friend did not share your taste in music, the tape would usually get at least one thoughtful listen. The pure act of giving such a labor intensive gift indicated that the author thought the recipient would appreciate something on the tape - otherwise it would be a waste of time for both parties. This would often open a genuine opportunity for true discovery.

    My hope is that we find a way to bring some of the magic found in the sharing of mixtapes back to technology based discovery. As we delve deeper into algorithmically derived recommendations and intelligent personal assistants, it’s easy to forget how we once relied on each other to explore alternative points of view and introductions to new ideas. We’re becoming a homogeneous world with a unified perspective that generated by an enormous technology-fueled feedback loop.

    Sixth Sense Wed, 16 Oct 2013 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty While I was at Microsoft, I was fortunate to be able to work on a few personal research projects. This was one of my favorites — I started with these hypotheses:

    Hypothesis #1:
    We can leverage our brain function to filter out unwanted distractions without interruption.

    Hypothesis #2:
    Subtle haptic feedback over time can shift intent and awareness to a subconscious state.

    Hypothesis #3:
    Directionality (bearing), including an indication of center, can be derived from a stereo haptic signal oriented to the body.

    I was able to build multiple working prototypes using off-the-shelf hardware (Arduino, Seed Studio, etc.), Node.js and a custom iOS application. The first prototype was tethered to my laptop, while the latter prototypes were untethered and connected to my iPhone via Bluetooth.

    Below is the project proposal, followed by the results of the experiment.


    In the world of application notifications, interruption is a delicate subject. And it becomes far more complex when the notification is derived from user insight and algorithms — preempting the user to something deemed important enough to interrupt the inferred activity state.

    The problem with notifications are that they require a level of interruption substantial enough to get the user’s attention, otherwise they become ineffective. The variability of an individual’s willingness to be interrupted makes this even more challenging.

    Haptic Radar

    The idea of a “haptic radar” has been around for a number of years - an array of actuators worn around the ankle, waist, neck or head, which provides a tactile indication of directional relevance. In one example [1] a haptic band was attached to the user’s ankle and continuously provided an indication of true north. Within a week, the user no longer felt the actuator pulses and internalized the directional awareness. The user stated that the directional persuasion felt intuitive rather than external [2].

    Oriented Notification

    Notification in its current state is primarily one dimensional – a notification can be tuned to describe “what”, but without screen confirmation, “where” is not implied. Taking the concept of the “haptic radar”, and applying it to a spatial notification model would add a sense of physical context to the alert.

    Internalized Awareness

    Based on the north-indicating haptic radar experiment mentioned, my hypothesis is that an actuator emitting specific frequencies, and placed in a particular location (e.g., behind the ear) could, over time, move from an external sensation to an internal cognitive impulse. If true, such a mechanism could present interest or relevance as a subconscious intuition or 6th sense, rather than an external notification. Subconscious decision making is highly optimized, so there would be far less risk of unwanted interruption. As in an un-augmented reality, we choose to either engage or ignore our impulses to explore.


    The hardware implementation could be realized in multiple forms such as: sunglasses, headphones, neck band, and behind-the-neck band. The sensor location could also be placed elsewhere on the body, but it’s unclear how effective it would be. Directional awareness would require a compass mapped to head or body position.


    Two primary services are needed: 1) A service aggregating relevant interests and social relationships, and 2) an interface with the mobile device to establish web connectivity, GPS data and query the data service.


    For the initial test I used piezoelectric speakers taped behind the ears and a low frequency pulse for notification. I spent some time trying to find the threshold of awareness, but found that either the signal was too weak, or tickled my skin uncomfortably.

    I leveraged an insight from the Japanese Haptic Radar example above to inverse the notification technique — instead of pulsing for a notification, the pulsing would be constant and would stop when a notification occurred. I found that a consistent 1hz pulse quickly trained the brain to ignore the signal and a pause of more than 3 seconds would initiate an awareness sensation. My original hypothesis of directional awareness was less successful, but could vaguely distinguish left and right directionality.

    I eventually got tired of taping speakers behind my ears, so tried to change to a low frequency audible chirp into standard earbuds. While this worked, the steady pulse was much more difficult to tune out and also interfered with other audible functions (conversations, phone calls, etc.).

    Below are some photos of the hardware experiments.

    Chug Along Fri, 04 Oct 2013 14:26:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty This mix from 2013 recently resurfaced and figured it was worth a share. I remember recording this mix on a warm and beautiful Indian Summer afternoon on our deck. Our younger daughter was a little more than a year old and sleeping in her seat. Our older daughter was taking a nap and we had a rare moment of quiet. I hit record and played some chill tracks slowed down ~30% (the reason I can't recall). For me, the mix evokes the blissful while sleep-deprived state of parenting — although I may be projecting a bit ;)


    Attention Management Sat, 24 Aug 2013 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    This story is extracted from an internal white paper I wrote with the Microsoft Research (MSR) team in 2013. I've removed some sensitive references and added some additional thinking and illustrations.

    Customer attention is an increasingly scarce commodity with little being done to address notification fatigue. None of the current mobile or desktop operating systems are designed to adequately handle the exponential increase of real-time notifications coming in from social apps, recommendation services and intelligent personal assistants, let alone next-generation capabilities such as anticipatory search and the Internet of Things. Moving forward, notification-rich services will only succeed with the creation of a centralized, intelligent, and configurable notification management service.


    Information Overload (IO), a well-known problem of our time, is in large part a side effect of technology and a global competition for users’ attention. Some of its related topics and buzzwords include: the interruption epidemic, information pollution, social media fatigue, notification fatigue, continuous partial attention, internet addiction, and infoglut. The problems and dangers of IO are well documented, but little progress has been made to reduce their effects. A growing number of computer and smartphone users dislike the current state of information pollution, but have no easy solutions other than to opt out from services entirely.

    “The interruption epidemic is reaching a crisis point at some companies and shows no sign of slowing. E-mail volume is growing at a rate of 66 percent a year, according to the E-Policy Institute. More people are texting. More are using Facebook or Twitter for work.”

    - J. Robinson, E-mail is Making You Stupid

    A key driver in this accelerating rate of interruption is the affordance of push notifications in applications, where content is surfaced proactively because it is “now relevant”. High levels of persistent disruption can lead to a state of “continuous partial attention” in users as they attempt to process multiple simultaneous areas of focus, often resulting in a significant decrease in overall focus and productivity. A study by Microsoft researchers Iqbal and Horvitz [5] found that each interruption diverts attention away from the primary task for an average of 10-15 minutes. In the same study they found that “users spend more time than they realize responding to alerts,” suggesting that most users likely underestimate the impact of interruptions.

    The current state of IO is well documented, with some researchers raising concerns of users reaching a distraction tipping point, yet we are on the brink of an unprecedented volume of notification and communication, driven by intelligent personal assistants (Cortana, SIRI, Google Now, and other anticipatory services), social apps, and the Internet of Things. The long term success of these new efforts will largely hinge on the ability to solve IO problems, in particular, real-time notification.

    “Many designers of information systems incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity, and as a result they built systems that excelled at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information.”

    - H.A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial
    Successes And Challenges

    There have been many attempts to solve IO problems over the years, some more successful than others. Gmail was one of the most notable products to address the growing problem of e-mail spam. When it was introduced, most e-mail users were overwhelmed by spam, with only a few companies offering esoteric solutions. Gmail successfully implemented an intelligent spam filtering engine and crowd-sourcing model for removing spam. Spam removal became one of the primary drivers in the adoption of the industry dominant service.

    Many technology companies acknowledge the problem of IO, but solutions are often in conflict with key business drivers and most companies are currently rewarded based on user traction. The monetization of user “stickiness” creates little incentive for finding solutions to IO or for opening access to their products for third-party solutions. Many organizations – Facebook, for example – have a high level of “engagement” as their default, requiring the user to opt-out if they want a more nuanced or controlled experience. Subsequently, users who subscribe to many different services or use many different tools are then faced with the challenge of managing each service separately.

    Another challenge when controlling IO is the potential to block or limit important information. The fact that important communication surfaces with roughly the same relevance as junk information is one of the reasons IO is so prevalent – people have no choice but to engage for fear of missing something important.

    A small informal study by the author revealed that most users who disable notifications do not enable them again. The overwhelming attitude was that once the service was disabled it was not missed. This becomes a critical challenge for applications and services that depend on real-time user participation.


    Microsoft is uniquely positioned to control the core notification pipeline for many interrelated products. Allowing users to unify notifications through a single, configurable experience will be an initial step towards reducing IO. Surfacing controls that allow for spontaneous and state-specific changes to notification prioritization will enable periods of reduced interruption while mitigating the fear of missed communication.

    Reducing IO presents an opportunity to differentiate our products and with a substantial benefit to consumers. Removing excess noise without limiting or censoring communication will be a huge win for most users, but the aggregate effect of such a strategy is even bigger: imagine the potential increase in business productivity as a result of decreased interruptions in the workplace. Few companies are in the position to affect this scale of change in business culture, possibly none are as well-positioned as Microsoft.

    The positive externality of an effective reduction in user interruptions is personal empowerment and ability to adopt the next generation of real-time data services. The flow from the “intelligent fabric” needs a user-centric “data spigot”.

    ​Single Day Personal Analysis

    The following data represents notifications received by the author on a single day (from 6am to 10pm), across all devices (laptop, phone, tablet). The experiment looks at notification levels throughout the day and subsequently how they are handled. When a notification is received it is either ignored, postponed, or responded to. Note that notifications that were digested from the notification itself, deemed useful, and without need to respond, were classified as “responded.” A key metric is the rate of notifications, which can be summarized by the “average time between notifications” measure.

    Definition Of Focus

    The ideas proposed in this document focus primarily on enhancements to the Notification Manager specification and how services interface with the API. There is also an acknowledgement that improved filtering will create a need for a smarter notification “archive”.

    Improved Notification Filtering

    Some simple improvements to the notification pipeline would allow for greater personal autonomy while adding capacity for high volume information services. This approach suggests four configurable filtering states governed by white/black-lists and/or an agent.

    Negotiation API

    Allowing critical communication while in a restrictive state is essential for the success of a filtering service. If users are confident that essential communication will not fall through the cracks, they will likely restrict access more often. An intelligent two-way API for both application and human negotiation will allow for edge-case compromise, and will lay the foundation for future agent relationships.

    Leveraging Signals

    When Notification Management is dynamically configurable, user signals can trigger notification settings. An API will give 3rd party applications access to settings – either for access negotiation or the ability to modify global settings (e.g., using “mode of transit rule” to change state to busy when driving).

    Customizing Notification Settings

    Default settings will provide a clear benefit to the user without any customization, but greater success will depend on a simple settings infrastructure that does not duplicate or require offloading third-party app settings. The filter modes will address only the access of the apps and services, leaving granular settings to the app domain.


    The thesis of this article is that many real-time or “just in time” applications will fail in large part due to the inadequate methods for communicating relevancy to the user. And the essence of my proposed solution is to empower the user with notification flow control.

    The illustration above represents the essence of a proposed solution, which allows the user to simply throttle their level of notification and service engagement from a personal and device agnostic perspective. I've heard a lot of people talk about smart ways to solve notification and interruption problems, but I feel the reality of the impulsive user is best understood by the user themselves. My hope is that AI-driven solutions will reenforce user intent rather than trying to replace it.

    Joy's House Sat, 17 Aug 2013 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty A mid-tempo mix of rare groove, soulful edits, and quirky beats. Opening with a rework of Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" — the mix was recorded on truly a lovely day in Joy's back yard at her annual Beats & BBQ party. On through classics like Larry Young's Fuel "Turn off the lights." Some globe hopping to Brazil w/ Tim Maia's "O Caminho do Bem" then to Israel w/ Ofra Haza's "Im Nin'alu." Then back to the funk with a cover/edit of William De Vaughn's "Be thankful for what you got", which is always a good reminder.

    Cover art by Victor Moscoso

    "And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."

    - Desiderata by Max Ehrmann
    Serendipity Watch Fri, 05 Jul 2013 20:13:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty In the world of machine learning we see a fascinating design challenge—systems that need to make mistakes to learn. As a father of two daughters, I recognize this approach—clicking all the buttons on the remote, or maybe throwing it. Just like children, if you prevent machine learning systems from making mistakes, you hold back their potential. Engaging playfully with systems that are learning better aligns expectations, gives technology more latitude to explore, and accelerates training.

    I was working with an engineer from Sony named Masahiro Shimohori. We were discussing the possibility of machine intelligence orchestrating a serendipitous experience between two people. He said to me, “The opportunity for serendipity is a half-step ahead of the present.” While I still don’t know exactly what it meant, the words inspired a number of projects exploring playfulness and the subconscious.

    This is what I sketched when heard the quote. I feel the idea gave me permission to play with time, space and probabilistic logic.

    The image below illustrates a machine learning lifecycle, starting with an initial period of learning, which is the "explore" phase. If all goes well, we'll reach an inflection point where we can shift focus to an "exploit" phase. The cost of learning ideally exceeds the baseline value, but the effectiveness of the exploitation phase is highly dependent on the success of the exploration phase. This concept uses both playfulness and user empowerment to improve machine learning performance and reduce challenges such as cold starts, training speed and validation.

    I call this experiment the “Serendipity Watch”. I chose this watch form factor because I like how the bezel provides a compelling interface for controlling time. The vignette below represents a view of the present time—the watch observes what’s happening around you.

    When you scan into the future, the watch shows you possible futures based on probability. The probability can be manually overridden, allowing you to train the models. In this case, by setting the likelihood to zero, I've trained the model to lower the probability of my going to this location.

    Things get interesting when you invite others into your experience where possible intersections are found. In this case, a friend has a lower probability of being at a local park at the same time as me. After I increase the likelihood that I'll be there, the friend receives an alert. In response he also increased his likelihood—thus leading to a facilitated opportunity for serendipity.

    The further into the future you go, the less probable and more unpredictable the predictions become. In this case, I might be inspired to act on a highly unlikely speculation—possibly leading to a curated trip to a far away destination. Maybe it would even inspire a friend to join me.

    While a working prototype was never built, some ideas from this project were used in my Sixth Sense project. This project was also featured in my IxDA Interaction 19 and Interaction 19 // SF Redux talks.

    The Rhythm Society: Superheroic Sat, 22 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Recorded at The Rhythm Society event "Superheroic", June 2013.

    SFPUC Digital Arts Panorama Wed, 05 Jun 2013 10:20:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty My final project with Obscura brought together the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the San Francisco Arts Commission and KMD Architects to create a large scale interactive platform for storytelling, data visualization and the promotion of local artists. The “Digital Arts Panorama” is a 4’ by 58’ continuous display with a resolution of 24,000 x 1800 pixels. Four TYZX cameras provide interactivity/reactivity through person-tracking - giving the system an accurate location, trajectory, orientation and height of each person moving through the space. Depending on the experience, the system can gauge the user’s level of interest by looking at moments of rest and orientation - delivering contextual information in an ideal location. Four custom experiences were created to showcase the capabilities of the wall.

    The first interactive mode, “Snowfall to Outfall” tells the story of the SFPUC as an infographic map - a compelling story that stretches from the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range to the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. The SFPUC is one of the few public municipalities that manages the full spectrum of natural resources, from water collection and distribution to alternative energy creation to sewage and runoff management. Their colorful history and holistic approach to managing resources makes for an interesting experience to explore.

    “Media Stream” leverages the vast historical archive of the PUC, with beautiful photos documenting the creation of Hetch Hetchy, the long journey of the water pipes that span the state of California, and the multiple generations that have maintained and expanded this unique system.

    “Dashboard” functions as a modular data visualization system for monitoring the PUC’s critical systems, plus auxiliary signals coming from energy use and monitoring of their new LEED Platinum building, weather, and news feeds. The system is designed to accommodate new data feeds as needs change.

    “Interactive Art Mode” allows artists collaborating with the San Francisco Arts Commission an opportunity to showcase their work on the wall. Simple guidelines and a content management system provides an accessible platform for creating unique and interactive experiences.

    The Digital Arts Panorama is located in the public lobby and is one of many dynamic art installations created for the building - I highly recommend a visit if you’re in the area. You can visit the wall during regular SFPUC business hours. Find more info here:

    Bluescape Sat, 01 Jun 2013 12:39:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Bluescape began as the question, “what is the office of the future?”. Office systems giant Haworth came to Obscura looking to redefine creative collaboration, a mandate rich in possibilities. After a few months working with the business strategy team at Haworth, we landed on our first product - an infinite, creative workspace.

    I led a small team of designers and developers to build proof of concept prototypes. Our team built a high performance, highly scalable operating system, capable of nearly infinite screen space, group interaction and cloud streaming for real-time remote collaboration. Many novel interaction models were developed to address the challenges of multiple simultaneous users, both local and remote, and nearly infinite navigable space. We built custom display and multitouch solutions, as well as a unique stylus solution to maximize performance and capabilities.

    Our prototypes proved the product concept was viable, leading to an investment by Haworth in a joint venture with Obscura. I left Obscura at the end of the prototyping effort. Bluescape now provides both hardware and software solutions for enterprise-grade, creative collaboration solutions.

    Visit the site

    Slomo Disco Thu, 03 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Some of my favorite slowed-down soul, funk and disco edits of 2012. Enjoy!

    Solomon Wed, 29 Feb 2012 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty On January 31st, 2012 my brother Solomon Kahn died in a car accident while touring as a DJ in Thailand. Solomon’s fiancé Nicole, with friends and family, organized a benefit on February 29th to raise funds to help cover financial costs incurred by the tragedy. The event featured a collection of DJs and musicians from Solomon’s scene including DJ Jazzy Jeff, Justin Hoffman, Chris Clouse, Mei Lwun, Ean Golden and Ryan Lucero. This recording is my opening set from the event - a tribute to my brother.

    Facebook Physical AR Thu, 22 Sep 2011 10:25:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty For Facebook's 2011 F8 conference we created a physical, social, augmented reality experience dubbed "Connections". Attendees "badge in" to the experience using their RFID enabled event badge. Multiple overhead projectors map visuals to the floor and an array of 3D cameras are used to reliably track any number of people within the space.

    Once "logged in" to Connections, a radial visualization, constructed from the participant's social graph data, surrounds the participant creating a unique "fingerprint". Colored lines extend from the circles connecting people who share one or more of the observed metrics (mutual friends, interests, workplaces, schools, locations, birth sign, or non-english languages). When two or more people, who have mutual connections, stand within close proximity a slideshow of mutual friends and interests appears between them.

    Positioned behind the Connections space, a large screen shares aggregate data about the collective group - surfacing common interests and profiling the most connected of the group.

    Every house party/bar needs one of those floor connection things. That is awesome... #f8

    - jesslyn8706 (Twitter)
    Africa Edits + Disco Tue, 11 Jan 2011 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty A mix of afro house, afrobeat, highlife, african disco, South African Jazz and afropop, and many other African genres. A free-flowing mix that captured the beautiful day with friends and family.

    Recorded in 2011 at a house party in Oakland, CA.

    Cover art by Ammon - a stylized Fela Queen

    Folksonomic Musicology Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:31:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    A number of years ago I was speaking with W.A. Mathieu, a brilliant musician, composer, writer, and family friend, about some ideas I had regarding methods for web-based experiential discovery. When I was done rambling he turned to me and said “you’re a taxonomist”. At the time my understanding of taxonomies were limited to animal and plant classification. The comment was intriguing and I spent some time learning more about the world of taxonomies, of particular interest were the subjects of folk taxonomies and folksonomies - taxonomies organically derived from collaboration and cultural knowledge. I realized that the essence of my work was about deriving meaning and order from complex systems — practically the definition of the taxonimic process.

    My new found understanding revealed, in a new light it seemed, a long-time obsession of mine — my process for classifying music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve disliked how music is described and classified. Genres and popular terms have never served my needs in terms of explaining the substance of the music.

    The first album I bought at age 10, AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, was defined as a “Rock” album in the record store. This particular classification feels apt in this case, but lacks any specific detail as to what this album sounds like, what mood it invokes, or the intention of the musicians. We're left to rely on the album cover, song titles, and prior knowledge. I remember at some point thinking: “What is rock?, Is it a music style or a concept?”.

    As my interest in music grew, my distaste for genre classification also grew. What was supposed to be a tool for organization was often preventing me from finding what I was looking for. The existence of genres acts as a crutch to the music industry where they can avoid the difficult task of actually defining the music. Here’s a short list of what I would like to know about a song, album or artist that I feel is not so subjective that one couldn't make a suggestion:

    1. Lineage - how does the music fit into the evolutionary progression?
    2. Mood - is it uplifting, melancholy, peaceful?
    3. Energy - from a scale of 0 - 10, what is the energetic intention?

    My love of music transitioned into a desire to share the music I had discovered. I began DJing in the early 90s and quickly became a nearly full time passion. I soon discovered the importance of understanding various qualities of the music in order to create an intentional musical experience. I began marking my records on the inner label with indicators of tempo, energy and mood. This allowed me to more freely transition between different records, but which share similar characteristics. For example, if two song share the same tempo and energetic intention, it doesn’t matter that one is a different genre than the other. This idea greatly expanded my understanding of what was possible.

    Over many years the scribbles on the labels evolved into a sophisticated classification language placed on carefully positioned labels in the corners of the record sleeves. The label position allowed for quick scanning without removing the record. The language evolved primarily from diminution of descriptive expressions. An example of a label on an EP:

    1. 112 lb W per jz / 2. 104 up V wb grv / 3. 92 dt v ele grv :) / 4. 120 lb V tek grv

    Translation: The first number is the track number. Second is the tempo. Then the description is broken into 1-3 character long descriptions. Order defines relevance and uppercase is an emphasis. The first one says it’s a laid back, weird, percussive, jazz song. The second is an upbeat, heavily vocal, non-standard (not 4/4) rhythm, and with a “groove” energetic intention. In song three, it’s feeling is downtempo in addition to the tempo being slow, has a understated vocal element, is predominantly electronic, and has a groove intention. In song four, the new element tek, describes a techno music format of repetitious four-on-the-floor rhythm and sound.

    My classification has evolved to include a very wide range of musical genres. I’ve yet to find a music style that can’t be described in a simple and condensed way. Part of the success of this system is the personal relationship with the language. The act of thinking about how to describe a piece of music, then how to translate that into a condensed form, becomes interlocked with the music itself. At a later point in time, simply looking at the notation reveals the meaning - essentially unlocking the memory from the subconscious.

    While this method is clearly personal, it’s not intended to be cryptic. It’s easily interpreted by anyone with a general knowledge of the music being described. It’s important that the language doesn’t become too obscure since it would be easy for the creator to forget its meaning.

    One interesting evolution in my system has been moving from vinyl records to digital files. The first thing I noticed was that I had a more difficult time remembering the music when looking at the label in digital form. I believe this is because much of the recall comes from seeing the hand written form - where subtle signs of excitement and other emotions can be captures.

    Here’s my current system of music classification for anyone who’s interested.

    1. I’m currently using iTunes, though I’ve always felt it treats music in all the wrong ways, still seems to be the best tool for my needs.
    2. I only add music that I really like - I preview the music in the finder before I add it and I only purchase songs I really like off an album. Less is more.
    3. I correct the genre. I’ve now decided to join the camp that genres shouldn’t be overly descriptive. As you’ll see I don’t extensively use genres to find music, but it’s useful in understanding the context of the descriptions.
    4. I use the comment fields to “tag” my music using my classification convention.
    5. I rate songs between 2-5. If it’s rated as 1 it means I forgot to delete it for some reason. Ratings of 2 get usually get deleted after a second listen. I use the composer field to store my rating (this may be sacrilege to the composers out there, but personally I don’t care and it’s a good field for storing persistent info that I can sort by to re-rate my songs if they move between platforms).

    Now, with the organization in place, I can set up smart playlists that filter my tags and genres to create very intentional groupings of songs. While this isn’t perfect, it’s a whole lot better than it’s ever been. I’m interested in other approaches that work, so please add your suggestions.

    Smart playlist in iTunes

    While my classification system can't be classified as a folksonomy due to the lack of a social component, I feel social classification is the key to understanding and organizing music. It seems places like understand lineage and mood, while DJ culture in general understands energy and tempo. If we could bring all these ideas together into a collective definition of music intent, I feel the literacy of music listeners would greatly increase, as well as the ability to make sense out of their music collections.

    Guy Murchie Sun, 10 Oct 2010 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    On a soul-seeking journey in the desolate outskirts of Joshua Tree, a tip from a friend and some half-brained intuition guided me down abandoned mining roads to a spot that felt like my own little secret. I sat on a rock and adsorbed the vast landscape - it was a near perfect manifestation of my intention. At some point, after a day of isolation, I imagined the unfortunate experience of running out of gas in a place this remote. I was more than an hour drive from the nearest road and without a mobile phone. My quarter-tank of gas was enough motivation to get me back in the truck in search of some peace of mind.

    The nearest gas station was at 29 Palms, a small, depressed town east of Joshua Tree, supported mostly by the local military base. Along the main road were numerous small single room homes surrounded by high barbed fences, which painted a picture of some extreme paranoia and/or introversion. So when a man approached me at the gas station, my first instinct was not to engage - I had already discarded this town as freakish. The man was awkward, but friendly, and sheepishly told me about a rare flower sighting down the road that I shouldn’t miss - said it was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”. He gave me directions, “head west on 62, take a left a Raven’s books, follow the street to the dead end - you can’t miss it”. I was intrigued and followed the simple directions. The street ended at a dirt lot. Nothing there but a few blades of dry grass and a decaying pile of wood. I wandered for a while, with my eyes scanning for anything resembling a flower. Nothing.

    Disappointed I headed back to the car with my mind returning to my magic spot in the wilderness. As I was passing Raven’s books I felt a strong desire to stop and have a quick look. Walking into Raven’s was like entering the home of a crazy person. Nothing made sense - there was no organization, no book shelves, just a feeling of complete chaos. All the books were stacked on their side, waist high and at least three deep. I was difficult for me to believe that customers would go through the trouble of unstacking and re-stacking books just to see what they contained. I was curious, I couldn’t help myself - I had to do it. When I got to the inner most stack, the spine of a book near the bottom caught my attention - an organic silver spiral shape beautifully embossed without a title. When I got to the book the title intrigued me even more, “The Seven Mysteries of Life”, by Guy Murchie. I opened the book to a random page and began to read. The page described an aspect of transcendence and why our relation to time continues to shift as we age. The paragraph simply and beautifully summarized an idea I understood but could never clearly articulate.

    Have you ever wondered why each year you live seems to pass faster than the year before? There’s a law at work here called Transcendence, influencing time and space and consciousness of self. For each year lived has to be a smaller portion of one’s experience to date. To the year-old baby of a year is a lifetime, to the ten-year-old a tenth as much. To the centenarian but one percent of his experience, while people he knows appear, bloom and die like flowers in a garden. The same is as true of space and time. The baby learns the inch and foot before he knows the yard. Then, as his horizon expands, the mile, the acre… the light-year… Progression from the finite, toward the Infinite, you see. Yet, as you gain the mile, you do not lose the inch, nor, as you gain the year, do you lose the minute or the hour. For finitude is a tool of learning, learning the little before the big, the simple before the complex. Transcendence affects the self too, for one begins as a fertile egg, the seed soul, stirring, seeking, becomes a pupil in the Soul School of Earth. Growing in consciousness, in awareness of other beings, using the tools of finitude, the self in space and time. The while developing spiritually through life, through death—death, which evolved only later in evolution because it had survival value for the multi-celled organisms—death that we cannot live without.

    - Guy Murchie, 1907-1997

    99 cents. Sold.

    Guy Murchie is a man after my own heart - a self-taught scientist/philosopher, driven by curiosity, confident that everything is just as it should be, and aware of our utter insignificance in the great perspective that is reality. Another quality I love about Murchie is how he communicates complex and difficult ideas in simple terms. Also, his scientific approach to metaphysical topics are logical, and at the same time spiritual, without being religious, and show us an unpretentious consensual reality. Although his books are not religious, Murchie joined the Baha’i faith in 1938. He always seems determined to reconcile science and spirituality, as evident by this quote where he compares the great figures of science to the pillars of spirituality and mysticism. seemed apparent that just as scientific truth has been revealed by a succession of teachers from Pythagoras to Copernicus to Galileo to Kepler to Newton to Einstein, so has spiritual revelation come in turn from such prophets as Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, and now the Bahá’í prophets, the Bab and Bahá‘u’lláh.

    Serendipity seems to be a theme I can’t quite escape with Murchie. It may be that our perception of life overlaps in some interesting way, or that being wide open to experience in general opens the gates to serendipity. One of my favorite connections happened while first reading the Seven Mysteries. I was invited to a YLEM Forum talk about cymatics, which is the study of vibrational science. After the talk, which was inspiring to say the least, I found a video of the subject and watched it a few times. I concluded that the fabric of the universe must be shaped and driven by this phenomenon since the essence of life was so clearly visible in this demonstration. A week later I unexpectedly arrived at Muchie’s chapter on cymatics, where he reaches the same conclusion.

    Guy Murchie passed away in July of 1997. I found his book in May of 1997 through a chain of events that seem too auspicious to ignore. Guy would probably argue that it was more about the increased probability due to my own curiosity, but I might argue, against my better judgment, that my journey to find isolation in Joshua Tree was actually about finding Mr. Murchie.

    Transmigration Reboot Fri, 13 Aug 2010 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    Having been raised in a hippy/Buddhist/Sufi household, it’s not difficult to trace some of my philosophical origins. When I was 5 years old, my parents brought me to India as they pursued their musical and spiritual interests. Half the trip was spent in the Tibetan exiled community of Darmsala, where my parents and I were fortunate to have a private audience with His Holiness the Dali Lama. Upon returning to the states our home became a makeshift Buddhist center, hosting high Lamas and Rinpoches visiting San Francisco.

    One of the great gifts of Buddhism, and other eastern religious philosophies, is the idea of reincarnation. As a child the simple idea of returning was both fascinating and comforting. The idea that one’s life is perpetual/cyclical, rather than singular and finite, resolves, or at least simplifies, one of life’s great mysteries. Not that mysteries are bad, but the idea that one’s existence becomes irrelevant, or even worse becomes trapped in eternal hell, can torment and even handicap those who dwell there. Throw in some original sin and you have a recipe for psychological imprisonment with no chance of postmortem bail.

    As I’ve grown older and thought more deeply about life, death, religion, faith, atheism, psychology, and anything else that can shape my world view, I’ve been able to reconcile and refine my philosophy of life. In particular my personal understanding of life, death and the afterlife/pre-life have become increasingly clear. I can’t claim credit for the ideas, but the collection of ideas feel like my own, I think in part because they stand up to the rigors of my cynical, analytical side that has no tolerance for suspending disbelief. Also in part because they feel like universal truths.

    The first idea I struggled with was the idea of reincarnation in a literal sense. It was intuitively difficult for me to believe one could exit their body, then return with any prior connection in tact. As I learned more about the Tibetan Buddhist system I developed my own side narrative, one where the experience is a result of collective will and faith more than transcendent reality. The great leap of faith happens once a Tulku dies and the Regent searches for the next Tulku, which appears to me an act of faith, projection and intuition. Once the Tulku is discovered, a specific form of re-education is used to restore the essence of the prior Tulku, creating a sense of continuity. Think about it, if you had the luxury of spending half your life teaching people everything you know, believe, feel, etc., then have those people train from a young age all those teaching, you have in essence continued the life and teachings of the prior life. It’s neither a scam nor illusion - it’s a reincarnation of the mind. The Dali Lama really does have the collective wisdom of the past 17 incarnations, but I personally believe it’s not at all because of transcendent capacity.

    Now that we’ve tossed the comfort philosophy out the window, how do we return to everlasting self preservation? One of my first post-Buddhist philosophy-of-death reads was Guy Muchie’s The Seven Mysteries of Life, an ambitious book attempting to touch on a wide swath of reality. In his book he describes life as floating down a stream, where each bend of the river presents a new, previously unseen view. And death being an experience that brings the life-view up and above the river so one can see its entire form. Something about this analogy resonated with me and helped form the beginning of a new post-death philosophy.

    I’m not sure where or when the next analogy surfaced, but I’ve since found the basic premise in many spiritual and philosophical contexts. The idea is simple. Life and all of reality is a giant flowing river and along the way are an endless series of waterfalls. At each waterfall countless droplets emerge and become momentarily isolated, then return to the river below. This momentary isolation is the life we experience as individuals. When we die we return to the life force of reality until we hit the next waterfall down river.

    A story by Suzuki Roshi captures this idea beautifully.

    I went to Yosemite National Park, and I saw some huge waterfalls. The highest one there is 1,340 feet high, and from it the water comes down like a curtain thrown from the top of the mountain. It does not seem to come down swiftly, as you might expect; it seems to come down very slowly because of the distance. And the water does not come down as one stream, but is separated into many tiny streams. From a distance it looks like a curtain. And I thought it must be a very difficult experience for each drop of water to come down from the top of such a high mountain. It takes time, you know, a long time, for the water finally to reach the bottom of the waterfall. And it seems to me that our human life may be like this. We have many difficult experiences in our life. But at the same time, I thought, the water was not originally separated, but was one whole river. Only when it is separated does it have some difficulty in falling. It is as if the water does not have any feeling of being separate when it is one whole river. Only when divided into many drops can it begin to have or express some separate feeling. Before we were born we had no such feeling; we were one with the universe. This is called ‘mind-only,’ or ‘essence of mind,’ or ‘big mind.’ After we are separated by birth from this oneness, as the water falling from the waterfall is separated by the wind and rocks, then we have such feelings. And you have difficulty because of such feelings. You attach to the feeling you have without knowing just how this kind of feeling is created. When you do not realize that you are one with the river, or one with the universe, you have fear. Whether it is separated into drops or not, water is water. Our life and death are the same thing. When we realize this fact, we have no fear of death anymore and we have no actual difficulty in our life.

    - Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

    The last part of this puzzle, and one that inspired me to write this, comes back to consciousness, or the sense that we are individual, unique and special beings. This seems to be the aspect of leaving one’s body that is the most difficult to accept - the idea that the experience of oneself will be no more. While I personally feel consciousness is just a veil at the end of ones life, it will likely continue to be THE essential mystery.

    What has become more clear is a sense that the essence of our conscious selves continues to grow and expand long after we leave our bodies. Our collective influence provides the guidance for a sort of meta-ego. In essence, we continue to reincarnate through procreation and our DNA. Giving birth and raising a child has the same potential of the reincarnation of high lamas, only factors such as attention, culture, tradition, and other variables obscure a direct transference of consciousness. But the impact of a deeply rooted genetic foundation, combined with learning and influence, is the continuation and accumulation of our entire lineage of life.

    While I can’t say my philosophy is as carefree and simple as it once was, but I’m returning to a place of ease and confidence that life is unfolding as it should and post-life is only the beginning… or maybe the middle. Certainly not the end.

    Patterns & Rhythms Tue, 10 Aug 2010 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty A little living room mix from 2010 influenced by a new sound to these ears — a fusion of quirky, polyrhythmic electronic music with deep, soulful African music. I could hear a hint of Cosmic Disco, but this was new and refreshing. The track was from Osborne, an artist from Detroit, on one of my favorite domestic labels Ghostly International. I generally expect Ghostly to be unpredictable, as they put out a lot of Indie Rock and experimental electronic music, but I was surprised by this track. Osborne's track mixed beautifully with a song by Ian Simmonds, an artist I've been following since the early 90s when he was part of the UK Acid Jazz group Sandals. Simmonds' track, which is my opener, features haunting vocals by the Ekonda women of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rest of the mix is just improv off those first two tracks. Enjoy!

    Nostalgia Sat, 12 Jun 2010 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    Most things cycle, regurgitating the ghosts of past freshness every 20-odd years. Becoming acutely aware of the recycling of my nostalgic past brings up a flurry of emotions from youthful ecstatic experience to adolescent angst. I fell in love with house music in my late teens, which provided some of my first transcendental/spiritual experiences, leaving me with an endless supply of warm and fuzzy feelings for the genre. House was also the first music to break my heart, as the scene I knew and loved crumbled and died. In the past few years I’ve seen a resurgence of the old house vibe I once knew, bringing out familiar smiling faces looking to catch another ride. Enjoy!

    Dropbits Sat, 01 May 2010 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Dropbits was an app that encouraged the dropping and finding of “bits”, or virtual gifts. Part game, part social experiment, part augmented reality - the experience challenges the user to explore the real world. Users can only reveal the contents of a bit when at the location it was left - a rule to encourages people to share the context in which the gifts were left. Bits supported at the time included, images, notes, and sounds. The app was launched shortly after Apple's App Store launched, but the project was abandoned.

    Kodak Pipeline Thu, 07 Jan 2010 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Obscura was part of a team that implemented a mind-blowing interactive media spectacle for Kodak’s trade shows, including the world’s largest multi-user, multitouch table.

    The “Pipeline of Innovation”, a 24 foot long interactive surface with a 9 foot vertical “waterfall”, supports up to 16 simultaneous users and provides information about Kodak products and brand messaging in a fun and engaging way. High-resolution video plays on the background while animated disks, representing products, flow down its length. Visitors grab the disks and transform them into multi-page books of visuals and information. In addition, environmental media, Microsoft Surface tables, and interactive touch kiosks were used to provide compelling ways to learn about Kodak.

    Blogger Andrew Liszewski summarized the 2010 CES booth perfectly in saying, “It’s not always easy to make devices like printers or digital photo frames exciting, but given the crowd around this setup Kodak definitely found a way!”

    Hard Rock Cafe: Rock Wall Tue, 08 Sep 2009 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Standing at 18 feet by 4 feet this wall allows multiple users to simultaneously interact with thousands of ultra high-resolution images and videos. At 5000 by 1080 pixels, the real-time display system runs fluidly at 60 frames per second using our proprietary hardware and software solutions.

    The high resolution (for the time) was achieved by seamlessly blending three Christie 20k lumen projectors in a rear projection configuration. For touch we used the laser light plane (LLP) approach, which at the time, was only a conceptual academic approach — we were the first to successfully build at a large scale. The large form factor required a high level of precision and more than 100 high powered infra-red lasers — each one capable of quickly blinding you if the beam strayed into your eye.

    The RockWall is still installed in many Hard Rock Cafe locations around the world.

    Nike Skateboarding V3 Tue, 15 May 2007 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Nike came to us thinking they wanted a stylized HTML blog to replace their aging Flash site. We took their desire for publishing and flexibility and created a new kind of dynamic and responsive Flash site — I developed the V4 of my personal website as a proof of concept. The client had complete control and could re-style the entire site on a whim using CSS and XML-driven parameters. It was designed to take any content the client could throw at it.

    We moved away from the overtly scrappy look of the prior designs and embraced clean lines and grids, with modularity in mind. The grit was more subtle, with rich and glitchy UI sounds created by the notorious musician Richard Devine. The site was also one of the first Flash sites to incorporate a dynamic “slippy map” so that we could embed the satellite view of Google Maps into our “skate spot finder.”

    The site was well received and was featured in the Communication Arts Interactive Annual magazine, received a Cannes Cyber Lions award, and many other accolades.

    S.S. Vallejo Sat, 01 Apr 2006 23:29:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Article originally written for Shift Magazine, Japan

    On the North end of the Golden Gate Bridge lies a small town called Sausalito. Well known as an artists enclave, Sausalito hosts an eclectic community due to the extensive houseboats and live-aboard boat residents. In the heart of the houseboats lives an old paddle wheel ferryboat called the S.S. Vallejo which has long been the center of the Sausalito art scene.

    In 1949, a young artist named Gordon Onslow Ford stumbled upon the old ferryboat ready to be junked for the metal in its hull. Ford saved the boat and began using it as his home. At the time Sausalito was primarily an industrial ship yard – used extensively during World War II for constructing Liberty Ships.

    Gordon Onslow Ford - Floating Woods (circa 1952)

    Gordon Onslow Ford was part of the French surrealist movement of the 1930’s. His paintings focused primarily on three shapes – dots, lines and circles – a goal which remained unchanged for much of his long life. Ford bought the boat with his friend Jean Varda, an eccentric Greek artist he had met in France. Apparently Varda was a bit too wild for Ford, who eventually moved off the boat.

    Jean Varda - The Phoenix Reborn (date unknown)

    Jean Varda was a surrealist collage artist also connected to the French surrealist scene. Forever youthful in spirit, Varda created community all around himself – hosting extravagant dinner parties and sailing the bay in his home-made sailboat filled with “dancing girls”. Varda created art with whatever was on hand, turning scraps of worthless paper and fabric into ethereal cityscapes.

    Varda shared the boat with a zen philosopher named Alan Watts. Varda and Watts attracted many of the well known beat poets, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, which made the boat one of the hot spots of the San Francisco beat scene. In the 60s the boat played host to many key figures of the San Francisco psychedelic scene. Timothy Leary, Gary Snyder, Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg would meet on the boat to discuss the changing cultural landscape – famously documented in “The Houseboat Summit”, a 1967 article in Oracle Magazine.

    Steve Speer - Teletubbies and assorted Burger King swag

    Both Varda and Watts died in 1971, which left the future of the boat unclear. The S.S. Vallejo shifted hands many times – at one time being a zen center, then becoming a derelict squatters paradise. Eventually, the boat landed in the hands of someone with some resources and a long needed repair commenced in the year 2000.

    Steve Speer with cash and a bible gun - all he needs

    One of the contributors to the repair was New York artist Steve Speer. Speer’s obsession with occultism, pop culture, symbology, and general realms of indescribable nature has become a perfect next chapter for this historic artist’s boat. In the past 6 years, Speer has created an impressive volume of works, from sculpture and paintings to messages hidden in walls and a giant cryptic book in the hull of the boat.


    Perhaps some day the S.S. Vallejo will be a museum for all to appreciate, but for now it remains a secretive and private residence. Rumor has it that Google owns the boat and applying to live aboard requires completing a twenty page questioner and a set of physical and mental tests only a super-human could endure. Whether true or not, we at least have a glimpse into the world of the S.S. Vallejo though the web site.

    The Freshening Of Past Ideals Fri, 17 Mar 2006 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty A deep wander into a hybrid land of psychedelic 60s/70s and the modern parodiable counterpart. The back room of a Rhythm Society event can get pretty cozy! The recorder stopped half way through the mix - so two parts.

    Download Part 1

    Download Part 2

    Cover art by visionary architect Paolo Soleri

    Albany Bulb Sun, 01 Jan 2006 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Article originally written for Shift Magazine, Japan

    Unknown artist - 1980s

    Entering the Albany Bulb feels a little like trespassing. The paths are not paved or clearly defined like other bay-side parks – it’s raw, overgrown, and strewn with industrial refuse. As you travel deeper into the Bulb, the unmarked paths begin to splinter - some tunnel into brush while others dead end or circle back. Ultimately, you reach the west most point of the Bulb, a shoreline facing the Golden Gate Bridge with sweeping views from the Bay Bridge to Angel Island. It’s here that you begin to notice the art.

    Even without noticing the bevy of art and sculptures, this is a breathtaking place. The first structure most notice is the Heart Castle, an odd building assembled from discarded cement and painted in vibrant colors. Wandering north, the art strewn about becomes dense, revealing unusual modifications to the landscape in all directions.

    Sniff - Arch of Sniff (made from salvaged styrofoam blocks)

    Artists have been using the Bulb since the 1980’s, but the past 5 years have seen a proliferation of art. Odd structures, large scale sculptures, and colorful murals appear at a dizzying rate. No two visits yield the same finds. A collective known as Sniff established themselves as the most prolific of the Bulb’s ever expanding artists. The entire northwest corner of the Bulb serves as a "gallery" to Sniff’s work, where large murals line the pathways. Rumor has it that Sniff stopped contributing sometime last year due to the increasing controversy and unclear destiny of the Bulb.

    Another major contributor is Osha, and old-timer scrap sculptor who also happens to be the lawyer representing the displaced homeless residents of the Bulb.

    Sniff - Wheel of Life

    Artists have been using the Bulb since the 1980’s, but the past 5 years have seen a proliferation of art. Odd structures, large scale sculptures, and colorful murals appear at a dizzying rate. No two visits yield the same finds. A collective known as Sniff established themselves as the most prolific of the Bulb’s ever expanding artists. The entire northwest corner of the Bulb serves as a "gallery" to Sniff’s work, where large murals line the pathways. Rumor has it that Sniff stopped contributing sometime last year due to the increasing controversy and unclear destiny of the Bulb.

    Another major contributor is Osha, and old-timer scrap sculptor who also happens to be the lawyer representing the displaced homeless residents of the Bulb.

    Osha Neumann and Jason De Antonis - Man Riding a Dragon

    The Albany Bulb is currently in danger of loosing its character. Plans are in the works to build a strip mall near the entrance and transform the natural park into a manicured foot path - sans art. A number of different groups are prepared for a major fight to keep the Bulb intact, but powerful developers have their eye on this valuable piece of waterfront property.. According to the City of Albany and the Park Service, the days are numbered for the sculptures, installations, and makeshift dwellings.

    The nature of scrap art is the transforming of the discarded into something precious. The Bulb is indeed an ideal place for renegade art, but it’s certain that the spirit of transforming junk to beauty will transcend the future of the space.

    Additional photos are here, here, and here.

    Directions to the Albany Bulb can be found here.

    Mali2005 Thu, 22 Dec 2005 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty A mix of some favorite contemporary Malian tracks I recorded in 2005. The mix begins with “Kan Be”, a mesmerizing track by n’goni player Kakanka Sata. The mix concludes with “Tsara”, a deeply soulful and uplifting cut by guitarist/singer Modeste. This mix is dedicated to the late Ali Farka Toure, a wonderful and prolific musician who's music and influence is featured throughout this mix.

    Bruce Connor Sun, 04 Dec 2005 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Article originally written for Shift Magazine, Japan

    Looking for Mushrooms - video still

    Bruce Conner is a multimedia artist of the highest order. Mixing mediums since the late 1950’s, Conner has broken ground in film making, assemblage, photography, sculpture and illustration. His work spans San Francisco culture; from collage work reflecting the beat scene to photographs of the early punk scene.

    I was recently introduced to two of Bruce Conner’s better known films – Looking for Mushrooms and Crossroads. The films expose the brilliance of Conner as an editor and visionary designer.

    Looking for Mushrooms - video stills

    Looking for Mushrooms, a film Conner created between 1961 and 1996, is an experimental journey into abstract landscapes – an ode, it seems, to the magic mushroom. The film was originally 3 minutes in length and set to a score by John Lennon, but was later stretched to 14 minutes in order match the duration of Terry Riley’s masterpiece “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band”. Repetition in both the music and pace of the film create a mesmerizing effect, which seems to induce a state of forced introspection. The cut-up and layering style feels current and could almost pass as one of Tomato’s recent projects.

    Crossroads - promotional image

    Crossroads, a film Conner made in 1976, is masterfully assembled from declassified footage of the first underwater atomic bomb test at Bikini Atol. The film begins with a view from shore looking out towards a cluster of decommissioned Japanese battleships. A wave rolls slowly and birds can faintly be heard. Knowing what’s to come only enhances the anticipation as the scene waits in a suspended state of quiet and calm. When the bomb is finally detonated, the spectacle is met with silence. Not until many moments later does the sound – an unrelenting blast – reach the viewer. The sound trails off for some time, leaving the viewer shaken by the sublime. This carries on 27 times – each with a different perspective, and each desensitizing the viewer to the reality of its content.

    Christ Casting Out the Legion of Devils

    A second part introduces Terry Riley’s minimalist scores, which seem to transform the film from a record of mass destruction to a beautiful vision of extreme nature. Conner plays with time streching throughout the film which creates a feeling of suspended animation. While the subject matter is extremely disturbing and intense, I’m somehow left with a feeling of tranquility by the films finale.

    Electric Sheep Tue, 01 Nov 2005 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty

    Article originally written for Shift Magazine, Japan

    A curious question proposed by Philip K. Dick in his landmark 1968 book of the same title, later adopted to became the sci-fi epic Bladerunner. The concept of computers evolving to obtain consciousness seems almost incomprehensible to most, yet is the source of fantastic speculation and unfading inspiration.

    The notion of dreaming computers served as an evolving metaphor for computer programmer Scott “Spot” Draves. What began as an obsession to make increasingly organic and life-like animation, soon evolved into the large scale distributed computing project Electric Sheep.

    It didn’t take long for Spot to grow tired of waiting for his complex animations to render. Instead of seeking faster computers, Spot turned to the vast numbers of “sleeping” computers throughout the world to do his dirty work. Using the model paved by distributed computing projects such the SETI@home project, Spot built his own distributed rendering screen saver for anyone willing to help. In exchange for CPU cycles, the ES project pushes finished “sheep” back to the host computers to display as screen savers.

    The ES project is constantly evolving - another ode to the Androids. Users running the ES screen saver can help evolve the sheep by selecting ones they like, thus affecting the direction of the mutating code. In fact Spot has created an entire taxonomy around the evolution of his sheep, not unlike the phylum in our organic biology.

    Family tree of mutating sheep

    Spot’s latest project is to render the sheep at HD resolution capturing more subtlety and detail. He’s also building net-connected stand alone players for viewing the sheep in all their high definition glory.

    At the time of this writing, Spot is touring through Japan speaking about his technology and sharing his latest sheep as a VJ at selected events. Spot currently resides in San Francisco and can be found providing visuals for local underground events.

    A Son Picks The Sons Fri, 06 May 2005 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty My father Terry Haggerty was the guitarist for the Bay Area psychedelic rock band The Sons of Champlin. The Sons are known for their loud horns and high-energy dance music, but I generally prefer the quiet and introspective tunes. This mix is a compilation representing a quieter side of The Sons. The opening track was written/performed by Mark Isham, the prolific film score trumpeter, who played with the band for a couple years. The last track, Knickanick, is one of my all time favorite guitar tracks - noodley, psychedelic bliss :)

    Recorded in 2005.

    Nike Skateboarding V2 Wed, 15 Dec 2004 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Nike needed to be seen as authentic to win the hearts and minds of the skateboarding community - notoriously anti-establishment. Quirky and absurd, the site won accolades from skaters and sneaker heads worldwide for its originality and solid design. You can still play with an archive of the site (if you still have flash ;).

    Prinspiration Mon, 07 Jun 2004 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    Around the time I saw Prince live!

    The year was 1984 and I was in the 8th grade. The girls in my class were obsessed with Duran Duran—at one class party they bleached my bangs blond so I'd look like Simon Le Bon. The boys were equally obsessed with Prince. Prince's iconic album Purple Rain had just been released and a few of us were lucky enough to see Prince live!

    Fast forward 20 years and I'm still a huge fan. I was able to get a glimpse into Prince's secretive life though one of my dear friends Rose Ann Dimalanta (aka Rad). Rad joined Prince's band, the NPG, between 2003-2004. The stories I heard only deepened my intrigue, but also put a human face on the mythos.

    Rad (on keys) playing with Prince in 2004

    I can't think of another artist who has been a perpetual favorite for most of my life. His music, films, persona, wardrobe—all created a larger-than-life image that endured until the end—and beyond. Over the years I've collected many of his bootlegs and obscure singles. Prince was notorious for releasing mysterious live albums and unreleased tracks anonymously. My collection represents only a fraction of his more than 300 releases, which doesn't include the countless remix and cover albums.

    This mix contains some of his hits as well and some rare b-sides and unreleased song versions. I've always loved the electro-funk sound from Prince's earlier music, so I mixed in some other artists that I felt were also inspired by this sound. The cover image is taken from one of Prince's first photoshoots—and I love the shy, ego-free Prince, before he spent a lifetime living in the shadow of his fame.

    TechTwerp Fri, 30 Apr 2004 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty From the late 90s till the mid 2000's, a group of artists and musicians lived in a beautiful San Francisco warehouse in the SOMA district — it was called 964 Natoma (which also happened to be the address). They would regularly host all night events — covering the large open floor in futons and pillows for people to relax and socialize, then let musicians and DJs play music until sunrise. It was a wonderful place to meet interesting people and hear great music. I was fortunate to be invited to play along side the amazing artists who lived there were Zoe Keating, John "jhno" Eichenseer, and Aaron Ximm — each incredibly inspiring musicians and creatives.

    TechTwerp is a quiet mix of electronic music that skirts the edge between minimal techno and ambient music. The mix begins with Piano Magic’s sea shanty inspired “Halloween Boat”, and ends with my all time favorite Terry Riley piece “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band”.

    <br> Fri, 08 Aug 2003 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty <br>, or "break" if you’re a dork like me, is a mellow, all-vinyl breakbeat mix. It reflects my brief dip into the quieter side of early 2000s breakbeat or "breaks" music. A little complimentary UK Garage thrown in at the end for good measure :) Recorded in 2003.

    Anaspace Wed, 05 Feb 2003 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Anaspace is a vehicle for capturing and sharing personal or collective experiences. Beyond a searchable content library or database, Anaspace is a tool which mimics some of the fundamental methods of memory and associative experience management. By focusing on the senses of vision and sound, while maintaining orientation though geographic and time-based references, an organic realism begins to unfold.

    The Anaspace container is suited for a variety of media types including; images, sounds, writing, video, web links, messages and more. Media types overlap and connect – similar to real life.

    At the heart of Anaspace is the relationEngine – a relational database that utilizes the Dewey Decimal system as its core hierarchical information structure. By using the DD system, a vast predefined set of relational data is immediately available. The relationEngine creates its own customized DD structure based on the media and keywords used.

    Anaspace provides 5 modes for browsing content; search, location, subject, time, and sound.

    Search A search query allows the user to quickly find specific content. The search takes advantage of the Dewey Decimal structure by displaying content that may appear within a subject branch. The results are given as text and icons.

    Location Browsing content by location allows the user to become geographically oriented to the content. Initially, custom maps are created to a reasonable resolution (state level for now), but users can add custom maps to achieve any resolution. Ideally a partnership would be formed with an on-the-fly satellite or map service such as globeXplorer, which would allow a fine resolution virtually anywhere on the planet. Content can be active at any map resolution and can be positioned and oriented to achieve an accurate recreation of the origin.

    Subject Browsing by subject is the most powerful and dynamic method. A two-dimensional grid displays thumbnails in 4 rows, 5 across. Each row represents a keyword associated to the current content item. The columns display relevance with more relevant to the left. The power comes in the ability to adjust the relational range of each keyword row. By widening the relational range, the numeric proximity within the Dewey Decimal tree is widened, thus introducing more distant relations. Due to the nature of the DD tree being an organically evolved system, the results are often unexpected and intriguing.

    Time The user is able to navigate along a timeline throughout the history of the global content in a linear time based manner. The timeline resolution can be easily modified to any resolution, from millennium to minute. Seven thumbnails are displayed along the bottom of the window. The center thumbnail represents the closest match to the current content, to the left moves into the past and to the right moves into the future. A secondary timeline displays a 24 hour range, which allows the user to constrain the time of day between two given hours.

    Sound Each piece of content can potentially have an associated soundtrack. The sound window includes a 5 channel audio mixer – 4 ambient channels (environments, urban, spoken and abstract) and 1 rhythmic channel. Each channel has volume and balance controls and can be set individually. Soundtracks can be either set by the content author or dynamically chosen through an automatic ‘voting’ process, which determines the dominant sound for each channel. Seven thumbnails are displayed along the bottom of the window. Browsing by sound matches the current content item’s sound settings to the sound settings of the seven closest content items.

    Geospatial navigation UI

    Sonic search concept

    History Series Tue, 19 Dec 2000 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty I'm always curious about the lineage and progression of music — who influenced who, and where did a particular sound originate? Some musical traditions go back hundreds, even thousands, of years. Recorded music with reasonable quality has only been around for about a century, but is early enough to capture some traditional music largely uninfluenced by foreign music.

    Over the years I've collected various early recordings or traditional African, Indian, Caribbean, Brazilian, Indonesian, Japanese, and Middle Eastern music. I've try to identify music that marks the progression of style and influence as they march towards their contemporary form. I gave myself a challenge to look at the vinyl records I possessed for each of these regions, and attempt to create a linear progression from the earliest recording to the most contemporary in one seamless mix. So far I've created mixes for Africa and India, but I hope to continue this project some day.


    History Series: India

    India begins with a 1977 recording of the great tabla master Ala Rakha — father of arguably the greatest percussionist of all time Zakir Hussain. While the recording isn't very old, the music reflects traditional rhythms passed down through many generations. The mix meanders through various music traditions of India, eventually leading to western influence in the 70s and 80s, where disco and pop music began to shape India's popular music. In the late 1990s, electronic music and many foreign-born Indian musicians began to explore traditional sounds mixed into dance and experimental music. The mix ends with "Point.Mento.B", a sublime track by tabla player and electronic music producer Talvin Singh.


    History Series: Africa

    Africa begins with 1950’s field recordings of traditional song and chant. Afro-jazz groups Oneness of Juju and Hugh Masekela, who helped bring African music to mainstream western consciousness, are featured as we move through the 70s and 80s. The mix ends with an electronic afrobeat fusion track by Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s drummer).

    Bliss & Tumble Sun, 20 Jun 1999 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Blissed out, atmospheric drum & bass mix recorded from the chill room of the Rhythm Society event “Playtime”. Recorded in the summer of 1999.

    The cover is a photo I took of my wife Laura, not long after we started dating, and not long after this mix was made. We used an excuse to see a retrospective of outsider artist Adolf Wölfli to visit New York. While we were there, we visited a unique art/music experience created by La Mont Young, considered the godfather of minimalist music, called The Dream House. Located in a loft in Tribeca, the installation consists of speaker stacks in the four corners of a room with a shag white carpet and purple color film over the windows. La Monte's wife Marians' light sculptures adorn the space. The experience is overwhelming at first, then deeply immersive — playing differing oscillating frequencies out of each speaker, which creates a sound bath that responds to the position and relationship of the people in the space. One of the most breathtaking (literally) experiences I've ever had. The title of the piece is worth noting:

    The Base 9:7:4 Symmetry in Prime Time When Centered above and below The Lowest Term Primes in The Range 288 to 224 with The Addition of 279 and 261 in Which The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped above and Including 288 Consists of The Powers of 2 Multiplied by The Primes within The Ranges of 144 to 128, 72 to 64 and 36 to 32 Which Are Symmetrical to Those Primes in Lowest Terms in The Half of The Symmetric Division Mapped below and Including 224 within The Ranges 126 to 112, 63 to 56 and 31.5 to 28 with The Addition of 119 and the Jung Hee Choi TONECYCLE BASE 30 HZ, 2:3:7, The Linear Superposition Of 108 Sine Wave Frequencies Set In Ratios Based On The Harmonics 2, 3 And 7 Imperceptibly Ascending Toward Fixed Frequencies And Then Descending Toward The Starting Frequencies, Infinitely Revolving As In Circles, In Parallel And Various Rates Of Similar Motion To Create Continuous Slow Phase Shift With Long Beat Cycles
    First Ascent Wed, 02 Jun 1999 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Quokka was a startup from the late 90's that was attempting to reinvent sports coverage on the web. We created a first-person view into the athlete's world with helmet mounted cameras, biometric sensors, satellite connections, and a bunch of augmented storytelling. It was an exciting time, albeit a bit early, to explore cutting edge ways to stream live content through the internet.

    After working with established events (Olympics, America's Cup, Moto GP, and others), we were given the opportunity to create our own live immersive event. Our Product Manager/Producer, John Climaco, a world-class mountain climber at the time, and was connected to some of the greatest living climbers. He came up with the idea of bringing a handful of of the best climbers to the most remote mountain range on the planet, the Karakoram range, split off into teams, and climb as many peaks as possible — naming each mountain as the reward for a first ascent. The idea was crazy, and brilliant. It was essentially an extreme sports reality show.

    To make things even more interesting, the team drove all the way across China before packing on camels for two weeks deep into a disputed war zone at the intersection of India, China and Pakistan. What makes this area so difficult to get to is that the window to get in and out is very small (about 30 day) — after the snow recedes, but before the snow melt turns the valley floor into a raging river.

    As we started planning the online experience, it became clear to all of us that we were blazing new trails around remote media streaming, video processing, digital mapping, realtime tracking, etc. Our engineering team wouldn't commit to our deadline, so I brought in a talented young engineer, Alon Salant (he became the co-founder of Carbon5 and GoodEggs), to help us out. He was excited for the challenged and gave us the confidence we needed.

    I was passionate about interactive realtime mapping and wanted maps to anchor the experience, but at the time Google Maps, or any other map service for that matter, didn't exist. We couldn't even find satellite data in the US or India's government services for the area — in part because it was a sensitive/disputed area. A resourceful designer on our team, Josh Draper, made a connection with a decommissioned Russian spy agency and was able to secure high resolution satellite imagery and topographic data of the area we wanted to explore.

    We chose to build the experience in Flash version 3 — my hair-brained idea. If you know about the history of Flash, then you'd know that there was no real coding in Flash v.3, no persistent variables, no saved state. It was pretty much worthless. But Macromedia had just released a tool called Flash Generator that could render dynamic Flash content through a backend service. Alon and I were able to piece it all together and, after many weeks with little sleep, we launched on schedule.

    The rest is history (that not many people knew about because they were on dialup modems and this experience was a beast). Macromedia was so impressed with what we were able to do with Flash v.3, that they dedicated the entire back of the packaging for Flash v.4 (yeah, they used to physically ship software in boxes) to our project.

    First Ascent was featured on the back of the Flash 4 software packaging (back when software came in a box).

    Sleepy Sunday Wed, 05 May 1999 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty Recorded aboard the historic vessel, the S.S. Vallejo, this all-vinyl mix meanders through quirky 90s downtempo/chillout gems. The sui generis, Sir Matthew, was onboard for this lovely spring afternoon in 1999 — embedding a bit of his true nature in the grooves. Enjoy!

    Aidni Tue, 20 Apr 1999 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty When I was six years old my parents took me to India — my step-father is an Indian classical music vocalist, and my mother went to study thangka painting with the Tibetans in Dharmsala. My earliest memories are concentrated in India. I also grew up listening to my step-father, who would perform with his teacher, Pandit Pran Nath, and other notable maestros from the tradition, such as Zakir Hussain.

    In the mid 1990s, my love of electronic music collided with my history with Indian music. The "Asian Underground" movement blossomed in London, and a wonderful fusion infected many of my favorite genres: ambient, downtempo, drum & bass, and house. I immersed myself in the music and tried bring the scene to San Francisco with nominal success. Probably my highlight was playing at a yoga studio with Bassnectar (long before his fame).

    This mix is on the quiet side of asian electronica — bubbling with some energy in the middle, then retreating back into the quiet.

    37signals Mon, 01 Mar 1999 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Jason Fried, founder of 37signals, asked me to design a logo for his company — at the time called Spinfree. I proceeded to work on ideas loosely connected to the letters S & F. A fascination with meta-balls led me to an idea I liked quite a lot. Not only did it abstractly have the S & F, but could also be interpreted as J & F (Jason’s initials). Jason liked it as well.

    A couple months later Jason called me to say they had started a new company, sadly rendering the new logo obsolete. Jason described the new company as a hybrid of social and team focused. I looked at the logo and could see another aspect. Rotating the logo 90 degrees counter clockwise created an abstract figure with a hand in the air, almost as if to say “hello”. I affectionately called the logo “manlogo” and pitched it back to Jason. Jason and his partner Carlos worked the logo into their identity and the 37signals brand was born.

    Dub Quarantine Sun, 08 Nov 1998 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty Opening with some happy slugs eating their lettuces, ala Orb’s Slvg Dvb, the mix meanders through ambient dub, wonky electronica, and drum & bass. Recorded in 1998.

    Burning Man Wed, 27 Aug 1997 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty In 1995 some friends invited me to Burning Man. I thought it was an overnight rave, so I grabbed a backpack with a change of clothing and my Super8 camera. It wasn't until we entered Nevada that I realized I was going to a week-long festival in the desert. With no food or shelter, and minimal supplies, I lived off the kindness of friends and strangers.

    We were a part of the Wicked Sound System dance community, bringing the first DJ sound system to the event. At that time, the music selection at Burning Man was very diverse with live bands (many acoustic) and performance artists dominating the entertainment. Following the first all-night Wicked party, we were asked to move our camp far away so people could sleep—a notion that seem ridiculous today. In 1995, less than 4000 people attended Burning Man, and the event was situated in the very center of center of Black Rock Desert, unlike today where it sits in the corner of the playa (desert). The general lack of rules and boundaries made it an interesting experiment in anarchy and unbounded freedom.

    The film below is unedited—straight from the camera. I only brought two 3.5 minute rolls of film with me (one color and the other black and white), so I preserved film by capturing scenes with short recording—like moving photos. I cut out some under-exposed night footage, but the rest is how I shot it. The music is from a favorite 1995 chillout album by Subsurfing called Frozen Ants.

    Cappuccino Sun, 12 Mar 1995 00:00:00 -0800 Ammon Haggerty My first font. Two weights: single and double. The font was distributed with Fontology, my font classification and organization taxonomy project.

    Rhythmos Issue 2 Tue, 01 Jun 1993 23:06:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty The first issue of Rhythmos was created by a rag-tag crew of friends who felt a deep connection to the Bay Area rave scene. There was excitement from the response of the first issue and momentum towards the next. My life was becoming very full at that time—a new job, a new home, a new relationship. The second issue was nearly finished, but was never published to the disappointment of many who believed in the project.

    I recently unearthed a 3/4 complete layout for the second issue in an ancient version of Quark Express. Somehow I was able to open it—bravo to backwards compatibility. And who knew Quark was still around? The designs I found were surprisingly coherent, especially when compared to issue #1. After some wrangling and font swapping, issue #2 looked just about print ready. Why had I not completed the issue? Perhaps some contributors remember better than me. I know this moment in time was a tremendous moment of rapid change for me and it's possible I sabotaged the effort to avoid an expectation for #3. There were likely many reasons.

    What Rhythos #2 became the foundation for my first website project in 1994— When I learned about the web, I created a community portal and culture hub with Rhythmos as the coherent core. The site became a tremendous success (by early web standards) and the content was seen far and wide. Terry Riley (a family friend) often mentions that the interview in this issue always comes up in conversations and interviews. I also found the interview used as part of the music history syllabus at Wesleyan University.

    While I can't travel back in time, I've decided to publish issue #2 as an imagined historic artifact. Since the Quark document didn't have any of the ads, I added some flyers from the time and the classic photo of Jeno in front of BPM on the back (hope that's ok Ishmael!). If you feel inspired to print out a copy, you can download Rhythmos Issue 2 as a PDF.

    Live at Mushroom Jazz '93 Wed, 05 May 1993 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty In 1992 I started a little downtempo weekly in San Francisco with Mark Farina, Patty Smith, Eric Kalabacos, and Erik Ross. We called it Jazzid Up!, but quickly became known as Mushroom Jazz because of Mark's mix series. For the three year life of the weekly, I was in DJ heaven as one of the residents — playing my favorite music alongside my favorite DJs. This is a recording from one of the Monday nights. I remember it was the week I bought the debut album from seminal Austrian duo Kruder & Dorfmeister. A week earlier DJ Shadow released In/Flux on Mo Wax. To me, this was a pinnacle of an era!

    I made many copies of this mix tape and sent them far and wide as both gift and promotion. 10 years later I could not locate a single copy, including the original master. A mass email requesting a copy finally located one in Seattle with my friend Grey Six. It was a copy of a copy of the original, but I was happy to have found one. Grey would often comment that the song titled “The Sun” was one of his all-time favorite pieces of contemporary music and would help him get through hard moments in his life. Grey died of terminal illness shortly after sending me his copy of this mix tape, so I’d like to dedicate this recording to the memory of Grey Six.

    Peace. Love. Harmony.

    Terry Riley Interview Fri, 09 Oct 1992 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    This interview was conducted at Shri Moonshine Ranch in October 1992 by Gamall Awad and Ammon Haggerty for Rhythmos Magazine.

    Ambient music has been around for centuries, take the call of whales, or the drone of a didgeridoo, it’s only recently in the 70’s that ‘ambient’ has been used as a term to classify music. Brian Eno was, in the main, responsible for this, with his concept of threshold hearing. Eno was very influenced by a generation of composers whose work came to prominence in the 60’s - the minimalists, central of whom is the California based composer Terry Riley.

    Gamall & Ammon:
    Basically tell us who you are.

    Terry Riley :
    Well I guess my music came to prominence around one piece called ‘In C’ which I wrote in 1964 at that time it was called ‘The Global Villages for Symphonic Pieces’, because it was a piece built out of 53 simple patterns and the structure was new to music at that time. No one had done anything like this before were you just had a piece built all out of patterns and the first concerts of ‘In C’ were kind of big communal events where a lot of people would come out and sometimes listen or dance to the music because the music would get quite ecstatic with all these repeated patterns. Although repetition is a major force in music it was never used in this way before. So, essentially my contribution was to introduce repetition into Western music as the main ingredient without any melody over it, without anything just repeated patterns, musical patterns. In the nut shell that was my own introduction into the world of western music.

    G&A: What were you doing before ‘In C’ came out?

    Terry: I was working with Anna Halprin’s Dance Company. I was working with tape loops, sort of primitive technology. This was in the late 50’s early 60’s. I was using tape loops for dancers and dance production. I had very funky primitive equipment, in fact technology wasn’t very good no matter how much money you had. Everything was mono. Using these machines I would take tapes and run them into my yard and around a wine bottle back into my room and I would get a really long loop and then I would cut the tape into all different sizes and I would just run them out into the yard and I would record onto one machine just sound on sound. I would build up this kind of unintelligible layer, almost like some of these things you have been playing. It was like primitive sampling. I would take things like Junior Walker and his All Stars and would cut it up and play it backwards and stuff like that. Out of doing all that experimentation with sound I decided I wanted to do it with live musicians. To take repetition, take music fragments and make it live. Musicians would be able to play it and create this kind of abstract fabric of sound.

    G&A: What kind of instruments were you playing at this time?

    Terry: I was mainly playing piano.

    G&A: Your first record was called “Reed Stream”.

    Terry: That was on an old organ harmonium that I had a vacuum cleaner motor blower blowing into the ballast’s. The vacuum cleaner motor kind of had a drone, so I played along with that. Talking about the all night concerts, I did some of the first all night concerts back in the 60’s with this little harmonium, and I also had saxophone taped delays. I was asked to do the first all night concerts. I did a solo all night concert which started at 10:00 at night and ended at sunrise. People brought their whole families and they had their sleeping bags and hammocks. It was in one of the big rooms in art college. It started out a career for me doing all night concerts which I did for a couple of years.

    G&A: How did you prepare for these all night concerts?

    Terry: I really didn’t have a plan, I just went in and started playing. one of my specialties was to be able to play for a really long time without stopping and I would play these repeated patterns for hours and hours and I wouldn’t seem to get tired. I guess I have a lot of energy. Throughout the evening I would be recording these long saxophone delays and about four hours into the concert, if I wanted to take a break I would just play back the saxophone. And a lot of people didn’t even wake up to know the difference because a lot of people just slept all night.

    G&A: I heard in a lot of your concerts you used lights shows?

    Terry: I traveled with an artist, Bob Benson, he used have strobe lights and we built these mylar screens. He was a painter essentially. His paintings were stretch color fabric on canvas, then he started stretching reflective mylar. Sometimes I would have troops of girl gymnasts doing cartwheels during the night shows just as a passing. Then we would have these mylar things so the audience would see themselves and they would see me. They looked quite distorted because the mylar, as it bends, distorts the reflection kind of like the mirrors at the circus.

    G&A: When people talk about minimalist music the lineage seems to go La Monte Young, you, Steve Reich, Philip Glass; I was wondering when you first came across La Monte what went on between you. I know you’ve played concerts together, I always got the impression that the influence went both ways.

    Terry: Well, he was certainly a big influence on me when I met him, he was the freakiest guy I have ever met in my life. I met him when I went to school in Berkeley. He was in one of my classes and we struck it off as close friends from the beginning. I think he was much more sophisticated musician. He had lived in Los Angeles and been a jazz musician, and I was coming out of the sticks of Northern California and I hadn’t heard nearly as much music as he had. He has a superb conceptual sense about music, I think his sense about music is what spawned minimalist music, even though he didn’t do it the way Glass and Reich, who where more inspired by me because of the repetition. La Monte’s idea was just to have this one big form that were just long tones, I think that was the real essential heart of minimalist music.

    G&A: How were those pieces live?

    Terry: He wrote one for me, that I’ve never performed yet, but maybe I will someday. It was where I was supposed to push a grand piano into a wall and keep pushing until the wall fell down.

    G&A: Could you talk a little about your encounters and development of your relationship with Pandit Pran Nath?

    Terry: I met him through La Monte Young. La Monte had brought him over in 1970 and La Monte had been one of the first people in America to recognize how great he was. He had been underground figure performing in India on the radio. He wasn’t considered by the Indian public at large as one of the great superstars, like Ravi Shankar. But in effect, he had all this great knowledge of Indian classical music and really performed it in a true sense. I had been interested in Indian music and I actually started studying Tableaus before I met him. I was sort of going in that direction because my own music was very similar to Indian music. When I met him [Guruji] he said ‘You must become my student.’ So I said, ‘OK.’ I cried the first time I heard him sing. He hit some bell in me that had never resonated before. It was so moving I wanted to go back to India with him right away and start studying with him. I had already done Rainbow in Curved Air and had a big record on CBS. I was launched to have a long career and then I just dropped out and went to India. So I just went to India to study with Pandit, and he said no you have to do your own music too.

    G&A: Tell us about the music-theater piece you are working on now?

    Terry: It is based on the works of Adolf Wulfli. He was a Swiss peasant who was born around 1864 and had a terrible childhood. He was neglected, his father was an alcoholic, he was a ward of the state, his mother died when he was very young and he was sent out as a hireling around the farms in Switzerland. He wandered around Switzerland like this for about thirty years as a laborer and stuff. Around the age of thirty he was caught molesting a young child in a cradle. He actually had been involved in other cases before too and had been put in jail because of one of them. But when he was thirty, they had diagnosed him as schizophrenic and was put in a mental institution, and spent the next thirty-five years almost in solitary confinement. In this mental institution and after about five years he started drawing and he had the most incredible ability to draw and conceptualize art considering he had never been to art school and knew nothing about what was happening. He was a very visionary artist. His art is always about vision of something. One of his hallucinations or he said people would visit him and tell him what to draw and then they would argue about what he should draw and then he would argue with them. But he turned out thirty thousand or something drawings and stories about travels through space, travels throughout the earth, places he had never been too, because he spent his entire life in a mental institution. He described New York and Canada in great detail and gave them really fantastic names, with great plays on words. When I first discovered his art, it was like a revelation. I had never heard of him, I couldn’t believe it, he was such a great artist and nobody never heard about him. But now outsider art is beginning to get known. After I saw Wulfli’s work, I wanted to do some piece on him because he really set off something in me when I saw it, I felt like I had to deal with it. First I was going to make it purely a musical piece and then it looked like it had to be a theater piece because a lot of Wulflie’s writings are so imaginative and his words are so imaginative, I thought they had to be spoken in each piece so we sort of developed this woven fabric of music and narrative dialog. We would mix it all together with video images and slides. Then the actors were speaking and telling stories.

    G&A: Are the words sung or spoken?

    Terry: Some of them are spoken and I’ve written some songs for the scripts. Some of them are in German and others are in English. Some of the ones in German are just based on sounds which are really interesting, there even not sounds common to Germany. They are sounds Wulfli had made up. You know there is this language schizophrenics call Glosserlallia which is a secret language that only they understand.

    G&A: So schizophrenics can talk to each other in this language?

    Terry: No, they can only talk to themselves. Most of them have many people dwelling within themselves, and they all speak Glossolalia. They probably each have their own version of the language. I found that to be fascinating though. The big part of art and music is imagination. The thing that grips us is imagination of the artist, and schizophrenics are some of the most imaginative people. It makes you wonder what is the real heart of art and music. What are we really trying to get at? I think what happens to them, their ordinary filters for reality somehow open up. They experience things we can only experience in very altered states, but they experience this all the time.

    G&A: Did you see music in Wulfli’s pictures, and did you develop themes to certain pictures?

    Terry: I did. A lot of his drawings also have music notations in them. He developed his own system of music notation and no one has ever been able to decipher it. It is very cryptic and enigmatic notation. When I saw a lot of those I really thought it sounded like great music just looking at it on the page although I would never know how to decipher it, so I decided to compose music just in a spirit of what he is doing. I wanted to write music that was influenced by my studying his drawings. So I spent a lot time this summer just gazing at the drawings. The music has come out kind of interesting, it almost sounds like music that could have been composed in the 30’s and 40’s around the time he lived. I haven’t really wanted to do anything modern. It’s general substance is older sounding.

    G&A: What are your thoughts on where the world is going?

    Terry: It is important that we are coming up on the millennium because what I am experiencing, just being one person out of billions, is the feeling of acceleration. I experience this through my contact with other people. Everyone seems to be in a kind of accelerated time mode that is beyond their own control. Acceleration is finite, I think according to some laws of physics. It seems like we are moving towards something, some kind of point and it is probably going to be an important point in our development or dissolution. That is what everybody seems to be thinking. We are either going to dissolve as a human race or we are going to break through into a new understanding of what it is to be a human being.

    G&A: So what part is music going to take in this transformation?

    Terry: This morning I was practicing raga, and at one point I was singing a long tone and I became very peaceful and still. I thought this is really the highest point of music for me is to become in a place where there is no desire, no craving, wanting to do anything else, just to be in a state of being to the highest point. Then you get a little meditated, you get to a place that is really still and it is the best place you have ever been and yet there is nothing there. For me, that is what music is. It is a spiritual art. It is a form to that place. There are many ways to do that, many kind of ways to get there. Music can also be a sensual pleasure, like eating food or sex. But its highest vibration for me is that point of taking us to a real understanding of something in our nature which we can very rarely get at. It is a spiritual state of oneness. For me, it is the reason for doing music because you are always trying to get there, but we live in this big cloud of illusions, so we sometimes go about it in the wrong way. We think music as being as a highly skilled activity, virtuosity. To me it’s important that you achieve the state. Listening to music is as high as singing or playing it. If a great singer is singing and you think gee I would like to sing like that, you are being foolish because you are listening to the thing you really want anyway, so why think you want to do it. It is the thing, the thing itself that is really important. Although I have a personal greed about playing music, I really enjoy the tactile thing of playing an instrument, but I’m coming from back in 1935, when that was the way you made music, there is no other way to do it, so I have a lifelong habit of doing music this way. But if I was 20 years old today, I might not have that orientation, I would probably be out sampling music like everybody else.

    Terry's Reviews Fri, 09 Oct 1992 00:00:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty

    This is part of the interview conducted at Shri Moonshine Ranch in October 1992 by Gamall Awad and Ammon Haggerty for Rhythmos Magazine.

    We played some popular "ambient techno" tracks at the time for Terry and captured his thoughts.

    "Mercy" by Moby

    Terry Riley: This sounds a little bit like some combination of new age music and dance music. Everything done very simply that same pulsing "E" all the way through. For my taste, that wouldn't carry me very far into myself, although I find it pleasant to listen to, but musically not challenging enough. It's like a painting that's done very beautifully but doesn't have too much depth.

    "The Passage" by Juan Atkins (Model 500)

    Terry Riley: I hear a point of view on the first tune that maybe is shared. There's not a lot of highs, they're both bass orientated which would bear out your idea that this is for people to chill out to. What I find peculiar in these first two tracks is the organ music in the background—it's very nostalgic. I guess nostalgia is a big part of this. But it might be recent nostalgia. I mean a sample is a nostalgia isn't it? It's something you know and you like. I think nostalgia is an important element of music. This gets interesting as it melts down—the last one melted down too. That part to me is interesting, but I think it would be more interesting if it wasn't used just for an ending, but used to take people down to there and then begin again.

    "Fill No 3" by Speedy J

    Terry Riley: Now this is getting a little edge to it. I like that there are different disparate elements going on at the same time that are all related. It's interesting what's happening to music, moving toward the millennium, we are getting ready to move as a whole culture—we're becoming different kinds of human beings than those of the past, and the music reflects that.

    "The Clan" by I.A.O. (aka Black Dog)

    Terry Riley: The drummer sounds live. It doesn't sound drum machine-y—it's lighter. The time has a looser feeling than a drum machine to my ear not so uptight. This is a good band, I'd like to hear more.

    "Soufie" by Banco De Gaia

    Terry Riley: This is psychedelic. It reminds me in a way of some of the things the Beatles did without their pop music in it, strip away all of their tunes and put the background in. This is very good. I'm learning something here. Drums are very grounding—they're the thing that ground us to the earth, take away the drums and you start floating up into space, its a simple idea but I always find it's true.

    Rhythmos Issue 1 Sat, 03 Oct 1992 18:09:00 -0700 Ammon Haggerty As I approached my 21st birthday, I made two commitments I felt would change my life for the better. First, I vowed to quit drinking alcohol, which is funny since I rarely drank. But spent enough time in nightclubs and bars (yes, I was under 21 ;) during the heyday of the Bay Area rave scene to see that alcohol was a negative force that could infect the magic and spiritual nature of the gatherings. Next, was to find someone to lead me on a vision quest. I had learned about vision quests when I was 13 as a coming-of-age ritual for young adults transitioning to adulthood. I felt I was ready to make this transition.

    I didn't drink alcohol on my 21st birthday and didn't drink any alcohol in the following decade. I also joined a traditional, week-long Native American vision quest in the Inyo Mountains above Death Valley. The experience was profound and transformative. When I returned from the quest I created this zine, which I called Rhythmos. The word rhythmos comes from ancient Greek dance culture, and refers to the momentary positions taken by dancers during ritual. I meant for the zine to capture both the magic I was experiencing in the rave scene and as a connection to a more expansive lineage of wisdom, teaching and celebration, where the rave scene was just one chapter.

    You can download a PDF of Rhythmos Issue 1.