qaswa : Ammon Haggerty http://qaswa.com/ http://qaswa.com/assets/skin/logo.svg 44a9f4 http://qaswa.com/assets/skin/logo.svg http://qaswa.com/ en-us Sun, 22 Sep 2019 12:12:23 +0000 Sun, 22 Sep 2019 12:12:23 +0000 Sufi Camp 2019 http://qaswa.com/sufi-camp-2019 Thu, 18 Jul 2019 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/sufi-camp-2019 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!

Download a copy here


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Interaction 19 - SF // Redux http://qaswa.com/interaction-19-sf-redux Fri, 05 Apr 2019 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/interaction-19-sf-redux 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.


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Hunting Mushrooms http://qaswa.com/hunting-mushrooms Wed, 20 Mar 2019 22:29:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/hunting-mushrooms

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 most importantly, edibility.

Boletes have been found upwards of 50 pounds and standing more than 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 quite 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’ve come to learn that mushrooms are complex organisms with particular habitat needs. There seems to be a direct correlation between how tasty a mushroom is and its' 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 though 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 have been cultivated from a young age, and I’m trying to do the same for my two daughters. Since they were old enough the 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 tend to 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 at the time, 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 decided to call 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 had also been 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 Marks tape and shared the serendipitous connection, which happened to be the best mix of Acid Jazz I had ever heard.

At this time 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 at the time. 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 an idea of a space with great music, delicious food, socializing and dancing. Patty convinced us that we should have the party weekly in order 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). The film was shot 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.

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IxDA // Interaction 19 http://qaswa.com/ixda-interaction-19 Thu, 07 Feb 2019 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/ixda-interaction-19 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 a project that leverages user empowerment and playfulness to create a deeply intimate experience that learns playfully.


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My Year In Music http://qaswa.com/my-year-in-music-2018 Mon, 31 Dec 2018 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/my-year-in-music-2018

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.

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Finding Center http://qaswa.com/finding-center Fri, 02 Nov 2018 23:29:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/finding-center

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.

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Rotation http://qaswa.com/rotation Mon, 08 Oct 2018 17:50:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/rotation 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.

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Joy & Happiness http://qaswa.com/joy-happiness Sat, 11 Aug 2018 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/joy-happiness 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

Download here


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The Rhythm Society: Retreat http://qaswa.com/rs-retreat Sat, 19 May 2018 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/rs-retreat Dancing under the stars at a Rhythm Society campout event. Fusion of african and world tech house, breakbeat and bass.

Download here


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Drifting Into The Valley http://qaswa.com/drifting-into-the-valley Thu, 10 May 2018 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/drifting-into-the-valley

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.

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Formation http://qaswa.com/formation Wed, 07 Mar 2018 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/formation

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 formation.ai.

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Little Hip Hop http://qaswa.com/little-hip-hop Thu, 14 Dec 2017 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/little-hip-hop 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.

Download here


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Gia's Birthday http://qaswa.com/gias-birthday Sun, 11 Sep 2016 06:17:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/gias-birthday 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!


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The Rhythm Society: Portal http://qaswa.com/portal Sat, 21 Mar 2015 06:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/portal Recorded at Rhythm Society’s “Portal” event on March 20th, 2015 in Oakland, California.


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Tangents http://qaswa.com/tangents Wed, 30 Apr 2014 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/tangents 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.

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Drum Machine Jam Band http://qaswa.com/drum-machine-jam-band Fri, 07 Feb 2014 18:15:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/drum-machine-jam-band A wonky mix of balearic and left-field underground jams. Inspired by some of the lovely music coming from Claremont 56 records. Recorded in 2014.

Download here


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The Art of Discovery http://qaswa.com/the-art-of-discovery Sat, 01 Feb 2014 22:17:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/the-art-of-discovery

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. Weather quickly scribbled are 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.

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Sixth Sense http://qaswa.com/sixth-sense Wed, 16 Oct 2013 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/sixth-sense 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.

Introduction

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.

Hardware


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.

Software

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.

Results


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.

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Attention Management http://qaswa.com/attention-management Sat, 24 Aug 2013 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/attention-management

This article was written while I was working with the Microsoft Research (MSR) team. I've modified the original article to remove sensitive references.

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.


Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.


Summary

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.

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Joy's House http://qaswa.com/joys-house Sat, 17 Aug 2013 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/joys-house 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.

Download here

"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


Cover art by Victor Moscoso

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The Rhythm Society: Superheroic http://qaswa.com/rs-superheroic Sat, 22 Jun 2013 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/rs-superheroic Recorded at The Rhythm Society event "Superheroic", June 2013.


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SFPUC Digital Arts Panorama http://qaswa.com/sfpuc-digital-arts-panorama Wed, 05 Jun 2013 17:20:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/sfpuc-digital-arts-panorama 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: http://www.sfwater.org/

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Bluescape http://qaswa.com/bluescape Sat, 01 Jun 2013 19:39:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/bluescape 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 join venture with Obscura. I left Obscura at the end of the prototyping effort. Bluescape is now for sale and can now be found in select Haworth showrooms.

Visit the site

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Slomo Disco http://qaswa.com/slomo-disco Thu, 03 Jan 2013 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/slomo-disco Some of my favorite slowed-down soul, funk and disco edits of 2012. Enjoy!

Download here


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Solomon http://qaswa.com/solomon Wed, 29 Feb 2012 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/solomon 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.


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iTunes Data Visualizer http://qaswa.com/itunes-data-visualizer Sun, 02 Oct 2011 01:06:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/itunes-data-visualizer A little experiment with D3.js to view my iTunes library XML file. The size of the bubble corresponds to the number of times I listened to the track. The color represents the rating I gave it (number of stars). If you click on an entry, it will try to find the song in YouTube. I also built an album art scraper in Node.js, but it's not running any longer — sorry!

Try it out here - desktop only
(it's a snapshot of my listening habits frozen in time from 2011)


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F8 Connections http://qaswa.com/f8-connections Thu, 22 Sep 2011 17:25:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/f8-connections 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)
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Africa Edits + Disco http://qaswa.com/africa-edits-disco Tue, 11 Jan 2011 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/africa-edits-disco 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

Download here


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Folksonomic Musicology http://qaswa.com/folksonomic-musicology Sun, 02 Jan 2011 18:31:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/folksonomic-musicology

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 allmusic.com 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.

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Guy Murchie http://qaswa.com/guy-murchie Sun, 10 Oct 2010 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/guy-murchie

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.

...it 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.

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Transmigration Reboot http://qaswa.com/transmigration-reboot Fri, 13 Aug 2010 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/transmigration-reboot

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.

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Patterns & Rhythms http://qaswa.com/patterns-rhythms Tue, 10 Aug 2010 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/patterns-rhythms 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!


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Nostalgia http://qaswa.com/nostalgia Sat, 12 Jun 2010 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/nostalgia 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!


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Dropbits http://qaswa.com/dropbits Sat, 01 May 2010 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/dropbits Dropbits is a platform supporting 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 gifts were left. Efficient experience capturing tools allow the user to quickly share a spontaneous moment.


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Kodak Pipeline http://qaswa.com/kodak-pipeline Thu, 07 Jan 2010 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/kodak-pipeline 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!”

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Hard Rock Cafe: Rock Wall http://qaswa.com/hard-rock-cafe-rock-wall Tue, 08 Sep 2009 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/hard-rock-cafe-rock-wall 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.

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Obscura Reboot http://qaswa.com/obscura-iphone-app Sun, 01 Feb 2009 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/obscura-iphone-app Obscura is an experiential marketing creative agency that specializes in creating epic, digitally powered spectacles. From projection mapping entire sky scrapers, to building the worlds largest seamless touch display, Obscura was both a design agency and a hardware/software R&D shop.

I joined Obscura to lead their XD team and bring interaction into their projects. To showcase the new capabilities, we rebranded and relaunched the website to showcase to engage the uses in reactive and physical installations.

When within range, the iOS application functions as an input device for some Obscura projects. A map view will show where public and controllable Obscura projects can be found. The application is also used to drive Obscura's demo showroom, where every experience is controlled from iPhone.

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Nike Skateboarding V3 http://qaswa.com/nike-skateboarding-v3 Tue, 15 May 2007 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/nike-skateboarding-v3 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.

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S.S. Vallejo http://qaswa.com/ss-vallejo Sun, 02 Apr 2006 07:29:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/ss-vallejo

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.


Steve Speer - FWFSZ NBO FWFSZ JT B TUBS EAC *

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.

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The Freshening Of Past Ideals http://qaswa.com/the-freshening-of-past-ideals Fri, 17 Mar 2006 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/the-freshening-of-past-ideals 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

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Albany Bulb http://qaswa.com/albany-bulb Sun, 01 Jan 2006 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/albany-bulb

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.

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Mali2005 http://qaswa.com/mali Thu, 22 Dec 2005 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/mali 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. Ali Farka Toure, one of Mali’s greatest musicians who’s featured on this mix, passed away in March 2006. So this mix is dedicated to the prolific and brilliant guitarist/singer/songwriter Ali Farka Toure.

Download here



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Bruce Connor http://qaswa.com/bruce-connor Sun, 04 Dec 2005 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/bruce-connor

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.

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Electric Sheep http://qaswa.com/electric-sheep Tue, 01 Nov 2005 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/electric-sheep

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.

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Qaswa V4 http://qaswa.com/qaswa-v4 Tue, 21 Jun 2005 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/qaswa-v4 In the early days of responsive HTML development, I joined a small group of Flash developers trying to create the same levels of flexibility and dynamism. I build this portfolio site as a proof of concept for responsive design — trying things like a dynamic/fluid stage, loading external CSS and XML content definition files, and fallback HTML content.

The success of this prototype led to the creation of Nike Skateboarding V3 Flash site — one of the first widely seen dynamically styled and responsive Flash sites.

You can still play around with an archived version of this site — you probably need to install Flash, and I won't promise everything still works perfectly ;)




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A Son Picks The Sons http://qaswa.com/a-son-picks-the-sons Fri, 06 May 2005 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/a-son-picks-the-sons My father 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 jams. Whenever I introduce someone to the group I almost always play one of their lesser known and quieter songs since I feel it’s easier to hear the brilliance of the song writing and musicianship when you’re not getting blasted. This mix is a compilation representing a quieter side of The Sons. The last track, Knickanick, is one of my all time favorite guitar tracks - noodley, psychedelic bliss :)

Recorded in 2005.


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Nike Skateboarding V2 http://qaswa.com/nike-skateboarding-v2 Wed, 15 Dec 2004 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/nike-skateboarding-v2 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 ;).

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Prinspiration http://qaswa.com/prinspiration Mon, 07 Jun 2004 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/prinspiration

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.



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TechTwerp http://qaswa.com/techtwerp Fri, 30 Apr 2004 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/techtwerp 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”.

Download here



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<br> http://qaswa.com/br Fri, 08 Aug 2003 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/br <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.

Download here


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Anaspace http://qaswa.com/anaspace Wed, 05 Feb 2003 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/anaspace 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

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Older Mixes from The RS http://qaswa.com/older-mixes-from-the-rs Sun, 31 Dec 2000 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/older-mixes-from-the-rs Here's a collection of older Rhythm Society mixes. I chose to group them because, while they're each unique in their own way, they share a similar energy and intention. They were all "post ceremony" sets (typically midnight till 1:30am) — a time to bring the energy high before transitioning into deeper, more introspective music in the later hours.


The Rhythm Society: Ripples
Dec 31, 2000 at St. John's Church, San Francisco
Download here


The Rhythm Society: Ember
Sept 19, 2003 at Cell Space, San Francisco
Download here


The Rhythm Society: Sen5ation!
Sep 17, 2004 at Cell Space, San Francisco
Download here


The Rhythm Society: Story
Mar 17, 2006 at Cell Space, San Francisco
Download here

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History Series http://qaswa.com/history-series Tue, 19 Dec 2000 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/history-series 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.

India


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.

Africa


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).

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Bliss & Tumble http://qaswa.com/bliss-tumble Sun, 20 Jun 1999 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/bliss-tumble Blissed out, atmospheric drum & bass mix recorded from the chill room of the Rhythm Society event “Playtime”. Recorded in the summer of 1999.

Download here


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First Ascent http://qaswa.com/first-ascent Wed, 02 Jun 1999 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/first-ascent 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.

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Sleepy Sunday http://qaswa.com/sleepy-sunday Wed, 05 May 1999 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/sleepy-sunday 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!

Download here


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Aidni http://qaswa.com/aidni Tue, 20 Apr 1999 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/aidni 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.


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37signals http://qaswa.com/37signals Mon, 01 Mar 1999 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/37signals 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.


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Dub Quarantine http://qaswa.com/dub-quarantine Sun, 08 Nov 1998 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/dub-quarantine 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.

Download here


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Burning Man http://qaswa.com/burningman Wed, 27 Aug 1997 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/burningman 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.

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Cappuccino http://qaswa.com/cappuccino Sun, 12 Mar 1995 08:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/cappuccino My first font. Two weights: single and double. The font was distributed with Fontology, my font classification and organization taxonomy project.


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Stonie Jazz 5 http://qaswa.com/stonie-jazz-5 Wed, 05 May 1993 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/stonie-jazz-5 My oldest salvaged dj mix - recorded in 1993. This mix is a time capsule from an early moment of my exploration of djing. When this recording was made I was resident DJ at Mushroom Jazz / Jazid Up, a weekly downtempo party in San Francisco. This mix represented an emerging music and energy that seemed to resonate with every aspect of my musical interest.

I made many copies of this mix tape and sent them far and wide as both gift and promotion. 10 years later not a single copy could be found, 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.

Download Side A

Download Side B


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Terry Riley Interview http://qaswa.com/terry-riley-interview Fri, 09 Oct 1992 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/terry-riley-interview

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.

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Terry's Reviews http://qaswa.com/terrys-reviews Fri, 09 Oct 1992 07:00:00 +0000 ammon http://qaswa.com/terrys-reviews

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.


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