Van Life

I happened across some videos recently with a series title of “Van life”. This particular production seems to be a part of the marketing wing of a company called GoalZero, who make rechargeable battery packs and solar charging equipment for outdoors ..stuff. I was actually familiar with the brand because they have a store front on 3point5.com, a website that offers retail and outdoors industry professionals training and discounts on products in hopes that they will then promote the products to customers and other professionals. I end up buying a lot of stuff from that site.

The most interesting offering from GoalZero is their Yeti line, a 150-1250W solar powered battery pack, which you can see in the video below. I think these videos are a really great way of showing off the product. I think that when we consider a product like this, there are some simple connections that come to mind, such as being able to run your laptop while camping, but I think it is not as easy to visualize the lifestyle that such a product or tool enables. While this guy’s setup isn’t something someone in a house could probably immediately jump into, (ie: lack of a bathroom) it definitely gives a glimpse of a step that direction.

And another video from this series featuring a van that seems a little more livable.

As youtube is great at doing, it recommended me some other videos on related topics, including some from a couple running a website called where’s my office now. They have several videos documenting their van life. I think this series is really nice because this couple is in much the same situation as many of us considering smaller living. Emily does web design, and thus can work remotely, and also has a lot of student loan debt to deal with. In the below video, they breifly discuss the cost of van living. Check out their site for the other videos.

Cost of living in a van

In watching these videos and others, I came to realization that most of the people that are living the van life are making their living off of “the outdoors”. Many, as was the case with the second and third videos here, are professional photographers specializing in backcountry sports and nature shots, and/or athletes of some kind whether mountain bike racers or canoeing instructors. Deriving your livelihood from activities that take place in remote areas seems like a prime factor in living this lean. I mean, it’s largely just practical. I am curious though where the line is though. I think there is still a lot of benefit to mobile living even if you don’t have a specific reason to adopt that lifestyle. I think that – urban mobile living, is a picture that I would like to see painted in more detail.

I like ecclesiastical art

I really enjoy ecclesiastical art; mostly stained glass, but sometimes other mediums.  I’m not religious in the least, but I think the history behind such work really gets at the part of religion that I’m most interested in. Being able to physically trace back the history and morphology of a philosophy is a lot more interesting to me than trying to commune with God.

As I started looking for inspiration for a Saint Burritus T shirt design I’m working on, I happened across the ikonograffiti blog, and really liked it. Having dabbled breifly with spray paint and stencils, on the #trikelala T shirt,  this video was especially interesting.

I’ve been on something of a sabbatical for the last few months. Partially I just couldn’t stand to think about academia anymore, and partially I needed to take a time out to try to figure out who I am as a person at this point in my life. (Perhaps I’ll touch on this in a later post)

During this time of self directed listlessness, one of the things I’ve picked up on is how important music is in my life despite my self-imposed absence from participation in it the past several years. Part of this has involved catching some of my favorite bands of olden times who are now re-activated, like Braid, who I saw in Chicago recently in support of their new record and Failure who seem to be giving it another go. Additionally, I do a fair amount of reminiscing about Lafayette bands that I knew personally.

A week ago I was poking around youtube, and happened to find a pile of videos from Greasers Palace, a band that was active in the 2002-2005 ish timeframe. When I first met these guys, it was during the era of “Tazzma’s Rock ‘O Rama”, a sketchy venue in the spot on 6th street that has hosted Luckey’s, Mixerz, Downtown Records, The Venue, and most recently an installation gallery show by Purdue Visual and Performing Arts grad students. At the time, their music was a weird amalgam. There was a lot of Marilyn Manson influence; an element of shock showmanship, and offbeat instrumentation like theremin and Q Chord. At this point there was also a hint of John Mellencamp influence, which later became more prominent. The music was interesting, but a little chaotic. At the time, it was kind of a high point for me in terms of a happy, networked music scene, and these guys played a big role in that, I think. They were friendly with most of the other bands they encountered, and cool to me as well, so we became friends.

Here’s an audio recording of one of their sets at Tazzma’s around this time:

Over time their sound evolved, and more of the typical punk rock influences came in. The Mellencamp vibe came in more too. While it’s worth mentioning that Seth and Elijah, the two brothers in the band were from Southern Indiana, and the ‘Coug could be counted as a role model, I was never quite sure if the Mellencamp thing was tongue in cheek or serious. I think initially, I viewed it as a joke, but it caused me to go a little deeper into his catalog, and I eventually found myself taking him seriously. I guess it’s similar to the way people view Journey? Anyway, as a hoosier, I now have a pretty good appreciation for Mellencamp’s perspective even though I still laugh at him from time to time. A few selected hilarities:

“But you must believe that when I walk down the tracks
All those young girls fall back and say
There goes that sleek young silhouette
He don’t drive no Corvette
But he stings just like a Sting Ray”
Chestnut Street Revisited

“I’ve seen lots of things
But I have not seen a lot of other things”
You’ve Got to Stand For Something

At about this point I started helping them record. This was more an element of convenience for everyone than a business transaction. I think they’d recorded at a studio somewhere and didn’t like it or it was hard to schedule or something, and there also wasn’t a lot of money flowing around.. Plus, they had some decent equipment including a little BOSS recording workstation, I think it was a VS-890. I may be wrong, but I think my payment for recording them was getting to use the BOSS recorder to do a Jim-Jims album later which ended up being “Here it comes!“, probably my favorite album that I recorded. At the time, I think John Gordon had moved on to Boston, meaning the usual recording space that we had been living in was gone, but I think I still had some of the equipment around, so we set up in the living room of Casey, the drummer’s house that the band was practicing in.

I ran the session in what became my standard documentary style. We set up live, with amps semi isolated in different rooms, and the drums in the living room. Micing was all pretty basic. I don’t think I had anything fancy. I remember that there was a good balance on the two guitar tones. Their bass player had disappeared at some point prior, so they went with a two guitar/vox/drums arrangement that really worked for them. Elijah was using a bandmaster set to an almost muddy tone; lots of low end. he played mostly drop D barres, and the tone fit the style. I can’t remember what Seth was playing through.. Something a little more high gain with a slight harshness. Maybe the tubeworks or a marshall of some kind. I think we got everything live. Vox and guitar solos may have been overdubbed, but I don’t think so. I remember that the band was adamant that the vocals be low in the mix and they wanted a little distortion on them. I think I used a terrible ART TubeMP for that task. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Elijah didn’t have lyrics for all the songs and Seth didn’t have guitar leads/solos. In more recent listens, I’ve been able to catch some mumbling where the words weren’t done, and for one of the solos, I recommended that Seth just play the tapping part from AC/DCs thunderstruck; which he did, and I think it sounds ok.

I guess it’s all a little fuzzy at this point. I feel like I did two 4 song sessions with them, but I really only remember one. Maybe we recorded something at Tazzma’s during the day? I don’t know. Four of the songs ended up becoming the Tatonka EP – Brown Bottle Blues, Transmission, Straight Shooter and 9″ Chamber. A few more ended up being their “Going to Arizona” demo – Road to Damascus, Immortal Class, and Battle Flag. I really enjoy that I was around to see the evolution of what these guys were doing, and I’m also really glad to have known them. They were great friends. Once Seth and Elijah graduated, all of them moved to Arizona, and they continued on as a band for a while, but I think it petered out as everyone established adult lives. The last time I heard from any of them, Casey was still playing in a band, but that was admittedly many years ago.

Here are youtube videos for some of the songs I did with them:

Design and Music: Louis Kahn – Order Is

I seem to be picking up pieces of the idea that musical composition is design. I mean, it’s clear that it is, but I think many don’t think of it in the same what that we think of visual design, but there are parallels both philosophically and pragmatically. I’m going to try to start documenting the bits that I find. Here is the first – Order Is by Louis Kahn.

Design is form-making in order
Form emerges out of a system of construction
Growth is a construction – In order is creative force
In design is the means – where with what when with how much

The nature of space reflects what it wants to be
Is the auditorium a Stradivarius
or an ear
Is the auditorium a creative instrument
keyed to Bach or Bartók
played by the conductor
or is it a conventional hall

In the nature of space is the spirit and the will to exist in a certain way
Design must follow closely that will
Therefore a stripe-painted horse is not a zebra
Before a railroad station is a building
it wants to be a street
it grows out of the needs of the street
out of the order of movement
A meeting of contours englazed.

Through the nature – why
Through the order – what
Through the design – how

A form emerges from the structural elements inherent in the form.
A dome is not conceived when questions arise how to build it.
Nervi grows an arch
Fuller grows a dome

Mozart’s compositions are designs
They are exercises of order – intuitive
Design encourages more designs
Designs derive their imagery from order
Imagery is the memory – the form
Style is an adopted order

The same order created the elephant and created man
They are different designs
Begun from different aspirations
Shaped from different circumstances

Order does not imply Beauty
The same order created the dwarf and Adonis

Design is not making beauty
Beauty emerges from selection
affinities
integration
love

Art is a form-making life in order – psychic

Order is intangible
It is a level of creative consciousness
forever becoming higher in level
The higher the order the more diversity in design

Order supports integration
From what the space wants to be the unfamiliar way may be revealed to the architect.
From order he will derive creative force and power of self-criticism to give form to this unfamiliar.
Beauty will evolve.

A Dip in the River – An interpretation of John Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for Lafayette Indiana

Logo

Over the past semester I did a re-imagining of Cage’s A Dip in the Lake for the Greater Lafayette, Indiana area. It was a pretty interesting process, and despite my love of recordistry, not something that I’d have usually embarked on.

Score for A Dip In the Lake

Background
I think I’ve gotten deep enough into this piece that it’s a little hard for me to describe what it is concisely. The original A Dip in the Lake is a kind of Visual composition for a sound collage. I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on his composition process, but it looks like Cage just selected random points on a map of the Chicago area. A list of addresses was created from this map. The composition was published in 1978 by Henmar Press, Inc, and copies are available in some libraries. 

Aside from the location list, little direction is provided in the original work beyond the text:

A DIP IN THE LAKE: TEN QUICKSTEPS, SIXTY-ONE WALTZES, AND FIFTY-SIX MARCHES FOR CHICAGO AND VICINITY

for performer(s) or listener(s) or record maker(s)

(Transcriptions may be made for other cities, or places, by assembling through chance operations a list of four hundred and twenty-seven addresses and then, also through chance operations, arranging these in ten groups of two, sixty-one groups of three, and fifty-six groups of four.)

Funny how seeing the above direction describes the work better than my earlier attempt. The lack of specificity is really nice. It opens the work up to be as simple or difficult as you want, and free for all kinds of interpretation. There are so many different ways you could go about this! One that just dawns on me is use of video instead of just audio..

The lack of specificity could also be a burden, depending on how you look at it. I generally like to have specific direction when I’m working on something like this. Having a logic, or an ideal outcome, or even a reason for doing the project in the first place are generally important, and not knowing these things can be crippling. [This is probably the biggest issue in my life right now as I go through a graduate program in Art and Design.. Specifically the areas of Industrial Design and Visual Design. I'm learning _creative_ professions, but in reality I'm just learning to spot and regurgitate trends.] This is where I really got into Cage’s philosophy. It’s almost like decision nihilism. The artist’s choice is totally irrelevant, or rather, the beauty lies in choas, and making decisions undermines that.

My Version
I’m getting too far into the theory. To step back, for my re-imagining and realization of this piece, I fought to use chance where ever possible, and beyond this, I used more technologically determinate methods for doing so than I suspect Cage did. I guess this really makes it easier to be “random”, which I think is a good thing. It also highlights our default use of technology for completing everyday tasks.

MapWithLinesTo start, I chose my locations randomly. I used a website called GeoMidPoint. It was really the first thing I found in a Google Search, but it turned out to suit my needs. It generated 20 GPS locations for me in a radius I specified that mostly encompassed Lafayette and West Lafayette, IN. I only used 20 points (down from Cage’s prescribed 427) to make this complete-able in the given time frame.

My next step was to visit all of these locations to record audio. The quickest means I could think of to get to each GPS position was to enter it into Google Maps. Interestingly, this resolved the locations to street addresses. This was a form much easier for me to use, but it also distorted the data a bit – Google Maps “thinks” in terms of streets, not in terms of locations, and this was evident in it’s translation of the GPS coordinates. For example, one of my GPS locations was in the middle of a corn field. Rather than giving me directions to get to the middle of the corn field, Google Maps gave me directions to the closest road to that point in the corn field, as well as a picture of that spot on the road. It was interesting what we lose in the augmented perception offered by Google Maps. ..You can’t see inside structures either.. or hear sounds from the location.. etc, etc.

I recorded 2 minutes of audio at each location and then proceeded to my next step, which was figuring out how to combine the audio together. Peter Gena, who did the first realization of this piece in 1982 was my primary source of information for the processing of the audio. [1. isn't it interesting that the composition sat around for 4 years before it was ever performed? 2. In retrospect, I shouldn't have relied on prior methods in figuring out my own] Gena had the luck of being able to ask Cage himself how the sounds should go together, and it was suggested that he use a similar method to one from another of Cage’s works called Rozart Mix. This involved some interesting (and random) editing of magnetic tape. My recordings started off in the digital realm, so I had to adapt. I initially planned to cut up the audio segments “by hand” in editing software and recombine them according to chance operations, but before long I realized that even with my reduced number of recordings, it would take a really long time. Instead, based on a suggestion of a friend, I used Cycling’74’s MAX software to build a processor that automatically did what I had planned to do manually. It worked wonderfully, and as a side effect, can run infinitely. This immediately made me think it would be something cool to use in a gallery show.

Long winded enough, I suppose. Here is a video for the first of the 4 pieces that came out of this. Photo’s of the 5 locations included in this work are shown – first what Google Maps showed me followed by what I found when I arrived there. There is also video of the MAX patcher at work.

Related links:
More details in the paper for this project
The MAX Patcher I used
Other realizations of A Dip in the Lake: Chicago, Washington DC, Luxembourg Germany, Potenza Italy

Installation art – Stephen Hendee – The Last People

A couple of weeks ago I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the Midwest UX conference. Like most conferences, there were great talks on the topic, but this one was interesting in that attendees got to see a lot of the host city’s attractions as a part of the conference program.

One of the local features that held my attention after the conference was Stephen Hendee‘s installation titled “The Last People” at SiTE:LAB’s 54Jeff, a former public museum turned art-space, where the conference held it’s Friday night gala.

Hendee seems to be into the idea of future past. The premise of this particular piece is that in the distant future, intelligent machines have taken the place of human civilization, and created a museum of their own history.  This premise seems to be a theme, as one of his earlier works, The Ice Next Time: Textiles and Artifacts of Dark Age North America (2026-2280), depicts historic artifacts from the early times of a fictional future.

I like the story angle. It seems like it would be fun to write a bit of sci-fi as the exploratory part of a design project. But beyond that, I really like the look of the machines in The Last People. By appearances, I would guess that they are all just cut coroplast held together with vinyl tape. Lights inside of them provide the eerie glow. Admittedly, I like the multifacet paneled ones more than the simpler rectangular ones. I suppose the complexity of the shapes indicate the level of advancement of the machine civilization. I didn’t really catch that when I initially saw it.

A cool and inspiring piece. Check out more of Stephen’s work:

Stephen Hendee website
The Last People Tumblr
The Ice Next Time
SiTE:LAB

Some things I learned about Campagnolo ergopower shifters..

campy

I have to admit that I can be pretty frugal when it comes to bike parts. A part of me likes the challenge of building something on a limited budget, and another part of me just can’t believe some things are as expensive as they are.

In my most recent attempts at a cheap build on my CX bike, I went with a Campagnolo setup as I got a wheelset and complete drivertrain sans shifters for $75. I bought a pair of mirage 8 speed shifters off of ebay without really understanding what I was getting into. Turns out, they were pretty gummy and the left one couldn’t pull the derailleur into position. Initially, I didn’t think that these were the “ergopower” levers since they were so old, and I assumed that they weren’t rebuildable. Turns out, ergopower goes back to ’92, including mine. Good news, right? Well.. kind of.

My shifters were of the first generation of ergopower, given away by the pointy hoods. (as opposed to the later, and current, rounded ones) Apparently some people consider this second generation, as the original ones had metal bodies, and these had “carbon”. I don’t know what actual Campy cannon is, because they rarely label anything, a major problem in the whole process of working on old stuff. Regardless, first generation (metal bodied or not) don’t have replacement parts available.

Not that I even knew what parts I needed. It seems like it’s mostly a mystery except to the few big shops who do tons of rebuilds. Some folks in my local club and online pointed me in the right direction though. Apparently, the “g-springs” should be changed every 10k miles, and are a common culprit for problems, and the “carrier” that the springs go in can also be cracked and problematic. I was told that modern g-springs will work in first generation shifters if you put them in backwards. The springs come in sets of 4 (per side) for about $15. So I was looking at $30 + $25 for new hoods to fix my $40 ebay levers, and I wasn’t even sure if they would work.

I gave up. I thought about switching to a shimano setup, or maybe going 1×8 (cringe), or 1×10, but the cost would have been significant. Fortunately, the manager at the shop I work at happened to have a set of broken, but good shifting chorus 8 speed, first gen shifters. One of the bodies had cracked where the lever pin attaches. I used these, and swapped one of my mirage bodies for the broken chorus one. With the help of a Campy rebuild video on youtube, I was able to get the lever apart and back together pretty easily. The video was for a 10 speed, modern lever, and had a few differences, like the return spring on top, and the posted, plastic carrier, but it was still pretty easy to follow. The only tricky thing is that bolt that holds the whole mechanism together is left hand thread on the right lever of the first generation.

In general, this experience makes me feel even more non committal towards Campagnolo products. They certainly have some good things going for them, like the ease of rebuildability, and the ability to upgrade 9 speed levers to 10. Unfortunately the scarcity of parts and information for them, at least in my geography, makes them a huge pain.

To do my part, here are a list of links that I’ve found useful in this drivetrain adventure. Hopefully they help someone out there.

Ergopower overhaul instructions from Campyonly.com
Part numbers (incl early Ergopower shifters) from Campagnolo.com
Second generation Ergopower parts and kits from Branford Bike