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    best albums of 2013

    Quick list this year...

    Ambient / drone (alpha by album)

    • Aquarelle, August Undone

    • Mountains, Centralia

    • RAUM (Liz Harris, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma), Event Of Your Leaving

    • Olan Mill, Hiraeth

    • Stephan Mathieu, Un Cœur simple

    • Andrew Weathers Ensemble, What Happens When We Stop

    • Seaworthy / Taylor Deupree, Wood, Winter, Hollow



    The Andrew Weathers Ensemble album—my album of the year this year—is a really interesting blend of drone and folk: it slows down traditional American music until gloriously deep trance-spaces open up in its interstices. Check it out!

    Other (alpha by album)

    • Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

    • Lorde, Pure Heroine

    • Kanye West, Yeezus

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    Wednesday, January 01, 2014
    12:46 PM


    Dedham Grids

    Grid 1Grid 3Grid 4Grid 5Grid 6

    Dedham Grids, a set on Flickr.

    It's been a while since I've done much photo work. Here's a few I took with my shitty cell phone camera today, and then endeavored to repair using Photoshop:


    Saturday, February 02, 2013
    8:31 PM


    the year in reading: 2012

    This year, I read 76 books, by far the most books I've read since I started keeping a reading log (surpassing the previous recorded high of 59 books in 2004).

    This number was assuredly helped along by the fact that I read a lot of comics collections / graphic novels—nineteen in total. Comic books, even when collected into trade paperback format, tend to be a quick read: I have to ration myself sometimes in order not to complete them in a single sitting. But even if you don't count the graphic novels, I'm still pretty proud of the number of books I completed this year, even prouder when you consider that my "book reading" was in addition to the tons of Web reading I've been doing: both nonfiction (informally anthologized here) and fiction (gleanings posted daily at Instafiction, which is now a part of Longform.org, in case I didn't already mention that).

    So. Nineteen graphic novels, twenty-four novels, five books of short stories, one book of poems, and what looks like a bunch of assorted nonfiction. More books than usual, and more good books than usual. A shocking, delightful abundance of good books. The following books, however, all represent books I can recommend whole-heartedly. (Asterisks indicate books that were a re-read, the highlighted books represent a top ten (actually eleven). Re-reads were left out of "top ten" consideration.)

    In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
    Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
    Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
    The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
    How To Keep Your Volkswagen Alive by Christopher Boucher
    Virtual Light*, Idoru*, and All Tomorrow's Parties (the "Bridge Trilogy") by William Gibson
    The Great Gatsby* by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    Jesus' Son* and Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
    A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré
    On Beauty by Zadie Smith
    Samaritan by Richard Price

    Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
    About A Mountain by John D'Agata
    Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World by Trevor Paglen
    What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
    The Toaster Project by Thomas Thwaites
    A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
    In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
    A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again* and Consider the Lobster* by David Foster Wallace
    The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
    Debt: The First 5000 Years by David Graeber

    My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf
    Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
    The Dark Knight Returns* by Frank Miller
    Planetary Book 2 and Planetary Book 3 by Warren Ellis & John Cassady
    Building Stories by Chris Ware
    The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin & George Perez
    Duncan the Wonder Dog: Show One by Adam Hines

    Previous year-in-reading round-ups: 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004).


    Sunday, January 06, 2013
    4:56 PM


    other people's ideas: mixbook 2012

    So back in August I said I'd try to make a mixbook: a small-batch "personal publishing" project compiling some of the best articles I read on the Web in 2012. And now that we're in 2013 I can reveal the result: Other People's Ideas 2012.

    This volume—printed up at Lulu.com—is about 300 pages in length. It contains a short introduction, and twenty-one anthologized pieces, arranged in the order in which I read them over the course of the year. I circulated them as gifts to a small number of friends and compatriots this holiday season. All the pieces within are freely available on the Web, so even though I'm not commercially circulating copies of the thing, you can still peruse the contents if you like:

    This project was a lot of fun, and I hope to attempt it again next year. It owes a debt to similar personal publishing experiments done by James Bridle, Emmet Connolly, Christopher Butler, Daniel Neville, and Clive Thompson, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank them for the inspiration.

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    Tuesday, January 01, 2013
    10:28 PM


    on mixbooks

    The last few posts on this blog have been about the intake of information, particularly with regard to how that information gets processed, synthesized, and then outputted as something new. As a creative person, I'm naturally interested in creative repurposings, instances where someone takes in information and then uses it to produce something that has what Clay Shirky calls "valuable novelty." Nearly all creative work feeds on some set of influences, and part of the fun of enjoying films, novels, comics, or music is playing "spot the influence." But I'm also interested in forms like the archive or the curated collection, forms in which the information that arrives as "input" does not get transformed into an "influence" but instead remains, more or less intact, in the new output: compiled, aggregated, or recombined, but not disassembled for parts. Think of the difference between a novel and a Tumblr and the distinction should be clear.

    Are these forms also "creative?" As someone who runs a fiction-curation project, I like to think that it provides some degree of "valuable novelty"—that seeing my selections in the context of my blog is fundamentally different, in a hopefully valuable way, than locating these stories independently in their original contexts. On the other hand, I also spent the last two years writing a novel, and I recognize that that process requires creativity of a very different order. It is here, I guess, that I have qualms with Maria "Brainpicker" Popova's claim that "content curation is a new form of authorship."

    Regardless, I am always on the lookout for interesting projects that recirculate information in new ways. Sometimes just moving information from one medium to another can create quite compelling effects. A few years back I was taken by the "Things Our Friends Have Written on the Internet," a beautiful limited-edition newspaper reprinting a bunch of Web content.

    More recently, I've been taken with the concept of the "mixbook," which web developer Christopher Butler has been doing for the past three years (one, two, three). As the name implies, a "mixbook" is a compilation of pieces of writing, found on the Web and turned into a physical book using a print-on-demand service like Lulu.

    Butler produces small batches of these books and gives them away to friends. As soon as I read about it, I knew I had to try it (hopefully I'll have one ready in December). And planning for it has had one interesting effect, which is that it's forced me into a useful process of reviewing material that I've already read.

    Normally if I read something on the Web that I like, I bookmark it in Pinboard. But the vast majority of stuff that I bookmark there never gets looked at a second time (raising some of those fears of pointless hoarding that I've talked about before). But with a goal of end-of-year reuse in mind, I've been going back and revisiting some of this material, and now I've fallen into a nice routine where, at the end of the month, I go back and look at the bookmarks for the month and consider which of the pieces I've aggregated there warrant re-reading as a possible candidate for inclusion in an annual volume. It's nice to see the sometimes bewildering variety of stuff I've sucked up, but even nicer to be able to reflect on the material at something of a temporal remove. I recommend it for all you fellow infovores out there.

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    Monday, August 27, 2012
    10:50 PM


    digital hoarding

    When I was first musing about digital hoarding, over on Twitter, my associate @debcha sent me hunting for a piece "in favour of digital hoarding" by Kenneth Goldsmith, the guy behind the mega-hoard we know as UbuWeb. So I went hunting.

    I found this interview (PDF)—not sure if it was the piece she was discussing, but it had some interesting food for thought in it.

    For one thing, there's this:

    In a time when everything is available, what matters is the curation of that material. Those who can make sense of this overload are emerging as the real winners. Look at Boing Boing. They don't make anything, instead they point to cool things. They are curators; they filter. And the fact of them pointing to something far outweighs the importance of the artifact at which they are pointing.

    And also this:

    Today we have all become collectors, whether or not we've acknowledged it. The act of acquisition on a massive scale—which is what we all do in the digital age—and the management of that information has turned us all into unwitting archivists. Archiving is the new folk art: something that is widely practiced and has unconsciously become integrated into a great many people's lives.

    On the other hand, Goldsmith also speaks with candor about what seems to me to be the horrific downside of this sort of unwitting archival activity:

    I actually don't care about aesthetics or music at all anymore. Now all I care for is quantity. I've got more music on my drives than I'll ever be able to listen to in the next ten lifetimes. As a matter of fact, records that I've been craving for years are all unlistened to. I'll never get to them either, because I'm more interested in the hunt than I am in the prey. The minute I get something, I just crave more.

    Further reading: Kenneth Goldsmith discusses filesharing at The Wire; powerful counterpoints from musicians/businessmen David Keenan and Chris Cutler.

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    Sunday, August 12, 2012
    9:02 PM


    springsteen's notebooks

    Yesterday I reflected on the intake of new information and its relation to the creative output of new information.  Today I was reading the great New Yorker profile of Bruce Springsteen and was heartened to read this quote: "Springsteen refuses to be a mercenary curator of his past. He continues to evolve as an artist, filling one spiral notebook after another with ideas, quotations, questions, clippings, and, ultimately, new songs."


    Tuesday, August 07, 2012
    5:55 PM




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