a m e r i k a n a

[ 17:09 thursday 26 march – virgin flight 11, london to boston ]

arcing across the ice floes towards nova scotia the cabin crew distributes a meal they badge as “breakfast” or “a light snack” depending on the time of day. today the latter. the meals are identical either way. inflight time has a structure and grammar of its own, blithe to the daily cycle of hamlets and cities far beneath.

each time i cross the north atlantic i’m fascinated by the changing character of the sea ice. at the moment i’m seeing it frequently enough to start discerning its language of structure and motion telling the seasons as surely as the cycle of buds, leaves and blossoms with which i’m more familiar. the monolithic expanses of white i saw a month ago are now fractured and stretches of blue are beginning to gaping amidst them. from my vantage point eleven kilometres in the air patterns become evident. as patches of ice become detached from a larger body and float out into open water they form T-shaped units with graceful curlicues at the branches. these units sometimes form convoys, each element smaller than its predecessor. flying, whilst destructive, permits us to appreciate aspects of the earth’s beauty that are otherwise imperceivable.

this is my fourth trip to the united states since the start of the year. the first was in mid-january, immediately following my return from egypt, when i travelled to san diego to give a talk and receive an award for trampoline. the weather was serene and sunny but i was obliged to spend all but a few minutes inside a conference hall. from san diego i flew to san francisco to attend meetings. i was staying with shemoel so each evening when my trampoline work was complete we recorded songs and experimented with different ways of combining acoustic and electronic sound elements. one day we drove up to point reyes to meet sara winge at the home of bart hopkin, a friend of hers who invents instruments. bart showed us some of his creations, which ranged from a plucked string instrument with strings were connected in triangles to wind instruments where corrugated tubing was used to generate standing waves. shemoel demonstrated one of his sound sculptures and we showed how live processing frameworks such as max/msp can be combined with micro-controllers such as arduino to create extended instruments. after that we all played together for a couple of hours, a delicious mass of filigree sounds.

the second trip was in february when i travelled over to long beach with emma and james to give a talk about one click organisations at the bil conference. bil was conceived as a parallel-universe ted with a focus on new thinking but with open access and free entry in contrast to ted’s exclusivity and expense. i caught half a day of the very first bil in monterey last year on quinn’s advice and this year i was eager to attend the whole thing. the organisers gave me the second slot in the main hall, following a talk about privacy by brad templeton. i’d decided not to use slides but changed my mind at the last minute and threw together a deck during brad’s talk. it was a lovely event. i particularly enjoyed meeting the folks behind the noisebridge hacker space in san francisco, who drove down en masse. also a young photographer called michael strout with a great talent for lighting, who did a shoot with me in the courtyard. mitch altman was there with his brain machine glasses. they flash leds over one’s eyes and buzz into one’s ears at carefully calculated frequencies which change over a twenty minute cycle. the effect is most peculiar, one is gradually drawn into a meditative state and begins to hallucinate colours and patterns. mitch also invented the magnificent “tv b gone” remote control. entering a japanese restaurant with him on the final evening in long beach the two giant tv screens mysteriously deactivated themselves leaving us and our friends to converse in peace. on the way back to london i stopped in san francisco for one night to see shemoel. we recorded a couple of songs and decided to call our project “the dupio”.

my third trip was at the beginning of march when i came over to boston and cambridge for some trampoline meetings. it was bright and clear for the first couple of days, though there was still snow on the ground. i drove out to point halibut and traversed the jumbled granite boulders around the coast. it was hard going but this is a terrain i know and love from cornwall and the isles of scilly. the trick is to keep one’s momentum up, trust one’s instincts and resist the temptation to think about it. in a way this has become a metaphor for how i live. there is a pleasure in sensing the angles of each rock in turn and allowing oneself to ricochet from one to the next. on the third day there was a snowstorm which i enjoyed mightily. i found my way to a noisecore show at tufts university where one of the bands dressed as giant rats. i heard a performance by a minimalist cellist called jeremy harman and we got together to play the next day. late one evening i visited mako hill in somerville to better understand his position on zero-cost duplication and swap notes on web music services. he was very impressive.

this fourth trip is to attend foo east at microsoft’s research centre in cambridge. having been invited to last summer’s event in sebastopol i wasn’t expecting another chance so i was flattered to receive the invitation. i may talk about any of organisational analytics, emergent structure, one click organisations and live processing. i’m also bringing some musical kit with me so it’ll be possible to do a session with reaktor if i can interest anyone in that.

: c :

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