Digital surveillance and digital memory

Over the last week or so, the mainstream media here in the UK have been filled with shock-horror stories about communications surveillance by western intelligence agencies. I’m a bit baffled by all the fuss to be honest. Monitoring, storing and sharing information are intrinsic to the very nature of digital communication, so it’s no surprise to find governments tapping into that for their own ends. What else did we expect?

They key thing is memory. Computers are often characterized as calculating machines, but to hold the results of those calculations computers need memory. And as the capacity of computers to calculate has increased in power and shrunk in size and cost, so has their capacity to remember. Media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst argues that digital technologies are characterized by processes of micro-memory. Even when humans experience computers as working in real time, in fact packets of data are being rapidly sent in and out of little chunks of memory with names like ‘buffers’ and ‘caches’. Across a longer time frame, digital devices store data in ROM chips, flash memory, hard drives and so on. Digital technologies are therefore intrinsically archival. Their basic architecture involves the capacity to hold onto information.

Diagram of a video decoder, used for the playback of MPEG-2 videos. Note the many blocks of memory involved.
Diagram of a video decoder, used for the playback of MPEG-2 videos. Note the many blocks of memory involved.

If digital machines are constantly remembering, and we use them for communication, then it is inevitable that what we communicate is going to be remembered – whether for a few milliseconds, a few hours, for 30 days (as with GCHQ) or much longer. Since digital communication requires the networking of machines, the possibilities for circulating this stored data are endless, both legal and illegal, from routine monitoring and data harvesting to snooping, hacking and data theft.

Digital memory is nothing new. The Prophet VS from 1986 had 96 waveforms stored in its ROM, and space to store a further 32 user edited waveforms.
Digital memory is nothing new. This Prophet VS synthesizer from 1986 has the capacity to store 32 user-edited waveforms. The key differences between this and modern devices are that (a) waveform data aren’t personal and (b) the machine’s networking abilities are very limited (it uses MIDI sample dumps, which are pretty clunky).

Just think of all the personal data passing through phone companies, internet service providers, online shops, online banks. Now think of all the people along the way who could access it, whether legally or otherwise – call centre workers, IT technicians, communications engineers, account managers. It’s inconceivable that such complex pipelines, carrying such massive flows, would not be leaky. In the case of companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, their very business models depend on harvesting and selling on data from customers to advertisers. When you use Google’s search engine, they are gathering data from you just as much as you are from them. Intelligence services holding emails for 30 days is just the tip of the iceberg.

Through this little socket go all my phone calls, emails, Tweets, web pages, web searches...
Through this little socket go all my phone calls, emails, tweets, blog posts, web pages, web searches…

Of course there are all sorts of measures that can be used to restrict this information storage and circulation. GCHQ seem to be placing a lot of faith in laws and their employees’ obedience to them, claiming that they never actually access any of the stored data without a warrant. (This raises all sorts of questions: do they really think their employees always comply with this? If it is machines that have snooped on you, not humans, has your privacy been invaded or not? And if the machines are part of the organization, doesn’t the information stored within them count as knowledge within the organization?) As well as data protection laws, there are also restrictive technological systems such as secure servers, encryption systems, firewalls and so on. But all such protective measures involve choking the processes of remembering and exchange that are the life blood of digital communication. The failure of such measures, either occasionally or routinely, therefore seems inevitable.

So I’m skeptical about the value of building stronger regulatory systems to maintain privacy in digital communications. The capacity to siphon off and hold onto information is so intrinsic to digital technologies that looking to regulation seems almost like a denial of how these systems operate. Given the vastness and complexity of the infrastructures involved, effective regulation would probably involve swathes of new law, policing, enforcement, new technologies, heavy-handed discipline, and surveillance of the surveyors – which surely just returns us to the original problem.

This isn’t to say that regulation and restriction can’t be useful in many situations. The firewall in my home router is staying turned on. But we’re likely to be disappointed if we place all of our faith in restrictive, technocratic laws and systems to protect our privacy. Instead, I suggest we need to accept that information storage and exchange are intrinsic to digital communication technologies, and act accordingly.

Diagram of a circuit-level firewall. A useful tool, but we can't trust such devices to protect our privacy. Copyright Cisco Systems Inc.
Diagram of a circuit-level firewall. A useful tool, but we can’t trust such devices to protect our privacy. Image Copyright Cisco Systems Inc.

The example of peer-to-peer file sharing of music offers a useful point of comparison. It’s a case in which there has been an enormous amount of digital data shared without permission, and a lot of consternation about the illegality and possible negative effects of that sharing. So it has some similarities with the current debate about surveillance. Record companies and some recording artists have made a big fuss about file sharing, wringing their hands, arguing for more enforcement of copyright laws and the shutting down of web services, trying to implement copy protection systems and so on, but people continue to share music illegally on a massive scale. Restrictive policing has had some success, with networks such as Napster being sued and forced to close, internet service providers sending out warning letters and limiting bandwidth for ‘persistent offenders’, and the prosecution of small numbers of individuals. But these efforts amount to damage limitation, and are hardly inspiring. Is this the kind of thing we want more of? Meanwhile, musicians are beginning to accept the reality of file sharing – whether they like it or not – and find new ways to make a living that depend less on the sale of recordings.

Similarly, whether we like it or not, I think we need to accept that, with networked digital communication technology, monitoring and sharing of personal data is an ever-present possibility. We can’t enjoy easy access to the internet without allowing the internet access to us. In most cases, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will give a toss about the banal stuff we chuck through these channels on a daily basis, so most of it will probably disappear without trace. But we might do well to maintain an awareness that interception is probably quite easy for anyone who is sufficiently motivated – whether a government agency, a global corporation or an individual, whether acting inside or outside the law. And the chances are we would never know it had happened.

don't share it-1

If we really want to keep information out of these networks, it’s simple enough to do: we just need to make sure we don’t include it in any form of electronic communication. Don’t tweet it, don’t email it, don’t put it on Facebook (even with their privacy settings enabled) and don’t talk about it on the phone. Maybe coping with the reality of digital communication will involve dividing our information roughly into two categories. On the one hand, we’ll have information that we are willing to allow (albeit grudgingly) into the digital domain to be copied, stored, sold, exchanged, scooped or snooped; stuff that might be personal, but ultimately isn’t all that sensitive or critical. On the other hand, we’ll have information that we absolutely do want kept private, which we will learn to keep out of the digital domain entirely. Perhaps in years to come, older forms of communication such as letters and face-to-face conversations will be re-valued for the degree of privacy they afford, a bit like the way that the ritual of playing vinyl records has become more precious in a world full of MP3s.

HMV RIP?

There’s been lots of commentary recently following the news that UK music retail chain HMV has gone into administration – something that seems to have been on the cards for a long time now. Whether some of its stores can continue remains to be seen, but it seems likely that at least some will close.

HMV1

Like many music fans and musicians, I have an enduring affection for physical media, particularly vinyl and tape. But I’m a bit more ambivalent when it comes to record shops. Their use of audio technologies sometimes bothers me: bombarding me with music I don’t like, whilst giving me no easy way of auditioning music I might like to buy.

Opinions expressed about HMV have been mixed: flashes of nostalgia, hand-wringing about high streets, along with a healthy dose of derision. Singer Emeli Sande admitted to still buying CDs there, which seemed to confirm my stereotype of the chain as a place for bland mainstream pop and not much else. Some have suggested that HMV’s troubles are due not just to the decline of physical sales, but the fact that it has become a really poor record shop. As Michael Hann put it:

HMV’s problem wasn’t just that it was expensive, compared with the online retailers. It was that, by and large, it had become an awful shopping experience. Where once it was a byword for music shopping, it became – from this music buyer’s perspective – a place of last resort…a shop that had been neglecting music for years, turning to games and DVDs and electronic hardware, compacting its music catalogue into an ever smaller space.

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2013/jan/15/hmv-enters-administration)

Another Guardian writer was even more blunt:

Why should we feel nostalgic about the demise of an excrescence of capitalism? What are we going to feel nostalgic about next? Cholera?

(http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2013/jan/15/hmv-death-british-high-street)

There’s also an interesting New Statesman article which argues that Amazon is out-competing HMV on physical sales not just because of its lower overheads, but owing to its massive use of loss leaders. Amazon’s strategy is to sacrifice profits in favour of continually expanding its market share, something which HMV can’t possibly compete with. This is something that I think deserves our attention and action. The merits of HMV aside, Amazon’s strategy appears to be to drive all its competitors out of business. Amazon may offer a convenient way to buy stuff, but by participating in that we are actively helping to create a world in which there are more jobs stuffing envelopes in warehouses, and fewer jobs in shops interacting with people. I don’t want to romanticise working in a shop, but its got to be better than working in one of Amazon’s Orwellianly titled ‘Fulfilment Centres’ – there are a few pretty grim first hand accounts here.

Anyway, back to HMV…reading the various reports, I realised that, whilst I’ve bought DVDs there, like many people I hadn’t bought any music in HMV for years, maybe even decades. So, switching into empirical mode, I took a trip to the Edinburgh Princes Street branch to pay my last respects and check the state of the place out. My research questions: is HMV really as bad as has been suggested? What is the shop like to be in, and how does it sound? And could I find any music that I wanted to buy? Here’s a bit of soundscape recording and a short field report:

The ‘25% off’ sale is the only sign of troubled times. The staff are smiling and everything seems to be business as usual. Bypassing the special offer DVDs, I work towards the CD racks, and soon find myself in front of the S-T section. A woman clutching a Simple Minds album is leafing through Rod Stewart, and seems to be grooving very slightly to the piped instore music, some extremely generic rock/pop. She looks to be in her 60s, wearing a sturdy red rambler’s waterproof, with thick glasses hung about her neck on one of those little cords. I look at the CDs: Take That. Tiesto. This is exactly what I had expected – the sort of place where my mum might shop for music. Moving further in, however, the dance section seems to be quite well stocked. Minimal techno is one of the few music styles I know a bit about, and they have some recent releases in there, albums by Monolake, Rob Hood and Andy Stott. The prices, however, are on the expensive side, hovering around the £15 mark. The shop also has a vinyl section, but the stock is low, the prices are high (£28 in one case) and I don’t recognise most of the artists.

Shuffling through to the rock and indie section, there are a few more surprises, not least the presence of all three albums by 1990s shoegazers Slowdive, a band that split many years ago and who, by my reckoning, lie some distance from the current pop mainstream. Speaking of which, the instore music is starting to grate heavily by now. It sounds like some sort of commercialised, festival-pleasing, 8th generation dilution of grunge, dull major label pap. Of course it’s not really that bad, but it’s not what I want to listen to, and as with most piped music, the lack of control is what makes it so unpleasant. In the end I grab an old Happy Mondays CD in the sale for the bargain price of £4.50 (note to self: so I’m not just stuck in the past, but a cheapskate stuck in the past), and head to the checkouts to make a swift exit.

I didn’t find HMV to be a terribly bad record shop, but it didn’t leave me wanting to go back any time soon. So what – in the days of MP3s and illegal downloads – would make for a really good record shop? Take Glasgow’s Rubadub, one of my favourites. I think the key elements there are friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic staff who know their stock, and plenty of decks to check out possible purchases. However, like HMV they have been reducing their record racks and shifting to selling audio hardware in recent years. Maybe now that people won’t pay for music any more, their spare cash is being spent on headphones and MIDI controllers.

A social space: the Rubadub store, Glasgow

I think the very best record shops also serve a social function, acting as key sites in forging music subcultures. Berlin’s Hard Wax, for example, has been instrumental in the development of European techno. It was set up by and has employed many key players in the scene (Basic Channel, DJ Pete, T++, Shed, Dettmann, etc.), and as well as selling records it acts as a distributor for local producers (as does Rubadub), and is linked to a specialist mastering studio, D&M. Reading interviews with the musicians involved, there is a strong sense of Hard Wax as a social space, bringing together like-minded people. If HMV ever performed that function, it definitely doesn’t any more. It’s essentially a supermarket.

It will be interesting to see if any social function develops around online music retailers. Boomkat, for example, offers a quality of service that rivals the best record stores, with informative reviews and sample audio clips for every release. It’s a beautifully designed virtual space, and fun to browse in. But, unlike a traditional record shop, it’s not really somewhere that you can meet people.

Boomkat
Boomkat – beautiful, but not very sociable

If HMV does go to the wall, there are two things that I’ll miss about it. One is the staff. They always seems to be friendly and helpful, which is pretty amazing given their likely pay and conditions. A mate of mine once worked in the Princes Street store, and going by his accounts it was definitely a low pay, low status, unrewarding job.

Second, and more strongly, I’ll miss the size and scale of their shops. I’m not talking about the poky little branches stuffed into shopping centres, but the big flagship stores, with multiple levels and racks stretching into the distance. There’s a forever-teenage part of me that still finds something exciting about a space so big and grand dedicated to recorded music. Of course, HMV hasn’t really been dedicated to music for years now, but the size of their stores is a reminder of times when records, tapes and CDs were more viable, valuable and valued. The small but significant thrill of descending an escalator into a vast expanse of music is one that no independent record shop I know of can offer.

HMV2

Thanks to Neil Simpson for passing on the New Statesman article.

Some thoughts about digital media

Last year proved to be a lean one for blog posts, something of an irony since my time was taken up with two research projects in which I’ve used digital media, and particularly audio, extensively. Those projects sparked off plenty of ideas, but left me little time to write about them here.

The first project, The Invisible College, has involved working with public artists NVA on the former Kilmahew Estate and the ruins of St. Peter’s College, Cardross. I did a lot of audio recording at, around and in relation to this site, and produced an ‘audio drift’ from this material for people to take to Kilmahew on MP3 players. Funding was from the AHRC.

 

The ruins of St. Peter’s College, Kilmahew, near Cardross

 

The second project, Young Digital, is an online resource for people who want to use digital media in research with children. It’s at www.youngdigital.net This was funded by the ESRC.

 

 

 

Both projects have left me wondering: what role can social science and humanities academics play in the multitude of debates and practices surrounding digital media? Looking forward to the coming year, here are a few suggestions.

1. Work to disaggregate ‘the digital’. This applies to myself as much as anyone. When we talk about digital media, what exactly do we mean? At risk of seeming pedantic, digital media encompasses digital audio (on DAT tape, compact disc, minidisk, and as Wave files, AIFFs, MP3s, WMAs, etc.), digital images (JPEGs, TIFFs, GIFs, PNGs, BMPs, etc.), digital television, digital radio, digital video in all its myriad codecs and formats, text files, computer programming languages and programs (including games and mobile apps), word processed documents, databases, spreadsheets, emails, tweets, RSS feeds, mobile phone signals, wikis, social networking sites, weblogs, RAM and ROM cartridges, floppy disks, hard drives, flash memory of all kinds…the list goes on. There is state-of-the-art digital and antique vintage digital, mobile digital and so-big-it-fills-a-whole-room digital.

 

Various types of digital media, old and new

 

This means that digital media is now too sprawling a category to be very meaningful. At the moment, the term is often used to indicate material circulated via the internet, and/or material accessed via portable devices, and/or systems that involve user-generated online content. Those are still fairly broad groupings, but they are much more precise than the catch-all of digital media.

2. Question, more rigorously and persistently, the common division between the virtual/digital/online ‘world’ and the real/analogue/physical/material/offline ‘world’. These things are all part of the same world, and much of what is interesting about them has to do with the ways in which they interpenetrate. Modern technology is utterly hybrid, operating through linkages and networks. In the case of audio recording, for example, the vibrating air, the microphone, the cable, the digital recorder, the memory card, the batteries, the headphones, the ears, the hands, the level meters – these things function as an ensemble. Kinetics, electrics, magnetics, haptics, optics, all orchestrated together. Recourse to a generalised dualism of physical vibration/digital trace seems too crude.

3. Re-assert some of the material spaces of digital media: the screen, the touchpad, the telephone exchange, the hard drive, the data centre, the orbiting satellite, the mobile phone mast. The idea of the ‘cloud’ may be effective as a techno-romantic image used for the aggressive marketing of mobile technology, but it is not a viable description of the spaces and processes actually involved. The ‘cloud’ is in fact some data servers somewhere, probably in a secure, temperature controlled room, cabled up to a vast energy and communications infrastructure. Mobile and wireless devices may appear to be connected to it through the ether, but these connections happen through microwave and radio signals – which, for all their invisibility, still have a very definite physical presence. With technology marketing discourses often working hard to hide this infrastructure, academics can play a critical role by helping to drag it back into awareness. Materialist media studies is helpful for this. Kittler is a key figure, but the authors I’ve found most useful are Wolfgang Ernst, Jussi Parikka and Matthew Kirschenbaum. Andrew Blum’s internet travel book, Tubes, is also well worth reading.

 

A Google data centre in Georgia, USA. Image: Google, via news.com.au

 

4. Pay more attention to the economics of digital media. I recently read an interview from a few years ago with Detroit techno/house DJ and producer Theo Parrish, in which he passionately defended vinyl on economic grounds. By making and buying records, he claimed, he was helping to keep open pressing plants, mastering houses and record stores, and providing their employees with an income. If he were to release and consume music solely through digital means, Parrish said, the money would all go to Apple through iTunes, and “the only person that’s gonna eat is Steve Jobs…everybody is giving their money to him and wondering why their industry is suffering.” Of course it’s now not Steve Jobs any more, and there may be a bit of romanticisation of manufacturing here – is the repetitive task of pressing records really such a great job? – but the point about the flow of money into large tech companies seems an important one.

Many of the utopian concepts relating to the internet, such as free data and open source, and the more dystopian visions of mass piracy, hacking and file sharing, tend to divert attention from where the money is going. Creating content may no longer provide financial return in many cases (witness musicians talking about how difficult it is to make money from selling records), and yet the infrastructure and technology providers such as Apple, Google, AT&T and so on are raking it in. One might even speculate that the availability of free and publicly subsidized web content, such as on YouTube or the BBC’s extensive online resources, may be helping to increase the profits of the companies who sell what is required to access that content: laptops, tablets, smartphones, broadband access, communications networks, search engines. These things tend to be supplied by multinational corporations. So there is a geography to this aspect of the digital economy, with the lion’s share of the money going into global financial networks rather than small-scale, localized operations. Is this where we want to keep putting our money? What are these companies doing with it? Are they paying taxes on it? Are they providing good quality employment for people? If not, what alternatives are there?

In summary, maybe the old framing of non-digital versus digital, offline versus online, is giving way to a more nuanced set of questions: what kinds of digital do we want? What kinds of relationships, flows and associations do we want to foster between people, media, hardware, software, physical artifacts and places? And what configurations of power are involved, particularly in economic terms?.

Sounds of the Olympics

Like many people in the UK, I’ve come down with a severe case of Olympic fever over the last couple of weeks, finding myself living all the clichés. Temporarily shelving misgivings about large-scale gentrification, corporate sponsorship and dubious legacy claims, I’ve been shouting at television sets, developing unexpected enthusiasm for any sport in which brits are doing even moderately well, and generally joining in with the party.

One thing I hadn’t anticipated was quite how important sound seems to be to the proceedings. British competitors have repeatedly remarked upon the overwhelming volume of cheering from the home support. At Wimbledon, where audiences are usually fairly well mannered, the volume was cranked up for the Olympic tennis, turning Andy Murray’s matches into proper rowdy affairs. Heptathlete Jessica Ennis said that the crowd was so loud it gave her goosebumps, and made her want to raise her game even further. The ovation she received when she won gold – 80,000 people all screaming their heads off – must surely be one of the biggest unamplified human sound events the nation has ever produced, a stunning piece of collectively improvised noise music.

This has led to a series of headlines about Olympic noise. Cyclist Mark Cavendish said that his ears were ringing after the road race, and in the velodrome noise levels reportedly reached almost 140 decibels (A-weighted, one assumes) during finals involving Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton. That’s easily loud enough to cause hearing damage. Most of the headlines have been celebratory – noise in this context is being constructed as an outpouring of fun, enthusiasm, conviviality, patriotism. The noise abatement discourse has been notably muted, although there have been some (belated, probably very sensible, but likely to be ignored) suggestions that athletes should wear earplugs, and some grumblings about the loud music being played at venues. There is a detailed noise management plan for the games, which cites a raft of applicable regulations, but in relation to crowd noise it makes this rather intriguing statement: “No precedent and no locus in law for controlling human activity or crowd noise.” This was somewhat unfortunate for the Australian rowers, who complained that the noise from the Team GB supporters was drowning out the calls their rowers use to synchronise with each other in their boats.

And then there are the sounds of the sporting action: splashes, smacks, thunks, pings, swishes. In the sound sculpture slot on Radio 4 at the weekend, an archer explained how the click of the bow’s mechanism and the thud of arrows hitting the target give him important cues as to whether he is on target or not. During one of the tennis games, I found myself able to judge that certain shots were going out before the ball landed – an overhit was obvious from the heavy plunk of ball on racket. There has also been some commentary about the sounds made by athletes, such as grunts and whistles.

Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara in the road race time trials.

I was lucky enough to attend the road race time trials whilst in London last week, and took a full and enthusiastic part in the mexican wave of shouting surging through Surrey as Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins whizzed past. Wiggins later said that the noise had been phenomenal and almost deafening, without any gap for the whole 44 kilometres of the course. But for most of us, most of the time, our experiences of sporting soundscapes take place at more distant times and places, through radio, television, computers or handheld devices. The three dimensional, full frequency swirling mass of vibrations inside a stadium ends up being squished down and scrunched out by a little mono speaker at the back of your telly.

Olympics presenters have repeatedly pointed out how impossible it is to convey to people watching at home just how loud the venues are. At one point during the opening ceremony, one commentator suggested that viewers should turn their TVs up a bit just to get a better sense of what it was ‘really’ like. This raises the question of fidelity, as discussed by Jonathan Sterne (2003), following Michel Chion, Rick Altman and others. Sterne questions the notion that audio technology operates by reproducing an (always imperfect) ‘copy’ of an ‘original’ sound event. He points out that the idea of ‘original’ sound events only arises once ‘copies’ are possible. Thus the very existence of sports broadcasting is what enables claims to be made about the superiority of actually ‘being there’.

We might therefore think of audio more as an art of creative production than reproduction. The evidence bears this out in relation to sports broadcasting. What might seem like a highly realistic sound track will invariably have been carefully constructed to convey the action, making full use of the magic of modern audio technologies. Check out this podcast, in which some of the key players in sports sound design lift the lid on the tricks of their trade:

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Thus sound engineering for sports broadcasts might be compared to film or computer game sound design, in which, as Sterne and Chion would have it, definition (i.e. sound conveying a clear sense of the action taking place) is more important than fidelity (i.e. the accurate ‘capture’ and reproduction of what might be a more muffled, masked or mundane reality). Take diving for example. The walkway at the top of the diving boards is rigged with multiple shotgun mics, the audio equivalent of an array of zoom lenses. These pick up intimate sounds of the divers walking, moving, breathing and speaking, sounds that would be all but inaudible to a spectator at the venue. Hydrophones are also submerged in the pool to pick up sounds as the divers enter the water. Other techniques include the use of contact mics on gymnastics equipment to pick up the movement of the bars. You can read more about this and listen to some audio examples here.

At risk of being brand policed...

To conclude, here’s a clip of one of my favourite pieces of Olympics-related broadcasting: a Freudian slip from Jim Naughtie on Radio 4’s Today Programme, in the run up to the games, mispronouncing the word Arcelor:

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The Orbit. Photo from ArcelorMittal.com

Which one's the biggest Arcelor? Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP via the Guardian
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Risky engagements: some thoughts on geography and art

I’m uploading some audio clips from a recent presentation I gave at an event on ‘Risky engagements: encounters between science, art and public health’. This took place at the University of Manchester and the Whitworth Art Gallery, 5th-6th January 2012, and was organised by Kozo Hiramatsu of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, anthropologist Rupert Cox, and sound artist Angus Carlyle.

AngusAtWhitworth.JPG

 

The event was designed to spark discussion of the issues raised by Angus and Rupert’s Air Pressure project, currently installed at the Whitworth. An immersive video and multi-channel audio work, it centres on a site in Japan where the runway of an international airport has been built right beside a traditional organic farm. Two farming families refuse to move, despite pressure from the authorities to re-locate, and the intense noise at the site. The exhibition is on until the 12th of February and is well worth a visit.

 

JSPS.JPG

 

I presented some thoughts about about art-geography collaborations, of which there have been an increasing number in recent years. I spoke about a project I’m just starting, The Invisible College, a collaboration with public artists NVA (more on that soon; for now see NVA’s website). I also made some more general comments about four issues that seem to come up when academics and artists work together. These are:

1. Epistemology
[audio:https://www.michaelgallagher.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ArtGeogEpistemology.mp3|titles=Epistemology]

2. Evaluation
[audio:https://www.michaelgallagher.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ArtGeogEvaluation.mp3|titles=Evaluation]
(I would add to this that in my view, the lack of established criteria for this is a good thing; the resulting sense of uncertainty seems productive and useful.)

3. Politics
[audio:https://www.michaelgallagher.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ArtGeogPolitics.mp3|titles=ArtGeogPolitics]
(Below is the image I refer to in this, from the Office of Experiments website)


4. Publics
[audio:https://www.michaelgallagher.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/ArtGeogPublics.mp3|titles=ArtGeogPublics]

 

The other contributions spun together a vast array of approaches and topics. From the Japanese side, there was a talk about noise around the airport from an acoustics and health perspective, and presentations about Minamata disease, the history and politics of a radiation poisoning incident caused by US nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, and the Fukushima disaster. The UK presenters covered the future of waste (including some stuff about a Finnish project to build a permanent nuclear waste storage facility that will be sealed for 100,000 years), collaborations between arctic scientists and artists, a wonderful story weaving together the September 11th attacks and HIV, John Wynne presenting his work with sound in a transplant hospital, and Peter Cusack airing some recordings from the zone of exclusion in Chernobyl, and some wicked drone action from shipping in the Thames estuary.

So, a mind-expandingly diverse melting pot of ideas. Thanks to Rupert and Angus for the invite, and to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for funding such an interesting event..