Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Swan Song

(The sounds were recorded by Mark Fischer an engineer who used to work on US Navy sonar and software for defence and aerospace companies but he now records the underwater conversations between whales and dolphins and transforms the waves into art.)
Hiroshi found himself anxiously rechecking calibrations on the piezoelectric transducers. The wavelet patterns of the specimen he had been studying for the past 12 years had changed its spectrogram in a matter of days. He had slowly become aware of the responsibility that had been entrusted to him. He was one of the 7 researchers across the globe given responsibility to record, study and archive the life of the last 7 animals of this dying species, the Megaptera novaeangliae.

(Fischer uses a a branch of maths dealing with wavelet that transforms sound to intricate patterns. The patterns look intricate and remind me of Yantras and Manadalas that always seem to be encoded with something more that what we can comprehend.)
Despite suggestions to attempt breeding programs, besides the scale, the sheer magnificence of these gentle giants made it almost immoral to reduce them to conserved specimens of the human guilt. Instead it was voted by the Councils, Corporates and Governments alike, to allow the animals to die in dignity. On their deaths, divers would dive to collect complete DNA samples to join the ranks of numerous other animals on the Noah's Arc a Cryoarchive Lab in the middle of the Indian Ocean that promised a day of resurrection. It was observed that all the 7 animals had started singing the same song over the past few months, the separation between the North Atlantic and the North Pacific songs had merged into a singular string of notes. Slowly the number had further reduced from 7 to 4 to the last.

(Fischer has taken advantage of the striking look of his graphs, selling them as art through his company Aguasonic Acoustics, based in San Francisco.)
Hiroshi knew it was the Humpback's Swansong, something that had to leave a lasting reverbrance in the oceans of time. He wondered what are the conscious dying words of the last animal. like the million languages that had slowly faded away over the last century, from the memory of human speech, to die at the hands of 2 global languages. what were the words of the last person of a dead language, knowing that he alone made sense of sounds that had earned their syntax over years of collective efforts. And it was then that Hiroshi realized the very nature of this tradition, the preparation towards the end, the making of the Fayyum potrait that will stay and tell beings to come that I was here, I swam through the oceans of time changing with the world around, from paws to wings, from mammal to fish. And the whale had selected Hiroshi as his artiste biographe.
(Came across Mark Fischer's blog here)
Hiroshi quickly ran sono-trans, a program that interpreted different sounds, ran a comparative meaning-sound analysis to provide the closest 'meaning/gesture' that it could mean and group these together to form what we could understand as sentences. But this time, it did not make any sense, the sounds were different, they never repeated. The sound had no semiotics, no syntax. With no one to sing to had the animal broken away from the very rules of its language?...Hiroshi ceaselessly recorded every sound, every song and every gesture made by Moby, his whale, with whom he had lived, slept and ate in a submersible, away from the world. It soon dawned upon Hiroshi that the whale was not an individual animal anymore but a representative of a collective that once was. It did not have the luxury of leaving behind a self indulgent fayyum potrait but what it was leaving behind was the Rosetta stone itself. The very genetic code of its language, its existence and the collective memory of the entire species. Hiroshi witnessed the last animal sleep, with its body swaying limply along the ocean floor that had suddenly lost its voice.

Update: article: lonely whale

Friday, April 09, 2010

Rant #2367

Over the past year and a half as the world rolled languidly through a long recession, and continues to do so we witnessed the practise of architecture at its innovative best, right from a sudden surge in design offices wanting to satisfy their social obligations by 'hiring/taking on board' unpaid interns to ideas competitions with the entry fee being almost the same as the winning prize.

(Description from - " President George W. Bush comments to the media as he tours the Masdar Exhibition Monday, January 14, 2008, at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Said the President, "I hope that my visit shines a spotlight on the Middle East, the opportunities to work constructively with our friends and allies, and shows people the truth about what life is like here in the United Arab Emirates. This is a remarkable place. Its architecture is beautiful. But the can-do spirit is amazing." White House photo by Eric Draper" January 14 2008)
To me George Bush visiting Masdar exhibition, Fred Goodwin being hired as the advisor to the RMJM group and finally Zaha Hadid's Petroleum Research Centre (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) aiming for a LEEDS exemplify the very crème de la crème of hypocrisy that got brewed to perfection during this recession.

(Architecture giant RMJM has hired disgraced former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin to work as senior advisor on international business. Image sourced from: Architects Journal)
Unlike the last Slump this time there were no alternatives churned out through the crisis, there was no mass unrest, there were no social movements that could change the course of architecture. Instead the processes of outsourcing and back officing just got more finely tuned to exploit the difference in labour cost through technological innovations like Revit, turning third world cheap labour into cad-monkeys.
While many out there eagerly crusade for architecture to be understood as a more diverse field than just the business of built environment, the production of built environment is still controlled by a certain nature of practice and all diversity sits on its fringes throwing paper balls of criticism/influences that hits its double glazed curtain walls and fall into the bin. These diverse alternatives are not really alternatives within the practice but just alternatives of personal choices, as we negotiate around our everyday needs and ethics.
The field that once had the modernists is now a collaborative of bunch of technical experts, consultants, speculators, agents and most importantly managers putting together a historically, socially and culturally acontextual box that is not a building but has been reduced to being just another consumer product like an ipod, car or toothbrush.

Update to the above post:
came across a blog post by a student from The Bartlett, Chris Hildrey on the Archinects School blog Project. The post summarizes the contradictions within the academic and professional spaces ..."
The source of my nervousness is that the move from uni to practice is, in my case at least, one from a world where it is possible to get away with useless beauty, to one where is it possible to get away with ugly utility. And neither world will tolerate the others’ vice well."
continue reading here.