Abandon Normal Devices is a festival that takes place in the UK over several weeks and in multiple locations, beginning this month. Described as “a call to arms inviting anarchists of the imagination to propose striking perspectives on technological, physical and social normality” the event takes in exhibitions, workshops, performances and more. One of the most intriguing projects involved two EB favourites, Maria Minerva and Forest Swords who are both creating music that will be transferred onto X-Rays – a technique used in former Soviet countries to trade in illicit recordings of Western music. Due to the fragile nature of the format the recordings will only be heard once at the Spectres of Spectacle event which will also feature Victoria Gray and Anat Ben David.
“Experience deliberatley fogged audio montage and textual interferance – a complex response to degraded ideals of the present day, combining lo-fi and disco with a deeply experimental art practice.”
More information available here – if you are in the UK we strongly recommend you check this out.
Baba Brinkman performs what has become known as lit-hop. Currently on stage with The Rap Guide to Evolution at the Soho Playhouse in New York, Brinkman has been pulling in the crowds since his well-reviewed adaptation of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales at the Edinburgh Fringe. Electronic Beats caught up with the Canadian troubadour to talk inspiration, evolution and group selection.
Was your primary aim with the Rap Canterbury Tales / The Rap Guide to Evolution to teach? Or was it something that was borne out of fun?
I’d say my primary aim is to entertain, delight, and surprise, and my secondary aim is to teach, probably because that’s what I’d prefer to experience from a performance or recording. It’s also a Chaucerian aesthetic, since Chaucer understood very well the need to hold an audience’s attention first with entertainment value before you can expect them to absorb any information from you. One of my favorite lines of his is: “Where thou mayst have noon [no] audience, enforce thee nat to speak”.
You studied literature, so I understand your reasoning behind the Rap Canterbury Tales – but why Darwin?
I studied the Canterbury Tales partially because I was passionate about rap music and I saw Chaucer as one of the closest analogues to a modern rapper, at least for his time. He was a rhyming storyteller, an oral poet, and an interpreter of his social world through character and metaphor, which is exactly what a rapper does. So I studied Chaucer and the history of oral traditions as a way to put hip-hop music in a wider context. I guess I’m attracted to Darwin for the same reason. When the opportunity came up to work with a scientist on developing some evolution-themed raps, I thought it would be a way of zooming out even further, putting rap in the context of human instincts and the story of our species’ evolution. The evolutionary perspective makes it clear that stylized oral storytelling competitions, including rap and Chaucer and many other cultural traditions, are actually a universal inheritance of the species, our version of the peacock’s tail, although with less sexual dimorphism.
In the song ‘Group Selection’ you explore the possible origins of altruism and human goodness, as well our competitive “survival of the fittest” nature. Are people really capable of complete altruism, or is everything we do really just to benefit and develop ourselves?
Many people assume humans are naturally competitive and self-serving, but in fact evolution predicts otherwise, as long as we are sensitive to context.
If by “complete altruism” you mean selfless acts that are completely disentangled either from our psychological reward systems (the feel-good factor) or from the hope of social rewards through the increase in status and mate-value that comes from rampant generosity towards non-kin, then I’m skeptical. Why should we worry about whether our altruism is complete rather than partially self-serving, as long as it clearly promotes the welfare of others as well? To me that’s as senseless as worrying about whether “free will” is ever “completely free” of physical causes at the molecular level (of course it isn’t).
If altruism increases your attractiveness, sexual selection is probably involved. If it increases the degree to which others want to help you and promote your interests, then reciprocity is probably the driver, and if neither (i.e. anonymous donations to charity) then one possible though widely-misunderstood origin of the behavior could be group selection or the differential survival of groups, which would be aided by the presence of unselfish individuals who get a “feel-good” hit purely from helping other people with no hope of personal reward. One of the things I like about group selection or multi-level selection theory is that it redeems the concept of truly unselfish “for the good of others” behavior without departing from the Darwinian paradigm; that’s what the song is really about. I think that’s a pleasing result for most people intuitively, and especially for people of a more optimistic or liberal persuasion (hence the hippy vibe of the song).
What feedback have you had from school students about your work?
Very positive feedback, and there are quotable examples.
As well as getting people interested in science, are you also getting scientists interested in rap?
Definitely, I have a double-agenda. I love it when young people say about evolution: “I never thought about it that way” and I love it when older people say about rap: “I never thought about it that way”. I performed for David Attenborough and Dan Dennett in Cambridge.
Your most recent album, The Rap Guide to Evolution: Revised, contains many re-written lyrics. What sort of things did you change and why?
I changed things that I thought were unclear or things that people told me they didn’t relate to or understand. I also tried to sex up the record a bit, added some stronger language since the original version was a bit too kid-friendly, and basically just tried to increase the swagger and be myself more and not hold back. I think the new version is a much better hip-hop record, so I’m thinking of renaming the original album: The Rap Guide to Evolution: Educational Version.
You worked with Dr. Mark Pallen from The University of Birmingham to check the scientific facts of your work. How did the collaboration work?
I sent Mark all of the lyrics to fact-check, and some of the feedback he gave me I agreed with and made some changes, while other parts of his feedback I decided to let slide under a claim of “poetic license”. What was great about working with him is he gave me a very clear sense of what kinds of scientific (or pseudo-scientific, or emotionally reactive) objections might be raised in response to my show, which helped me to prepare for the inevitable responses, defenses, and clarifications.
People have walked out of your shows before, which can’t be easy to deal with – have you been able to engage in debate with those who believe in creationism? What is the general response from those who don’t believe in evolution?
The response from creationists has been predictably mixed, but so far I haven’t encountered any outright hostility, partially because I think people appreciate the sincerity and the amount of work that has gone into creating the show. I also make clear that I am merely attempting to summarize and popularize the current mainstream thinking in the scientific community, so if they want to come after me I can take a Chaucerian defense and say “don’t shoot the messenger!” I have had some creationists say “I disagree with your views, but I really enjoyed the show” which is fine by me. I don’t have any delusions about converting every audience I encounter. What I want to do is get the conversation going and also spread the message that the evidence all points to the fact that Darwin was right, that the entire scientific community agrees that Darwin was right, and that it isn’t necessarily such a bad thing that Darwin was right. So if you actually believe Darwin was wrong, you have to find a way to square your beliefs with the findings of science to the contrary. It leaves you with either a massive conspiracy theory, or a strenuous effort not to think about it too much, and those are not safe rocks to hide under.
You’re clearly a very talented lyricist, what’s next in the pipeline?
Business, economics, climate change, politics and religion – not necessarily in that order.
Justin F Kennedy – The Hyperactivist
“Aside from being my passion and career, dance has played many roles throughout my life. Most importantly, it’s an active meditative practice. I’m too hyperactive for sitting mediation and it’s only through movement that I can achieve a sense of tranquillity. Furthermore, dancing and performing allow me to tap into multiple dimensions of expression, ultimately enriching the way I experience life. It also helps me sort out my own multiple personalities and schizophrenic tendencies.
Through dance, I am able to access a variety of states of being, including wonder, ecstatic pleasure and joy without drugs. Dance has also allowed me to connect with myself and others in extremely thoughtful and intimate ways. I’m also naturally drawn to extremes, and dancing and creating dance give me a platform to explore the boundaries of physical, mental and spiritual engagement. The type of movement research I’m currently exploring through my own choreographic practice and studies at UDK/ Ernst Busch/HZT Berlin, involves a balanced platter of somatic practice and theory while I continue to craft and define my own methods of choreography. As I approach making more of my own work, I crave to create full sensory experiences. Pardon me for sounding like David Lynch, but honestly, dance is the closest I have come to feelings of transcendence.”
Veronika Schlicht – The Aesthete
“I’ve been dancing for 18 years and I never had the intention to become a professional dancer. I love dancing because I like the combination of physical activity and arts. Dance is athletic and elegant. It is a high physical action, and at the same time, for me, there’s no possibility to do it only to train my body without the artistic and aesthetic aspect of it.
I think of how it looks like and how an audience would see it even if I’m only training and look into the mirror. I also like the sensual side of dance, the emotional and musical aspect. I try to get the special rhythm, feeling and idea of the music that I interpret through physical movements. By doing so, every dancer has his own view of it and can feel it different. My motivation to dance and my general intention is to bring across something that comes out of me listening to a particular piece of music.”
Eva Liedtke – The Temptress
“For me dancing, especially in combination with dressing up, is a means of self-expression. I put on make-up, slip into sexy, fun and glittery costumes and perform a ‘character’ to basically become my true self. Using my body to move, pose, shake and shimmy to rhythm and beats makes me feel alive and gives me a stage for expressing myself in the most natural way.
Burlesque and striptease in particular is an (art)form which allows me best to express my personality, sensuality and creativity. It is the ideal and most empowering way of celebrating being a woman and having a healthy lust for life. To me there is no separation between my mind, my senses and my body, and dancing – again, burlesque or striptease in particular – is the ultimate fusion. Cleverly, teasingly performing on stage, while ‘taking off your clothes’ in a creative and entertaining way is the perfect tool to share the confidence and joy of sexuality and femininity. Physically and visually sharing a philosophy with an audience in an unpolitical but fun and entertaining way.”
Davey Dee Clarke – The Synchroniser
“Dancing allows me to synchronise with the present tense. Nothing else matters when I’m able to let go and permit a good groove or vibe to dictate my every move. In such moments I become a passenger in my own body marveling at the moves I feel while they are being executed. Every thought is banished as I give my own personal visual interpretation of sound.
People nowadays don’t realize how important dancing is for calibration. It’s a nice tool to find your own personal way as a dancer or even as a DJ. I don’t care about Charts or the Top 10. I only care about what moves me in order to radiate love and joy. Isn’t that what it’s all about in the end?”
Adrienne Hart – The Digitalist
“My mum took me to dance classes at the age of three, as I was painfully shy as a kid and I’ve never really stopped. I grew up in a town called Swindon in the UK, which doesn’t have the best reputation in the world, yet thanks to a woman called Marie McCluskey, Swindon houses one of the best dance organizations (Swindon Dance). By aged 11 I knew I wanted to be a contemporary dancer, I loved how expressive the dance style can be and that contemporary dance has the power to make bold political and social statements about the world we live in. As soon as I could I went off to London (aged 17) to train at London Contemporary Dance School.
I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to train at the conservatoire for three years and left with a BA (Hons) Contemporary Dance degree in 2002. After any kind of intense training your passion for a subject starts to dwindle slightly. I kept it alive by discovering dance and digital technology and began collaborating with filmmakers and musicians. My dance company Neon Production came from a desire to create work for the stage and screen. I established the company to realize my ambition of creating diverse and exciting contem- porary dance that incorporates original music, digital technology and film. Dancing as your day job isn’t the easiest career choice yet I’ve tried out a few ‘office jobs’ and every time the lure of the dance studio has lead me astray.”
Sorry for the terrible title, but we’ve been waiting three years to post that. Rumours are beginning to circle like hungry sharks snapping at a drifting lifeboat about a new Kate Bush album that may be released this year. Bush has not released an album since 2005’s Aerial and that was some ten years in the making. This as yet untitled effort will be her 9th long player.
The first lady of pop / alt / performance art should not need introducing but if you need refreshing check out this brilliant documentary.
News of the album has been reported by the blog wotyougot, which has uncanny track record at predicting these things.
Via the Quietus