tirsdag 12. november 2019

Almost

This mask is almost this face.
This fungi is almost this human.
This screen is almost this world.

This idea is almost this movement.
This survival is almost this change.

This primitive is almost this day.
This nearly is almost this nearness.

This thing is almost this thing.

mandag 3. juni 2019

This game won't be announced at E3

George Costanza in the game Kramer's Field (From Software 1995)

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is upon us. Players anticipate E3 because it brings announcements of new games, as well as old games in new coating - the remaster, remake or the often equally enthusiastically embraced, unpolished re-release. Videogame enthusiasts really do like replaying decades old software on whatever the latest gaming system is.

I want to draw attention to a little-known game by the renowned Japanese studio From Software. This is a game that has near zero likelihood of being announced at this year's E3, but there are good reasons for an HD-upgrade: It came out on the original Playstation hardware and makes use of early, low-polygon 3D, and thus its visuals look quite jarring on contemporary TVs. The game also never made it out of Japan, and might deserve the possibility of broader reception. It was called Kramer's Field, and as far as 90s games goes, it was highly unconventional and remains an undiscussed entry in the early days of what would turn into a major video game developer.

Kramer's Field was a spin-off of the more well-known series King's Field, and in particular its second installment. The second game in this series, King's Field II, released in Japan summer 1995, and would find its way to Europe in December that same year, and to USA February the following year. In the West it would simply be known as King's Field, while the Japanese original (just as Kramer's Field) was never ported to the West.

Everything about Kramer's Field is shrouded in uncertainty, with only very little information available online in Japanese, and no software ROM downloadable (a common format for archiving and playing retro games). Kramer's Field released in November 1995. It places you in the role of the character Kramer from the hit tv-series Seinfeld. The series was never big in Japan, however, which might explain how the then relatively unknown From Software could have been tasked with making perhaps the only officially licensed video game of the franchise (bear in mind that they had no prior game releases in the West, and would become known as a major company following the releases of Demon Souls in 2009 and Dark Souls in 2011).

It is not certain that any of the developers at From Software had watched much (if anything) of Seinfeld before making the game. There are some visual resemblances to characters, and locations, but very little of the characteristics of Seinfeld has crossed the transition from American comedy to Japanese videogame. King's Field, and the later games by From Software, such as the Souls-series and Bloodborne (2015) would draw heavily on Western Medieval Fantasy. From Software would filter the fantasy elements through a Japanese framework, to the point where standards of the genre are rendered strange to the point of being almost incomprehensible. Kramer's Field is likewise the result of someone deeply fascinated by anything American and pop-culture, but often completely misunderstanding and even utterly neglecting the humor that made the show so successful. The strange incident that is Kramer's Field would constitute a mystical re-imagining of the iconic 90s Western situational comedy.

Kramer's Field not only shares name with the King's Field series but also gameplay elements, as it uses the King's Field game engine for development. In the second game of the series you control a character washed ashore on a remote island, where you explore and battle beasts. The perspective is first-person, and you roam around a setting that is medieval and mysterious. For the 90s King's Field was unusual, lacking cartoony vivid colors and joy, instead placing the player in a hostile world. The game feels overwhelming and confusing. You do not know where you are, what to do, or why any of it is happening. The combat also has an extremely slowness to it - to the point where it feels like moving underwater.

Kramer's Field is likewise in first-person, letting you see through the eyes of Kramer. The talkative characters you meet in Kramer's Field are cryptic in the way that characters regularly are in From Software games. Although some of the vagueness can be ascribed to my own poor attempts at Google-assisted translations of the dialog, it nevertheless seems bizarre that George would tell Kramer: "Oh, the wretched things that have shown themselves before my soul's gaze, I can feel my own presence fading. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, where might my friend gone?". This is in fact the way that the central task of the game is introduced, with Kramer asked by the waning George and a completely incoherent Elaine, to find their friend. Kramer's Field turns Jerry into not only a character, but a central glue for the others, a force that keeps them from losing not only their friendship but their mental balance.

The Kramer you meet in Kramer's Field has little resemblance to the jittery and witty character in Seinfeld. His search for Jerry is an introspective, solemn journey. The character moves as if every step is heavy, dreading the potential answers that he may find - what has happened to his dear friend, is he even alive? Kramer moves through a labyrinthine re-imagining of New York City's streets. New York is here all grey streets and buildings which trap you into tight corridors. Here you fight off hordes of equally monotone aggressive characters: mostly looking like homeless people, but also face-less well-dressed humanoid Wall-Street drones. Apart from the streets, you can explore Jerry's apartment, and others in his building, as well as the city sewers.

Seinfeld is famously a show about nothing, where even the most mundane is discussed as if of utmost importance, and no action feels too shallow to pursue. This feature is again mirrored in strange manner in the game. The locations are filled with the eerie emptiness that characterizes early 3d games, as if you are walking around in a dream landscape of a world that is yet to render properly. Yet they are all vividly memorable. One of the best elements of Dark Souls is the interconnected world that the player explores, uncovering new routes and secret paths along the way. These are found in Kramer's Field, where nondescript walls can give way to novel pathways, and normal objects become wormholes: Dialing a sequence of numbers found on a note in the sewers on Jerry's phone turns it into a teleport. Kramer's Field also shares horror elements with the more conventionally Gothic, Lovecraftian Bloodborne. In that game, revisiting locations with greater insight (a form of in-game currency) reveals gruesome beasts that had previously lingered unseen. Instead of tentacles and black goo, Kramer's Field shows the alien horror inherent in everyday objects. After hours of play, the air-condition of the apartment is revealed as a hostile force, that slowly and remotely has been draining power from Kramer, fogging his mind and slowing his movement. It is as if the jittery energy that Kramer possessed in the show has been sapped from him and distributed to the surfaces and objects of the game. Every object thereby feels ripe with potential, but also frightening, as it could lose its insignificance, and turn into a portal or a threat.

Ultimately the game itself could be about nothing. The clues and puzzles that Kramer uncovers may not actually lead to the discovery of Jerry. Halfway between a tech-demo and a seemingly endless dungeon-crawler, it is unsure whether the game can actually be completed. Kramer's Field seems to have had limited release even in Japan, and it represents a mistaken path by From Software. But what would have happened to video gaming had the company more fully embraced this peculiar take on Western culture rather than the dark fantasy route? 

Instead of situational comedy, this is situational horror, which turns humor into anguish: The characeters are imprisoned in the surface mimicry of actually-lived in locations where their every action is determined by the laugh track. The viewers get caught into this prison as well. Mathjis van Boxsell writes in Encyclopedia of Stupidity (2003), that people watching comedy with laugh tracks believe they have laughed more than they actually did. And what could be more horrifying than someone trapped in a room, sitting on a couch and watching someone else, also incapable of escaping their confines, maybe sitting on a couch as well, perhaps even watching tv themselves, with mechanical laughter making sure that everyone seems to be enjoying themselves? What if you were not just watching, but playing it instead, in a comedy where you were the punchline.

The situational horror is comparable to the one found in the zombie game Resident Evil (Capcom 1996; 2002), whose title indicates that the frightening resides in the residence itself. You are placed in a haunted house from which the only escape is to continue playing, to take up residence in the haunted mansion. But as the players try to find their way out they become more and more trapped in the game, for hours and hours, up to decades. The players play and replay, buy and rebuy, from release to remaster to remake. In waking nightmares the players repeatedly find their home to be the haunted mansion, where they again and again are bitten by zombies, turning themselves into the great masses playing. But Kramer's Field is infinitely more gruesome than the classic zombie horror of Resident Evil or From Software's own Lovecraftian Bloodborne. This is because Kramer's Field shows what Ian Bogost terms Alien Phenomenology, or What It's Like to Be a Thing (2012), which is the way that objects experience us. Kramer's Field shows that neither Jerry's or your air-condition ever really belongs to you or to anyone. It shows that objects could always be something apart from what they seem. Jean-Paul Sartre describes the intimate ties between horror and houses:

"To preserve its reality as a dwelling a house must be inhabited, that is to say, looked after, heated, swept, repainted, etc.; otherwise it deteriorates. This vampire object constantly absorbs human action, lives on blood taken from man and finally lives in symbiosis with him. It derives all its physical properties, including temperature, from human action. For its inhabitants there is no difference between the passive activity which might be called ‘residence’ and the pure re-constituting praxis which protects the house against the Universe" (Sartre 1976, Critique of Dialectical Reason)

Kramer's Field shows the situational horror of dwelling with videogames, which derive their physical properties from human actions, requiring our willingness to keep playing for their continued existence. There is no way that Kramer's Field could be announced at this year's E3. The game is just too horrifying.

lørdag 4. mai 2019

Chicago is a machine more than a place

The Chicago machine has four different outlets, cut across two axes:

                     Vertical

Internal              +             External
     
                   Horizontal

The internal and the external reflect each other as crystalline forms. The horizontal is the straight lines of the streets, placed in flat, symmetrical grids. The streets stretch forever, turning into wind tunnels. That's okay, because no one walks here anyway; the streets are not intended for pedestrians or loiterers. They are made for swift vehicular movement, for easy navigation. The streets connect neighborhoods of near-identical houses, seemingly randomly distributed in states of derelict or freshly refurbished. The buses stop at every block and the subway always makes a loop downtown. Only poor people use public transport.

As an echo to the external grids are people's internal horizons. This is the feeling of freedom that comes with end-point of any journey clearly visible, and the sensation of stretching towards it. Anything is within reach here, but you need to pick up speed.


Since we had no reason to refuse the driver wanting to listen to his tunes, he provides the soundtrack of the American streets. Every element of the music is almost completely drowned  in traffic noise, except the trap snares. Despite the rattlesnake intensity, it produces a calm mood. The driver mumbles along to the rap-song, with impressive accuracy and a lulling effect. In the back seat some guy who is sharing the ride is on the phone. He keeps asking 'where you at where you at where you at, where you goin where you goin where you goin' for what seems like forever. The person(s) on the other side of the phone don't want to say, or don't know, or maybe they just don't have anything to say to each other but want to hear the other's voices.

The car always moves straight forward. It's dark here, in the shadow of skyscrapers that fade into heavy rain clouds. This is an ad for Uber or Lyft, I'm not sure which, showing its self-driving car (there is a self driving it). Or it's a scene from Batman Begins - a short, insignificant moment of tranquility before the real attraction: The car chase catches up on us, turning us into collateral. The high speed intensity of the pitch black Batmobile sends us flying through the air.

There are no levels here except the flat street level. The parks have only well-kept grass and some scattered trees. All this used to be prairie land, with oceans of flowers. Today only some of the graveyards are allowed to remain unkept, as if only the dead can be wild, any wildness must be killed. Chicago is named after shikaakwa, a native word for a wild onion. Where do the wild rabbits go to hide now? They bounce around in a lot with nothing but grass downtown, surrounded only by the vertical lines constructed in concrete, metal and glass. Blocking and reflecting the sun, these skyscrapers form straight lines into people's internal hierarchies. The promise of upward social mobility is always there, but it's not easy to climb up such smooth surfaces. Anything is within reach here, but you need to pick up speed.

There are a couple of necessary preconditions before being allowed the upward drift of indoor skydiving. First we fill out a form that absolves the company in case of injury or death. We also need to be weighed, to check that each of us are below 130 kg. 'Should I remove my coat? No, that's okay, there's no way you're anywhere close to that.' Still, rules are rules. And they must be followed without any reflection by all institutions here: 'You need an in-state ID to swim in the public pool', 'unaffiliated persons aren't legible for Library privileges'. Suddenly I understand the American desperation for the freedom that social mobility could bring, to lift one into the weightlessness of wealth. And I dream about participating in a reality show. I am all the characters, young and old, and each of us is tasked with spending $300k as quickly as possible. I wake up exhausted.





A post shared by Andreas Ervik (@sankeofnorway) on

Among the clearest, crystalline states is the moral concern over others: On the subway, a man got in  just before the doors closed, and I was wide-eyed enough to catch his gaze. If you smile at someone here, they seize the opportunity for interaction. He immediately started mumbling incoherently, and would not stop no matter how clear it became that I could only understand a fraction of what he was saying. He ate fried chicken thighs and dropped the bones on the floor, all the while staring intently at me. He had some important police work to do. He informed that there had been 20 police officers on board the subway earlier, that's why it was late. The police were heavily armed, and I couldn't make out if he actually knew who they were after or not, but he saw it fit to impart the important moral lesson upon me: never, ever, under any circumstance, tell the police anything.

The advice is of course impossible to follow, as the police are everywhere here, anyone here could be policing you. So a young radical, who explains that the new mayor is not to be trusted because she used to be a cop, also tells me: 'Now we're going to do something a bit illegal', and strays from the paved path onto the park grass.

There used to be great oceans of wild flowers here, have you ever smelled the wild flower summer breeze?

torsdag 18. april 2019

Moondog is the dog, man


Matthew Mcconaughey as Moondog in Harmony Korine's The Beach Bum, 2019.
Superheroes are born in the USA, because whenever their stories are without heroes anxiety arises. Such worry could come in the form of a horror movie, where only evil exists and no one to tame it. Or it could take the shape of a thriller, where the forces of good has been corrupted. It could even come as  something more experimental, where the belief in goodness has faded, with discomfort remaining as the avant-garde position.

The Beach Bum comes as a surprise then, because it is perhaps the most unashamedly cartoon happiness which Hollywood has ever produced. It has taken director Harmony Korine a series of struggles to reach this harmony, from the “loser-gang freak collective” of Trash Humpers to the youthful lust for chaotic crime in Spring Breakers (the only work of moving images I saw in its release year, 2012).  

Starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, The Beach Bum is a completely fresh form of feelgood film. Moondog is a free-spirit, constantly high, drunk, fornicating, eating, sleeping, completely aimlessly and shamelessly. He carries a typewriter for when inspiration hits, using the ingenious two-finger method to type out his poetry on curiously clean paper, considering his bumming around. There is an element of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and of The Big Lebowsky. But no trips are ever bad, and no encounter is a cause for true worry. And thus, nearly every review will scorn this film, both for the lack of adversity and for letting reckless behavior pass without any moral lesson learned. Critics and average viewers seem to agree – “a pretty stupid movie about a pretty stupid guy doing pretty stupid things”. But there is an actual plot here, a Homeric Odyssey undertaken by our hero. He faces obstacles and helpers, on a path which leads to no maturity or spiritual enlightenment.

Throughout the film Moondog runs with the rich and the poor, sleeping at the pier with hobos, partying at yachts and beautiful mansions. Outlaws abound, and Moondog humors anyone, as long as there is food, drinks, women and weed. He runs in with the law, and offers them to inhale. When this fails, he offers his arrest, if this would bring them joy. “Moondog is from another dimension”. He refers to his condition as a reverse-paranoia, "I’m quite certain that the world is conspiring to make me happy".




As alien as his endless joy in life may seem, he does share features with some fellow beastly astronauts of the earthship: He hangs out and smokes an enormous amount of weed with Snoop Dogg. Then there’s his namesake, Moondog (1932-1999), a composer living on the streets of New York, making the kind of music one would imagine such a life would inspire. Finally, there is the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes. Widely referred to as a cynic, derived from kynikos, which means dog. This was used as a derogatory term, as Diogenes lived with the doglike dignity of a stray. The philosopher would eat, defecate and masturbate in public ("If only it were so easy to soothe hunger by rubbing an empty belly"). Lastly, Moondog finds kin not only among humans with canine traits, but also with human's close relative, bonobo apes. Whereas our other close cousin, chimpanzees greet strangers with fists and sticks, bonobos greet strangers by sticking tongues and genitals in body openings. Moondog is no stranger to such greetings.

Korine has stated that the movie was made as a response to the election of US president Donald Trump. It is perhaps the best response to Trump thus far. With a big crybaby in the White House, there are calls for what French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his road trip book America called "the last primitive society" to grow up. But the problem of primitivism lies not in childish play nor in unjust heroes, but in heroics at all. Moondog is the hero that never can be, as he lacks any concern with doing good, but also because so few of us seem to share Moondog's love of life. I once had an argument with a political radical about beach boys. He insisted that the narcissism of semi-undressed body-focused guys bumming around on sand and in water was pitiful. Climate breakdown shows that we need more people willing to waste their lives. Moondog is the hero our children should look up to. Moondog for president.

lørdag 9. februar 2019

Egress, Infinte Regress and Gordian Knot


Brenna Murphy: Lattice~Face Parameter Chant, at Upfor, Portland OR, 2013


She was like, this is amazing, I like this so much!
And he was like, yeah this is amazing! I really, really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then she was like, I like you, so much.
And he was like, I really, really like you so, so much. So, so much.

She was like I've seen so much junk, you wouldn't believe.
And he was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much junk, I believe.
So, she was like, there's always some new art, we always keep going to new shows.

She was all like, art art art, opening show, opening show show show. 
New shows in new galleries until it all starts looking the same. Show show echo.

Then she was all, sometimes I feel like we've been around forever, you know?
And he was just, yeah, totally, sometimes I feel like we've been around forever too, I know.
And she was all, 'cos sometimes I feel like we're walking in circles, you know, 'cos sometimes I just feel like a mouse in a maze.
And he was all like, like how?
And she was like, like a test subject with no way out. Wall wall wall way. Way way blocked.

And he was like, it's clearly signposted, though.
But then she was all, what kind of sign?

And he was like, you know, every room has one of those turquoise signs over the door. 
The ones that go, in all caps: EGRESS. 
They both laugh.

Romanesco broccoli fractal growth pattern
                                                                           ***
She was like, amaze! I like this so much!
And he was like, yeah, amaze! I really, really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then she was like, I like you, so much.
And he was like, I really, really like you so, so much. So, so much.

She was like, I've seen so much junk, you wouldn't believe.
And he was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much junk, I believe.
So, she was like, I never close browser tabs, I always keep adding tabs.

She was all like, tap tap link tap tap, opening tab, opening tab tab tab. 
New tabs in rows in lines online until the browser crashes. Tap tap tap aw snap. Tab tab crash.

Then she was like, sometimes I feel like the tabs can run forever you know?
And she was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like a web inside a web.
And he was all like, like how?
And she was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like searches turning into searches, you know, 'cos sometimes it feels just like a search folding into a search.
And he was all, like how?
And she was like, like a search that provides no results. Searching for searching for searching. Searching for no result.

And he was like, everything's clearly find-able, though. But then she was all, what kind of finding?

And he was all, you know, every search is done by algorithms, so when you know how they operate you can find anything.
You just have to go: INFINITE REGRESS. 
They both laugh.



Martin Kohout: Moonwalk, 2008

                                                                           ***

The maze was like, I really really like this, so, so much. So, so much, you know?
And then the maze was like, I like the maze, so much. So, so much, and so on.

The maze was like, I've seen so much impossible junk, you wouldn't believe.
And the maze was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so much impossible junk, I believe.
And the maze was all, I've seen so many points turn into lines turn into curves, you wouldn't believe.

And the maze was like, that makes so much sense to me, because I've seen so many points turn into lines turn into curves, I believe. 
Point point point curve. Point point wall.

Then the maze was like, these knots tied up so tightly, wrapped up and entangled so profoundly that it is impossible to see how they were fastened.
The maze was all, these pathways are as much beings as they are paths between beings.
And the maze was like, this all feels like some maze I've been trying to figure out for centuries.
And the maze was all like, like how? So the maze was like, 'cos sometimes it feels like we're folding mazes into mazes.

And the maze was like, I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, 
that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, that I want to tell you, 
that I want to: GORDIAN KNOT. 
The walls laugh. 

Single-celled amoeba swarming together and finding the shortest way through a maze.

mandag 14. januar 2019

Drum & Donald



Donald Duck is one of my favorite figures: His grandiose misfortune is equaled only by his uncompromising arrogant self-confidence. When faced with some form of hardship, Donald resolutely responds with unrelenting fury. That way, any minor obstacle quickly spirals into a major catastrophe. Donald's reality is of profound and tragic humor, ruled by extreme violence. His body, however, can handle anything, it is infinitely flexible. Donald stretches and squashes and swooshes and splashes and spins and slams and shakes and smacks and smashes. And we laugh until we cry.

Certain strands of drum & bass echoes this excessive cartooney character. Over a bed of ambiguous ambient atmosphere an assault of shape-shifting rhythmic slapstick zips and zooms and zigzags. The soundtrack to this video was itself produced in a frenzy, as part of an entire album of drum & bass made during a month of complete internet free in 2018. 

Listen to the rest of the album here.

fredag 4. januar 2019

Modes of thought: spiralling and bouncing

What shape does your thought process have? I propose there to be at least two diverging modes:

The bouncer is quick, as a ball it springs outward and when hitting something else it bounces back. Its preferred movement is variation. The bouncer loathes going deeper.  The bouncer disrespects boundaries, both disciplinary and between different beings, asking others what they know – even if that other is so radically different to answer in ways beyond words, such as a playing dog or a flowering plant. If it does not get feedback it quickly empties itself out. The easiest way to calm the process of a bouncer is to offer them nothing in return.




The spiraller is slow, an inward withdrawal which feeds upon itself. Its preferred movement is deepening. The spiraller loathes variation. The spiraller seeks to understand and stay within its own limits, exploring what it knows, what it can know, and indeed what could possibly be known, even when such insight may slow the thought process down to make any movement impossible. If it does not get feedback it can keep spiralling. The easiest way to calm a spiraller is to offer them something in return.



For spirallers the bouncer can seem superficial, too quick to incorporate responses and move on. For bouncers the spiraller can seem too slow and hostile against incorporating empirical material. The spiraller seems like a bore, while the bouncer seems sloppy.

This distinction can be fruitful for understanding one of the major divides in contemporary philosophy, that of object-orientation versus new materialism. Both fields regularly claim philosophical commitment to reality, to inquiry into non-anthropocentric reality. The major divide between these philosophical trajectories can be summarized as the question of whether reality is fundamentally interconnected matter (new materialism) or discrete objects (object-oriented). Object-orientation holds reality to be made up of essences which always escape us. New materialism, on the other hand, renders reality as constantly changing and evolving. While this is an ontological question, it might not be as fundamental as either of these schools hold them to be, as the withdrawn and evolving nature of reality does not necessarily oppose each other. The division can perhaps be approached as techniques for aligning reality with modes of thought : the object-oriented can insist on their spiral feeling of reality withdrawing, while new materialists can keep their bouncy feeling of reality as variation.