The Idea of Immersive Art

A few days ago, I was introduced to the site ambient-mixer.com, and I’ve been a little bit obsessive since.

Even before I started writing, I was always intrigued by the idea of immersive environments, of art that attempts to envelop you in some way. You could start in the obvious place, the Catholic cathedral (whether it’s the Sunday Mass, or its influence on music like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion). From there, it’s not far of a leap to music festivals, especially the ones from Lollapalooza onward, where there’s a very deliberate sense of community- and environment-making.

Even on a smaller scale: The idea of an album as a cohesive whole, a sound-document meant to be heard in its entirety, hasn’t quite left us yet, particularly in the ambient music world. The mixtape is maybe an even more pure example of that impulse, one that’s more idiosyncratic and democratic, tailored by a particular person for a particular person (or people).

One might move from there to something like Brian Eno’s gallery exhibits with constantly evolving video paintings and accompanying algorithmically-changing music — or like-minded exhibitions involving Throbbing Gristle, or members of Sunn O))). There’s the compositions of Xenakis, Cage, or Stockhausen, which make use of space as much as sound. And then there’s the chant-loop machines of Buddhist temples (and their derivatives), or Robert Rich’s sleep concerts, which create particular environments of their own in particular spaces with particular purposes.

I’ve dabbled in this kind of stuff myself, especially when I was in grad school. I started on a hypertext about the people attending an electronic dance club, one where each section had a looped segment of music attached to it that played while the reader was on that (web) page. I wanted those loops to continue into each other seamlessly as the reader moved between pages, creating a song that might be different for every reading of the piece. I didn’t really have the tools to make it work, though, and even now, it would probably require a programmer to write a stand-alone application to make it happen. Another time, I created a mix CD once for an assignment, with a booklet containing flash-fictions meant to accompany each song on the disc.

I lost all of that in a hard drive crash shortly after I came back to Ohio, but you get the picture. And nowadays, the internet is full of playlists people have created to accompany this and that book or place, so I think you could say there might even be something universal about the basic impulse I’m talking about — art you can wrap yourself in like a blanket.

I hadn’t really thought about any of that for a while, at least not until a few days ago, when I stumbled across the Ambient-Mixer website. It’s a home for a variety of freeware ambiences and environments that people have created and released there, using a mixing desk interface that loops freely-licensed sounds. The members there have created a whole variety of work, from ambient  music drones to environmental atmospheres — the latter of which seems to be oddly dominated by Harry Potter-inspired environments, like the common rooms of the various houses at Hogwarts — meant for study, sleep, relaxation, and so on.

And, as you can probably imagine by now, it wasn’t even 24 hours before I was making excuses to try my own hand at it. I’ve been using “The Bardo of the Uploaded” as writing-background sound since….

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Robots & AI anthology out now

The Flame Tree Press Gothic Fantasy anthology Robots and Artificial Intelligence is now available. My story “The Geisha Tiresias” (originally published at the Eunoia Review) is in it, and I’m also among the mini-interviews they’ve done for the book.

I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on this one — I was in another one a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. They put together a quality mix of old and new stories, and the books themselves are gorgeous, foil-accented hardcovers.

Dear Democratic establishment: You made that.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve blogged about much of anything – my fiction or my politics – but the recently-released excerpts from Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened, blaming Bernie Sanders, of all people, for her 2016 loss?

I can’t even remotely keep up with the colossally idiotic spectacle of the Trump presidency – I’m not even sure the people who get paid for it can do it – but this idiotic spectacle, I can manage. The very idea that it was Bernie Sanders’ attacks that fueled Trump and made it hard for Clinton to rally the progressive base?

Give me a motherfucking break.

And let me be perfectly clear about where I’m coming from when I say that: I voted Bernie in the primaries, and Hillary in the general election. I’m neutral about that fact. I have no illusions about Hillary’s or Bernie’s failings, nor do I harbor any of the delusions that a small fraction of the left were nursing: that a Trump presidency would spark a revolution which would put progressives in the driver’s seat when it was done.

I’ve already written about that delusion, but it’s looking like I’m going to need to repeat myself on more than a few points from that entry. Because some of y’all apparently still aren’t paying attention to the fucking obvious.

I don’t have to refer to Seth Meyers’ takedown of HRC’s fingerpointing – nearly every bit of which is true, by the way — for pointers. Nor do I have to refer to The Onion’s obviously-savage mockery of Clinton’s “subtly-savage” putdowns of Sanders.

No. All I need to point out – once again, f’r chrissakes – is this little pre-nomination tantrum from Trevor LaFauci in April 2016. In which LaFauci so presciently forecasts how Election 2016 was going to go.

And by “prescience,” I mean “intellectual autofellatio.”

Because, just as they did in 2000, the Democratic establishment decided that they could prevail without even trying to win over any of those immature, irrelevant progressives. Until it turned out that, yes, they did need them after all – in 2000 and in 2016 both. If only in certain razor’s-edge close contests.

You could almost forgive the DLC its cluelessness in 2000, even its failure to understand that Bill Clinton won his elections, in no small part, on his charisma and his ability to present a halfway-inspiring vision — not on his sale-ability as a Republican-Lite policy wonk. It was a rookie mistake; it happens.

But then 2008 came along, with Obama bringing the same kind of charisma and vision to the table as Bill Clinton did, campaigning using progressives’ language — even as he voted to let the telcos (and thereby, Bush 43) off the hook for Dubya’s year-long indisputable, actual crime of warrantless wiretapping.

No matter: even the appearance of vision and charisma was all it took for a n00b to snatch the nomination right out from under…Hillary Clinton. And it was, in no small part, the reason why so many of those immature, irrational progressives went to the trouble of rounding up and driving people to the polls for early voting – especially in my home state, Ohio.

What did they get in return for, quite literally, delivering Obama a victory at the polls? They got called “fucking retards” almost immediately by his chief of staff, Rahm Emmanuel – which, unsurprisingly, took Democrats right back to the circular firing squad, and the Tea Party victories of 2010 and beyond.

Does the party establishment or Hillary’s staff learn anything useful from any of this – or indeed, anything at all? No. They do not.

Not even when they have to fight like hell in 2016 for a primary win against…a previously-obscure senator known, before the primaries, mainly as the subject of Facebook politi-memes or DailyKos postings.

Even then, they steadfastly and sneeringly do not learn their lesson – not from 2000, from 2008, nor from those 2016 primaries, for that matter. Instead, they slip a few Sanders planks quietly into the party platform, while going on the attack just enough to give the appearance that they’re deliberately trying to screw Sanders out of a rightful victory.

Anyone who understands politics with a grown-up, pragmatic understanding knows that immediate appearances are not just important, they’re everything. However unjust that is, that’s just the way people work. So some of y’all need to redirect those complaints about irrational “Bernie-bros” to God, Satan, Dr. Phil, or whoever the motherfuck you think is responsible for basic human nature, because that’s who your real gripe is with.

See, with those moves, the Democratic establishment cemented a narrative it’s been spinning since 2000 about the people who were already going to vote third party, the people who were on the fence, and sometimes, even the people who voted Bernie in the primary and Hillary in the general election: that not a goddamned one of them mattered. Until they did – at which point, they went from being Wholly Irrelevant to The Whole Reason For Our EPIC FAIL.

The day-after whinies, one could almost forgive. After all, Hillary lost an election to the most despicable, loathsome douche-nozzle in America — a man who shrugged his shoulders when Howard Stern called his daughter a “piece of ass” — even with a popular-vote margin as vast as hers. It would simply be uncharitable not to indulge her and her people a certain amount of blind lashing-out in every direction possible, at least on the day after the election.

This ain’t the day after, though.

It’s not the week after.

It’s not the month after.

It’s almost a motherfucking year after, and if the failure of Hillary Clinton to put forth a more compelling platform than “I’m not Trump” is still not on the table for dissection – if the establishment failure to even try to reach out civilly to Bernie voters remains Party thoughtcrime – then all we have to look forward to in 2018, and probably in 2020 as well, is more defeat and more failure to learn from that defeat.

And if Hillary Clinton is joining the blame-Bernie bandwagon for her own failure to inspire, or to even coexist civilly, with progressives? When she ought to be demonstrating some piss-driblet of leadership by trying to mend fences with at least some of them?

Then let me lay a long-overdue clue-stick across your knuckles, ye “pragmatic centrists”: The Bernie-bros didn’t arise ex nihilo. If you’re going to whine about their ideological purity-testing and their irrational narratives and their abusiveness, you’d better goddamned well start looking at your own: Nobody gonna listen to you like I do, Ida Mae. Now shut up and vote for me, bitch….

All those people who have become so disenchanted with a Democratic party that ought, by rights, to best reflect their values? The Bernie-bros? The Jill Stein voters? The people who just plain stayed home in disgust? The people you couldn’t inspire to vote against a weapons-grade asshat like Donald Trump?

Whether you care to admit it or not?

You made that.

“01,10” at London Reader

My story “01, 10” has been published at the London Reader in their “Digital Love” issue. The electronic version of the magazine is free for the first month (the print edition will be available this year). You can get eBook or print versions worldwide by visiting their Patreon page, and Kindle versions are also available at Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Edit (Mar 2, 2018): Print editions of back issues do appear to be in the works. Will update when they become available.

After Lines is out

An anthology I’m in, After Lines, is out today at Lulu.com. After Lines takes familiar fairy tales as a starting point, and explores from there (such as my story, “The Duckling Swan,” a continuation of “The Ugly Duckling”). I’m pleased and proud to be part of this collection — check it out!