is In Wild Air
Seb Chan is the Chief Experience Officer at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image in Melbourne where he is responsible for a holistic, multi-channel, visitor-centred design strategy for the institution during a period of rapid evolution. Until mid 2015, he was Director of Digital & Emerging Media, at Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. There he led the museum’s digital renewal and its award winning transformation into an interactive, playful new museum reopened after a 3 year rebuilding and reimagining. His work in the cultural sector has generally focussed on widening access to arts and culture, and creating new entry points for the next generation of makers, through the use of technology. You may also know him as the co-founder of online music magazine Cyclic Defrost or from the Sydney music scene where he is half of the "still occasionally performing" Sub Bass Snarl (since 91) and was also co-founder of the influential Sunday nighter Frigid (96-06).
Most of my spare time is eaten up listening to music. Its been a constant accompaniment to my life for at least 30 years - pretty much every book I've read, every videogame I've mastered - has been soundtracked by something else. By almost every measure, its a great time to be passionate about music. Music gear and production equipment keeps falling in price, laptops and even tablets are capable of making rough sketches all the way through to full tracks, and as a fan, vast catalogues are available to sample without the gatekeepers of old. The problem, now, is where to start? Or, in this case, what to recommend? I'm taking a shortcut and just pointing you to my Bandcamp collection - all the things I've bought recently are there - maybe you'll checkout beatific ambience from Texas' Botany or the cosmic jazz of Josef Leimberg, or Romans' Valere Aude, a splendid selection of low tempo acid techno.
The last fortnight has been spent reminiscing and revisiting the brilliance of the late Mark Fisher. Mark, aka k-Punk, was a northstar for cultural criticism, progressive politics, and a wonderfully engaging writer. His blog that goes back to the early 2000s is still online and remains a treasure trove of writing about music, film, and their intersection with politics, mental health, critical theory, and capitalism. You could pretty much pick any post and end up in a wormhole for hours. Mark's writing fuelled much of my personal interest in music in the mid 2000s and also inspired many of the writers who contributed to Cyclic Defrost during that period too. His passing was shocking news and has affected everyone around me - his influence will live on. I'd only just finished reading his collection on post-punk and was discussing its importance with a friend when I heard the news.
Most of my reading is spent in front of a screen. Each morning my commute is filled with articles culled from across the web, filtered through Instapaper. So when it comes to books, I'm still enamoured with the physical interface of paper. Outside of the ones I read as part of my job which extends across interaction design, business, art, games, critical theory - for leisure, I've tried to keep a couple of years ahead of my children's own reading. To that end - and bought on the recommendation of Robin Sloan - I really enjoyed the Lian Hearn quadrilogy The Tale Of Shikanoko. As it turned out Lian Hearn is the penname of Gillain Rubinstein, a Melbourne writer, and The Tale Of Shikanoko is an easy, fun 'young adult' read based on, even remixing, Japanese legends.
To be perfectly honest I'm trying to reduce my stuff. Not very effectively though - see above on books! But one thing I've really found most useful is my indestructible iPhone charging cable from FuseChicken. I got sick of having cables fray or break - and these are truly hardcore.
A couple of years ago custom emails replaced blogs for a lot of us. I don't think anyone working in technology would have predicted it. The deprecation of RSS - the way many of us discovered that our favourite blogs had published new posts - combined with the rapid rise of incivility in online commenting and online more generally, has meant that email newsletters have made a big come back. Look! You're reading one right now! My favourites at the moment are Azeem Azhar's Exponential View and Dan Hon's Things That have Caught My Attention. Azeem's is very technology oriented, drawing attention to trends in artificial intelligence, catastrophic climate change, underemployment - all through the lens of an optimistic technologist. The counter to that is often Dan's letters. Dan started his email newletter as an experiment in daily writing when he was recovering from his time in the advertising world. Now he's leading change in the Californian public sector and his irregular late night missives are always biting critiques of that aforementioned optimism. I should also include Kiwi museum director Courtney Johnson's Things to Read This Weekend too - she's just announced that she's switching from regular short missives to longer more personal essays which, knowing Courtney, will be fantastic.
One of the side benefits of working at ACMI is that I have to keep up a working knowledge of videogames. For a moment in the 90s I did game reviewing for several magazines but after my teen obsession with Wasteland, Bards Tale 3, and Ultima IV on the Commodore 64, I don't think I've been as deeply immersed in decades. Like music, independently written games are mostly my thing but I've also loved getting immersed in the bigger titles and the advances in world-building in recent years is really impressive. Big titles like The Last of Us and Witcher 3 capture the kind of immersive environment that some of us dreamt of in the 80s. last year my daughter and I played through the multi-part teen high school thriller Life Is Strange and it was like living inside Degrassi Junior High for a moment. The core premise of the game is that you play a teenage girl who discovers that she can rewind time which allow you to play out a series of alternative outcomes - pretty much the singular superpower any teenager desires.