Democritus the Third

In Brooklyn, as you order your home-grown-arugula and lemon pizza, your server can entertain you with their opinions on Jonathan Franzen, their fluency in Swedish design concepts. Tipping them is kind of like supporting the arts. Somewhere, I imagine, there really is a place where the server and the served interact on equal footing, reciprocally enjoying a shared culture. Perhaps it’s simply an issue of remuneration. Maybe that place is in Portland, where rents are cheaper and the rich aren’t as, well, filthily so.
http://www.theawl.com/2014/03/the-service-economy-trap-inside-brooklyns-barista-class
Flashing and Flashes: Perspective and composition in photographs of the primary sexual organs uploaded onto dating websites targeted at the gay community between 1997 and 2007. (2013) 1 J. Incend. Art. Tit. 48-95.

Precepts of the Hyper Hexagonist

The player experiences Super Hexagon as a series of errors that separates them from contact with perfection. At the moment of failure, the reasonthe specific flaw in one’s abilityis immediately obvious. There are hundreds. Each error supplies its own meditation.

1.Error: the narrow margin in which one obstacle was avoided was sufficiently distracting to make the next obstacle unavoidable. “I didn’t think I would make it, but I did, and then I lost.”

Therefore, it is necessary to play Super Hexagon in the future, living under the assumption that every obstacle has already been defeated. In this way, the game that plays out in the mind is the idealized form of the game that is about to exist.

Paradox occurs when failure finally arrives because the player is living under an assumption that is now false. This moment of juxtaposition, of two unresolveable opposites existing within the mind simultaneously, is an alpha and omega, an urge to create in a moment of impossibility or to exist in empty space. It is an apprehension of god grasped between thumb and forefinger.

2.Error: the player mistook one obstacle sentence for another, and as a result moved in a direction opposite from what was required, a left when only right would suffice.

Self-aware confidence in one’s mastery of the game, including any attempt to catalog and memorize the entire library of obstacle sentences that constitute one level, is to futilely attempt to reduce a system that lives in complexities to a collection of simple principles insufficient to describe the whole. But in kenosis a player can not only prepare for whatever sentence may appear next, but also become sensitive to the revelations about the game and mind that are found in every sequence.

These revelations include the small positional advantages and artful playfulness that exist in the margins of obstacle sequences in the most difficult levels of the game, including the improvisational, chimeric interactions in the final seventh stage.

This error is the First Error and the gateway to understanding all future errors.

3.Error: the player hears the voice of the game announce how much time has elapsed or passage into the next stage of difficulty, and comprehension of long the player has so far succeeded causes the player to fail.

The voice that commands the player to “Begin!” and announces the “GAME OVER” actually describes the beginning and end of the player’s sensory contact with the game. The game itself, however, has no beginning and no end. Like a torus generated from an infinitely large circle, every possible game state exists as a cross-section of an object that exists in time in its entirety, and any given instance of the game only signifies some infinitesimal arc whose length is determined by the number of seconds the player survives.

This error persists because the player has falsely assumed that they have reached an advanced game state through some minimum investment of time; however, enough experience with the game reveals that if the game state correlates to some position on an axis of time, then subsequent game states occupy positions variously before and after that position on the axis.

That is why the music does not begin at a fixed point. It is only a pattern, like a checkerboard or stripes, that marks some regularly-proportioned distance in a continuous object.

4.Error: the player moves in the correct direction, but moves for an incorrect amount of time, falling too short of or overtaking the safe space in an obstacle.

All games exist as environments in a player’s mind that are updated by and checked against the perception of an external system that appears to operate outside the mental hierarchy of the player. However, the completeness of the mental environment is enforced unequally across different games. For example, in a strategy game, failure to notice or correctly interpret one part of the game space within some window of time will not arrest the flow of the game or disrupt the player’s apprehension of other parts of the board; it may merely disadvantage the player.

The minimal margin of error provided a hexagonist (and the fact that the only possible game error is always critical and always immanent) ensures that the game will only continue if the player’s mental model of the game matches the external system within rigorous tolerances. Therefore, the faculty that this error corrects in the player is the ability to navigate a mental environment with a high degree of specificity. This ability is enforced in a test of the hands.

5.Error: the camera rotates too rapidly to keep track of the game state, and the player makes an input mistake.

An avatar is an instrument that represents a localized application of force by the player in the game environment. It exists either as the point at which the player may exert force or as the object from which player forces originate, and it engages in ludological dialectic with the remainder of objects in the game environment, which exist as experiences of an nth+1 order, where n is the order of the avatar experience.

In Super Hexagon's one-dimensional game space (the triangle exists only as the change in φ in a polar coordinate system), the distinction between player and environment is blurred. From the reference frame of the space, the triangle is manipulated around a central object. However, from the reference frame of the triangle, the space is manipulated, a perspective that, if achieved, disassociates the player from avatāra. Extended contact with a game system makes this experimentation in perspective inevitable.

The movement of the camera intercedes on avatāra's behalf and makes viewing the space from the reference frame of the obstacle plane impossible. Short bursts of violent disassociation when the camera spins too fast for the eye to follow are necessary to make that hierarchy absolute.

This hierarchy is never destroyed, but when a sufficient level of mastery is achieved, the game reveals itself for what it is: a cipher for the more essential and abstracted mental game, which transcends the avatar-environment relationship.

6.Error: provided with two possible paths to reach the next gap in the obstacle, the player chooses the long (impossible) path and is crushed by the obstacle.

The moment of rest that occurs when the player passes through the gap in an obstacle is the realization of the microcosm of the human breath impulse. Both are suspension in a moment of equilibrium between corrective actions. The derivative of the path of time in both moments is zero.

However, both moments are polar. Both possess the apprehension of an immediate future position that exists as the intersection of not to do and to do. Therefore the player takes an action generated by the pressure of a body in the continuity of atoms. A hexagonist experiences this pressure as an obstacle sentence that has been read but will be navigated and therefore operates according to past information and future necessity. To neglect either bit of information creates this error.

The ultimate transcendence of the error occurs when the player experiences the entire game space as a quantum where past and future actions are part of a single unalterable path. When that happens the game is not breathing but the beat of a heart in a digital chest.

7.Error: the player avoids an obstacle but then moves to navigate the next one before the first has completely passed and becomes crushed by a danger that has already been escaped.

Awareness of external judgment during any impulse-based action is poison to the mechanism of genesis because it adopts the action into a pre-existing hierarchy that does not know how to nourish the inchoate thought. Judgment is value-assigning, and all environments where judgment is the primary psychological motivator (the office workplace, for example) have a second-order relationship to the evaluation of the usefulness of tasks since actions are beholden first to the value hierarchy and second to the efficiency of the system. These systems seek to mediate the perception of any action through conformity with the hierarchy, and the degree to which an action conforms determines its value.

Once the ability to accrue social wealth through actions is in this way instituted by the system, the player is compelled always to complete tasks as fast as possible in order to begin the next task and thereby maximize value generated per unit of time. Waiting, or inaction, deprecates the value of the player according to the artifical laws of the system.

The hexagonist does not generate wealth but instead celebrates the exhilaration of living in the narrow margin of sensory existence. That is why the game ceases to verbally mark the passage of time after the sixtieth second, and the words “awesome” and “excellent”, which at first appear to commend the player for passing advanced temporal milestones, merely celebrate existence in the present moment. That moment contains the joy of life in the smallest possible unit of time, with no space left to contemplate the sorrow that the chain of moments that constitute the game will soon pass into nothingness.

8.Error: the player waits too long after passing an obstacle, and the next action fails for not being afforded enough time to reach completion.

Mainstream video games as interactive storytelling experiences have degraded in recent times into virtual tourism. The symptoms of this disease can be identified from afar by reading in reviews the supposed merits of various {codified tropical game-like relationship}-systems: combat systems, ability systems, levelling systems, exploration systems. The unwinding of unitary ludological experiences into these discrete and lifeless fibers as a means of delivering quantifiable yet empty rewards (“achievements,” for example, a word used to describe exactly what they are not) is a reflection of consumerist ideology, in which players exchange value units for ultimately meretricious goods in a futile attempt to construct an identity within the oppressive paradigms of capitalism.

Psychologically, this tendency trains the player to admire immediate past successes in a game as evidence of their personal worth, ability, and capacity. The language of player ability in games then becomes tied to specific intellectual properties, a perverse attempt to relate the chimerical nature of existence to meaningless and imaginary constructions. Games are tools that shape the mind through the intermediary of the body. When a house is built, evidence of its solidity cannot be extracted from the hammer.

9.Error: the player plays Super Hexagon on a new device, and unfamiliarity with a different mode of input introduces moments of lag into the mind-hand-instrument-game chain that increase the frequency of error.

The mediation of a uniform ruleset through dissimilar technological devices, as Super Hexagon played on phone, tablet, and computer, creates the opportunity for a player to experiment with different epistomologies of the ludic world. By presenting game elements on a spatial plane that is constantly viewed from different angles and by using avatāra as the mode of interaction, the game relates meaningful ludological moves to the player’s body, giving the player agency in the virtual space that is connected to rigorously-defined muscle action in the real space.

Super Hexagon is therefore one manifestation of the “mind-machine interface.” It distinguishes itself from the futurisms of superficially applied technologies such as can be found in, for example, laser tag, by reduplicating the technologically-born experience in the mental and virtual space rather than simply using technology to more rigorously define and mediate an activity in the real space (laser tag is an existing game, tag, with an advanced tagging mechanism). Whereas laser tag is a game of coordination and mild athletics that cultivates player skills broadly applicable in the real space, Super Hexagon constrains the abilities learned while playing it to senses that are primarily useful in a specific kind of accelerated virtual world, and by orienting all decisions and actions in a one-dimensional space (see above), restricts even that small category to a single facet of one branch of that body of skill.

That the game is genuinely difficult means the skill of playing that is developed is true; that the skill is true and is completely (but not only) manifested in the virtual space means that Super Hexagon is not itself an epistomological exploration of experience mediated by technology (called cyberpunk when in novel form), but an actual manifestation of the mediating device, the operating system of a cyberpunk story pulled out of the imagined future and inserted into the present.

Da gab es vier Jahre lang ganze Quadratmeilen Landes, auf denen war der Mord obligatorisch, während er eine halbe Stunde davon entfernt ebenso streng verboten war. Sagte ich: Mord? Natürlich Mord. Soldaten sind Mörder.
DEMOCRITUS THE THIRD CELEBRATES VETERANS’ DAY WITH KURT TUCHOSKY. WAR IS A CRIME AND SOLDIERS ARE MURDERERS.
From Duckface to Duck Sauce: Racism and self-representation in online dating profiles. (2013) 1 J. Incend. Art. Tit. 33–47

"Seht — wohin? — auf unsere Schuld"

Johann Sebastian Bach, THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW (BWV 244)

Dating in its received form from the 1730s or 1740s, the work is a musical setting of Luther’s translation of the Gospel of Matthew interspersed with arias and recitatives for which the German poet Picander supplied the lyrics. These essentially function as meditations, didactic distancing, or an opportunity for various (and only very vaguely identified) forces to interject who do not have a voice in the gospel itself: the faithful; various personified emotions, etc. And they are, needless to say, the good parts.

Stretch and get a glass of water; this is going to take a while and be kind of intense. Movement 1 is a chorale that begins the multi-hour work in the epic style, by telling you everything that’s about to happen (spoiler alert: Jesus dies in the end), why (to redeem humans), and whose fault it is (ours):

Mvt. 1, “Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen” (John Eliot Gardiner/English Baroque Soloists & Monteverdi Choir, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O47hG_9KDxY)

Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen,
Sehet – Wen? – den Bräutigam,
Seht ihn – Wie? – als wie ein Lamm!
O Lamm Gottes, unschuldig
Am Stamm des Kreuzes geschlachtet,
Sehet, – Was? – seht die Geduld,

Allzeit erfunden geduldig,
Wiewohl du warest verachtet.
Seht – Wohin? – auf unsre Schuld;

All Sünd hast du getragen,
Sonst müßten wir verzagen.
Sehet ihn aus Lieb und Huld

Holz zum Kreuze selber tragen!
Erbarm dich unser, o Jesu!

Inline translation (and this goes for the whole work) is available here: http://bach-cantatas.com/Texts/BWV244-Eng3.htm; then cf https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDBa1jgwR7k and http://www.dartmouth.edu/~milton/reading_room/pl/book_1/

The piece is scored for two complete orchestras and choirs standing side-by-side, and the call-and-response structure of this first choral movement is done between the two: one says “Look”, the other asks “where?”, and the answer comes: Upon our guilt. 

But one of the interesting things about this work is that it doesn’t proceed exclusively as an epic; it is almost an epic and a drama in parallel, closely following one another but independent nonetheless. At the end of the last supper, the apostles are optimistic to the point of cluelessness, and their expressions of loyalty (the soprano sings a part that might broadly be called “joy”) are sincere but light-minded:

Mvt. 13, “Ich will dir mein Herz schenken” (Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiNkpHnPFus

As the situation gets a bit more serious, though, they have to reach for a bit more determination, here struggling to stay awake on the mount of olives as Jesus tries in vain to negotiate with his father about backing out of this whole crucifixion thing. Bach lets the oboe take over the heavy lifting of conveying the urgent striving:

Mvt. 20, “Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen” (Georg Christoph Biller/Thomanerchor zu Leipzig, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lar4DWUmY9k) [A cool detail about this recording: Biller is the director of the Thomanerchor, which is the same position at the head of the same choir that Bach was in charge of when he premiered this piece in the 1720s.]

This is definitely a hallmark entry in my list of Killer Bach Oboe Solos. And the dialogue, the duet, if you like, is between the instrument reaching for the divine aspirations of the apostles and the singer, the human actor, unable to follow through. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

In the same way, the bass soloist, the voice of devotion to Jesus, the urge within his followers that would take his place if it could, offers, continuing Jesus’ metaphor, to drink the same poisoned chalice of crucifixion. This is also the point at which the musical commentary on what’s going on beings to pick up the tension noticeably: 

Mvt. 23, “Gerne will ich mich bequemen” (Ton Koopman/Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ljUJRlcd8g

But of course, just like only Nixon could go to China, only Jesus could die on the cross. Apostlebros are powerless to stop it, and when Jesus reminds them of that, they loudly protest that they will stand by him no matter what (Mvt. 16, 17, 24). You know the story: Peter is horrified by Jesus’ statement that before the cock crows, Peter will have denied him three times. Which he promptly does. How does Peter – how do we – face God in our utter failure to live up to the things we’ve promised him? That’s one of the central mysteries of Christianity, one that extends beyond the story of Peter into everyone’s relationship with Jesus, and it’s why, when Peter has collapsed in failure, it is not his voice that asks for forgiveness, but the alto, the voice of sorrow.

(She does so in the most famous aria of the Matthäuspassion and, honestly, probably Bach’s most directly moving vocal works. This is him stretching his baroque contemplative detachment to the limit, standing on a cliff of pathos that overlooks all of Romanticism and Wagner in the future, but somehow remains above it.) 

John Eliot Gardiner put it like this:

The emotional centre of the St. Matthew Passion is “Erbarme Dich”, Peter’s plea for forgiveness having denied his Christ. In comes the violin announcing “Erbarme Dich”, and the violin can convey, in a way that the human voice could not convey,this concentration of lamentation, of grief, of contrition, of utter, abject horror, yet taken onto a spiritual level because the voiceline of the violin becomes an agent of compassion and forgiveness. And that’s before the singer has sung a note. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=UiQbppQq54E#t=4119)

Mvt. 39, “Erbarme dich” (Karl Richter/Münchener Bach-Orchester feat. Julia Hamari, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPAiH9XhTHc

I will withhold in the interest of giving you something to discover on your own the incredibly intricate, restrained dissonance at the death of Jesus, but here’s a taste of how, as the epic reaches its climax, the dramatic grits its teeth and, as it intensifies, retreats further inward at the same time: the crucifixion is something that we have to solve for ourselves:

Mvt. 49, “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” (Christian Fliegner, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec40c_r-5s8) [Performance note: in Bach’s time, sopranos were boys and altos were countertenors. This is bog-standard HIP.]

And, last thing – just go bloody listen to it – my favorite aria. Right at the end. Jesus is dead, the world is in darkness, and Bach, though in mourning, is absolutely irrepressible: 

Mvt. 65, “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” (Phillip Herreweghe/Kölner Philharmonie 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoBcr-bAg2c

A link to the complete work is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaD5e0w2srU, and my favorite recording is far and away this one: http://www.amazon.de/Matth%C3%A4us-Passion-Ga-Monteverdi-Choir/dp/B0000057DG

On the occasion of the first Human spacecraft exiting the Solar System

"Gavotte en Rondeau" from BWV 1006, Partita No. 3 in E, one of Carl Sagan’s musical selections for the Voyager Golden Record


Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

— John Keats