While working on Music Makers of the World (and of course thanks to my work at helios), I often stumble over the complicated topic of sustainability in consumer electronics.
There’s a lot of talk about sustainability in general these days (to the point where the word itself stated to loose meaning due to the constant misuse), yet somehow there seems to be little interest for it of it in the field of consumer electronics. We could say that the very nature of of these products is unsustainable. Most have been designed to last only a few years, either because the marketing machine makes us want to buy a newer model, because the parts have been engineered to break or degrade quickly or because the ecosystem in which the device “lives” has changed its standards (this is often referred to as planned obsolescence).
Production is usually based in countries like China, where worker rights are still a very sketchy concept, and due to the production methods and logistics have a pretty heavy CO2 fingerprint.
Last but not least, electronic devices often contain very toxic substances and recycling them is in many cases problematic.
So far I think that it’s quite obvious that the unsustainability of consumer electronics is mainly a culturally rooted problem. The people in the industrialized western countries (the so called “the consumers”) have learned to treat these devices as something to consume, i.e. something you use, and throw away once performance starts to degrade. It should be noted at this point that performance, when talking about consumer electronics, is not only intended in a strictly practical sense, but in a more cultural one. A smartphone has to deliver a certain practical performance, by enabling the user to call people, surf the web and execute software at a decent speed, but also has to perform as a fashion and lifestyle object. Also many of the needs associated with them are often artificially created or enforced by the economic actors (mainly by means of marketing and advertising), which in turn enforces what could be called the obsolescence cycle.
I find it very interesting how the worldwide hacking and making movement (which of course is not strictly one movement) has the potential of indirectly influencing the perception of this whole topic. For example: If you learn to hack a toy you will gain a completely different approach to electronic devices, the whole thing looses its “magic” and given a bit of experience you might even learn to repair things on your own (something the companies seem to fear most).
Among musicians (especially the ones that deal a lot with electronic instruments) there’s a lot of talk about G.A.S. (which stands for Gear Aquisition Syndrome). It’s quite common for people to buy a lot of devices, and sell many of them after a short time to buy some new ones. The phenomenon is not really negative from a sustainability point of view, since the gear just changes owner and usually gets used until it really won’t work anymore If a device is built to last, it can have a lifetime well over 10 years (people still buy and sell equipment from the 70s). Open Hardware instruments, that come as D.I.Y. kits have the interesting side effect to increase the knowledge and relation to technology for people who build them (so for example it’s more likely that they will be able to service the devices themselves, or even provide repair services for fellow musicians) but it also radically changes the relationship with the object. Something you have built with your own hands, with a bit of hard work, stops to be something you just consume because you’ve somehow created it.
The good thing is that music and art have a strong communication-related part. If this changed relationship with technology can be communicated through one’s creative work, it will spread to other people, and we will slowly see a cultural change, which will positively impact the world.
To close this discussion, here’s an extract from an interview I’ve made with Patrick McCarthy from Roth Mobot in comic form (recently published by the magazine PILLS).
This event is part of an upcoming new project called Rewolucja balonowa (Bubblegum Revolution), which mixes theatre and comic and on which I’m working with a friend, Beata Dudek from Poland (but who lives and works in Turin).
I did an interview with Patrick McCarthy from Roth Mobot some time ago (actually ages ago). Now I’m finally working on first comic version of this interview. For now I am making only one page, I have a magaine who’ll be publishing it (but that’s all they gave me) and it was really hard to squeeze so much interesting thoughts into one page… but I think I managed to do it somehow.
Anyway… here’s a little preview from what’s to come.
It’s about time that I post these. It’s a short comic I made some time ago for a German magazine called Wendepunkt and it can be seen as a kind of preview (the second one) for Music Makers of the World. I keep making these short comics to experiment with certain ideas I have for the book. In this case it’s all about the central theme of MMotW: “you can hack anything you want, even your life”.
I dedicate this new Giètzcover to Moebius, the greatest comic artist ever. Who has been my primary source of inspiration for a really long time. Arzach was the one comic that really made me want to get into the business.
When I finished Giètz! two years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I would make another comic, even less that I would have made a comic about music. And now here I am, with a new project! Life is really strange.
The working title is Music Makers of the World, and this is a first page I’ve made for a local Newspaper (Südtiroler Tageszeitung). I’m making some test-pages to see where it’s leading me and trying to pubblish them on existing channels. The final aim is to produce a graphic novel about people hacking and making elctronic devices for musical purposes. I just started with it so everything is still open!
When we still had that comic group called monipodio, we used to have a lot of those comic jams (or exquisite corpse comics). We produced quite an amount of collaborative comics that way.
In 2011 these “good old times” come back to my mind because of two projects I’ve been involved in. One I created myself with a friend (Andrea Beggio), it’s a musical project called 45seconds, the other one is an international underground comic book called Puck Comic Party.
Puck Comic Party
More than 170 artists from all over the world (including big names like Tony Millionaire and Bill Griffith), 3 panels each. It’s maybe the biggest comic jam published as a book. What I really liked was the mix of old school and new school comic artists, more about it on puckcomicparty.blogspot.com (mostly in Italian, which is weird for an international project like this… but hey, we’re in Italy).
This was a completely different project. Since it was all about music and the overall approach a lot more serious. On the other hand the structure was quite similar: each musician had 45 seconds and had to work with material from the preceding part.
When we first had the idea to create a collective musical project we really liked the simplicity of the surrealist cadavre exquis, but we knew that it had been done many times already. So we decided to expand the concept by introducing several variations to the original, making it evolve in new directions.
Instead of permitting free (and hence often random) collaboration, we decided to limit the possibilities of each participant, creating not only a more interesting challenge, but also a better foundation to explore the mechanics of collective creation. We assigned some simple rules to each musician to give more structure and consistency to the final piece. The assigned rules ranged from the use of variation on a predefined theme, to the use of certain compositional devices.
The musicians involved in the project all have different backgrounds ( such as circuit bending, electroacoustic or noise music) but are united by a common inclination towards experimental approaches to sound. This was definitely intended, as part of the experiment was to see how these different styles could combine and interact with each other through the project.
The track itself is nearly ready for release (through an Italian netlabel called sinewaves.it). Int he meantime check out this version where I mashed up the track by taking single loops and layering them into a new composition. It’s kind of distillate of the 10 minute track we produced, or, if you want, a horizontal version of the same.
It’s nice to see that an idea can survive the project that has produced it. I invented the Comic Battle many years ago together with the people from Monipodio! a comic artist group I was part of (and have been a founder of). The Comic Battle is basically like a breakdance battlemixed with slam poetry contest and done with comics and it’s totally fun!
It’s now finally available! Filadressa #7, a yearly publication by Edition Raetia about tyrolean literature, features one of my short “parasite comic” titled Space Schützen. This comic is a collection of narrative and visual fragments about a dystopian future where the province of South Tyrol (where I live) has become a multinational corporation that comquers alien planets to turns them into alpine holiday destinations for tourists.