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citizen reporting January 30, 2009

Posted by François in cameraphones, creolization.
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I (and 5,941 compadres) became a US citizen yesterday. The experience was very moving – especially the thought of 5,942 international lives converging onto the Los Angeles convention center at that precise moment. But that’s another story.

I moblogged some of it live.

At one point, the judge declares the convention hall to be a U.S. District Court so the oath ceremony can proceed, and asks the crowd to turn off all cell phones and pagers. I initially complied (thus missed recording the oath…) but then realized he didn’t say anything about cameras or recorders, so turned it back on in off-line mode to record the pledge of allegiance and national anthem.

One conclusion: it’s really hard to do live reporting with a cell phone… switching it from camera to recorder to MMS, while paying attention to our handlers’ instructions and trying not to hold up the line. Gave me lots to think about as we work with EE579 students to design a handset-based multi-media editor/preprocessor.

Your pointers to well-designed phone-based applications will be appreciated. Also, if you have developped usage practices to reliably capture and send media in the rush of the moment, we’d love to hear about them.

(This work is part of the vozmob project, in which we are inventing ways to tell stories using cheap pre-paid cellphones and MMS.)

Creolizing Chopin June 13, 2007

Posted by François in appropriation, creolization, cultural references.
1 comment so far

Tom Zé gives a wonderful demonstration of “creolization” is this 1991 interview. After he won a music festival with his song “Silêncio de Nós Dois”, a newspaper claimed he had plagiarized the music from Garcia Lorca. This wasn’t true (he says,) but the accusation prompted him to compose a song that was nothing but plagiarism — entirely made up of music and words from other people. In this clip, Tom Zé shows how he appropriated the harmony from Chopin’s étude No2 and re-mixed it with a rythm from popular Brazilian music to create the melody for a new song “Se o caso é chorar” (which won the next year’s festival)

Here is a transcription of what he is saying (thanks, Guilherme)

bom a… o primeiro plágio é a harmonia que é do Estudo Número 2 de Chopin… que a harmonia é essa…
(plays the harmony)
que vocês aliás já conhecem na Música Popular Brasileira só batida um pouquinho diferente que é assim.
(plays the rhythm)
É do Estudo Número 2 de Chopin.
(the two together)
“A insensatez que você fez
Coração tão sem cuidado”

(he then continues on to explain where he ‘borrowed’ every phrase in that song. See the full 5-minute interview – pure Zé)

Zé is neither the first nor the last musician to appropriate other people’s music and lyrics (for a masterful treatment of the history of re-mix – and much more – stay tuned for Aram Sinnreich’s upcoming dissertation.) But this 30-second clip is a wonderfully concise way to get the point across in a presentation.

Tom Zé is an iconic figure for us at the abaporu project, and a terrific guide as we explore appropriation. In 1963, he met Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso in Salvador when they were hatching Tropicalismo. Zé joined them (along with Gal Costa, Nara Leão, and Os Mutantes) to record the album/manifesto Tropicália, which features his song “Parque Industrial.” Tropicalismo directly built on the Antropofagia movement of the late 1920’s, which had been launched by Oswald de Andrade’s Manifesto Antropófago… itself inspired by Tarsila do Amaral’s painting Abaporu. So, we are in excellent company.

There is a lot of easily accessible Tom Zé music on the net. A free download of his 1976 LP “Estudando o Samba” is available via the always excellent Loronix blog (many thanks to Josh Kun for pointing out that treasure trove of ‘forgotten music’). More recent albums can be streamed from Trama, or David Byrne’s LuakaBop.

Recommended reading: Josh Kun’s 1999 interview of Tom Zé in the Boston Phoenix: Plagiarize This!

Appropriating power June 11, 2007

Posted by François in cannibalism, creolization, frontera, power.
4 comments

A while ago, Kathleen Diga sent this great picture she took in Mozambique, just over the border from South Africa. The person living there had appropriated (i.e. ‘stolen’) this solar panel from a cell phone tower on the over side of the border. The picture is a bit fuzzy, but the tag at the bottom appears to read “WARNING – this is the property of Telkom”, with the Telkom logo. The panel is skillfully angled to catch maximum rays, and connected to a battery that powers its new owner’s stereo (and perhaps their phone charger as well?)

Another great battery appropriation is this portable, personal, pedestrian music system sent by Nyaki Adeya. It may well be where Apple’s designers got the inspiration for their iPod…
(I don’t have any source information for that picture.)

“je l’ai bipé, il m’a raplé”: appropriation by naming June 9, 2007

Posted by François in appropriation, creolization, language.
7 comments

An important way in which people appropriate technology is by naming what they do with it. Take for example the well-established practice of communicating through “missed calls” –dialing and hanging-up right away before the correspondent picks up. This is free, since there is no actual call, and it leaves a trace in the form of a ‘missed call message’. Depending on the context, it can mean anything from “call me back” to “I’m thinking of you” or “pick me up at the train station.” In Africa’s English-speaking countries, this is usually called “beeping” or “flashing”, a practical verb: “I’ll beep you when I get there”, or “he keeps flashing me.”

In French, my nephews tell me that their friends use “biper” in the same way: “je l’ai bipé, il m’a raplé.” They also use “faire sonner” (“make ring”) as in “il m’a fait sonner une fois dans la galerie marchande“, or simply “sonner”: ” Il m’a sonné today pour le revoir, ça me fait ultra plaisir“. Others use the much more cumbersome “appel en absence” (that’s the way the phone company names these missed calls, litterally “call while absent”), as in “tu l’as relancé avec un appel en absence et il a pas répondu” or “je sentais bien à ses 7 appels en absence qu’elle commençait à s’impatienter!”

Spanish has a varied and creative vocabulary: people have contracted the “llamadas perdidas” (“lost calls”) into the noun “llamper” as in “hazme una llamper y hablamos un ratillo“, also sometimes spelled “jumper”; Pixel y Dixel collected the following: “la del gitano”, “la cobra”, “toque”, “una perdida”, “llamacuelga”, “manco” as in “hacerse el manco”, “la del manco” o “llamada manca”, “mansajitos misios.” In Chile, it is “pinchar” as in “No….no hay forma que este personaje me esté pinchando…no way” (“pinchar” means “to poke” or “to prick”, as well as “to click with a mouse”, as in “pinchar sobre File” – Wikipedia notes that in Chilean slang, “pinchar” also means “to make-out or hook-up sexually” I wonder if there is a connection…)

What do you call this in your neighborhood?

Vehicle/phone mash-ups (2): horse-phones? June 8, 2007

Posted by François in creolization, vehicles.
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Accra’s bike-phone and Lake Victoria’s boat-phone are only the latest illustrations of the natural fit between mobile phones and vehicles. In fact, the creolization practice of grafting communication devices onto means of transportation far predates the time when phones became truly mobile. Marconi is said to have created the first land-based wireless mobile device in 1901 when he installed a radio on a steam-powered truck (this was used for data, not voice.) Bell Labs claims credit for the first car-mounted radio telephone, in 1924. Apparently, Lars Magnus Ericsson operated the first car phone as early as 1910. This was not wireless: “there were two long sticks, like fishing rods, handled by [Lars’ wife] Hilda. She would hook them over a pair of telephone wires.”

One of my favorite early mash-ups is the “horse phone” deployed by the US cavalry in 1907, whose key innovation was that it used the body of the horse as part of the electrical circuit. In September 1907, Popular Mechanics reported:

“Like earlier horse-phones, it had a cord. Wire stored on a 5-mile reel played out as a scout rode. The improved model let a rider make calls without having to first dismount and then drive a spike into the ground to complete the electrical connection. Instead, the grounding wire was attached to the horse’s skin. The mild electrical current would pass through its body to its hoofs, one of which was almost always touching the ground.” (I first read about the horse phone 10 years ago on Bruce Sterling’s “dead-media” list and, like him, I was amazed that there had been “earlier horse-phones.”)

(click on pictures for credits and additional information)

Vehicle/phone mash-ups (1): bike-phones and boat-phones June 8, 2007

Posted by François in co-opt, creolization.
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Accounts of cell phone appropriation in developing countries are filled with tales of ingenious mash-ups combining public phones with a variety of vehicles. Here is a sample:

These are often told as user appropriation stories. But in fact (with the possible exception of the wheelchair phone) they are cases where suppliers re-claim earlier user innovation. In many African and Asian countries, when cell phones first appeared, enterprising individuals appropriated the new technology as “public phones,” reselling their minutes on the street. Mobile phone companies were quick to co-opt this innovative practice. They provided micro-loans to the public phone entrepreneurs and rolled-out accounting features that helped them manage their retail business. Some went further and came up with public payphones mounted on various kinds of vehicles.

These phone/transportation mash-ups make for striking pictures, underscoring the phone’s mobility. However, beyond this symbolic value, I wonder what real need they serve. Has anyone examined the details of the bike-phone business? The Rajasthan article cites a 75,000 rupee ($1,641) cost for the rickshaw set-up. This only works because Shyam Telecom gives the rickshaws away, as charity. And is the guy on the boat calling his family so they can pick him up as soon as the boat docks, just like impatient frequent-flyers do as soon as their plane has landed? These may well make sense as publicity stunts by phone operators, but it isn’t clear they constitute useful innovation.

(click on pictures for credits and additional information)

São Paulo’s motoboy ethnographers May 22, 2007

Posted by François in creolization.
28 comments

Earlier this year, 12 motorcycle couriers in São Paulo started using camera-phones to chronicle their daily lives. They get together periodically to discuss each other’s finds and decide collectively what stories they want to cover. The result is Canal*MOTOBOY, a real-time account of life on the Paulista streets.

This is part of “Colectivos transmiten desde teléfonos moviles” at zexe.net, and the motoboys are simply the latest addition to a growing network of “citizen ethnographers”. They join 17 taxi drivers in Mexico City, 25 young gitanos in Lleida, and 16 in León, 10 prostitutes in Madrid, 40 people with disabilities in Barcelona, and 19 immigrants from Nicaragua in Costa Rica.

A fascinating collective appropriation of mobile phones to create a story-telling network. The resulting tales are well worth reading.

(photo: zexe.net/SAOPAULO)

Technology appropriation in a distant mirror May 14, 2007

Posted by François in baroque, cannibalism, creolization, theory.
7 comments

The ideas we plan to explore in this blog are laid out in “Mobile technology appropriation in a distant mirror: baroque infiltration, creolization and cannibalism”, by François Bar, Francis Pisani and Matthew Weber (April 07) [PDF – draft]. The paper was presented on April 12th as part of the Annenberg Center’s DIY speaker series, and on April 20th in Buenos Aires at the Seminario sobre Desarrollo Económico, Desarrollo Social y Comunicaciones Móviles en América Latina hosted by Fundación Telefónica [PPT slides]. Howard Rheingold covered the Annenberg Center presentation in the DIY blog: part1 and part2.

We welcome comments on this draft.