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“‘The lists in this book,’ I ventured to a Kylie momentarily caught precisely midway between a cynical world and a romantic one, ‘locate us somewhere, I hope beautifully, midway between the slight and the complete, between the incomplete and the deep.’

Kylie fainted. I think my audacity had penetrated the barrier of fame that separated her from everyday speculation, and had caused a couple of vital wires to snap. She had a way of fainting in slow motion that was both alarming and alluring. I had to explain that, yes, the list often just a nice way of passing the time, of showing of the hipness of your choices, a sketchy part of a self-portrait, a way of wallowing in a bubbly nostalgia that returns you to a simpler, sweeter time, of trying to contain sheer chaos in little patches of consoling order, of making plans for a future that seems so blank and featureless you have to impose shape on it by transferring things in easily wrapped packages. Lists help you believe that there will be a future – by reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future where things will happen that can then be listed and taken forward to remind us of a past where stuff was generated that made us believe there is a present and so, ultimately a future.”

Words and Music, Paul Morley

Which is the best preamble I can think of to my obligatory last.fm rolling yearly top 20 (sort-of) chart of albums:

1 Tunng – This is… Tunng: Mothers Daughter and other Tales
18
2 Sigur Rós – Agaetis Byrjun
17
3 Jim Noir – Tower Of Love
16
4 808 State – 808:88:98
14
5 Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
9
5 Richard Hawley – Coles Corner
9
7 Hot Chip – The Warning
8
8 Television – Marquee Moon
7
8 Sébastien Tellier – Sebastien Tellier Sessions
7
10 Viva Voce – The Heat Can Melt Your Brain
6
10 Gorillaz – Demon Days
6
12 Grandaddy – Excerpts From the Diary of Todd Zilla
5
13 Various Artists – Lost in Translation
4
13 Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (Deluxe Edition) (disc 2)
4
13 Gary Jules – Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets
4
13 The Auteurs – New Wave
4
13 The Go! Team – Thunder, Lightning, Strike
4
13 The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers
4
19 Brian Eno – Before and After Science
3
19 Bloc Party – Silent Alarm
3
19 Wilco – A Ghost Is Born
3
19 Mull Historical Society – Us
3
19 Sufjan Stevens – Seven Swans
3
19 Charlotte Hatherley – Grey Will Fade
3
19 We Are Scientists – With Love and Squalor

And top ten tracks

1 Television – Marquee Moon
7
2 Justice Vs Simian – We Are Your Friends (Radio Edit)
6
3 Nick Drake – One of These Things First
5
3 The Automatic – Monster
5
3 Sébastien Tellier – La Ritournelle
5
6 Sigur Rós – Intro
4
6 Jim Noir – Key of C
4
6 Sébastien Tellier – Fantino
4
6 Arctic Monkeys – When the Sun Goes Down
4
6 Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
4

By comparing both of them, it’s clear that my last.fm usage is a reflection of where my music is - i.e. I listen to last.fm a lot at work, where I have very little music stored on my hard-drive(s).

There’s a smattering of iTms purchases which tend to be earworms I need to purchase and listen to immediately, DRM-be-damned. In this category I would place Justice Vs Simian’s ‘We are your friends’, ‘Monster’ by The Automatic and ‘Key of C’ by Jim Noir.

Sidenote: it is extremely gratifying for the reader of Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’ to find while referencing the wikipedia definition of ‘earworm’ that it’s first example of an earworm in popular culture is ‘I can’t get you out of my head’ by Kylie Minogue.

There are also things revealing of deeper needs, flaws and habits here – but again related to place. I often have a overwhelming need to play Television’s ‘Marquee Moon’ loudly on my speakers when everyone else have left my little bit of the office – which is well represented here.

It’s also clear that aside from these ‘hits’ that I placed on heavy-rotation I spent most of my listening year in my own long-tail, as it were. Heh – I think I might be disappearing up my own buzzword there. Ahem.

Revealing, in review, in terms of Last.fm’s character: it’s radio-station metaphor seems to have a powerful hold on me. I walk away from it, I leave it running, I come back to it.

There’s an implicit ‘passivity’ pitch: ‘just enjoy the music, it’ll be exactly what you want’ which belies the activity you have to invest in it: rating, banning, skipping.

To quote Paul Morley again, the list is a way: ‘of showing of the hipness of your choices’ but a last.fm list is a mix of my choices, a machines choices and a multiplication of the two via the choices of others.

When I look at this list I see things that have a high rating that I would never actively ‘select’ e.g. Gary Jules (Gary Bloody Jules?! That’s putting a major dent in the ‘hipness of my choices’) but have probably played to no listener and multiplied their way up the list each time they have sung to no-one but the database.

So presenting a last.fm list of your year can feel an oddly-outsourced form of self-portraiture. A partly ghost-written musical memoire.

Yet – there are some gratifying things there – things which I discovered through last.fm and social-music-discovery-technology (clumsy!) – like Broken Social Scene, Tunng, Sufjan Stevens (late to the party on all three, another hole in the hipness of my choices…)

Richard Hawley ranks highly too – one of the albums which I think I always played as an album – a rare thing in this shuffle-culture, and also one that on a road-trip to West Wales I found that myself, my wife and my father all enjoyed. Again – rare!

So the list ends, 2006 ends – but last.fm keeps on cataloguing, “reminding you that the things you are listing have happened, in a time that was once a future, and that therefore there will be a future..”

Happy new year!

Jason Kottke points to a remarkable post by Kevin Kelly entitled The Big Here, after the Eno-coined-counterpart to the Long Now – which shoots a diamond bullet through my thoughts for the last few months:

At the ultimate level, your home is a cell in an organism called a planet. All these levels interconnect. What do you know about the dynamics of this larger system around you? Most of us are ignorant of this matrix. But it is the biggest interactive game there is. Hacking it is both fun and vital.

In the post it goes on to take you through a quiz which examines your knowledge of your immediate environs, and the linkages it has to the wider ecosystem.

Here are the first three questions:

30 questions to elevate your awareness (and literacy) of the greater place in which you live:

1) Point north.

2) What time is sunset today?

3) Trace the water you drink from rainfall to your tap.

Kelly prefaces this with a positioning of the quiz as one of his “cool tools”:

“The intent of this quiz is to inspire you to answer the questions you can’t initially. I’d like to collect and then post the best step-by-step suggestions about how to answer a particular question. These are not answers to the quiz, but recommended paths on how one might most efficiently answer the question locally. Helpful websites which can provide local answers are wanted. Because of the severe specificity of local answers, the methods provided should be as general as possible. The emerging list of answer-paths will thus become the Cool Tool.”

So far, so good.

Wonderful, even.

My immediate thought though, reading both Jason’s post and Kevin Kelly’s mission is why the hell is this not on a mobile?

So – I over the summer am going to try and knit something together to get it there.

  1. I imagine it will be pretty easy (i.e. within the reach of my terrifyingly-bad coding skills) just to port the text quiz to a mobile using S60 python as a standalone experience.
  2. It might be easy enough then to both launch web resources from the quiz on the mobile device, and perhaps post answers in some easily-aggregated format to back out to the web from whoever takes the quiz.
  3. however might be more tricky…

What I immediately imagined was the extension of this quiz into the fabric of the near-future mobile and it’s sensors – location (GPS, CellID), orientation (accelerometers or other tilt sensors), light (camera), heat (Nokia 5140′s have thermometers…), signal strength, local interactions with other devices (Bluetooth, uPnP, NFC/RFID) and of course, a connection to the net.

The near-future mobile could become a ‘tricorder’ for the Big Here – a daemon that challenges or channels your actions in accordance and harmony to the systems immediately around you and the ripples they raise at larger scales.

It could be possible (but probably with some help from my friends) to rapidly-prototype a Big Here Tricorder using s60 python, a bluetooth GPS module, some of these scripts, some judicious scraping of open GIS data and perhaps a map-service API or two.

One thought that springs to mind would be to simply geotag the results of a quiz (assuming the respondent takes the quiz in-situ!) and upload that to a geowiki, something like Place-O-Pedia.

It might be delightful to see the varying answers from valiant individuals clustered in a location and inspire some collaboration on getting to the ‘right’ answers about their collective bit of the big here or the issues raised by the route there more importantly perhaps.

One open question would be if this ‘Big Here Tricorder’ where realised, would it genuinely raise an individual or community’s awareness of their local ecosystem and it’s connections at other scales? “Every extension is also an amputation” etc.

Well – we won’t know unless we build it.

While we’ve had a couple of year’s noise about Where2.0, I reckon there’s a hell of a lot of mileage and some real good could come of focussing on Here2.0… which gives me a nice little summer project – thanks Kevin, Brian and Jason

World Of Stuart visits the ghost village of Imber in Wiltshire:

In the winter of 1943, the War Office informed the inhabitants of the small Wiltshire village of Imber that their home was being requisitioned for the war effort. With the D-Day landings just a few months away, the government needed places to train American troops for the sort of house-to-house fighting that they expected to encounter in Nazi-occupied Europe, and presumably because of its location in the middle of Salisbury Plain, Imber was an ideal candidate. The villagers were given a month to evacuate, and told they’d be allowed back when the war was over. They never were.

[via Kieron Gillen]

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