Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Rotterdam QuakeCam

I come from a country with a lot of serious earthquakes. It can be disastrous and it can be scary. Ever since I moved to Rotterdam however, I haven't felt a single earthquake. Not only do they not have the deadly ones in this city, they don't even have perceptible ones, and I definitely count that as a blessing. 

Recently I've worked on this mini-project where I made some gifs to picture a super-earthquake in Rotterdam. I have not researched into the geology, I don't know how an earthquake here would ACTUALLY look like, and mine is a very cartoony imagination. These are visualisations of an earthquake in Rotterdam in a cartoony parallel universe. It's one more example of using the real to compose the imaginary. Maybe we can take comfort in the fact that these scenes can only be imagined.

Because of the way these gifs were made, some of them feature pedestrians existing at different points in space, travelling back and forth between these points as if being trapped within a space-time paradox. In such cases the earthquake is also functioning as a timequake.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Urban Gaming: LASER EYES

Consider the giant-size chess-board in Rotterdam Central Library. People come and interact with these objects in a public space, understanding that it is a playable game without needing any instructions. Every time I'm at the Library there are always folks playing chess, maybe newcomers understand the game's playability through observing the example of previous players? I think the more intuitive analysis is that chessboard and chess pieces are, by definition, gaming instruments. This definition is commonly known and accepted in this society. When you see a set of chess, you understand that it is playable, regardless of the set's size. But we know that there is nothing inherently playable in a black/white board or in black/white solid objects of specific shapes. Their playability is socially constructed. They only constitute a game because we agree that they do. Were we to place this giant chess set in a society where no one knows of the game and no one knows the rules, the pieces will probably be understood as works of sculpture.

I've been reading a book on game-design and I've had the idea of developing physical, real-life games for the city. I like to play, as most humans do, and I also believe that playing should mostly be free. In my teenage years I was often bothered by how some of my favourite fun activities costed money, and ever since I've been trying to come up with ways to have fun for free. I guess this game-design project is one of my answers. It's a DIY approach. It is the beginning of a social construction.

The first step was to identify settings in the city that have potentials for specific game-play mechanics. I noticed this spot on Hoogstraat between Binnenroute and Beursplein. I liked the sceneries and the waters, but more importantly I liked the one-platform against three-benches structure. There's definitely something we can work with. 

The second step was to actually decide on the mechanics and bring the game to life. I looked at this place a lot and devised some rules, and alas, the game described below is called LASER EYES. 

How to play LASER EYES v.1.2

  • Make 2 teams with equal numbers of players. The minimum required is 3 players each. 4 is better. Any higher number is theoretically possible and the game gets more strategically complex as the number of players increases.
  • One team will be the LASER team. The other will be the SURVIVAL team. The two teams play against each other. The LASER team aims to destroy the SURVIVAL team at all cost. The SURVIVAL team aims to survive.
  • The two team can agree on the number of turns a game should include. What happens in a turn will be explained later. I recommend a 5-turn-game.
  • One of the players in the LASER team will play the role of LASER EYES. He/She will stand on the declining platform, the LASER STAGE, opposite the benches. At the start of the game, he/she must stare straight down at his/her own feet, and not at the benches.
  • One of the players in the SURVIVAL team will play the role of EYE MASTER. He/She will also stand on the LASER STAGE, two steps behind LASER EYES. He/She can stare at where ever the hell he/she wishes.

  • The other players in the SURVIVAL team will take position on the other side of the water. They must stand directly in front of the 3 benches, not in front of the spaces between them. They may all stand in front of the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy.
  • The other players in the LASER team will take position on the elevated grounds behind the benches, behind the fences. They must stand directly behind the 3 benches, not behind the spaces in between them. They may all stand behind the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy. At the start of a classical 4v4 game, the playing field may possibly look like this:

  • Or like this or any other such patterns:

  • When both teams arrange themselves into position, the SURVIVAL team will signal the EYE MASTER, at which point the EYE MASTER will speak the words "Laser Eyes". Upon hearing these words, LASER EYES can lift up his/her head to look at ONE of the benches. This must be a very fast and one-directional motion, he/she should have decided on which bench to look at before lifting his/her head. There's no changing of minds once his/her head started moving.
  • Because LASER EYES has the powers of LASER EYES, whoever he/she looks at will be blasted into smithereens. The SURVIVAL players in front of that targeted bench, AND the LASER players behind that targeted bench, will both be eliminated from the game and must exit the playing field. It can be visualised like this:
  • LASER EYES lowers his/her gaze back at his/her feet. That is the end of one turn.
  • The two teams reposition according to their respective strategies. The SURVIVAL team again signals the EYE MASTER. The EYE MASTER again speaks the words "Laser Eyes". LASER EYES again direct his/her deadly optic energy in the direction of one of the three benches, maybe eliminating some more players.
  • This process repeats for the pre-declared number of turns. In the 5-turn-game, you will play for 5 turns. During these 5 turns, if the LASER teams is completely eliminated before the SURVIVAL team, the SURVIVAL TEAM wins. If the SURVIVAL team is completely eliminated before the LASER team, the LASER team wins. 
  • If BOTH teams are eliminated at the same time, by the same laser blast, the LASER team still wins.
  • If the SURVIVAL team still has one or more surviving players in the field after 5 turns (or another number of turns agreed upon before the game started), however, the SURVIVAL team wins, regardless of the number of LASER players left in the field.
  • When a game is over, the two teams switch position, LASER becomes SURVIVAL and SURVIVAL becomes LASER. They play again. And again. And again if they want to. The fun may never end.
I hope the rules are clearly communicated and you can imagine how gameplay may look like. I will probably only understand the subtleties in player-interaction once I find some people to test it. But in my imagination this is, above all, a strategy game. You see, the key mechanic here is that the Laser team KNOWS where LASER EYES is going to look at, or at least they are more likely to know, because LE is in their team, and they would have agreed on some sort of strategy before the game starts. Maybe they had decided on a pattern? Left-right-middle-right-right? In this logic the Laser team can manage to ALWAYS stay out of the way of the laser blast.

But WAIT, it is not so easy! Although the Laser team knows where the blast will be, the Survival team controls the TIMING. The blast only comes when they decide that it is time, so they have the privilege to REACT to the Laser Team's positioning. A rudimentary strategy for the Survival team would be, therefore, copying the exact positions of the Laser team, and then signal for the blast. If the Laser team could avoid the blast, the Survival team could avoid it too.

But WAIT! If both teams got completely wiped out, the Laser team still wins! Considering this, maybe the Laser team can purposely place themselves in the path of the blast and hope that the Survival team will follow! But if they DON'T follow, the Laser team will be wiped out in vain! Maybe it is then too risky to put the entire team behind one bench? Maybe a 2-1-0 set up is better? How will the Survival team react to that?

If the number of players from each team increases, the risk-management aspect of the game becomes more mathematical. The potential strategic variations become endless. Maybe the Laser team can avoid  the blast for 4 rounds, and then send 2/3 of their team into the blast for the coming round?

There is, of course, also the wild-card that is the Laser Eyes player who may possibly, at a critical moment, play outside of the Laser team's strategy and surprise everyone. This may ruin the play of his/her team, or it may score a sudden win. He/She is in a position of great power and great responsibility. Playing as the LASER EYES may be mentally and physically exhilarating. 

Explaining the game is usually the least fun part of a game. Now that's over and done with, I should probably get some people and start playing. If you have read this post and want to get some of your own friends to go give this a try, I personally encourage you to go ahead. By doing so you would participate in the third-step of the design process, which is play-testing.

Maybe, if you want to, you can also leave a comment here afterwards to tell me (and everyone else) how it went. I would like to read about fun.

EDIT: I have tested the game on paper with a friend and noticed some patterns. Maybe I'll updates the rules accordingly upon future testings. For this purpose I have given the game a version-numbering. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

levels of reality

I liked this ad for the simple reason that it is a billboard inside a billboard. The augmented reality element is a big thing for the PS4 and the ad communicated the idea of gaming-as-AR pretty well. What it also does is inviting the imagination to explore what AR can potentially be. Wouldn't this ad be more relevant if the city depicted on-board IS Rotterdam? If the battle-scene on the ad takes place IN this very location in the city? If the hands holding onto the ropes are actually my hands? In the not-so-distant future where AR technology had matured and google-glass-style vision-alteration devices become prevalent, this type of location-specific and/or viewer-specific advertisement may become standard. You and I can configure our visions in different ways, such that when we look at this billboard we will see different things. Hell, we might not need a billboard at all. Ads can literally hide behind every corner and then pop out to individually scare you like some intrusive reality-TV asshole.

AR facilitates a post-modern definition of the world. What's the difference between hallucinating an unicorn and seeing it on your AR glasses display? In both scenarios the horny fucker is only visible to you. It does not exist in the objective reality. Maybe the objective reality will soon become too boring and therefore obsolete.

In accordance to the perspective of this blog, I may in fact argue that the objective reality is ALREADY boring and obsolete. Why look at anything as it physically IS, when with mindfulness we can see so much more? The human consciousness is naturally capable of AR. Take the example of Feng-Shui: Asian geomancers and their followers observe and analyse geographic elemental energy-flows that are not objectively measurable. These Feng-Shui considerations are often seriously taken into account by architects in Asia, as they design their buildings and cities. They see a relevant reality that the uninitiated ones cannot, and then they operate in this reality. We may say that to study Feng-Shui is to enter and engage a specific FS AR. Now imagine a Feng-Shui app developed for the Google Glass. This app can use geolocation and google maps coupled with a database of Feng-Shui rules, to calculate and display the Feng-Shui qualities of any place on the planet. What it really does, however, is only conveniently presenting a visualisation of an augmented reality that already exists in geomancers' minds. This app does not create an AR, but rather translate an existing AR into visuals that are accessible to everyone.

Having access to the visualisation of Feng-Shui does not make one into a geomancer, for seeing does not equal to believing nor understanding. But it does make both of those processes easier. I imagine that such an app would make a great education/visualisation/initiation instrument.

While we talk about visualisation instruments we may also discuss a different technological approach. Instead of a fabricated digital reality that only exists on screen, we can create tangible scale-models. Scale models are definitely real objects in the objective reality, but at the same time they are also representations, and there is tension in this duo-quality of theirs. In the setting of the Blaak Markthal construction site, we see the arched structure existing in 3 different levels of reality. There's a small representation inside of a bigger representation, set in front of the REAL SIZE THING. The size is, of course, not the only differentiating factor, as each of the two representations draw attention to different aspects of the building, while the actual building is not complete (although it is more complete now than it was when I took the photos). The models represent a Markthal in the future, which as of this moment does not exist yet. They communicate a reality that objectively is not yet, but one that already exists in the minds of city planners and architects and construction workers, and also in the schedule.

Now what if I create a model for a reality that only exist in my own schedule, and you create one that only exists in yours? When we do, are we also creating a style of ARs according to our subjectivities? In a previous post I mentioned Kraków Szopki. These models, although not to-scale, are meant to represent some aspects of the city of Kraków, according to the individual craftsman's interpretation. They take inspirations from local architecture and culture and construct these elements into an imagined amalgam reality. Of course in the objective reality Jesus wasn't born in any cathedral or castle in Kraków, but in the AR of Szopki he was born in Kraków many many times.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Library's Chinese Dragon & Kraków Szopki

I grew up in a Christian family and to this day I'm very thankful that my parents were not EXTREMELY PARANOID about it. A group of our Christian family friends were, though, and I remember that they would throw a fit whenever they see an image of a dragon anywhere. They believed it was the power-insignia of Satan and advised everyone to avoid the sight of these things. Consider that we were living in a Chinese cultural environment, this extreme sensitivity to the iconography of the Beast was inconvenient to say the least. The ethnic Chinese sometimes like to identify themselves as, if translated into biblical terminology, Descendents of the Serpent. We love dragons and we have them as decorations everywhere, especially in traditional settings. When these radical Christians go out on the streets during Chinese New Year they grow very distressed. 

A woman from the church had a fight with my grandmother on a visit once, when she insisted that my gran should get rid of these double-blue-dragon porcelain vases in the living room, preferably have them shattered, so that the Beast will not have power over her house. Gran, also a Christian, thought this woman was ridiculous. She never smashed the vases and they haven't spoke much ever since.

Funnily enough, I have come to realize that the woman's line of thoughts wasn't COMPLETELY unreasonable. In the words of Alan Moore, "The one place God inarguably exists is in the human mind.*" For a people whose culture and daily symbols are saturated with Dragons, the Christian God needs to aggressively invade ("evangelize") their mental realities in order to occupy a relevant mindshare. And what's more aggressive and invasive than physically smashing your competitions? If there comes a day when Apple can convince their fans to physically smash up PCs and android phones whenever they see one, commercial brands will have truly become our new gods. I'm sure brands have had their eyes on those thrones for a while.

Inside the Rotterdam Central Library, on the 3rd floor, there is a great Chinese Dragon hanging overhead. It was first installed in the tourist information centre (VVV) in late 2012 as a part of the promotional campaign for this China Light Festival in Rotterdam, but they have moved it here after the festival was over.

Its bones are made of metal wires and its flesh a composition of coloured fabric shreds. The Dragon's real construction material, however, is wishes. The sorcerer, or in this case probably a promotional campaign designer, had came up with a ritualistic practice where everyone who visited the VVV could write a new year's wish on a piece of fabric and tie it onto the Dragon's bones. Started as an empty, hollow and colourless skeleton, the Dragon had been given colour and form through the transforming acts of wishing. This is a straight-forward symbolic process. The Dragon had been given life.

In many magical traditions across cultures, people gather the bones of dead animals and/or persons and perform certain rituals on them, which enables the people to interact, on some level, to the dead bodies' original masters. If the communication is conducted correctly, the spirits of the passed can allegedly come back to aid us to divination, protection and various other ends. In the Dragon's case, no real dead body parts were used, but instead an entire artificial body is created in a symbolic procedure. As the Israelites had forged the Golden Calf**, Rotterdamers had patched together a Dragon that according to some has the very shape of Satan himself. Although it was not worshipped per se, it WAS entrusted with people's wishes. Surely most people were not seriously expecting their wishes to be fulfilled by the actual ritual, but on the other hand Abraham's God takes these little things very seriously.



I only had the idea to write in this terrible conflict frame because, as a part of the Polish-month activities, there's also an Kraków Szopki exhibition going on in the Llibrary. As per my understanding, Szopki are traditionally hand-crafted miniature models depicting the Nativity in the setting of Kraków-styled historical architecture. It's very Christian and very Polish at the same time. Elements of folklore and biblical stories are combined into the craft and designs, and within these Szopki cultural interaction and tension both contribute to the aesthetics of one narrative . These models are going back to Poland after the exhibition (Jan 6th) and I encourage everyone to go take a look while you can.

As Szopki are tiny buildings, the public library is just a bigger building. I think it is exciting that in these shared cultural sites, symbols from different backgrounds and religions old and new all stand their grounds and vie for our attention. In a multi-cultural society that is also an information society, every public space is an arena for ideas, and as ideas do battle, symbols are some of their most powerful weapons****. And then, if we take advantage of an Asiatic martial-arts metaphor here, every battle is also a conversation.

Also I don't know where else to fit this into the post but in one of the Szopki, Death and the Devil BOTH came for King Herod's soul because he fucked up big time. This has gotta be the worst-ever double-trouble scenario and I thought it's absolutely hilarious.

*    Alan Moore, "From Hell" (1999)
**   Exodus 32
***  Google automatically generated this gif for me what the hell
**** Kieron Gillen, "Dark Avengers: Ares" (2010)

Friday, 29 November 2013

Parking Garage Views in Kralingse Zoom

I was waiting for the metro in Kralingse Zoom station, and my specific metro was not coming in for another 7 minutes. I had plenty of time to do something worth-while. I noticed that the stairs leading toward the newly-built parking garage were finally in use, so I went up to check it out. I went up all the way to the top (4th) level which was the roof, I stepped out of the little staircase space and looked around.


Granted, it was afternoon and I didn't eat anything since I woke up in the morning and was basically operating on two cops of coffee, I wasn't expecting much out of that day until I get some calories in. But man, I was SO pleasantly surprised. This is, by far, the best view in the area and probably one of the best (& freely accessible 24/7) views in greater Rotterdam. It's a precious find.

What I'm digging in particular is the openness of the surroundings, and the fact that you can look out very far in every direction. Whichever side you face, there's a sense of horizon and you are easily immersed in the panorama. I estimate that this place will be amazing for sunrise/sunset watching and I plan to come back to do some of that. During the winter when the sun rises late and sets early, the timing should be easy to schedule.

Here are a few things you can look at on this site. There's a lot more.

I was way captivated by the location and could not get myself to leave in 7 minutes. I was quite pressed for time however and really needed to catch the next metro. On any other day I would have definitely waited for the sunset. 

The next night I travelled through the Kralingse Zoom station again, and having no scheduling restrains this time around, I decided to go experience the night view. My poor photography really doesn't convey how exciting it is to spot the neon logos all across the darkened skyline. 

With some of the tallest buildings in the country and world-renowned iconic architecture , Rotterdam probably has the most visually interesting cityscape in the Netherlands. It'd be a waste to NOT look at it regularly. The other place I know that is good for watching the physical city is at Wilhelminapier. It's a photographer-favourite and the view there is, needless to say, phenomenal. But I hope to discover more viewing spots like this one in Kralingse Zoom that are outside of the main city, that enables wider and more inclusive perspectives.

(I don't know if you have noticed, but it's pretty obvious that this blog is heavily inspired by Urban Adventures in Rotterdam. There's an article he did years ago about going on the rooftops of parking garages and appreciating the views. It is, as he had described, "an unexpected island of privacy in the urban chaos". This is where I have picked up the practice.)

Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Bridge for the Passing

I love skybridges, they might be my favourite kind of structures. There were many in my hometown, I grew up around this stuff and now I try to walk on one whenever I can. There's obviously that nostalgic element, but also sometimes when I'm having a day I feel the need to stand in the middle of the sky where I can look down on everyone and no one can look at me. It's not REALLY like standing in the sky, but it IS kind of like levitating on that 2-3 floor height (at least in terms of perspective), which is a very comfortable place for me. All of my flying dreams were sky-walking and sky-running dreams, and when in dreams this was the height I travelled on. I've heard of sky-swimming dreams, apparently they're quite common, but I guess I wasn't made up that way.

When I found out that they have built a wooden skybridge across Schikade in 2012 I was pretty psyched. I like wooden constructions. They were meant to appear more traditional and human and artisenal so they do. When I looked up more info on the bridge I grew increasingly impressed-- this Luchtsingel project got some 3 million euros funding from a direct-democracy initiative where the citizens of Rotterdam voted to choose a project to spend money on. They chose for this, which have consequently made it a bridge of the people.

Furthermore, the bridge acquired another portion of its funding from a crowd-funding model where you can pay 25 euros or so to purchase a wooden plank, with your name and/or a special message written over it. Not only will this plank be used to build the bridge, it will be placed at a visible position where everyone who ever walk over this bridge can see. This is, of course, a great occasion for silly romantic markings like "Josef <3 Marry forever", but it is also an opportunity for organisations and companies to advertise. Some have done this by leaving a web domain on their plank. These messages are not only shown on the bridge, but also on the bridge's website. For anyone interested in the magical power of intentions in a greater building process, there are over 3000 messages and names for you to analyse and conjure. This is a bridge of the people, and evidently people are capable of being and representing many things. A dense collection of meanings directly related to the city and its population is always worth noticing for local sorcerers. 

I guess there is much to be said about this magic but there was one particular thought that I could not get off my mind: Web domains die when people stop paying for them. Conceivably, at one point in the future most of the domain names on Luchtsingel will be dead, and this bridge will become a graveyard for websites. And then, naturally, the next logical thought hit me: People die as well. People always, eventually, die for sure. If the Luchtsingel is still around in a hundred years, it will actually be a graveyard, like, for people.

Graveyard might not be the best classification for a place like this. Graveyards usually carry physical remains, this bridge will only carry dead names and messages. On the other hand, consider that in a traditional graveyard where people are buried underground,  the actual body will in time be eaten away by the soil, at which point the physical grave only becomes an indicational marking of the fact that the body was once there. At famous historical figures' tombs which are commonly exploited for touristic activities, it is very often the case that the real body is stored elsewhere, and people (knowingly) come to pay tribute to an empty casket. I think the distinction between a grave and other types of memorial locations can be arbitrary. I like to put them in the same category. 

Let's imagine that the Luchtsingel lasts for long enough to become a grave site. Maybe it's somewhat grim to see it like that, but in design terms I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Death is often imagined as a passage. From the known into the unknown, from being into non-being, from existence into the other. For the religious, Death can mean many more things and in several popular religions this passage-understanding of Death is very clearly defined. Walking across a death-bridge seems to be a fitting gesture to remember those who have passed. Future architects may consider to go one step further,  and infuse the ashes of the dead into a bridge of concrete as a new grave form. I'd like to be immortalised like that. I'd like to be guaranteed a part in something humanly useful even after I'm gone.

Bridges have yet another connection to death. Looking back to my hometown, there was a scenic tourist destination with a historical suspension bridge spanning across some beautiful green waters. There were mountains and children and couples and buskers and the place gives a beautiful, welcoming vibe. What many foreign visitors do not know, is that the bridge is also a popular suicide spot, and in 2012 alone there were 22 suicidal leap-offs (almost twice a month, man). For those who cannot swim, leaping off into these deep waters from a great height is like leaping into a green abyss. There were also those who jumped while wearing a backpack filled with rocks, so that their deathly determination will not be overcome by their survival instinct, and they would sink straight down to the very bottom with no chance of ever coming up. It's sad. It's disturbing. There are a lot of ghost stories in that place.

A few weeks ago, here in Rotterdam, they have started working on the next phase of the Luchtsingel project and they built the main parts of another skybridge, this time across the railroads. I went to see it the day after it was done. At first I expected it to look the same as the first bridge, and was a little confused about the purpose of its heightened sides. But then I remembered all the sad reports we've heard about trains being delayed. I can see people walking through this new bridge in the future and discussing the design's preventative nature. It'll be a somewhat gloomy topic for conversations, but much less so than actual stories of haunting.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Elevator Pitch

I've found a spot to listen to elevators. I was here for 20 minutes or so, it's kind of hypnotic.

I've never really gotten into listening to urban noises but I figured I probably should. I like sounds and I like the juxtaposition of foreground and background. Foregrounds and backgrounds are relative ideas, always subjective and sometimes arbitrary. But it's pretty lame to take them for granted---what sound is a background noise and what makes it so? I want to try to actively listen and consciously decide on what sounds should come forth to occupy my attention. I can't do that ALL the time obviously because that would drive me insane, but I want to start doing it once in a while and seek out soundscapes that I don't usually notice.

I think a good listening spot needs to meet two criteria. Firstly, you should be in a position where you won't disturb the sound source. Following this, you should probably also not be in a place where you would directly creep people out because then they would alter the soundscape by loudly saying things like hey what the hell are you doing here man get out of my garden. This relates to the second criteria: you should be in a position where people won't disturb you. Thirdly, I prefer a place with the acoustics for mad reverb but I guess this one is optional.

This elevator spot meets all criteria and more. It's on the highest(8th) level of a parking garage, on top of the HEMA in Beursplein. It's called Q-Park. I was here on a Friday evening and there were no cars parked on this top level at the time, so the elevators never came up to this floor. I think most people don't like to park high if they can park low, and at a time where there're not many cars in town they can park pretty low. The way it worked out is that there were still cars coming in and out the lower levels, and on Fridays the HEMA stays opened until 9 o'clock, so there is a pretty big time-window in which the elevators are constantly in use but no one who uses it would come to where this spot is. It makes for an ideal listening set-up. Also the reverb is siiick.

My priority is not in recording so the footage above is pretty rudimentary but I just wanted a sample to share. There are several components to the sound here: that 2-step-ringing when the elevators reaches a floor, the motors working, the sound of a metallic scrapping, and of course the sound of people stepping in and out of elevators*. The two elevators both produce these sounds upon triggering and sometimes they harmonize, with every sound travelling up the shaft. Aside from the elevators, there are also secondary sounds from the streets and the city outside. They are dimmer, but if an ambulance on sirens rushes by or something it also plays a prominent part. When I was there it was raining pretty hard and this contributed to the general mooding too.

This soundscape is actually aesthetically pleasing, and if I brought a chair and a book I could potentially spend a long time here. But also in terms of meanings, I like the idea that these sounds are each initiated by people interacting with the elevator, with the building, and although they don't notice it, it is as if they are playing the building as a grand musical instrument. My listening to this live performance and their not being aware of my presence is in itself a kind of unilateral relationship. I have made it pretty clear that I am very fond of these sounds, and I don't even know any of these people. Nevertheless the setting provides a system by which anybody can participate to produce something that I, in a listener's position, can enjoy. And this is a system that I have found, the elevators were probably not designed with this purpose in mind, but maybe they should be. If buildings were designed to receive, remix, direct and present sounds, they can potentially generate a lot of unique musical experiences and social practices. I hope to find more spots for these sonic observations in Rotterdam. The quick idea is checking out other multi-layered parking garages and their elevator spaces.

*the thought that there's some dude listening to you walking in and out of an elevator is probably very creepy in itself, not to mention that you might have also had a conversation with a friend in the elevator or something. But if I did park my car and were just waiting for my elevator in that space, I could've heard you anyway. Although the enclosed elevator gives the appearance of private space, it is not always designed to keep your sounds private and doesn't claim to do so. If someone overheard your conversation in public, is it just as creepy? Maybe. It's a pretty grey area. These considerations again remind us to be aware of what we expect spaces to do, what they actually do, and how we can always give it some extra thoughts when we use any space to do anything.

and elevators are already a little creepy. Have you seen that film?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Wishing Sites: Rotterdam Central Library

Many of us like to make wishes. I have to read up on the sociology of this stuff, I don't know if it's some universally intuitive human practice or the product of our culture. If I can speak for myself, though, I think it is intuitive for me to want things to happen in a certain way. Land-locked in this causal universe, individuals usually have very limited influence on what takes place around them, but I believe all people are capable of imagining some different possibilities of how things(outside of their control) can be, and people are prone to having preferences between these different imagined scenarios. If I prefer for the weather to be sunny next Tuesday rather than cloudy, should my very preference be identified as a wish?

I'd say so. I wish for the weather to be sunny. I don't expect for my wish to have any causal influence on the weather, but wouldn't it be nice if it does? I think this is a healthy longing and it helps people deal with the fact that they're pretty ineffective on a grand scale. More importantly, I think my conscious wishes are a mechanism that I use to program my subconscious priorities. When the time comes and I have to make decisions in a context where I do have an influence, the wishes of yesterday and yesteryears come back to take effect and help me decide. Of course, wishes are supposed to expire when they're no longer relevant, and we try to replace them with new wishes all the time, it's an ongoing process. It has its lags and glitches and we can end up wishing for things that stopped being relevant years ago, but I guess that's just something we gotta live with.

We can also consider the parrarealities and the metaphysics of wishes, the models in which they DO have an direct influence in the material world.  Some try to scientifically measure how intentions can affect otherwise random events in an experimental setting. Others pay big money to shamans and gods that supposingly micro-manage and execute our wishes for a fee. I take the myths and religious wishing models as metaphors for a mental process, but some people take them very literally and very seriously.

I love the idea of paying actual money for a wish. I don't love to do it, but I love how it celebrates the beautiful traditional myth of money can buy you anything because money is basically magic. The cheapest way to practice this ritual is dropping a penny into a wishing well or a wishing fountain. This affordance of small enclosed bodies of water had gotten so default in our consciousness, that in almost any sort of constructed puddle or pond near a tourist destination you can find coins laying at the bottom. There doesn't even need to be the legend of a wishing well. Any well can be a wishing well if the tourists BELIEVE hard enough. Or even if they pretend to believe hard enough for laughs.

There's another money-charging wish practice that has been gaining some exposure: sky lanterns. In the Taiwanese town of PingXi, sky lanterns are a big tourist attraction, and on highschool graduation weekend or any such wishful occasion tourists go there to buy them, write wishes on them and send them skyward.  I wish to complete my studies successfully and become a lawyer. I wish to stay with my cute short-haired girlfriend forever. Whatever. I gotta say, though, sending your wishes to some secret high-up place to take effect do correspond with my understanding of how magic works, and I have a particular soft-spot for this one on the grounds of how amazing it looks.  If it looks this stunning then we must be onto something, right?

Actually sky lanterns are banned in many countries including Germany, Austria, Spain and Brazil. They can be a fire hazard (it's a flying burning paper thing what the fuck) and when they land they become widespread litter that are a hassle to clean up. The good news for us in Rotterdam, as you might have guessed by now, is that we get to make wishes to the fixated visuals of a big scale lantern-release-party without having to deal with actual lanterns or paying for them. The setting to do that is at the Rotterdam Central Library in Blaak, at night, as illustrated in the opening picture.

Sure, these lampshades don't look EXACTLY like rising sky lanterns, but with an associative visual imagination and a level of desperation they can fulfill the same function in a wish-making process. After all, aren't all wishes imaginative desperate attempts? Aren't all ritualistic procedures just metaphoric tools that help us to make the wishes meaningful? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it is something worth thinking about, and when I do, I'd like to think about it here. The library is a hub of information and many had come to this location to seek answers. When we make a wish, we also seek an answering, and perhaps this request is fit to be housed in the city's symbolic source of all answers.

A mythical narrative can add some extra flavour to the experience: imagine that every night countless people of Rotterdam would walk pass by this perpetual lantern ceremony, and whoever that has a wish would mentally attach it to one of the "lanterns", knowingly or otherwise. Each lantern, although not physically, carry a Rotterdamer's wish, and a batch of Rotterdam's wishes are collected here every single night. Now imagine an entity who inhabits the building, or who is the personification of the building, who takes the form of an old professor, or a janitor, or a little girl, depending on its mood: an entity that is sometimes named The Librarian.  Imagine that before the library's each daily shut-down, the Librarian would wander through the static lanterns and examine the wishes. As he finished examine a wish, he shuts down that specific light. Eventually all the lights will be down, and the Librarian had taken in all the wishes of that day, and until the Library opens next morning, the Librarian spends the night going through all the books in the building, trying to come up with the perfect way to fulfill every one of our wishes. Each night the Librarian collects and examines and read and analyse and research. When the same people walk by the library the next day, the Librarian eagerly presents the results of its hard work by placing them into the people's unconscious minds. One day they will solve all of their own problems, they will find ways to accomplish all the things they've wished for, and they will believe that it's entirely their own idea. The Librarian takes great pride in this work.

How did you like that? I'm pretty egoistic when it comes to this kind of things and I love that story so fucking much. I'd be swooned if you use this model to make your wish at the location. Or, alternatively, make your own story about the library lanterns and be your own sorcerer, it's more empowering for you that way. If you like to, explain to me how your wish model works for this spot and I might go live it too.

I am certainly not the first to imagine a modern component as a functional ritualistic replacement for a traditional one. For a quick example, you might have heard about these proxy astral phenomenon: Can we pretend that airplanes in night sky are like shooting stars? I wished on two shooting stars last night, but they were only satellites. Is it wrong to wish on space hardware? I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care. 

My point is this. We have proxy moving sky things for shooting stars, and we have an associated imagery for sky lanterns here, and there must be dozens of other modern contexts in which we can make use of for ritualistic wishful purposes. This project is called Wishing Sites, I want to find these contexts in Rotterdam and document the coming-together of my magic city. I have some places in mind and I'm always looking, but I only want to do a blogpost if I have some sort of constructed idea. I'm always constructing ideas. Before they were wishing sites, they were construction sites.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

How to REALLY take the metro in Rotterdam


I have been living in Rotterdam for years and I've always travelled by metro. In fact I have probably spent more time on the metros than I ever have in my favourite places. Yet I have never paid attention to the different metro carriage models and their specific attributes. How many carriages of the 5200 series are still in service? How many doors does the 5300 series model have? What's new about the 5600s? How many people are they designed to carry? I didn't know the answer to any of these questions. When you come to think about the attitude that causes this ignorance, it draws you in a discussion about what it means to be alive.

In the Russian formalist literary tradition, critics talked about the vices of habitualization and how it devours our human experience.  An excerpt from Tolstoy's diary may illustrate what this means:

I was cleaning and, meandering about, approached the divan and couldn't remember whether or not I had dusted it. Since these movements are habitual and unconscious I could not remember and felt that it was impossible to remember - so that if I had dusted it and forgot - that is, had acted unconsciously, then it was the same as if I had not. If some conscious person had been watching, then the fact could be established. If, however, no one was looking, or looking on unconsciously, if the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been.**

The formalists then argued that one of the purposes of arts is to defamiliarize us with the familiar, and in doing so enables us to experience life afresh in full. Every property of every aspect of reality must not be taken for granted, for when they're taken for granted they're as good as being taken away (from our perception). In this regard art can serve as reminder and sometimes as guide.

Now I don't like to talk about how being alive can be an art in itself, I try to avoid the tasteless and jarring phrasing. When I say something like that I fear being beaten up by the higher power that punishes bad artists. It's a great fear. 

But I WILL put it like this:
What is the difference between taking the metro 100 times and 1000 times? I think the difference doesn't inherently exist per se. The difference needs to be made.
For the great majority of time I have imagined travelling as means to an end. I would listen to music or read a book on the train. I would scribble down these lines in my stupid notebook on the bus. Sometimes I do psycho people-watching. But I do these things either to pass the time, or to efficiently utilize the time for other priorities. I do OTHER things while I travel, but I don't DO travelling. I don't DO being on a metro. What does that even mean?

Lately I've been trying to figure it out. I've been trying to find meanings in being on a metro in Rotterdam. It consists of noticing details and patterns and also doing a little research. Below I will introduce one of the attention-areas I've been developing and I invite you to develop your own.

Currently there are 4 types of metros running in the R'dam system. The 5300s, the 5400s, the 5500s and the 5600s. The 5300s were the oldest, 5600s the newest, the rest were in between. Out of all these different metro series, only the 5400s were each given a unique theme in interior graphics***. There exist 18 of these 5400 carriages, and here is a list of their specific themes:

Jungle Animals
tiger, butterflies, gorilla
Ancients Ancient architectures
Pyramids. Tutankhamen.  Hieroglyphs on top. Meanings?
Rotterdam Landmarks
Euromast, Erasmusburg,
Dutch Nature
frogs, sheep, chapels, windmills (kinderdijk?)
Sun Flowers
Old Rotterdam (Photos)
Stadhuis, the harbour, hofplein etc
Ocean (Big animals)
Sharks, Walrus etc
African women, African animals
Colours: Orange, Yellow, Pink, Red
Dutch Nature
frogs, sheep, chapels, windmills (kinderdijk?)
Ocean (Tropical)
Corals, tropical fishes, clown fishes
Music and Instruments
Instruments: violins, guitars etc
Iconic Cities
Paris, London, Sydney, New York
Forest Birds
owls, close up bird faces

At first I thought to discover all the themes myself, and whenever I caught a 5400 I would note it down. I did this for a week or so, and then I found out that the information is available on wikipedia. Wikipedia literally only lists the themes though, and the specifics are still left for me to map out as my ambitions grew. I have not caught some of these numbers yet since I started mapping them, and this table still needs more filling in. The version presented above is only the first 3 columns of my spreadsheet, the full version includes more details. 

I intend to also take pictures and eventually build up a comprehensive mini database for the 5400s' themes. The 5410 with Old Rotterdam photos is particularly interesting and I want to list out every location in those shots. It'd be a magical experience to take an metro heading to Hofplein, and on your way also witness a graphic memory of how the place looked like 60 years ago. You can imagine yourself travelling through time as you travel through space, and symbolically this can be real too. Are you ready to sniff on that spacetime muse glue? 

The other outstanding one was 5403 with the Ancient Egyptian theme. I have a friend who had been telling me about ancient Egyptian mythologies and their newly discovered parallels to concepts in quantum physics (He's reading a book about it). Usually I'm under the impression that the layman's understanding of quantum physics is highly inaccurate, but as someone who has absolutely no knowledge in the field, it's perhaps hypocritical for me to pass this judgement. The hieroglyphic patterns inside these metro carriages might be arranged randomly, or they might spell the secrets of causality, of the after-life and of a spiritual macrocosm. You can do the research. Or at the very least you can do some more imagining with the metro's graphic assistance, and enchant yourself in doing so. How does it feel like to journey through a Pharaoh's death and rebirth as you travel to work on each new dawn?

The 5400s create opportunities for new meanings on yet another level. The carriages are periodically recombined into sets of 2 or 3 before they start their service on that day (I don't know how often they do this---to be researched), and as such 2 or 3 themes are randomly chained in an order. This creates 2 or 3 scenes that can very easily be imagined as the background settings for one continuous narrative. How does one travel from a game of tennis into a sunflower field? What does this journey mean to you? You can develop your own system of interpretations and your own theories. You can even go as far as charming your friends by getting on a metro with them in the weekend, walk them through the carriages and read them the meanings of this particular combination as if you were reading tarot. They might think that you have finally cracked, or they may choose to welcome the inspiration. That's their call.

The 5400s travel on metro lines A, B and C. They cannot recombine with carriages from other series, so whenever you see one 5400 you know that the rest of the chain are also themed. They come in at least two at a time, because each carriage only has driver's controls on one end, and they need at least two carriages to connect tail-to-tail. You can enjoy them in ways described above, you can enjoy them otherwise, and you can develop various meaningful ways to enjoy other metro series too. When you do, it'll be really cool if you tell me about it because I'd love to know what I'm missing out. Truly, there is so much to miss out. I don't even know the first thing about listening to different metro motors start.

* The opening picture in this post was from a metro in the 5200 series. They're pretty old and Wikipedia said that they're being completely phased out in 2013. I don't remember being on one in a long while, I'm assuming that they're mostly already relieved from service. But if you ever get to be on one in these last months, consider yourself lucky. I would even encourage you to take a picture if you have some sort of camera on you. Unlike newer models, the 5200s were fraught with graffiti and they represent a lost era. I think the reason for this graffiti difference was that the 5200s did not have interior security cameras installed. These were artefacts from a time before an open surveillance society. Perhaps it was worrying that no one could know for sure what happened on the metros, but it is also worrying that now the only people who know are those who have access to the tapes.

** Leo Tolstoy's Diary, entry dated February 29, 1897

*** except 5407 and 5414 which are identical. 


EDIT: after I've written this post I've been taking the metro more often and caught the 5200 a few times. Maybe they're letting them serve a final tour? Maybe they have postponed the phase-out? Here's a photo.