Reclaim’s In on the Kill Taker

In on the Kill Taker Thing

As chance would have it I stumbled across Joe Gross’s book in the 333sound series on Fugazi’s 1993 album In on the Kill Taker. I even got a note from one of the Dischord Records folks, namely Aaron, thanking me for the purchase, which is always nice. Thank you, Aaron!

Dischord Notes

The book is both a look at Fugazi’s remarkable career as the defining independent punk band of the 1990s, especially against the backdrop of these being the years that punk broke. There were many things I enjoyed about the book, Joe Gross is obviously a fan and the book is book a love letter and a chronicling of just how impressive Fugazi’s 15 year run was. I also loved that much of his recent source material is taken from Tumblr blogs, it was kind of like reading a book-length blog post, and I mean that with all due respect. It seems the most appropriate way to capture the DIY spirit that Fugazi, and their broader distribution network of Dischord Records have represented for over 30+ years—talk about a punk rock institution with an ethos. One of the best quotes from the book comes from Steve Albini, who produced the first, abandoned pass at In on the Kill Taker,  from a GQ interview in which he reflects on the impact of  Sonic Youth’s signing with Geffen Records in 1990:

Sonic Youth chose to abandon it [the independent music scene] in order to become a modestly successful mainstream band– as opposed to being a quite successful independent band that could have used their resources and influence to extend that end of the culture. They chose to join the mainstream culture and become a foot soldier for that culture’s encroachment into my neck of the woods by acting as scouts. I thought it was crass and I thought it reflected poorly on them. I still consider them friends and their music has its own integrity, but that kind of behavior– I can’t say that I think it’s not embarrassing for them. I think they should be embarrassed about it.

As Joe Gross points out, Sonic Youth would broker the deal between Geffen and Nirvana, and the rest is kind of 90s music history, the currency around the punk/post-punk scene is at its peak for much of the decade and Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker comes in 1993, what might arguably be a high water mark year for the grunge craze with the release of In Utero and PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, both produced, interestingly enough, by Albini. Fugazi’s previous album, Steady Diet of Nothing, received lukewarm reviews being criticized for not capturing the legendary energy of their live performances—in many ways the album for many seemed like an afterthought (though I personally love it). So, in shot, the pressure was on with Kill Taker, and Fugazi did not disappoint—it is a masterpiece of the punk ethos—the band is branching out into new territory, the avant garde elements of their music (which defines their later albums) shines through, and they are even homaging titans of independent art like John Cassavettes and Gena Rowlands—in arguably the best song on an album filled with gems. But read Joe Gross’s take, he van actually talk about music intelligently, unlike me. But for many it is a turning point, a moment where Fugazi doubles down on who they are and what their music is all about, and you gotta love that. In 1993 they play two shows in NYC at Roseland Ballroom that Gross refers to (I think I saw them on the same tour at the Palladium in LA) and they were particularly amazing for an already stellar live act),  but as the story goes after one of these shows Atlantic Records music mogul Ahmet Ertegün met with the band backstage in an attempt to sign them offering as much as $10 million. Joe Gross talks about the episode, but does not mention a dollar figure. The figure comes from album’s Wikipedia page. It’s a big number, and I am not sure if it’s real, but you have to believe they offered them something significant, and Fugazi said no. And with that, the turning point in their career, the showdown with Satan in the desert, a high point for those of us who want to believe that not everyone will sellout when enough cash is put on the table.

They kept control of their music, they controlled the vertical and horizontal of their distribution and press, and they kept a sense of the integrity of “that end of culture” Albini refers to in the above quote. So, Fugazi has the distinct honor of being the first band to have its second Reclaim Hosting server named after them (they already had another we named after them which housed several virtual machines for Domain of One’s Own schools) because 2018 is our double down year on independence in educational technology! Cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-cha-champions!

“If you ask me now what punk is, I would say it’s the free space. It’s a spot where new ideas can be presented without the requirement of profit, which is what largely steers most sorts of creative offerings in our culture.” — Ian MacKaye

“Not Many People Gotta Code to Live By Anymore”

Amen, Harry Dean! All this talk of coding or being coded is besides the point, when push comes to shove most people simply need a code. I come back to Repo Man (1984) a lot when I am thinking about Reclaim Hosting‘s code. In fact, I already played on the idea of a Reclaim Code with the above clip. So when sitting down to talk to Bryan Mathers earlier this week about some artwork I was excited when I found the discussion led us into the territory of this 1980s punk cult classic.

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Inside Reclaim Records

inside the store

Reclaim Records is starting to get further fleshed out thanks to the latest installment from the great Bryan Mathers. I really love the colors in this one, not to mention the synchronization of all the details we’ve been working on from album covers, to the #ds106 coffee mug, to the awesome EDUPUNK poster (a work of art within the work of art), the smack-talking on Canada, and the figure behind the counter. The idea will be to switch the face of Reclaim—this one presumably me given the hairline and glasses—with caricatures of Tim and Lauren. Each of us behind the counter server up the goods. What this image makes me want more than anything else is a Reclaim storefront.
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“The Internet is the most basic form of the punk rock revolution”

smallisbeautiful1973I highly recommend this interview from back in 2008 that [[Ian Svenonius]] conducts with Calvin Johnson of [[K Records]], [[Beat Happening]], [[Halo Benders]], and [[Dub Narcotic Sound System]] and more. The discussion starts with Johnson talking about how the work he has done with independent labels was inspired by E.F. Schumacher‘s book Small is Beautiful which posits the idea of Appropriate Technology:

…it is generally recognized as encompassing technological choice and application that is small-scale,decentralized, labor-intensive, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and locally controlled.[1]

K Records was made possible in part by the viability of the cassette tape as a cheaper, more intimate technology in the early 80s, an approach Johnson traces to this idea of appropriate technology. Trying to produce and record an album of a bunch of friends making music that maybe 30 or 40 other people was next to impossible with vinyl. To make an album, Johnson explains, you needed to press at least 1000 records for the production process to make economical sense. But that also assumes you could sell 1000 records—it becomes to assume mass. But cassettes make recording for just a handful of people not only possible, but extremely affordable. What’s more, it becomes a much more localized, independent, and decentralized process. He then goes on to suggest that K Records was also inspired by Smithsonian’s Folk Ways Records label. Rather than focusing on public relations and promotion, they focused on documenting and sharing the creative process—a deliberate choice that belies an ethos and an aesthetic.

peanuts_article

When asked if he sees himself as the leader of the International Pop Underground, he answers there is no leader, rather it’s a decentralized, amorphous, amoeba-like entity. Then moves on to an inspired riff (9:21) about drawing from one of the most “radical and forward-thinking” artist of the 20th century: Charles Schulz. He cites the world of Peanuts as a true underground that’s lived in and created by the kids, a world that adults have no place or authority. But goes on to add a true underground is still within the real world and can’t escape its problems. And this is why, he continues, it must always re-invent itself to deal with those issues. Ending the whole bit with, “the best thing about creative work is that there is no hierarchy.” Amen.

Towards the very end of the interview (26:10) Svenonious wonders, given how arduous the production process is for capturing music,”Why don’t people just sing to one another?” A off-handed remark that Johnson turns into a brilliant moment in which he posits: “That’s what the internet is.” By sidestepping the whole production process they’re singing directly to one another while making it available instantly all around the world. A technological development that he sees as “the most basic form of the punk rock revolution.”

What an awesome interview, and damn Calvin Johnson is smart. So much to think about.

The Un-education of a Technologist: From EDUPUNK to ds106

Below are the slides and a transcript of the text I planned to follow when I delivered my talk this morning at the EDEN Annual Conference in Barcelona. That said, I didn’t keep to the script because I get too excited and just ran with things. Let this be the record of what I wanted to say, not what I said

Into the Maelstrom

“Amidst the tumult, the academy appears oddly complacent. Open source technology, open access publication, open education have all had their successes, but none of these movements could fairly be described as having transformed practice. Models of publishing, reviewing and assessing research have not fundamentally changed. Innovation in teaching is at the margins, the essential structures of curriculum and assessment wholly unchanged. Educational technology, far from revolutionizing practice, seems primarily dedicated to perpetuating it: ‘clickers’ provide a sheen of interactivity in the cavernous lecture hall; ‘learning management systems’ promise to protect its users from the raging uncertainties of the digital chaos.” – http://unartist.wpmued.org/

 

This was the opening paragraph of an article Brian Lamb and I wrote for the Universities and Knowledge Societies Journal (RUSC) of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in April of 2009. We wrote most of it in late 2008, early 2009 and as the abstract notes in RUSC:

Two educational technologists and webloggers present a series of vignettes, contemplating the effects of modern networked communication on their practice. Recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom, they curate a collection of observations and manifestos emphasizing themes of personal publishing, spontaneous collaborations, learning on the open web, and syndication.

The line “recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom” is maybe one of my all time favorite research article abstracts ever Thank you RUSC! But one of the things that’s interesting as I return to this article almost seven years later (what is that in Web 2.0 tech years?) is how so many of the curated vignettes around personal spaces, the open web, spontaneous connections, distributed collaborations, and syndication still remain core to a vision of what a revolutionary publishing and pedagogical practice might look like on the web.

What’s more, I’m an optimist. I think we are getting closer and closer to realizing that vision, and thanks to folks like Audrey Watters we may even be getting somewhere with a more “synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom,” i.e. the ahistorical, techno-solutionism undergirding Silicon Valley is launching a full frontal assault on the education sector.

In fact, the vignettes we list in that paper are the building blocks of this talk which loosely traces the work I‘ve been doing since writing that paper in December of 2008.

The vignette about “A Space of One’s Own” is a take on a “Domain of One’s Own,” an idea we have been playing with at UMW since 2007 or 2008. Give every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, and make them the “sysadmin of their own education,” to quote Gardner Campbell. The idea of building a university’s technical framework around personal cyber infrastructures was really radical just seven years ago, and arguably still is. But we have evidence that is possible, and can be the basis of an entire curriculum around web literacy and fluency.

The over-wrought section on revolutionary syndication buses was the basis of how we would build the Digital Storytelling course at UMW ds106 (#4life). A course that built on the idea of a personal cyberinfrastructre by giving all students their own domain and web hosting, but re-wired the course space as something that bring all that work back together. But not as an example of a creepy treehouse like Facebook or your favorite LMS, but as a distributed network that modeled itself on the web.

And ds106 reinforced, at least for me, two other vignettes from that paper, namely “serendipitous collaboration chains” and “spontaneous connections.” As we noted Stephen Downes note:  “Who cares if a few universities exchange learning content among themselves (not that this really happens a lot anyway)?” The more interesting models is how various individuals and groups forge entirely new collaborations and spontaneous connections that form networks above and beyond the institutional vision of “sharing.” This is where MOOCs began to fall down as a centralized approach to sharing that strayed away from anything resembling the web.

Speaking of MOOCs, our vignette about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be one of the very first articles in an academic journal that says the “M” word. This was almost 3 years before the hype, and the logic undergirding MOOCs as they were laid out here was rather different. it wasn’t about marketing, colonial education, or efficiencies, it was about trying to understand how pedagogies of and for the web can be radically different.

EDUPUNK

This was all written and imagined during a moment when EDUPUNK was still a thing. Less than a year earlier Brian Lamb and I had began to articulate our dissatisfaction with how LMS companies like BlackBoard were making claims about being open and innovative when they had done nothing more than start to integrate a few basic practices that were predominant on the web rather badly into their LMS. It was insult to injury, because that company had done little to nothing in terms of innovating on their product for years. Again, with stridency and righteousness:

…if we reduce the conversation to technology, and not really think hard about technology as an instantiation of capital’s will to power, than anything resembling an EdTech movement towards a vision of liberation and relevance is lost. For within those ideas is not a technology, but a group of people, who argue, disagree, and bicker, but also believe that education is fundamentally about the exchange of ideas and possibilities of thinking the world anew again and again, it is not about a corporate mandate to compete—however inanely or nefariously—for market share and/or power. I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people.

-From “The Glass Bees” on bavatuesdays

The only moment either of us presented on EDUPUNK was when Brian Lamb delivered a really compelling talk of these very ideas back in 2010 right here in Barcelona at Zemos98.

EDUPUNK also became a victim of its own very mild success as an idea, and was soon a logic exercised when it comes to neocon logic of dismantling higher ed. Stuff I was very uncomfortable with, and ultimately had to right my Dear John letter in 2011 to an idea I was really smitten with:

DS106

But EDUPUNK and I never really split, we just changed its name to ds106. In the Spring of 2011 ds106 provided a beautiful the moment when so many of the ideas Brian and I were trying to wrap our heads around (personal spaces, spontaneous connections, serendipitous collaborations, syndication hubs, MOOCs, etc.) came together. But not so much as a synthetic theory, but as a practical application of how teaching and learning can be part and parcel of the web. How we can “descend into the Maelstrom” by studying the action of the whirlpool and cooperating with it—the quote from Malcolm McLuhan quoting Edgar Allen Poe that Brian Lamb used to frame the whole idea of working within the chaos.

But I am getting ahead of myself, what is ds106? Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington and elsewhere… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

ds106 opened up questions about infrastructure, architecture, student agency, pedagogy, and much more all at once. It wasn’t just about technology, it was about how the technology affords new ways for us to collaborate, share, and learn with and from one another.

One of its many great moments of this experiment came during the summer of 2011, during what is now referred to as the “Summer of Oblivion.”

“The idea was to have a daily radio/TV broadcast by Dr. Brian Oblivion (featured in the animate gif above), a character from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome who only ever appears as a mediated pedagogical presence on TV. The idea was to update this for 2011, and have this be an online, mediated pedagogical appearance only on the web. Effectively I took on an alternative teaching identity. I wanted to push myself in this course to not only experiment with and challenge some of the ideas we have about the role of the professor, online learning, and mediated communication…if I am not pushing myself to explore and be consumed by this media then it would run counter to the whole reason for the course in the first place. So, there it is, ds106: The Summer of Oblivion—but this analyzing is paralyzing, let’s play this dang thing!” from https://bavatuesdays.com/ds106-the-summer-of-oblivion/

And it looked something like this the first few days:

The course ran as an alternative reality in some ways, what Ray Land calls a “pedagogy of uncertainty.” By the end of the first week Dr. Oblivion went missing, the TA (jim Groom) came in and became a tyrant banishing students, and the class started to rebel. It was magic. Here is one of the student created videos about the upheaval of course power:

The idea of the class was about sense-making online, taking control of your digital presence, and imbuing a broader range of digital literacies and fluencies across tools, but more importantly managing one’s presence online.

Domain of One’s Own

This gave way to the Domain of One’s Own initiative at UMW that provides every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, providing a platform for a broader, institutional wide digital fluency toolkit, not to mention a sandbox for broader web-based exploration for everyone.

This took on a whole different level of thinking when I met up with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane at the Reclaim Hackathon at MIT sponsored by the DML. The ideas there continue to drive the work at UMW and beyond. Thinking in more focused ways about how we provide students and faculty a technical and curricular framework that provides more control over personal data. Ideas of University and personal APIs, virtualized server infrastructure, Docker, and much more. This is the beginning of what has become my new focus—Reclaiming. It’s also why I started with the demo. Based on the work we’ve done at UMW, my partner Tim Owens and I are working on a model that provides individuals, courses, departments, and/or universities with cheap, virtualized infrastructure to run this locally.  A way of decentralizing IT and edtech support. That’s Reclaim Hosting, and that’s the future!