March 10, 2011
March 10, 2011
March 10, 2011
March 10, 2011
Berlin is emerging as a hub for music technology companies trying to dramatically change the way we make and listen to music.
When Richie Hawtin, a Canadian electronic musician and DJ, did a live set in Berlin using just two iPads, he was not just demonstrating the lightening hand speed and progressive sounds that have made him famous. He was showcasing how he has been able to push back musical boundaries by embracing technological tools created and invented in the city. These creations are now beginning to influence the music industry at large.
Hawtin, who was playing a set using software programmes on two iPads which mimic a DJ’s two sets of decks, is one of a growing band of artists and music exiles who use the vibrancy and freedom of Berlin as fuel for their work. “I needed somewhere that was inspiring and where there were like-minded musicians and artists, somewhere you could still experiment with music and with life. Berlin is so liberal in so many different ways; there’s an amazing club scene, there’s a great development software tech scene, there are so many resources here,” says Hawtin.
At a time when big record labels are hemorrhaging cash, Berlin’s nascent music technology start-ups have created a blueprint for what the music industry of the future could look like. Instead of viewing the internet and digital technology as threats, these companies are using it all to create “a new paradigm, a new construct in the way people use music,” says Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst who helps oversee consumer-product strategy in the London office of Forrester Research, a leading global technology and market research company.
SoundCloud is one such innovative company. A Berlin-based online social network for musicians, it has accumulated 1.3m artists and record labels—including Kylie Minogue, Domino Records, Zero 7 and Snoop Dogg—since it launched in October 2008. “We now have hundreds of users from major record labels all over the world,” says Alexander Ljung, the company’s co-founder and CEO (pictured, above). SoundCloud enables file-sharing between users, and Ljung says that record labels are using it to distribute music to journalists.
Mulligan envisions platforms like SoundCloud playing an important role in the not too distant future, when music will be seamlessly distributed via iPhone apps and social-networking sites such as Facebook. Listeners will be able to create their own music mashups and share them with friends.
When Ljung and Eric Wahlforss dreamt up their idea for SoundCloud in 2007, the Swedish pair decided Berlin was the place to get it started. (They visited the German capital briefly, and decided to set up shop the following week.) Ljung says this decision was influenced by the fact that Berlin had already established itself as a hub for music-technology companies, such as Ableton and Native Instruments, both of which create software and some hardware for musicians.
The companies that are “not struggling like crazy at the moment” tend to be those that are making tools that help people make music, says Ljung. “You are seeing more people than ever actually involved in making music. This is the really unique growing area.”
Daniel Haver, the head of Native Instruments, describes his business as a “quintessentially Berlinish company”. Fifteen years ago, Native Instruments began in a small home office. Now it is a multi-million euro company employing about 180 people, in a nascent business district known as Mediaspree.
“If you look back at the history of Berlin, back to the ‘20s and ‘30s and before, it has always been a music city, a place of great creativity,” Haver says. “We always collaborate closely with people involved in the city’s electronic-music scene to gather and refine ideas…”
Scientific Spirit: How romantics and technophiles can reconcile our love-hate relationship with scientific progress
March 10, 2011
In March 2009 headlines blared across the front pages of New York’s Daily News that were at once stimulating, scary, and altogether predictable. Dr. Jeff Steinberg, a doctor at the Fertility Institute, with offices in Los Angeles and New York, announced that within six months he would enable would-be parents to choose various traits for their babies, such as hair, eye, and even skin color. The science behind the procedure is a technique called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which takes a cell from embryos produced by a couple in vitro and screens them for possible inherited genetic diseases. An embryo that passes the screening is then transferred into the mother’s uterus for the subsequent pregnancy. Even though human traits are controlled by multiple genetic factors, PGD can also potentially be used to screen for cosmetically desired traits to a certain level of probability.
The news brought forth the expected chorus of critics from religious groups to bioethicists, as well as from doctors who questioned whether Steinberg had the ability to fulfill his lofty ambition. (Incidentally, the procedure has already been banned in several countries including Germany, Ireland, and Switzerland.) In the face of the storm, Steinberg, who along with other fertility doctors already offers parents the opportunity to select their child’s sex, withdrew his designer baby offer while also declaring in reference to his adversaries: “Genetic health is the wave of the future. It’s already happening and it’s not going to go away. It’s going to expand. So if they got major problems with it, they need to sit down and really examine their own consciences because there’s nothing that’s going to stop it.”
Only several days later President Obama announced his reversal of George W. Bush’s stem cell policy. While Bush allowed federal funding for stem cell lines only in use before an overall ban took effect (most of which were deemed useless by scientists) Obama pledged to “vigorously support” new research that may eventually yield fantastic results in the understanding and treatment of diseases and spinal injuries. The decision could possibly lead to a Congressional overturn of the Dickey-Wicker amendment that bans the use of taxpayer money to create embryos for research. Much like Steinberg’s desire to use PGD, Obama’s decision also drew a wide chorus of criticism whose main thrust echoes the abortion debate regarding the extent of human rights that should be afforded to an embryo or fetus. The question will gain even greater relevance in the future debate on creating embryos for the sole purpose of using their cells.
While much of the media storm blows toward the genetic revolution and related technology that may someday redefine what it is to be human, there are other revolutions stirring in the realm of science. No lesser figure than Bill Gates predicts that the next revolutionary industry will be the field of robotics. Robots, which already play a large role in industries such as automobile manufacturing, may soon be part of our day-to-day lives in various forms. Writing in the January 2007 issue of Scientific American, Gates somewhat downplays the anthropomorphic features most robots will have in favor of detailing what they’ll actually do for us.
It seems quite likely, however, that robots will perform an important role in providing physical assistance and even companionship for the elderly. Robotic devices will probably help people with disabilities get around and extend the strength and endurance of soldiers, construction workers and medical professionals… They will enable health care workers to diagnose and treat patients who may be thousands of miles away, and they will be a central feature of security systems and search-and rescue missions.
From designer babies to robots, scientific scenarios such as these have long been a part of the human psyche in ways both exciting and horrifying. Countless books and films have speculated on the dark side of science, namely science gone extremely wrong by going “too far” in reshaping the world and thereby oppressing or even exterminating those who first pioneered it. The machines take over, new races and categories of creatures colonize their creators; technology becomes an instrument of super oppression. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World sets the literary standard here. And Isaac Asimov’s I Robot series may well prove prophetic. There’s also Jurassic Park, The Matrix,Maximum Overdrive, and the Terminator movies. Michel Houellebecq’s books The Elementary Particles and The Possibility of an Islandare more recent examples of genetics gone wild.
The love-hate relationship between Homo sapiens and science goes right into the shaky foundations of the meaning of life. The relationship is certainly paradoxical. On one hand the expansion of scientific knowledge always seems to bring about further recognition of humanity’s rather small place in the grand scheme of things. Of course it is now well beyond dispute that the earth isn’t the center of the solar system, that the Milky Way galaxy is just one of hundreds of billions in the known universe, and there’s a distinct possibility that the universe we find ourselves in is far from the only one. On top of it all, we know that in 5 billion years or so our sun will begin to die by running out of hydrogen and then helium in its core, causing it to expand out to pulverize at least Mercury and Venus and perhaps Earth—and if our planet isn’t completely destroyed by this certainly the oceans and rivers will boil away and any remaining life will quickly fry. In the interim we’ll have to contend with the thousands of near-Earth objects (NEOs), such as asteroids and comets that can potentially slam into Earth at a given moment. One such collision already created our moon out of a chuck of the Earth and another likely wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Others may have had at least a part in the four other major extinctions in Earth’s history. And it’s not only in the cosmic sense that science has the ability to make us feel insignificant. For all our apparent dominance of the earth there are more than 100 billion bacteria living and working in a single centimeter of our intestine, and that number rivals the total amount of humans that have ever existed. Science also tells us that our emotions are chemical transfers in the brain and our most basic mission is simply to pass along our genes.
On the other hand, while making traditional metaphysics like religion more difficult, science empowers humanity to drastically increase control of its environment, in other words to “play God.” And in the process, humanity has the potential to destroy, or at least greatly alter, itself. Airplanes, for instance, have enabled the world to come together in cultural exchange and trade in a far closer way than most people throughout history could ever imagine. Yet planes have also enabled destruction in the form of bombed out cities from Dresden to Hanoi and as weapons themselves on September 11, 2001. It was clear during the 2003 SARS epidemic just how fast pathogens can find their way around the globe via air travel…
March 10, 2011
On Dec. 30, Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kan., stopped processing Kodachrome film and the world passed an important if little-heralded milestone: the end of Kodachrome, a beautifully saturated color transparency film that was immortalized by Paul Simon in his 1973 song (“Mama don’t take my Kodachrome away”). Kodak had long since ceased its manufacture and the lab shutdown was yet another stage in the slow death of chemical, film-based photography.
Visual and audio reproduction have undergone massive changes as their underlying technologies shifted from analog to digital over the past two decades. It’s clear that it is far more convenient to snap photos with a digital point-and-shoot or listen to music on an iPod. But whether the quality of images or music has improved is, however, a highly debatable proposition, one that is contested by legions of enthusiasts who have continued to cling to older technologies not out of Luddite resistance to change, but because they believe the shift to 1′s and 0′s is actually making things worse.
Photography and music have been hobbies of mine ever since I was a child when I built Dynakits and had my own darkroom. I was introduced to high-end audio by the political theorist Allan Bloom, who back in the early 1980s had what seemed to me a crazily expensive Linn Sondek turntable and a collection of over 2,000 records. I started collecting historical Nikons when I inherited an F2A from my father, and these days I seem to spend as much time thinking about gear as I do analyzing politics for my day job.
Let’s begin with how photography has changed. Ansel Adams’s iconic images of the Sierras were taken with an 8-inch-by-10-inch view camera, a wooden contraption with bellows in which the photographer saw his subject upside-down and reversed under a black cloth. Joel Meyerowitz’s stunning photographs of Cape Cod were taken with a similar mahogany Deardorff view camera manufactured in the 1930s. These cameras produce negatives that contain up to 100 times the amount of information produced by a contemporary top-of-the-line digital SLR like a Canon EOS 5D or a Nikon D3. View cameras allow photographers to shift and tilt the lens relative to the film plane, which is why they continue to be used by architectural photographers who want to avoid photos of buildings with the converging vertical lines caused by the upward tilt of the lens on a normal camera. And their lenses can be stopped down to f/64 or even f/96, which allows everything to be in crystalline focus from 3 inches away to infinity. (Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham were part of a group called “f/64″ in celebration of this characteristic.)
Perhaps the most important feature of these older film cameras was their lack of convenience. They had to be mounted on tripods; it took many minutes to shoot a single frame; and they were hardly inconspicuous. In contrast to contemporary digital photographers who snap a zillion photos of the same subject and hope that one will turn out well composed, view camera photography is a more painterly activity that forces the photographer to slow down and think ahead carefully about subject, light, framing, time of day, and the like. These skills are in short supply among digital photographers…