Friday, February 25, 2011

Q+A with me on Razorfish's ScatterGather blog

I'll be on a panel at SXSW Interactive with Jason Schultz and Larisa Mann called Music & Metadata: Do Songs Remain the Same?. Super excited! Razorfish's Scatter/Gather blog did a Q&A with me about the panel: SXSW 2011 Q&A: Jess Hemerly

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Aura you experienced? "Paranormal" portraiture [Boing Boing]

Original post at Boing Boing

In 1992, a man named Guy Coggins combined Kirlian photography with biofeedback and introduced Aura Imaging photography. He began selling cameras through his Redwood City company, Progen, and according to the company's FAQ, there are only about 250 owners of these in the US. One of the owners is in San Francisco's Japantown. You'd miss it if you didn't know what to look for. It's a small gift shop called Sharaku across from the plaza, filled with Japanese textiles, figurines, and replica instruments. The only clue that something else goes on in this shop are yellowed, letter-sized, photocopied signs on the window advertising aura photography. But for $15 (plus tax) the old lady who runs the shop will reluctantly take you into the back, set up her Biofeedback Imaging Color Spectrometer 3000, and photograph your aura. And yes, that is quite a profit margin. According to the camera company's site, the cost per photo is about $3.30 (including film and "functional warranty replacement" charge).

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine decided that getting his aura photographed would be the perfect way to say goodbye to 2009 and invited my husband-to-be and I to join.
There were a couple tourists in the claustrophobic shop, browsing the racks and shelves of knickknacks, but when we asked to have our auras photographed she took us straight to the shop's back room. This is where the camera lives along with a microwave on a table, a heater, some boxes, and a bookshelf lined with what look like old Japanese serial novels.

In front of a white background screen is a bench on which she set the biofeedback boxes and motioned for me to sit down. The camera she uses is a big rectangular box with a window on the front in which I could can see my reflection pretty clearly. I placed my hands on the metal finger guides and sat as still as possible. I made no effort to think anything other than trying not to look like I had a double chin -- my biggest fear in photographs. She made some adjustments with the camera and I half expected to feel something coming out of the metal under my hands, but after about 10 seconds she told me I was done.

As she pulled the Fuji instant film out of the camera and set it next to the microwave, a dot matrix printer began to print an ASCII diagram of my aura and I - with @'s for eyes and letters representing the colors - and explanations of the dominant colors representing future (left side), experience (above), and expression (right). The blue above my head means I am best described by "depth-of-feeling," while the blue to my right means I "put calm into the world". My orange left side means I am coming into a period of creativity and sensuality. Not bad!

After a few more minutes, she tore the plastic off the film and handed my aura photograph to me. The first thing I noticed was how colorful the image was. Then I noticed that the colors of my aura matched the colors of the hoodie I had on. Coincidence? Joe Nickell, Research Fellow at the Center for Skeptical Inquiry, wrote a piece for the Skeptical Inquirer in 2000 about his experience with aura photography, titled "Aura Photography: A Candid Shot." After having his first photo taken, Joe stepped away from the booth to talk to some students and decided to return and see if the photo came out the same. It didn't. In fact, far from it. The photographer suggested that he'd been "teaching" students between photos and that changed his aura. Joe was unconvinced, as I am not completely convinced that my aura wasn't based on my clothing.

Real aura or not, the pictures are far cooler than anything your mom made you have taken at Olan Mills.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Future of Video: Authorship, Appropriation, and Control

I created this video as my presentation for my final conference with Institute for the Future on the Future of Video. I used interviews with Tiffany Shlain, Jason Schultz, and Pat Aufderheide, conducted over Skype; remixes pulled or captured from YouTube; a short presentation created and captured from Prezi; a song from the Internet Archive; and put the whole thing together in iMovie. This was my first *real* experiment with making my own video.

The Future of Video: Authorship, Appropriation, and Control from Institute for the Future on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

7x7 Clamour Blog

Since mid-April, I've been blogging about San Francisco arts & entertainment twice a week for 7x7 magazine's Clamour blog. All posts are available here.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Q&A with Thao Nguyen [Noise Pop]

Noise Pop Festival Program & website, 2009 [Link]

NP: I hear you’re looking for a fourth member, now’s your chance.

T: Yeah, and I would love if it was a woman. Mostly they have to be cool, but think I need that balance. Sometimes after three weeks or two weeks with these two dudes I haven't talked about my feelings in forever.

Thao Nguyen fronts the trio Thao with the Get Down Stay Down with Adam Thompson on bass and Willis Thompson on drums (no relation) whose second album, We Brave Bee Stings and All, came out on Kill Rock Stars in 2008. With Thao’s airy, animated voice dancing over jangly guitars and light, poppy rhythms, you can’t help but feel a little happier when you listen to them. Thao headlines solo at the Swedish American Hall on February 26 and promises to find out what puts the “Swedish” in Swedish American Hall.

Noise Pop: Are you excited to headline Noise Pop?

Thao: Am I headlining?

NP: Yes.

T: Really? Holy shit! No one tells me anything, I swear. I better be better than I thought I would have to be.

NP: So you’re excited.

T: Yes, totally. Sorry, it's just funny. If you knew the amount of things I don't know about what I'm doing for my job it would crack you up.

NP: Did opening for Rilo Kiley and Xiu Xiu in the beginning of 2008 pay off when you went out on your own later in the year?

T: When we released [We Brave Bee Stings and All], if we had gone on our own headlining tour it would have been just a string of shitboxes. But when we did that headlining tour a lot of people showed up who would not have had they not seen us otherwise with these other bands. There's no way that we had any sort of footing or clout. We used to play so many places with "tavern" in the name and it's just not that cool.

NP: Taverns can be tough. Any artists you’d love to play with?

T: I have a very deep affection for Andrew Bird, but I feel like if we shared the same bill I would be paralyzed because I'd feel too inadequate to play. And Mirah, I've always been a really big fan of her.

NP: How much songwriting does the rest of the band do?

T: I would say that I write all the songs. It's weird, I'm not really into control but definitely with songwriting I want it, so I prefer that the guys in the band not even hear the song until I feel like it is complete. And they write their own parts because they're much better at drums and bass than I am. I love that collaborative energy, it's just that the song—I need it to be my own.

NP: How did you find each other?

T: Willis and I went to college together and he was pretty much the first drummer I've ever played with. He's like my first rhythmic love and I think he's amazing. I know that he's irreplaceable because I've tried before and it didn't work out.

NP: And Adam?

T: We dated for a minute a long time ago. They are the best musicians that I have had the pleasure of working with. At the same time, we gel enough personality-wise, and we're of the same ethos and the same goals so it works, for the most part, really well.

NP: Working and traveling with these two guys all the time, do you sometimes crave the company of women?

T: I swear, for every 14,000 men there's one woman. Other bands you play with, the people in crews, the staff at venues—everyone is a dude. I know a lot of great female musicians but for whatever reason there's just less. When you do meet a woman that plays music—a touring musician, which is kind of a weird lifestyle—the camaraderie is almost immediate because we have so much to talk about, grievances and triumphs.

NP: I hear you’re looking for a fourth member, now’s your chance.

T: Yeah, and I would love if it was a woman. Mostly they have to be cool, but think I need that balance. Sometimes after three weeks or two weeks with these two dudes I haven't talked about my feelings in forever.

NP: Speaking of feelings, what music do you love?

T: Motown, late 50s and 60s soul and some pop, rock, and folk. That era and into the early 70s is primarily what I listen to, which is why it's such a disability for me to talk about new music that I might be interested in. I also listen to a lot of hip-hop and R&B and want to incorporate that more into the next album (not in an embarrassing way).

NP: No freestyling.

T: I’m not cool enough to do that.

NP: Are you glad you game out to the West Coast?

T: I'll say this about San Francisco: I think I've been to a lot of cities now—actually I'm pretty sure that they all blur together—but I only want to live here.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Art of Frame [Make:]

Make: Volume 16, November 2008 [Link]

Akio Tanabe makes some of the world's most sought-after bicycle frames.

Shortly after World War II, the Japanese created a new form of track cycling: keirin (pronounced kay-rin). In a keirin race, a bicycle, motorbike, or moped sets pace for six to nine bike riders, gradually increasing speed on each lap. When the pacer drops off, the race becomes a sprint as riders jockey for the front position.

People across Japan trek to velodromes to watch and bet on keirin racing the way Americans bet on horse racing — except the stakes are much higher.

With significant sums of money at stake, a governing body, Nihon Jitensha Shinkokai (NJS), regulates keirin racing. NJS has exceptionally high standards for bike geometry, weight, and materials, to ensure that a rider’s equipment never provides an advantage or results in catastrophic failure. This fiercely regulated system of quality standards comes from a tradition of quality and integrity. Many keirin bikes are hand-built by a single frame builder.

Urbanites worldwide have caught keirin fever, and frames branded with some of Japan’s most notable names, from 3Rensho to Watanabe to Makino, roll through city streets. And while NJS-stamped frames and parts are sought by fixed-gear fans for street riding, the NJS stamp of approval is the only thing that will allow a frame or part on the keirin track.

On a recent trip to Tokyo, we were lucky enough to hook up with a Flickr contact, a bicycle aficionado named Yohei Morita. On Christmas Day, Morita picked us up at our hotel and offered to take us around to some of his favorite bike shops in the city. After the first shop in the Shibuya ward, we considered where to go next. I blurted out, “Kalavinka!”

“Sure, it’s a short drive,” our host answered.

For 35 years, Tsukumo Cycle Sports, a small community bicycle shop located in Meguro ward, Tokyo, has serviced all kinds of bicycles, from domestic mama-chari to professional keirin bikes. But it’s what lies in the back of the shop that makes Tsukumo a destination for bicycle aficionados. It’s in this tiny workshop, the size of a large closet, where Akio Tanabe creates some of the most sought-after
bicycle frames under the name Kalavinka.

There’s nothing particularly new about the technology Tanabe-san uses to hand-build his frames. His workshop is filled with sketches, bottom bracket shells, lugs, and bottles of chemicals. There’s no automated assembly line, no shiny new tools, and, until recently, no space-age carbon fiber. Kalavinka has been working on a carbon track frame for some time, but Tanabe-san is best known for frames
produced with steel tubing and welding machines.

Before opening Tsukumo and starting his own line of bikes, Tanabe-san worked as a test rider and racer. He builds 80 to 90 frames a year, half of which are for professional keirin racers. Despite Kalavinka’s prestige, Tanabe-san is incredibly humble. He greeted us warmheartedly, showed us his workshop, and even posed for a picture. But when we began lumping on the praise, he deflected it by pulling a metal Kalavinka head
badge from underneath the workbench, meticulously hand-painted by his wife.

The art of frame building is enjoying new interest in the United States. The United Bicycle Institute in Ashland, Ore., offers two-week programs for aspiring frame builders. And it’s partly because of Japanese legends like Tanabe-san.

—Jess Hemerly, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How I Had 15 Minutes of Internet Fame (Without Really Trying) [IFTF]

Institute for the Future, October 15, 2008 [Link]

In 1968, Andy Warhol declared, "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes." Maybe everyone being famous for 15 minutes is still part of a future we haven't achieved yet, but we're getting closer to something like it thanks largely to the Internet.

In 1968, Andy Warhol declared, "In the future, everyone will be world famous for 15 minutes." Maybe everyone being famous for 15 minutes is still part of a future we haven't achieved yet, but we're getting closer to something like it thanks largely to the Internet. We've seen fame coming to a variety of unlikely corners of the net, from a book deal for the guy who writes about stuff white people like to a MySpace celebrity getting her own dating reality show on VH1. But for many of the things that become "Internet famous," the creators behind the phenomenon remain out of the spotlight while their blogs get all the fame. It's not about lack of recognition; it's about a blog or a website becoming viral and achieving a kind of fame that transcends the people who made it.

Last week, in the wake of one of the worst few days for Wall Street ever, a friend Chris made his Facebook status message read something about it being a bad year for Wall Street but a banner year for pictures of sad guys on trading floors. I pinged him and within 15 minutes of my IM he'd set up a blog for us on Tumblr: We immediately started to curate and caption photos of traders accompanying stories about the stock market's decline. There were lots of them. The inclusion of a sad-looking trader with an article about the end of the financial world as we know it was an instant Internet meme.

I sent the Sad Guys on Trading Floors link to my IFTF colleague, friend, and blogger extraordinaire David Pescovitz. David posted our blog to his, BoingBoing, which is one of the most widely read blogs on the web. From there, it took off like a highly contagious virus. Some of the blogs mentioned Chris and I by name, but once we started to get into the bigger publications' blogs like New York Times: Economix and Wall Street Journal: The Wallet, the bloggers talked about the site and its content but never about us. But the blog was linked on social sites like MetaFilter (who railed on the lameness of our comments, sorry MeFi!); on magazine blogs like Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish on; Twittered by what seem to be a lot of people (and they're still Twittering us); and mentioned on CNBC.

On the first full day our blog was up on Tumblr, we had 259,390 page views. In Internet numbers, that's huge.

Chris and I were, and quite frankly still are, dumbfounded. All we did was agree on a noticeable phenomenon that we thought was funny (photos of distressed-looking traders accompanying stock market articles), open an account on Tumblr (Chris did that part), scour the web for pictures of sad traders (not hard to find; news site slideshows were a godsend), save the pics to our desktops, upload, write some captions that we at least found mildly amusing, and post. Our friends know we were behind it, but to most people, "we" are just some nameless people behind monitors who compiled a blog of pictures and captions. The blog kind of speaks for itself and became an entity unto itself. A few people took the time to find our email addresses and send us some "fan mail" and people on Tumblr reposted us. Some really good friends actually IMed me the link without knowing that I was a co-blogger until I told them.

On other sites some comments praised us, some made fun of our captions, and some comments pointed out that it was unfair to "blame the traders," since they were only at the behest of the big guys on top of Corruption Mountain. But that's not even what we were doing. We just thought it was funny that every single news article about the stock market was accompanied by a picture of a sad trader making a sad face, whether the expression was one of genuine dismay snapped during a time of actual crisis or had nothing to do with the declining stock market.

So does this count as my 15 minutes of fame? Who knows. A blog a friend and I made on a whim certainly got its 15 minutes of fame, but I'm not sure he and I personally did. But maybe this is what Warhol meant by 15 minutes of fame, that one day ideas and creations would take off—but only the people behind the ideas and their friends really know or care about who's behind the creation or creations. It's as if Warhol forecasted Internet fame before the Internet existed.

Somebody made a mashup with the images!

— Jess Hemerly, October 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sad Guys On Trading Floors [Blog]

Sad Guys On Trading Floors

Turning the economic crisis into one of those clever internet memes.

My friend Chris Riebschlager in Kansas City and I created this blog to commemorate the media's portrayal of the recent stock market crash. It took off to the point where I almost can't believe who covered it. We had no idea this would turn into a 15-min-of-fame thing on the Internet. Just proof that viral memes are, well, exceptionally viral.

Media mentions:
BoingBoing (started it all)


New York Times: Economix
The Atlantic: Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish
LA Times: Funny Pages 2.0
New York Magazine: Daily Intel
Wall Street Journal: The Wallet
Wall Street Journal: Marketbeat
MSNBC: Clicked
Boston Globe: Brainiac
Telegraph Daily
Times Online (UK)
Sydney Morning Herald
The Independent: IndyBlogs
Dallas Morning News: Technology Blog
The American Prospect: Ezra Klein
Riverfront TImes (St. Louis)
Spectator: Trading Floor
MetaFilter (predictably mean)
Silicon Alley Insider
D: All Things Digital
Media Watchdog: Sad Brokers Provide Plenty of Material, Pop & Politics (Interview with Chris Riebschlager)
The Big Picture
YouTube Mashup: The Facepalm Song

SF Jukebox [Blog]

SF Jukebox

This is an attempt to evaluate and document the jukeboxes of San Francisco's bar world, and the shows that occur at our venues. Consider it a study in San Francisco music appreciation.

Selected as one of Blogger's "Blogs of Note" in October, SF Jukebox is a combination of my writing and Jonathan Koshi's photos. A number of these reviews are also posted at The Owl Mag.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Of Montreal [Chord]

Of Montreal, Chord, Fall 2008

Yes, Of Montreal is a pop band, but it's one that's innovative as hell. Whether it's the sound, the lyrics, or even the live performances, frontman—or maybe more appropriately "conductor"—Kevin Barnes strives to find new ways to combine, remix, and interpret styles and influences to keep of Montreal fresh and evolving. While of Montreal's last album, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, was a collection of upbeat pop songs designed to pull Barnes out of a gloomy funk, the inspiration for the new album, Skeletal Lamping, lacks a single narrative.

And that's how Barnes wanted it.

"Everything is very fractured and fragmented and I’m constantly contradicting myself in my thoughts and my concept of the world," he reflects. "I wanted to just make a record that represented that state of being. It’s important for you to feel totally free to contradict yourself and just be whoever you happen to be at the moment."

In a word, the album is best described as human. A multifaceted approach lends each song its own unpredictable personality in composition, style, and lyrics. "Nonpareil of Favor" starts off as a peppy indie pop song and ends in a lyricless drone, far from where the track began. "Touching Something's Hollow" is a wistful interlude with vocals and piano that explodes into "An Eluardian Instance," a texturally varied track about young love. The album is also not shy about sexuality, exploring everything from trans-gender relationships to prostitution.

A variety of musical styles pop out on this album, but Barnes specifically aimed to harness the bravado and energy of 70s funk. "You can draw parallels to all sorts of artists but I’m definitely pulling a lot from Prince, Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield and people like that. And I’m also trying to incorporate more dissonance and tension, which is not really something you find in funk music."

But there is more to Skeletal Lamping than just fifteen tracks about kinky sex and wayward lovers. Barnes and the band felt they wanted to do something new with this release, something beyond a jewel case and booklet or a digipack. Taking advantage of the talented people in his life, Barnes teamed up with his brother, David (who has designed the band's album covers since 1997), and wife, Nina (who has done much of the band's merch), to create a set of seven objects that accompany the album. From a giant foldout monster poster with the CD to a Chinese lantern with a digital download, fans get a piece of art—and a reason to invest in the album even if they download it for free through other means.

"All the items we created we wanted to be integrated into people’s lifestyles. So it’s always gonna be an inspiring piece or a provocative piece or conversation piece, or something that has value just like any art piece does. The Chinese lantern and the wall decals—basically if you bought everything you could redesign your room."

For the upcoming tour, the band has replaced the electronic drum machine with a dedicated drummer who will play live on all tracks. Barnes hopes the addition will allow the band more freedom to improvise during the shows. of Montreal also plans a stage show that should impress even the most loyal fans accustomed to the band's theatrical style of glitter, glitz, and sensory overload. Using a separate room on wheels, the band will create a second environment on stage that can be turned around, re-staged, and then turned back to face the audience.

"What we’d love to do is transform each venue and create an other-world environment that you are not expecting at all," says Barnes.

Through their multifaceted approach to distribution and performance, of Montreal hopes to create new experiences for their fans that they hope will not only engage fans, but inspire them to participate and become a part of something larger. For Barnes, it's not just about the music, it's also about the spirit.

"I want the audience to feel like they’re part of the community, the sort of art collective that Of Montreal is," he says. "I really hope that people will dress up and feel like they’re part of the performance as well."