Douglas Edric Stanley


I already mentioned this back in December, but Radio Grenouille recorded several speakers from the series of conferences organized by Jean Cristofol entitled Partage du savoir, privatisation de la connaissance. Those recordings have now been edited and will play at the end of this month, starting next week.

The first conversation took place between Paul Devautour, Jean and me, and will be rebroadcast on the 29th. I have to admit, as usual I was pretty lame and didn’t have all that much to say. I suppose I was a little taken aback when at the start of the conversation the fellow interviewing me had no §@#&*$% idea who the hell I was, so didn’t really ask me very good questions. Please, journalists, either come prepared, or simply have the humility to ask! Little by little we got there, but, well, it wasn’t easy. Paul and I went back and forth over a topic he and I disagree about — i.e. the role of design in art schools and society — so that part of the debate should be fairly energetic. But the most important section, i.e. the relationship between art and private property, was pretty much a bore. Perhaps in the editing room they can make it a little spicier. Basically Paul, Jean, and I have all been working towards the same cause, fighting the new laws on intellectual property, so there wasn’t really much to debate.

What we didn’t have time to get to, was the role hacking is playing in the current debate. For example, I am in a strange position right now where the work that I and my students are doing in my atelier has been rendered hors-la-loi by the very Minister of Culture that is supposed to be defending my rights as an artist. All in the name of DRM, he passed a law that goes easy on light piracy (peer-to-peer) with fines that range from a few hundred dollars to caps set at two thousand. That’s the part that was designed to keep the public at bay. But as for those that would dare inform others how to bypass digital rights management, well the fines can go up to about 35,000€. Sympa, as we say here in France. Open Source software, this means you.

Now, of course, all this is open to interpretation, so we will see what happens in the courts, but the idea behind all this is to lock up the system such that large media players can operate freely by distributing whatever protection formats they like, and thereby unleash state-sanctioned private software virii throughout our machines, infiltrating the infinite recesses of our own folders and files. Nobody asked for this. Sony, on the one hand, gets lawsuits over their Rootkit, while on the other hand, the French law similar technologies a legal reality. And anyone caught explaining to people how to free up their media from these formats will be severely punished. In my situation, this means that the classes I teach on hacking into gaming consoles are basically illegal if someone wanted to take the time out to make our lives difficult. Which is of course completely rediculous, because we all know the importance of hacking to keep these platforms economically alive, and even give them a second life.

What I am interested in, is seeing how we can usher in a new generation of artistic forms that are based on generative or simply algorithmic processes, i.e. media creations that match the modular nature of the machines that animate them. An iPod is a little computer, so ultimately I should be able to generate not just music files for that little machine, but actual musical programs or patches. For example, Maxim Marion told me the other day that it is now fairly easy to put Pure Data patches onto Linux’ed iPods. But when you look at the new French DRM laws, they are designed precisely to protect the holders of massive libraries of old, un-dynamic media. And since the new gadgets are becoming more and more tied to the media themselves (i.e. iTunes), it is become harder and harder to open up this new potential field. We can hack into these machines (with some risks, see above), but we cannot distribute our creations on them because only the select few will have opened them up. It seems amazing to me, although quite telling, that someone like Brian Eno can make generative compositions for video games (cf. Spore), but not for the iPod. Perhaps it’s the case that we are simply going to have to don the sheep’s clothing of video games for everything we do artistically, just to get our foot in the door?