A weekend at Floda 31

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To the untrained eye, Floda 31 appears to be a series of about half a dozen old farmhouses and barns on a large plot of land overlooking a forest. In reality, it’s a multidisciplinary design research facility.

Birmingham-born Rich Holland and his Dutch partner Marije de Haas established it (and are still building it) in the last remaining wilderness of Europe, on the site of a farm in northern Sweden surrounded by incredible views of ancient spruce forests, just south of the arctic circle.

I’m staying here for a couple of days, relaxing, taking in some scenery and getting my head around the kind of innovation that can happen in a place like this – and it’s on a scale that’s much larger than anything I’ve come across.

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Pretty much anything that can be made, can be made here. The workshop contains everything you might need to build anything from a website to a skate park – from a feature film to an observatory to chart the transit of Venus.

The residencies held here bring together science, art, architecture, design and technology to explore ideas and themes – primarily around the concept of sustainability. All of the ideas and innovations created at Floda 31 are made available to the public under a Creative Commons licence.

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The people here are smart, fun and interesting -and the scenery here is breathtaking. It’s a place I’d love to spend a bit more time.

We’ve been talking about putting together an event of some kind. Something that grows out of the Music Tech Fest, but extends it to bring together music and technology, art and architecture, design and innovation. It’d be great to hold some kind of residential event in this really beautiful part of the world.

We’re just kicking around concepts at this point – but something interesting could come of this. Watch this space.

In the meantime, it’s an amazing place to be – and so incredibly quiet. Except, that is, for the constant bouncing around of ideas, the sounds of cooking, laughing and the toddler playing in the corner.

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Just had a lunch of freshly-caught pike from the adjacent river – followed by a swim in an enormous, pristine, and beautifully warm lake entirely surrounded by forest. I could get used to this sort of thing.

Not entirely sure I could get used to the other half of the year when it’s 20-odd degrees below zero and you could walk across this lake, but that’s another story.

Morning in Málaga

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I deliberately woke up early to catch the sunrise in Málaga today. I’m not here for long, and I want to see a little bit of it, so I think a walk before breakfast might be in order. That view above is from my hotel room. You can smell the sea from here. It’s already warm and I can hear music, motor scooters and seagulls, despite being right in the city centre.

I’m here to do a presentation at a one-day symposium about computers in music. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but I’m glad that it did.

My host is Francisco Vico, who for the last four years has been running a research project in which he has developed an artificial intelligence system that can compose music with no human intervention. That music has been performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, and has been recorded and professionally released.

This article explains the project well.

As you might expect – a computer composer can be prolific. Iamus, the non-human intelligence behind the works, is about to release its second album. The first, which contains the contemporary classical work ‘Hello World!‘, was the first record solely composed by a computer programme and recorded by human musicians.

I’m here with UK science writer Philip Ball, whose book The Music Instinct is one of my favourite works on the subject – up there with Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia.

There are just five speakers today, but they are from very different fields – ranging from respected composer Gustavo Díaz-Jerez to a media and cultural studies academic (that would be me). Our role here is to reflect on different aspects of what it means that computers can compose music. None of us, as far as I can tell, seem particularly averse to the idea.

Not that all music should be composed by artificial intelligence, of course – but that it can, and is being composed. I think that’s interesting, and I think it’s important that it’s happening – because that potentially changes our relationship with music yet again – in much the same way that the industrialisation of music production changes our relationship with it.

Our audience, however, might differ. For the most part, we’ll be talking today to a group of musicians from the Málaga Conservatory, and our brief is to be provocative. Not argumentative, necessarily – but provocative in the sense of challenging people to think in ways they ordinarily might not. I think I can manage that.

My presentation is about how music has fundamentally changed in terms of how we compose, produce, distribute and consume it with each major shift in the dominant media environment – from an oral society, to a print society to an age of digital media – and beyond. I started writing about that here on this blog a little while back, but I’ve since refined the idea somewhat – and this one-hour presentation today is my first chance to try the now slightly more elegant theory out in public.

Of course, it’ll have to be clear – and, since the presentation will be in English in a Spanish-speaking country, I’ll need to keep the pace significantly below my usual rapid-fire delivery – but I’m looking forward to presenting and defending my work, because this is what a lot of my research over the last decade has led up to – and there have been a number of recent ‘Eureka!’ moments that tie all the pieces together. And this reflection on the Melomics AI research project is the perfect opportunity to try these ideas out.

But first, I’m going to have a proper look at Málaga – as much as you can before breakfast, at any rate. And later today, I’m told there’s a very good second hand record store where I can pick up some flamenco music on vinyl. Because really – that’s the important bit.

The roller coaster slows to a stop – and nobody gets off

This was going to be a tweet. But it ran a little long. So I started writing it as a Facebook post. That ran over as well. So instead – this status update has to be a blog post:

Got home late last night. Been right around the world and organised a couple of Music Tech Fest events in Wellington and Boston. More about them soon.

Also used the opportunity to visit Mum in hospital in Auckland, finally introduce Michela to the family in person, go hiking in national parks in the South Island, do a bit of wine tasting in Martinborough, climb clay cliffs in Omarama, pick up hitchhikers in Arthur’s Pass, watch fur seals from a boat in Milford Sound, scramble over rocks and under waterfalls, do an eye-watering amount of sightseeing, have lunch with Kim Dotcom in his mansion, eat tacos in San Francisco, meet with the lovely Ethan Diamond to discuss the future of Bandcamp, hang out with the incredible and synaesthetic LJ Rich from BBC Click, participate in a policy consultation meeting on the future of the Creative Industries at the European Commission in Luxembourg, go skiing for the first time, visit glaciers, dig through photos from my childhood, sit with some of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever met while they played their music, experience Virtual Reality using the Oculus Rift, help develop a music technology startup company, co-write a manifesto for the future of music technology research, eat a mind-boggling variety of incredible foods, sit in a volcanic hot spring in Iceland, have Skype tutorials and recruit new MA students, initiate new research projects, prepare a book proposal, partially write two book chapters, travel by every conceivable mode of transport, and make plans for more adventures just like this one.

Have never worked so hard, slept so little, handed out so many business cards, been so stressed, had so much fun, been in so many unlikely and surreal situations, seen so much amazing stuff, learned so many things so quickly, done so many things that scare me, met such a high concentration of truly brilliant minds, been treated so well, been so excited by ideas and projects, been involved with something that people seemed to appreciate so much, had so many adventures or taken so many photographs in my life.

I suspect that I can expect this level of intensity as a fact of life from here on out. I’m incredibly grateful and completely exhausted. No idea of time zones or even day of the week. Today is simply about unpacking, if I can manage that much…

Occupy Music: behind the scenes

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As I write this, I’m on my way to Brazil to shoot a documentary film called ‘Occupy Music‘ (working title). It’s about Fora do Eixo – a cooperative and collaborative system for independent music that incorporates 200 cities, 30,000 artists, 6,000 shows a year and turns over a value of around US$44m just within Brazil.

This is a network of collectives that has its own political movement. It has its own university. It even has its own currency and bank, and it has built this infrastructure on the principles of collaboration, solidarity economy and open source platforms.

I’ll be visiting 12 cities in five weeks to conduct interviews and research further. I’m also producing a book and a compilation album featuring artists involved with the network.

I’ve actually been preparing for this moment for a few years, but now that it’s here, so far it just feels like sitting in a hot train to London, same as yesterday.

The documentary isn’t going to happen quickly. I’ll be travelling around Brazil for the next five weeks interviewing musicians, politicians, festival organisers, managers and others – as well getting some amazing shots of scenery, live music performances, and lots more I haven’t even thought of yet. And then I’m going back in November to get even more.

But I’m going to do some ‘behind the scenes’ video diary type stuff along the way and I’ll be posting it on the Occupy Music blog, which you’ll find at http://andrewdubber.com/brazil.

Speaking at music events: The Uganda edition

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I just spent a week in Jinja, Uganda, speaking as part of the Doadoa East African Performing Arts Market. I gave a presentation about music marketing.

It was, it has to be said, a very different presentation about music marketing than the one I gave at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival the previous weekend – though I guess some of the key principles remained the same.

Chances are the vast majority of African musicians you’ve actually heard of are West African musicians. In East Africa, generally speaking, there’s very little in the way of infrastructure, not much happening in the way of performance opportunities and hardly anything you could call an independent music industry.

There are, of course, some fairly big name pop stars in Uganda, and indeed, one of them played out the back of our hotel at deafening volumes until 2am on Saturday night – which seems an odd thing for a hotel to allow. But in general, there’s not a great deal going on for most people.

If you want to start a career as a musician or you want to be a music industry worker in Uganda, then your options are fairly limited in the grand scheme of things.

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The big tip-off for me was the complete lack of record stores. This is the first place I’ve ever been where vinyl shopping was simply not an option. Nobody owns record players, and nobody sells records. Seems it’s always been this way. You can buy a CD – burned to blank disc according to your specifications from an old PC in a small roadside store. But other than this – no music retail. And not much else in the way of music business either.

However, there are, of course, musicians. Great musicians. Some good producers too. A couple of really wonderful venues.

Here’s a brief sample of some of the music we encountered or caused to happen.

There just hasn’t been any real consolidation of the pockets of activity happening around East Africa or any clear route to market. So one of the things that Un-Convention has been involved with here for the past year has been the establishment of the Bayimba Co-op, which brings musicians and other artists together to share knowledge and contacts – the idea being that collaboration provides an opportunity to build sustainable careers within the arts for local people.

To see musicians working together towards the creation of a whole new industry, built on principles of cooperation rather than competition has been fantastic to see, and it’s an amazing place to be – for all sorts of reasons.

It’s my first time in Africa – let alone Uganda – and it’s been a fantastic introduction.

Relax

I’ve been very busy the whole time, of course. I swam in the Nile, hiked alongside waterfalls, watched some of the most incredible percussionists I’ve ever seen, danced to one of the best live reggae bands I’ve heard, won hundreds of thousands of shillings at the roulette table (nearly £30), and saw some amazing animals.

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I was there with a fantastic bunch of people and have many, many stories to tell…

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I also took about 500 photos, which you’re welcome to wade through, if you feel so inclined…

South Birmingham Surf Club

Liga & Liva in Kings Heath

I’ve started hosting couchsurfers again. If you’re not familiar with the concept, basically people travelling who need a place to stay can come and sleep on your sofa, your floor, or – if you have one – your spare bed.

They get to stay for free, and you get to share their stories, hear about their travels, share a meal and maybe make new friends. And, the deal is, you get to go and sleep on other people’s couches when you go and travel too.

Generally speaking, it’s a bunch of really interesting (predominantly young) people who are curious and want to explore the world, but don’t have a massive budget to do so – and aren’t letting that stop them.

In the case of Latvian couchsurfers Liga and Liva (pictured above), that was pretty much the case. Liva has been living in the UK for a little while and her friend Liga is working in Slovenia. They haven’t seen each other for ages, and so they decided to do a bit of travel together. Couchsurfing was how they could make that happen.

And it was an absolute delight to host them. I learned about the 4-yearly Latvian folk festival, which is a massive deal, heard some Latvian popular music, talked about food and culture and had dinner with them in my living room.

I left them to it after a while so they could hang out, catch up and not have to speak English all the time – and this morning after breakfast, we all went to the Kings Heath Farmers Market together before they set off into town to do some more exploring.

Next week, I’m hosting a young Norwegian guy who is hitch-hiking around Europe. We’ll see if he manages to get here on the agreed dates.

Don’t know if I’ll make it a regular thing, because as enjoyable as it is, it does knock you out of the routine a fair bit, and you need to have not much else going on in order to make the most of it. But from time to time, it’s a real treat to have new people around.

If you’re interested, check the website.