Small Object of Desire #61 – Cover Version (2)

I listen to the radio a lot and one of my favourite shows is Robert Elms’ on BBC London. Not only do I get to discover a lot of random stuff about this glorious city of ours but he also, generally, has superb taste in music. Lately, he has had the track featured in the video below, a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole on heavy rotation. I love the stripped down production of just reggae influenced ukulele and his beautiful voice soaring over the space created by the musical notes. 

He may be little known on this side of the pond but check out the statistics for “Bruddah Iz’s” contribution to popular music. This song has been consistently in the iTunes top 100 songs since it’s debut in 2004. It has been featured in several Hollywood movies. When it first came out it raced up the charts, ahead of Beyonce’s Crazy In Love. Sadly, Iz didn’t live to see the digital success of his song. At the time of his death in 1997, he was on 38 years old and weighed a 1000 pounds. 

Small Object of Desire #60 – Soul Train (Get Lucky)

I have to hold my hands up – I was a bit slow on the uptake with Daft Punk’s latest, the fresh slab of discotastic funk (hello, have we time travelled back to 1978?) that is Get Lucky. I love the fact that they’ve taken pop music back to the drawing board, decluttered it and ditched the all pervasive auto-tune. 
 

When I did eventually get wise to it, albeit without knowing who exactly was involved in the making of it, I got the nagging feeling that the signature on the guitar riff seemed rather familiar. To me, it was reminiscent of Chic and Sister Sledge so I put on my Google detective hat to investigate and of course, it led me to directly to Nile Rodgers. Who else?
 

The latest is that Get Lucky has become the most streamed song within 24 hours of its release in Spotify’s 5 year history. Obviously, spoofs and tributes on YouTube will abound but this one here, where a fan has spliced it with a clip of a Soul Train Line is my favourite. It’s hilarious and just about convinced me to go out and get some hot pants, tout de suite! My flatmate reckons I could get lucky!
 

Small Object of Desire #59 – The Hyena and Other Men

Cruising the byways and alleyways of the information super highway as restlessly as I do, it’s inevitable that I sometimes stumble into dubious digital cul-de-sacs. When that happens, the best option is usually to turn tail and get the hell out of Dodge. However, sometimes the link roads lead to some far-flung part of the world (wide, webbed) that encourages me to stay for a while, glutting on as much information as I can find on the subject. 
 

So it was with the Hyena Handlers of Abuja, Nigeria. These pictures are pretty arresting, right? I didn’t realise how big a hyena is in comparison to a man. Look at the massive shoulders and fearsome mandibles on these beasties! Apparently, these men are entertainers and they’ve got the scars from claws and teeth to prove it. That’s hardcore in any language. Read about how South African photographer Pieter Hugo came to hang out with these men. 
 

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Small Object of Desire #58 – Transhumanism (H+)

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I got to spend some precious time recently with my very dear friend, anarmorphic artist and current artist-in-residence at the Savoy, Jonty Hurwitz. He told me about meeting a bunch of Russian scientists who are devotees of something strange, something that has been steadily gaining traction out there in the world beyond the realm of my immediate influences. It’s called transhumanism.  
 

Wikipedia gives a definition:

Transhumanism (abbreviated as H+ or h+) is an international intellectual and cultural movement that affirms the possibility and desirability of fundamentally transforming the human condition by developing and making widely available technologies to greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities. Transhumanist thinkers study the potential benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could overcome fundamental human limitations, as well as study the ethical matters involved in developing and using such technologies. They predict that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman”.


Attempting to express the concept in layman’s terms can be summed up in a series of pithy questions:
 

What if Google existed in your brain? What if, like bats, you could use echolocation to navigate? Dramatically improve your ability to see in the dark like a cat? Be able to see ultraviolet light? Or perhaps have the ability of a butterfly – to taste with your feet? 
 

Here’s a the beginning of little story to help you wrap your head around the notion a little further:
 

A young woman is at a rave, dancing to the summer’s monster hit. Pink LED lights under her skin wink in time to the thump of the bassline. She’s chosen that particular colour of lights today because they go with her clothes and match the fluffy mood she’s in. 
 

A scene where modifying your body for artistic or practical purposes is as commonplace as downloading a new app to your smartphone? It’s not so far-fetched. If you think about it, modifying or enhancing our bodies with technology is already possible and becoming more and more common. Every year millions of pacemakers, cochlear and neural implants are successfully implanted into human bodies in hospitals all over the world. My mother had both knees replaced a few years ago. Now the metal holding her patella in place is giving her gyp. We already micro-chip dogs. Why not ourselves?
 

It would seem that modern medicine is leading the way into bringing the human body into closer symbiosis with technology. The artist and cyborg activist Neil Harbisson was born with a very rare condition called achromatopsia which meant that he was only able to see the world in black and white. He created an electronic eye that would allow him to hear colour. He is the first person who has been allowed to have his passport photograph taken with a piece of electronic equipment on his head because he managed to argue that his eyeborg was now part of his body. Have a listen to what he has to say about living as a cyborg:
 

 


Imagine that, a cyborg actually sanctioned by the UK government! “Cyborg” literally means “cybernetic organism” ie. a being constructed of both mechanical and organic material. Consider the prosthetic limbs of athletes like Aimee Mullins or Oscar Pistorious. 
 


These kind of limbs are becoming more and more robotic and integrated into the human body. It’s making the word cyborg become less the stuff of science fictions like Robocop or Blade Runner. It’s also being referenced a lot by pop stars like Beyonce, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga. And with the advent of wearable, augmented reality technologies like Google Glass, it lends real credence to 
Ray Kurzweil‘s prediction that in the near future, we’ll be able to implant internet accessible systems in our head so that we can surf the web through simple thoughts with a small screen implanted in our cornea to view the screen.
 

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Not being constrained by your biology is the ultimate goal of transhumanists. 
They argue for augmenting human capabilities deliberately, away from restorative technologies and towards deliberate enhancement of human capability through the use of implanted devices, nanotechnology, smart drugs to turbo-charge memory, prolong life, increase muscle strength, combat baldness, enhance morality, end old age….the list goes on. Some people – Grinders, DIY biohackers or garage body mods – are taking matters into their own hands though. The practice of slicing up your own flesh has apparently become so commonplace that one tattoo artist recently stuck four magnets under his skin to hold his iPod nano in place. 
 

Essentially, I’m a modern machine. I like to think I’m intrepid enough to move with the times by embracing this brave new world. I can buy having a microchip implanted in the base of my skull to sharpen my synapses but I really can’t see myself giving up a good working limb just so that I could replace it with an upgraded appendage that can smell for itself. Mind you, ask me the same question in another 20 years when my knees have succumbed to wear and tear and I’m considering knee replacements…. I might be saying something very different then. 
 

Ethical, religious, political and economical issues surrounding the premise of transhumanism abound but a world in which our non-biological forms of intelligence (eg. our data in the form of knowledge and memory) communicate in the cloud might not be as far off as we think. We may balk at the idea of downloading our memories into a computer but our children (who can use smartphones at the age of 2 years old) will think nothing of it.