December 31, 2010
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Better Cheer

One aspect of Tom Service’s brilliant tour of the ills of contemporary classical music rings familiar to students of new media.

If a band that you like has a new album out, your dominant emotion when you download is one of potential excitement....With a few august exceptions, it seems to me to be often exactly the other way round with our little world of contemporary classical music, where the expectation and even the desire on the part of the audience is that the new piece won't be any good. That's because the audience are often the composer's competition.

It’s not that bad in new media, at least outside the most toxic corners, but the problem is real. When we hear about a new work in new media, we don’t rush to read it, we don’t chatter about it, we cheer or jeer it based on ancient alliances and enmities. The most recent words that Giselle Beiguelman (Wop Art, Code Up) said to me, in a lovely bistro in Germany, was that the work of our hypertext writers and poets seemed really interesting to her, but alas she wouldn't read them because they weren't all open source. This isn't art, or research. It’s politics.

I gave a paper at Florida, early this year, to a small, select audience of some of the best critics and scholars of the field. I pointed to the urgent need for criticism, for smart people to write intelligently about new media work. In the question period, Joe Tabbi (University of Illinois) argued strongly that the ELO directory would marshall armies of students to write terrific criticism. In the months since its relaunch, that little list has hardly grown; 159 entries in June, 178 today. Most of the additions are stubs contributed by the authors of omitted works. I mentioned two dozen famous but missing works, and most are still missing. Where are the term papers?

This is no fun.

And our fish came down, too.

He fell into a pot!

He said, 'Do I like this?

Oh, no! I do not.

This is not a good game,'

Said our fish as he lit.

'No, I do not like it,

Not one little bit!'

So, we’re going to start 2011 at by talking about a lot of terrific new media. Every few days, we’re going to highlight a different piece. Some will be brand-new, some 20 years old. Some will be very textual, some visual. Some will stay put, others move, and others require you to come to them.

It’s time to enjoy new media again. Back to the kitchen, folks!

Happy New Year.