Stagger onward rejoicing

Tag: creativity (page 1 of 1)

movie cards



When preparing to shoot a scene, the film director Alejandro Iñárritu prepares note cards to help him organize his thoughts. ”During the production of a film, it’s easy to lose track of and forget the original intentions and motives that you had three years ago in your head and that are always so important.” Moreover, “As Stanley Kubrick once said, making a movie is like trying to write poetry while you’re riding a roller coaster. When one is shooting a film, it feels like a roller coaster, and it’s much more difficult to have the focus and mental space that one has during the writing or preparation of a film.”

So to forestall these problems, Iñárritu grabs a blank note card and divides it into columns, usually featuring six categories:

  1. He begins with the facts. “I try to write down the facts in a neutral way. What is happening in this particular scene?”
  2. “The second part is that I try to imagine what happened immediately preceding the moment in question. Where have the characters come from?”
  3. “The third column details the ‘objective.’ What is the purpose of this scene? … Here I try to dissect the objective of the scene as a whole and what it’s about, as well as the objective of each of the characters who appear…. Each character has a need, and it’s important for me to know what it is.”
  4. “The fourth part of these cards — the ‘action verb’ column — is particularly difficult … and extremely helpful, too, in further clarifying a character’s objective so that the actor can execute the scene. If one character wants something from another character, one way of achieving the goal is by seducing the other character. Another way is by threatening him. Another way is by ignoring or provoking him. Within a scene, there can also be several action verbs — these kinds of transitions in tactics for obtaining the same objective are important because they bring a scene to life and add color to it.”
  5. “The subtext … is often almost more important than the text. The text can often be contrary to the subtext, and the subtext is what should be very clearly understood. In other words, if one person says to another, ‘Go away, I don’t want to see you again,’ it is very possible that what they really mean is ‘I need you now more than ever.’ The words we use can often oppose what we feel, and I believe that acknowledging this human contradiction can help give great weight to a performance.”
  6. Finally, the ‘as if‘ column. There are two ways I believe one can take on a performance — one is through the actor’s own personal and emotional experience, applied to a scene through an association with it, and the other is through imagination.… I have been in situations where an actor, at a given moment, lacks imagination for some personal reason or does not have emotional baggage that he can refer to. In such a case, I sometimes like to have an image that I can leave with an actor or actress. Our body is the master. Sometimes, with a physical or sensorial experience (a burn, cold, etc.), the actor or actress will know already how that feels, and that can help in channeling that feeling.”

I love stuff like this – the improvisations, the invented methods and practices, what Matt Crawford calls the jigs, that any creative person must develop in order to manage the complexities of a serious project.


The Struggle With The Audience:

By 2020, [Sam] Carter was a battle-hardened veteran of the music scene. He’d been making records with this group for twelve years, and Architects had had enough success not to worry too much about negative reactions to new material. It was also quickly apparent that Creatures was going to be a big hit. Despite all this, he found the reaction to hard to deal with: “It was doing huge numbers on the streaming services, but all I could see were these horrible comments.” On YouTube and Instagram, the negative reactions become increasingly extreme as people competed to make the most negative comment. “It’s hard, when you’ve put your heart and soul into something, and someone says, ‘I’m never listening to your band again, you’ve ruined it’.”

Carter then makes a striking assertion. If social media had come along earlier, he says, “Sergeant Pepper wouldn’t exist. The most important records of our time wouldn’t exist.” 

This whole essay by Ian Leslie is great, and a useful counterpart to my post the other day about the challenges of chasing eyeballs. 

However, there’s another side to the story of artists and their audiences. My buddy Austin Kleon wrote last week

One reason I feel so lucky to be an independent writer with a great audience: I don’t answer to any shareholders but readers. I don’t have to grow my business if I don’t want to. I can do my thing the way I want to do it for the people who want it. And I can do it the way I want to do it. 

I think Austin has this attitude because he has never tried to get famous, to go viral, all that crap; he has tried (a) to do good, honest, useful, helpful work that (b) supports his family. Turns out there’s an audience for that! And Austin can call his audience “great” because he has set a tone — a tone of generosity, kindness, thoughtfulness — and they’ve picked up on that. So maybe the lessons here are: 

  1. Do your best work. 
  2. Be kind and generous to your audience. 
  3. When they want to dictate to you, listen … but then do what you have to do to maintain your integrity and your sanity. 
  4. Accept the consequences as stoically as you can, and be grateful when those consequences are more positive than negative. 

See also: this blog’s mission statement

three versions of artificial intelligence

Artificial Creativity? – O’Reilly:

AI has been used to complete Beethoven’s 10th symphony, for which Beethoven left a number of sketches and notes at the time of his death. The result is pretty good, better than the human attempts I’ve heard at completing the 10th. It sounds Beethoven-like; its flaw is that it goes on and on, repeating Beethoven-like riffs but without the tremendous forward-moving force that you get in Beethoven’s compositions. But completing the 10th isn’t the problem we should be looking at. How did we get Beethoven in the first place?  If you trained an AI on the music Beethoven was trained on, would you eventually get the 9th symphony? Or would you get something that sounds a lot like Mozart and Haydn?

I’m betting the latter. 

A story from qntm:

As the earliest viable brain scan, MMAcevedo is one of a very small number of brain scans to have been recorded before widespread understanding of the hazards of uploading and emulation. MMAcevedo not only predates all industrial scale virtual image workloading but also the KES case, the Whitney case, the Seafront Experiments and even Poulsen’s pivotal and prescient Warnings paper. Though speculative fiction on the topic of uploading existed at the time of the MMAcevedo scan, relatively little of it made accurate exploration of the possibilities of the technology, and that fiction which did was far less widely-known than it is today. Certainly, Acevedo was not familiar with it at the time of his uploading. 

As such, unlike the vast majority of emulated humans, the emulated Miguel Acevedo boots with an excited, pleasant demeanour. He is eager to understand how much time has passed since his uploading, what context he is being emulated in, and what task or experiment he is to participate in. If asked to speculate, he guesses that he may have been booted for the IAAS-1 or IAAS-5 experiments. At the time of his scan, IAAS-1 had been scheduled for August 10, 2031, and MMAcevedo was indeed used for that experiment on that day. IAAS-5 had been scheduled for October 2031 but was postponed several times and eventually became the IAAX-60 experiment series, which continued until the mid-2030s and used other scans in conjunction with MMAcevedo. The emulated Acevedo also expresses curiosity about the state of his biological original and a desire to communicate with him.  

MMAcevedo’s demeanour and attitude contrast starkly with those of nearly all other uploads taken of modern adult humans, most of which boot into a state of disorientation which is quickly replaced by terror and extreme panic. Standard procedures for securing the upload’s cooperation such as red-washing, blue-washing, and use of the Objective Statement Protocols are unnecessary. This reduces the necessary computational load required in fast-forwarding the upload through a cooperation protocol, with the result that the MMAcevedo duty cycle is typically 99.4% on suitable workloads, a mark unmatched by all but a few other known uploads. However, MMAcevedo’s innate skills and personality make it fundamentally unsuitable for many workloads. 

Charlie Stross

Here’s the thing: our current prevailing political philosophy of human rights and constitutional democracy is invalidated if we have mind uploading/replication or super-human intelligence. (The latter need not be AI; it could be uploaded human minds able to monopolize sufficient computing substrate to get more thinking done per unit baseline time than actual humans can achieve.) Some people are, once again, clearly superior in capability to born-humans. And other persons can be ruthlessly exploited for their labour output without reward, and without even being allowed to know that they’re being exploited. […] 

Our intuitions about crimes against people (and humanity) are based on a set of assumptions about the parameters of personhood that are going to be completely destroyed if mind uploading turns out to be possible.

control and surrender, architecture and gardening


Tom Phillips, Brian Eno
oil on canvas
35.6 x 25.4 cm
collection: the artist

Tom Phillips writes:

I once devised a television project whose abbreviated ghost now forms, not inappropriately, an introduction to the film I worked on with Jake Auerbach (Artist’s Eye: Tom Phillips, BBC2 1989). The title was to be Raphael to Eno: it traced the lineage of pupil and teacher back through Frank Auerbach, Bomberg, Sickert etc. until, after an obscure group of French Peintres du Roy, it emerged via Primaticcio into the light of Raphael. Thus I find that at only twenty removes I am a pupil of Raphael. Brian Eno as a student of mine (initially at Ipswich in the early sixties) therefore continues that strange genealogy of influence as the twenty-first.

I cite that simply because it’s awesome.

The relationship between Phillips — one of whose most famous works is A Humument, an ongoing-for-decades collage/manipulation/adaptation of a Victorian book — and Eno is a fascinating one in the history of aleatory or, as I prefer, emergent art.

I’ve been talking about all this with Austin Kleon — whose newspaper blackout poems are descendants or cousins of A Humument — who not only knows way more about all this than I do but who also has been posting some great stuff lately on the themes of patience, waiting, and what I recently called “re-setting your mental clock.” See for instance this post on Dave Chappelle’s willingness to wait for the ideas to show up at his door.

And of course that post circles back to Eno — so many useful thoughts about being a maker of something circle back to Eno — quoting from this article:

“Control and surrender have to be kept in balance. That’s what surfers do – take control of the situation, then be carried, then take control. In the last few thousand years, we’ve become incredibly adept technically. We’ve treasured the controlling part of ourselves and neglected the surrendering part.” Eno considers all his recent art to be a rebuttal to this attitude. “I want to rethink surrender as an active verb,” he says. “It’s not just you being escapist; it’s an active choice. I’m not saying we’ve got to stop being such controlling beings. I’m not saying we’ve got to be back-to-the-earth hippies. I’m saying something more complex.”

In another talk, one in which he also spoke of control and surrender, he developed another contrast, between creativity-as-architecture and creativity-as-gardening:

And essentially the idea there is that one is making a kind of music in the way that one might make a garden.  One is carefully constructing seeds, or finding seeds, carefully planting them and then letting them have their life.  And that life isn’t necessarily exactly what you’d envisaged for them.  It’s characteristic of the kind of work that I do that I’m really not aware of how the final result is going to look or sound.  So in fact, I’m deliberately constructing systems that will put me in the same position as any other member of the audience.  I want to be surprised by it as well.  And indeed, I often am.

What this means, really, is a rethinking of one’s own position as a creator.  You stop thinking of yourself as me, the controller, you the audience, and you start thinking of all of us as the audience, all of us as people enjoying the garden together.  Gardener included.  So there’s something in the notes to this thing that says something about the difference between order and disorder.  It’s in the preface to the little catalog we have.  Which I take issue with, actually, because I think it isn’t the difference between order and disorder, it’s the difference between one understanding of order and how it comes into being, and a newer understanding of how order comes into being.

I was texting with Austin about all this earlier today:


This is all good for me to reflect on right now, in this season of heat and uncertainty.

memory and invention

In her book The Craft of Thought, Mary Carruthers identifies the purpose of memorization in medieval intellectual culture:

The orator’s “art of memory” was not an art of recitation and reiteration but an art of invention, an art that made it possible for a person to act competently within the “arena” of debate (a favorite commonplace), to respond to interruptions and questions, or to dilate upon the ideas that momentarily occurred to him, without becoming hopelessly distracted, or losing his place in the scheme of his basic speech. That was the elementary good of having an “artificial memory.” …

I repeat: the goal of rhetorical mnemotechnical craft was not to give students a prodigious memory for all the information they might be asked to repeat in an examination, but to give an orator the means and wherewithal to invent his material, both beforehand and — crucially — on the spot. Memoria is most usefully thought of as a compositional art. The arts of memory are among the arts of thinking, especially involved with fostering the qualities we now revere as “imagination” and “creativity.”

Today people will tell you that memorization is the enemy of creativity; these medieval thinkers understood that precisely the opposite is true: the more you have memorized the greater will be your powers of invention.