Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Weekend OtherWorld

Weekend OtherWorld will be a brilliant event with presentations, films and performances at Goldsmiths College on Saturday 27th April. This event is being put on by English Heretic and MA Aural and Visual Cultures featuring English Heretic, Mark Fisher, Dean Kenning, Savage Messiah, Nicola Woodham, Tristram Adams, Carey Robinson, Haunted Shoreline, Antony Clayton, Mark Pilkington, Will Fowler, Hannah Gilbert, Alison Gill, Blue Firth, Cerys Thomas, English Heretic, Ken Hollings, John Cussans, Lisa Cradduck, Roberto N Peyre. (I hope I haven't left anyone out.) The presentations sound fascinating and I can't wait to see them. The venue is room LG01 in the New Academic Building at Goldsmiths College from 1pm to 8pm and is free.

Here's an outline of the event cited from English Heretic's post.

Weekend OtherWorld aims to realise a new form of aesthetic broadcast. It imagines a parallel present where the forensic documentary intensity of 1970s television, evidenced in World In Action, Man Alive, Weekend World and Chronicle still exists but at a sorcerous angle to reality. What if the earnest authority of these programmes could be extended to occult aesthetics. With hard hitting, convincingly paranoid reports of the concrete irrational, Weekend OtherWorld subverts the roundtable format of the current affairs programme to broadcast a series of films, presentations and concomitant discussions from a potent broth of hermetic psychogeography, revolutionary sacrifice, aesthetic psychopathology and eerie capitalism.  Distilling the essences of the recent AGM, the afternoon programme will further attempt to define these new breeds of creative research. By exploring reality at a sorcerous angle, might we also find that the machinery underlying politics and culture is a magical construct?

To give a bit of context to the work I'm presenting. I read a series of essays on the Amazon Economy published by the Financial Times that I had got to via a link to an interesting article about Amazon recommended by Mark Fisher. I was inspired by one reference in the essay Robo-pricing by US retail correspondent for the Financial Times based in New York, Barney Jopson to a story around selling a biology book 'The Making of A Fly'.  Michael Eisen, a biologist based a Berkley UC and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, noticed that a book he wanted to buy on Amazon had risen in price to over two million pounds, his full post is here. The biologist worked out that just two sellers were competing in price over the same item. But that there was a pattern to the pricing. One seller had set his algo pricing to always be 1.27 times more than his competitor, yet his competitor had set up his system to by .99 times less. So as one price rose the other would rise too, but just a little bit. Eisen proposes that one seller likely did not have the material item at all. He simply listed the item at a higher price than his competitor. The plan was that when he made a sale he would buy up the cheaper book and then sell it on for a profit. This links to a number of practises mentioned in essay. I think Eisen neatly makes the point that algorithmic pricing can go absurdly wrong, especially when these chance pairings of sellers activity happen. Just before the anomaly was noticed by the sellers the book price had risen to $23,698,655.93. Since reading his article I have spoken to several people who have noted anomalies in pricing on Amazon, new children's books going for £600 and the like. Jopson's cites the 2010 'flash crash' as another possibly monstrous algorithmic moment. 

Sellers have a choice of software vendors to choose from who can provide endless amounts of data about their competitors. Much trading jargon and principles has seeped into this arena. Companies like Mercent who make ecommerce software for online retailers (not sure what words have been hybridised for this, merchant, percent, mercenary, cent, mercy, acquiescent....I could go on....) thrive on speculation about the habits of consumption based on an obsession with metrics. There is more to write on this and much has been written in the excellent current Mute Magazine 'Slave to the Algorithm'. 

For me I was fascinated by the literal problematic of the absence of the book worth twenty three million dollars. I immediately imagined an empty shelf in an ecommerce warehouse. So from this idea about an impossible object sprang a story that I've developed into an audio play The Gift Experience: where a cult springs up around an empty shelf where a set of screwdrivers priced at over two million pounds are not being stored. I also wanted to combine some element of this sinister obsessiveness of retailers with the everyday habits of consumers. How a trip to the same cafe every morning at the same time on your way to work becomes a seed for a wave, a pattern that is utilised to try to predict or influence your next shopping move. This is surely a kind of pathalogical stalking, a revelling in the implicit. I was especially interested in the whole issue of analysis of data about shopping habits that made me think that in the future we wont need to shop at all, commercial distributors will already know what we want before we do and will simply deliver to our house. I'm pleased to be working with actors Robin Bale, Susannah Ashfield, Tony Burden and Victoria Riley on this short play. I'm planning on developing the work more to fit a radio slot and to run it again in June.

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