Thursday, January 31, 2019

i can't see much of a future unless we find out what's to blame, what a shame.

The journalist Paul Morley said 'Buzzcocks came from the better side of punk, the bands who were aware of things like Faust and Can.'

He wasn't wrong.

By early 1976, and after building his own oscillator from scratch, Bolton Institute of Technology engineering student Pete Shelley had already completed a whole 'album' of experimental synth music, inspired by his love of Kraftwerk and other krautrock bands.

It was there that he first met Howard Devoto who was looking for someone to soundtrack an art movie he’d made. Howard was studying philosophy down the road.

Both Pete and Howard were avid NME readers and after reading a small review of relatively unknown London band, Sex Pistols, and inspired by a quote in the piece attributed to Pistols guitarist Steve Jones ('we're not into music, we're into chaos'), the new friends booked a small room at Manchester Free Trade Hall and invited the Pistols to play. This event June 1976 has gone down in history as 'the gig that changed the world' (among the 30 or 40 misfits in the audience were future members of Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths and The Fall.)

The day after the show the pair immediately formed Buzzcocks and booked the Pistols to play again six weeks later with their own combo as support. At the second gig the hall was full to its 150 capacity.

The rest is history, of course.

Billy Bragg once remarked that if everyone who claimed to have seen the Pistols in '76 really had they would have sold out a month at Wembley Stadium rather than a few one-nighters at assorted Soho strip clubs. Correspondingly, if everyone who claimed to be at one of the Manchester shows had attended it would have been a week of sell-outs at the G-Mex.

(If every ad planner and marketer who claim in-depth knowledge of Ehrenberg-Bass principles had bought 'How Brands Grow' then I reckon Byron and co would be kicking back on a private island next to the ones occupied by Richard Branson and assorted retired Bond villains rather than still pursuing their academic careers.)

Paul Morley is also on record as claiming ‘I remember delightedly screaming, “This is like...Ornette Coleman!” when I went to see the early Buzzcocks play.'

(But he was now just being a bit silly, albeit setting the tone for much of his subsequent writing.)

Shelley’s iconic deliberately inane minimal two-note guitar solo in Boredom (from Buzzcocks debut EP Spiral Scratch) was pretty conceptual. 

The solo consisted of just two notes repeated 66 times, ending with a single modulated seventh. One suspects that it was this last flourish that Morley interpreted as the free-jazz component.

Pete played a Starway, a cheap Japanese brand of guitars sold in department stores. 
A rudimentary instrument, the Starway featured just one pickup and two control dials for volume and tone.

Shelley is said to have bought his in a Manchester branch of Woolworths. 
(While the guitars were sold there, Pete actually acquired his one - second-hand - in a charity shop.)

To be more exact, the four tracks on '...Scratch' were recorded using just TWO-THIRDS of a Starway.

Pete had accidentally smashed his axe into two pieces during a rehearsal.

The top part of the body snapped off but the guitar was still totally playable, and so continued to be his main tool until the band had a few hits and he could afford to upgrade to the (only marginally more sophisticated) Gibson Marauder.

If inspiring the DIY punk revolution with only two-thirds of a guitar was not minimal enough for you, Shelley's engineering chops learned back at Bolton Tech came in handy.

It's often been said that creativity can be propelled by constraints - even if the limits are artificial.

He rewired the insides of the Starway to bypass the volume and tone dials, sending the pickup direct to the jack - it was now two-thirds of a guitar with only ONE sound. It was a pretty good sound, though.

The economist Ernst Friedrich "Fritz" Schumacher once coined the term appropriate technology. Meaning the 'simplest level of technology that can achieve the intended purpose'.

Simplicity has never been a bad idea.

In a world of applied appropriate advertising technology, most of the links in our complicated and bloated demand/supply chain - SSPs, DSPs, exchanges, third-party verification systems and various proprietary reporting mechanisms - wouldn’t even have a business. They wouldn't exist.

So-called 'safety' tech vendors have even more mysterious incentives given that they DEPEND on the continued existence of botnets, domain-spoofers and malware fraudsters for their own business model.

But when every step in a web ad 'value' chain is deliberately opaque, they all do to some extent.
A cynic would call it a cynical exercise in deliberate obfuscation.

The funny thing is that we think we know how this advertising technology demand/supply chain works, and the more available information we have, the more our confidence grows.

This is the Illusion of Explanatory Depth (or IOED) - the persistent illusion people have that we know more about more than we actually do. IOED was coined in 2002 by cognitive scientists Rozenblit and Keil.

Rozenblit and Keil asked people to rate their knowledge of how mundane mechanisms worked – things like zippers, refrigerators and toilets.

Respondents rated their comprehension highly, but when pressed to explain their understanding, they tended to fail miserably.
Or the technological sophistication inherent to the adtech paradigm offers a veneer of profundity.
An illusion of explanatory depth.

As the old adage goes; where there's a mystery, there's a margin.

Fritz Schumacher also famously said; 'Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius—and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.'

But as the number of businesses between advertisers and publisher the advertiser grows - all claiming to do something - and 70 cents in every dollar gets eaten up by whatever that something is, we've never been further from sending the pickup direct to the jack.

But, you know the scene - very humdrum.

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