Life In Berlin: transmediale - A Convergence Of Technology And Art

Feb 7, 2017

The Super Bowl commercial isn't just about pushing a product during breaks between football; it's a veritable genre. But it's strange, when you think about it, that many viewers willingly seek out, watch, and discuss advertising.

This is also the premise of the app "SongBlocker." It was released Superbowl Sunday at the transmediale festival for art and digital culture at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt. "SongBlocker" also speaks to a world in which advertising has become more important than content.

"'SongBlocker' is a small plug-in that you can use together with Spotify. While the ad blocker takes away the advertising and lets you keep the content, "SongBlocker" takes away the content and just leaves the advertising.”

That's Rasmus Fleischer. He is not, in fact, a tech entrepreneur but rather an economic historian researching digital economies of music at the University of Stockholm. The academic Streaming Heritage team is using "SongBlocker" as a metaphor to describe the strange new economic conditions of streaming music in the digital age, and the role of advertising and ad-blocking.

Temporary Library by Alessandro Ludovico and Annette Gilbert
Credit transmediale/design akademie berlin, SRH Hochschule für Kommunikation und Design

"Our research project is designed to be playful in some ways. That kind of hackerish attitude is necessary if you want to get information about these companies.

"You don't go to Facebook and ask what they're doing. You can't do it with Spotify either. These are highly secretive companies," Fleischer explains. "You have to intervene in one way or another. Being playful can be a way to get access for more information and try out ideas."

If it seems like a mix of a conceptual art with academic research in media and digital culture, then welcome to transmediale — the whole weekend is like this. It is kind of freeing.

"To me, I also like people not being totally confined to roles of either artist or activist or researcher," says Fleischer.

But it also means that many of these projects seem kind of tedious before you know the concept behind them. In the accompanying art show alien matter, there's an installation by artist Constant Dullaart called DullDream. It looks like just a slideshow of photographs with blurrier versions of the same photographs next to them. But at the artist talk, it gets a lot more interesting.

This project is based on Google's Deep Dream software, artificial intelligence that can recognize objects within images — like an apple — and then enhance the image to accentuate the apple-ness of the apple, according to what the machine knows. But as a form of artistic critique, Dullaart and his collaborator Adam Harvey reverse this process. It's more about artificial stupidity than artificial intelligence. The images become duller and less recognizable both to the algorithms and the human viewer. It's enough questions to leave your head spinning. And there are two more panels to go.