New Media Interview: Pains of Being Pure at Heart

This interview was published on The University of Amsterdam’s New Media blog in 2009. It is part of a collection of interviews on how the Internet is affecting the business of being a full-time musician.


The Pains of Being Pure at Heart were at the Paradiso on Monday night. I met up with lead singer and guitar player Kip Berman before the show to chat about the tour and renting his apartment in New York City out to crazy POBPAH fans.

kip berman - Pains of Being Pure at HeartI had read an article where you said you were cool with people downloading your music: what has stopped you guys from releasing your music for free on the site?
It’s downloadable anywhere else, you can’t physically put it on the site because we have record labels that still actually need to sell stuff. Recently I was looking at something and noticed a torrent for Pains of Being Pure at Heart with 5 million hits.

Honestly, people can find it if they want to find it, so I’m not going to try to stop anyone. But I think that people are conscious of the fact that you have to do something for the band in return. We find that people come to our shows and we’d rather play for people than not play for people. And people are usually honest, they’re like, “Hey, I downloaded your shit. That was cool, I’ll buy the vinyl now or a t-shirt”. So you kind of have to roll with it, and we’re just psyched that people are listening to it.

When you guys are working on new songs how do you come together and share ideas?

I think that democracy is overrated in terms of songwriting. If everyone writes 25% of a song then it sounds like a bit, well you know.

There are certain types of music where complete and total collaborative ideas might be worth while, but for us I kind of write the structure and lyrics and the ideas for the song. It’s up to the band to play out those ideas and bring them to life, and offer themselves once the blueprint has kind of been drawn. The songs wouldn’t be good if they stopped with me because everyone contributes there ideas to them.

Kurt is a fantastic drummer and I can’t even program more than one drum beat. So, just from him the song has such a better feel, because I can only do so much. Like on my keyboard drum set! Our first EP sounds like that, it doesn’t have real drums they are all electronic drums.

What do you use to record with when you are playing around at home?
I use Logic. My favorite thing is a snare setting called ‘Big Ballad Snare’ and I LOVE IT, I LOVE IT! It is hard to get a good snare sound. I’m not sure if it maybe sounds like The Jesus and Mary Chain, but it is just so synthetic and huge.

Did you play it for Kurt and were you like, “Hey can you do this?”
Yeah, it’s funny because a lot of the drum sounds aren’t how you play drums, it is just how it is mixed in the record process: reverb, mics, or how it’s tuned. You can record with a really shitty drum set and still make it sound cool by tweaking it a little bit, which is cool because we don’t have fancy stuff.

Like when kids from Indonesia write and they’re like, “What kind of snare sounds do you use on your album?” And Kurt’s like, “Just tell them it’s a shitty snare. They should just turn the EQ a little bit!”

How has the Internet helped you guys?

We didn’t have time off to tour, and the reality of having to work full-time in New York to stay alive is… Well, so the Internet has helped us get out our music without having to establish ourselves everywhere. At the time we couldn’t say, “Let’s just take off two months and play shows”. I know it sounds romantic, but it is really difficult and you still have to work to make it happen.

The Internet is just a sort of introductory thing, but you still have to connect with people and make a lasting impression. I think the old-fashioned ethics of hard work, touring and paying your dues are just as relevant today as they were in the past, if not more so. It’s almost like a political campaign, you can’t just run a campaign based on a few good op-ed pieces, everyone has to go out and shake hands.

How many shows did Pains of Being Pure at Heart play before getting signed to Slumberland?

Quite a lot, but they were all in New York. The signing to Slumberland thing was a vague notion of whenever we had a record they’d put it out. It wasn’t like, “ALRIGHT, we’re going to get signed guys!”. Actually, we never even signed anything.

Do you still have jobs back in New York?
Peggy and Alex do, but I lost my job back in November. But we have to do something to pay our rent. It’s not like our eight day whirlwind tour of the southeast playing to six people a night in 2007 was going to cover our rent in New York City.

So do you have apartments waiting for you in New York?
We all do actually. Peggy was able to sublet her place, which was smart. I should have done that, but that would have required me cleaning out my bedroom and it’s pretty messy.

Maybe you’d get some crazy Pains of Being Pure at Heart fan that would take it and be like, “Oh Kip sleeps right here!! This is Kip’s toilet!!”

[laughs] …yeah, “And Kip passes out in his clothes right here…EVERY NIGHT”. I’d be funny when they get into all the unreleased demos on my computer and tell me, “so I guess your next new single is going to be called ‘shit-faced’?” And I’ll be like, “No! that was a working title!” And they’re like, “Too bad we’re releasing it on the Internet anyway!”.

That’s another thing, we’re more concerned about unreleased things being put online, and people coming to weird conclusions on what things are going to sound like based on my inability to program a drum machine correctly. In that case they’d be like, “It seems like they are working on a concept album where every song has the same drum beat”. Again, the one I love is the “Big Ballad Snare” in Logic. If you get a chance just go in there and hit the lowest C# you can.

We’re going to steal that sound and pretty soon you’ll hear of a band coming out of Amsterdam that they say sounds just like Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Yeah it’s cool. Actually, it would be really cool if bands got accused of ripping us off for once, that’d be ironic.

We could probably work that out for you.
Haha, yeah people would be like (mockingly), “Man…this sound is totally derivative of Pains of Being Pure at Heart.”

Anatomical Analytics

Anatomical Analytics is a project I developed while at University of Amsterdam. It got the attention of UC Santa Barbara and was awarded 3rd Prize in their BlueSky Innovation Competition.

Here is the full announcement and some highlights from my project. You should know that it’s just a skeleton for a creative mockup and that we didn’t actually build the platform.

Description of the idea:

Ubiquitous computing is a model of human-computer interaction in which
small, inexpensive chips are embedded into everyday objects {1}. In contrast to
popular futuristic visions of cyberspace where we immerse our bodies inside
a virtual reality system, ubiquitous computing extends technology beyond
the borders of our screen and works like reverse virtual reality.

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags are commonly used in ubiquitous computing applications. RFID tags are already all around us: they are woven into our passports where they store bits of data about our identity, they
connect products on the shelf to a database which instantly aggregates an
inventory status, and they are used in certain libraries to map a book’s exact
location within the library. My idea for a technology in the year 2020 is to
embed RFID chips inside our body in order to monitor health. Connecting
these chips across a global network will allow us to manage health trends
and lead to new developments in what I will refer to as Anatomical Analytics.

The first step in this technology would be attaching microscopic RFID tags
near a few vital organs. Perhaps this is best achieved by placing small RFID
chips at locations closest to the organ and just beneath the skin; or the RFID
could be administered as an annual pill that over time would organically
disintegrate inside the body and be re-administered each year. The chips
don’t store data, they communicate data. Each tag is a listener that
transmits the current condition of the respective body organ to which it
monitors.

The data is then collected by a server and illustrated graphically
by an online software application. The software interface would resemble
something like Google Analytics, but for your body. A few examples of how
this type analysis would be extremely helpful in the prevention and the
detection of illness include:

  • The analytics would display signs of high blood pressure putting a
    strain on the kidney and therefore warn of kidney damage.
  • If you are consuming inordinate amounts alcohol the analytics could
    map out a projection to see if you are in jeopardy of developing liver
    disease.
  • In the case of someone suddenly falling unconscious, before the
    patient arrives at the hospital the doctors could receive a Twitteresque
    status alert and preparing for “A man in his late 50’s suffering
    from heart failure.”

On a macro-sociological level the data is aggregated by Anatomical Analytics
Trends in order to predict local, national and global health trends. Once the
RFID chips are in place it would be fairly easy to monitor an individual’s
location by using RFID readers that could be installed in schools, the
workplace and stores. Combining locative data we could potentially link an
outbreak of E.Coli to a particular fast-food chain; visually segment the
population based on nutritional intake data; or detect and track influenza
activity in The United States.

Of course there are many ethical issues surrounding anatomical analytics,
but I don’t think it is too difficult to imagine developments into this type of
technology over the next 10 or 20 years. Consider other examples of placing
technology in our body:

  • It has been over 50 years ago that the first pacemaker was implanted
    into a human.
  • Recently it has become popular to place RFID technology under the
    skin of pets.
  • Filmmaker Rob Spence has begun plans to install a camera into his
    eye socket. {2}

Furthermore, issues of privacy and Orwellian surveillance would be of
concern to many. Yet again any intrusion of privacy made by Anatomical Analytics is not all that far off from many present-day scenarios. A notable
example of a surveillance tool commonly used in our cars is the electronic
toll RFID tags that, in addition to charging our credit card, transmit locative
data each time we use a toll. The other – perhaps less obvious but more
pervasive – example of a locative surveillance tool is the Internet.

As
Lawrence Lessig has shown through his research of “code as law” the
Internet is actually one of the most controlling mediums that has ever
existed. And despite the fact that we never know who or when someone
might be looking at the data we leave on the Internet, we sacrifice privacy
for efficiency in our lives.

Kevin Kelly in speaking about the future of ubiquitous computing has
remarked, “Ten years ago the notion that all doors in a building should
contain a computer chip seemed ludicrous, but now there is hardly a hotel
door in the U.S. without a blinking, beeping chip in its lock. These
microscopic chips will be so cheap we’ll throw them away” {3}. My theory is
that in the future, the idea of monitoring human vital organs with RFID chips
won’t seem so ludicrous. The definition of ubiquitous computing will
eventually have to be expanded beyond ‘a network that connects everything
as it will truly be ‘a network that connects everything inside everyone’.

Notes:

  • {1} Wikipedia, “Ubiquitous Computing” (accessed January 27, 2009).
  • {2} (accessed January 25, 2009).
  • {3} Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy (San Diego: Viking, 1998), pg. 10.

Imaginative Realization, Embodiment, or Illustration of the Idea:

Below I’ve included two screenshots that represent hypothetical illustrations
of Anatomical Analytics (higher resolution versions of these images have
also been submitted). The following is a description of the Anatomical
Analytics and Anatomical Analytics Trends:

I. The Anatomical Analytics interface is a personal report detailing up-to date
information about an individual’s body condition. Anatomical Analytics
offers a wide-range of services that help prevent illness and diagnose
ailments.

anatomical_analytics

II. The Anatomical Analytics Trends interface is an aggregator of the data
collected from the personal edition of Anatomical Analytics shown above.
The interface below details potential influenza outbreaks in the United States.

Anatomical Analytics

Alexander Galloway’s Protocol: An Argument Summary

alexander galloway protocolIn Protocol Alexander Galloway argues that the Internet is not the “free-for-all of information” that many people perceive it to be, rather it is a controlled network.

As Eugene Thacker outlines in the book’s forward, “Information does flow, but in a highly regulated manner.” By examining the network not as a metaphor, or as a theory, but as a technical diagram by which digital data is managed, Galloway illustrates how control can exist after decentralization.

“This book is about a diagram, a technology, and a management style”, explains Galloway.

The diagram is the distributed network, the technology is the digital computer and the management style is the protocol. These three come together to define the “computerized information management” system that is the Internet.

Galloway reminds us that “Protocol is a solution to the problem of hierarchy.” It is how a seemingly “out of control” technology can “function so flawlessly”. It is that “massive control apparatus that guides distributed networks, creates cultural objects, and engenders life forms”. In other words, as Galloway emphasizes, Protocol is how control exists after decentralization.

Continue reading “Alexander Galloway’s Protocol: An Argument Summary”